Thursday, January 22, 2009

With Wings or Without?

From the beginnings of civilization and back into prehistory, divine beings were often depicted with wings to show that, like the birds, they were creatures of the sky who observed humans from on high and could hide and frolic among the clouds. Their wings also allowed them to move rapidly from place to place, which explains why one devotee could experience their divine presence at one location and another devotee, far away, could apprehend the same divinity only a short time later.

However, in the Western tradition God's powers are seen to be so overwhelmingly great that he defies gravity at will, as dramatized on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Michelangelo fresco known as "The Creation of the Sun and Moon." Our Father, according to this vision, is definitely in heaven, but he needs no bird-like appendages to keep him there; wings are for lesser beings like angels, not the Lord of the Universe. Obviously, this article of faith has evolved far beyond the one that likened the gods to glorified eagles.

The absolute difference between human beings who are earthbound and a transcendent God who floats about in ultra-reality at will is a reminder that we should cultivate humility. Michelangelo's magnificently famous "Creation of Adam," also on the ceiling of the Sistine, may reveal the Creator and his human creation as approximately the same size, but there's no question about which one claims immortality, keeps celestial companions, and possesses the life-giving touch--and which is an utterly dependent creature without clothing, shelter, full consciousness, or, as yet, a single companion.

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