To you all,
Rather than turning right and climbing up the hill, as we usually do for our daily walk, my daughter and I yesterday turned left and wandered down into the village, almost for the first time since lockdown. From the requisite two metres away, we stopped to chat to Ron, who works on the farm here, covering what’s become familiar conversational ground – symptoms, food, and the pros and cons of Facetime with family. Aggie, my daughter, asked Ron when he thought we’d all be going back to normal.
“Never, I hope.” Ron feels we should all have learned a lesson from Covid. “It’s taught us,” he said, “to value things that normally get forgotten, and to notice people who normally get overlooked. I’m in no hurry to go back to normal.” He talked about nurses, care workers. But he talked too about the people who deliver our post and parcels, who collect our rubbish. I’m sure we could add to Ron’s list. But I imagine many of us share his view. The outbreak has focussed our attention on fundamental questions: what can’t we do without? And on the people in our communities who are most vulnerable, and often least visible: ‘who is my neighbour?’ (Luke 10:29)
Covid has taught us all, in short, to be bishops, to be episcopal. The Greek word for bishop is episkopos. It means literally, an overseer, granted oversight. Ron talked about people and aspects of our society being overlooked. Bishops mustn’t overlook, but they must oversee. Permitted a sudden and sometimes disorientating perspective, as though from above, we see ourselves and our society in a new way. Overseeing in this way, we ask: what can’t we afford to overlook? The question is obviously political, but it’s also theological, even scriptural…
The Fall of Man. A real, historical event. It took place on the evening of Sunday 6th October 2002.
Still holding the incriminating apple, Adam fell and smashed to smithereens on the floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Tullio Lombardo’s Adam is a uniquely marvellous work of art, a masterpiece of fifteenth century Venetian sculpture. Created for the tomb of the Doge Andrea Vendramin in the 1490s, Lombardo’s Adam is the first example of a monumental nude sculpture since the classical period.
The languid contrapposto pose of the figure suggests not relaxation but reticence, a tacit acknowledgement of wrongdoing: Adam is literally (and metaphorically) on the back foot. Head slightly tilted, is he hearing God’s calling to him in the garden? Or is it an expression of pride, that love of personal pre-eminence that Augustine recognises as the root of all sin. (De Genesi ad Litteram xi.18) Adam’s lips are parted: perhaps he’s preparing to admit he’s afraid? Or to offer excuses? ‘It’s all her fault…’ Despite the calmness and serenity of the figure, there’s regret in that face, I think, a dawning and a dimming at the same time. As though he knows he has pitched humanity into free fall.
What is extraordinary about Lombardo’s Adam is the way the statue now seems to embody the story of the Fall, as if its shattering in 2002 were somehow integrated into its quattrocento creation. Its smashing is essential to its meaning, its destruction incorporated into its creation.
And so there he is, Adam, lying on the floor of the Met in twenty-eight large pieces and thousands of tiny fragments.
Before anyone could touch anything, or come in with a disastrous dustpan and brush, the conservators drew a grid on the floor of the room. And in each of the grid’s squares they plotted the exact landing place of each tiny fragment of Adam. You couldn’t ask for a better illustration of the doctrine of the Fall itself: from Adam to atom. We are broken away from the perfect whole, scattered across the floor, individuated, each in our own tiny, plotted square.
Loving its own power, the soul, slides away from the whole which is common to all into the part which is its own private property.Augustine, de Trinitate, xii, 14
Using three-dimensional imaging technology to scan the marble pieces, conservators turned Adam into a jigsaw puzzle of immense complexity. You can watch on YouTube a film of how they slowly, painstakingly, over years, put him back together. It’s a humpty-dumpty exercise of ingenuity and love. To make Adam good as new.
And here’s the real challenge facing us: given this extraordinary view of ourselves, the oversight we currently have, how new do we want to be? Do we want to go back to ‘normal,’ to being just as we were, so you can’t even see the cracks? Or do we think we could go forward to being better than we were?
Ultimately, Christians are not conservators at all; we’re not even sculptors; we are stone:
I consider myself as a stone before a carver, whereof he is to make a statue: presenting myself thus before GOD, I desire Him to make His perfect image in my soul, and render me entirely like Himself.Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, Second Letter
We don’t make ourselves righteous; we’re not authors of our own salvation.
Just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.Romans 5:18-19
Ron is talking about our ‘being made righteous.’ Our openness to the possibilty of change. We can – we should – allow ourselves to be put back together differently, to be put back better.
And we can only do that by God’s grace, and in the love of one another through our Lord Jesus Christ.
This slow-motion tumble of a piece of music maybe familiar from a certain TV series of the early 1990s. Composed by Angelo Badalamenti, with lyrics by David Lynch, this is Falling, performed by Julee Cruise.
May we who fall in Adam,
rise in Christ.
Broken in Adam,
whole in Christ.
Lost in Adam,
found in Christ.