“If you’ve seen the piece, you’ll remember that David’s right hand is huge, ribbed with life-like veins. Biblical legend, of course, would have him preparing to slay the more powerful Goliath. In Michelangelo’s own time, Florence was surrounded by neighboring bully states; in part, David represented Florence in her courage and pluck. Still, the hand is not a fist. David is capable of so much more than violence.
Circling the towering piece, I couldn’t help wondering about that hand today. Sure, we can throw stones, program ‘smart’ bombs, build walls. But doesn’t it also suggest the amazing creativity, the amazing good we can do with our hands? Michelangelo—painter, sculptor, architect, man—used his own right hand to such glory and beauty and inspired purpose. Five hundred years later, we’re still lining up to sit in wonder. I think of the Muslim man who painted the icon I bought in Jerusalem last month. I think of Cheryl Anderson raising her hand to direct the Chancel Choir, Stan Poplin pulling his bow across the strings of a bass. And a healing circle of friends. And communion shared in the jail. We are capable of such magic, such mystery, such love—with our hands, with our fingers, with the choices we make.
Michelangelo seems to have known that, seems to have delighted in it. In his Renaissance, God was no longer a sky-bound despot, a jealous and judgmental emperor. Instead, David celebrates God’s partnership with human loving, with human creativity, with human responsibility. God is with us! God is in David’s hand; and David is in God’s!...
Next to the towering, alert David, this Pieta seems lost. The former is so alive, so tense, so ready for life. The latter is sad, riddled by grief and loss, tangled in the cords of death. But there’s something that ties the two together, something that strangely links them. It’s Mary’s hand. In death, Jesus is held, truly and tenderly held. Mary’s hand is every bit as powerful as David’s, every bit as human and kind. The Pieta from Palestrina insists on strength as compassion, courage as tenderness, creativity as touch. Again, God is not distant, vicious, abstract. God is in Mary’s hand; and she is in God’s….
Less than a month now and I’ll return to you and to our life together in Santa Cruz. I know that we, too, are capable of magic, mystery, love. By the light of grace, in the spirit of Christ, we breathe new life into our neighborhoods and families. We bless the earth. We invest in peace….
I look forward to that week, and I imagine that Michelangelo’s David and his other work, the Pieta from Palestrina, will join me somehow. What grace, what tenderness, what power is in our hands.”