As I’ve been blogging about femininity and some of the examples of femininity that have touched and inspired me, I’ve thought also about masculinity. I’ve noticed that there is a distinct lack of inspiring visions of masculinity in my life. Maybe that’s because masculinity is just less inspiring overall? (Again, the muses were female…) Maybe it’s because our culture has lost touch with true masculinity, so there just aren’t many good examples to choose from? Or maybe it’s just because my own story and wounding has predisposed me to reject most images of masculinity – which is certainly true.
I did remember one image that inspired me and stopped me dead in my tracks when I saw it.
First, let me say that I’ve never quite understood the appeal of Michelangelo’s David. In pictures, I was always distracted by that huge head, and thought
that overall he looked kind of effeminate. I didn’t understand how this had come to be seen as the ideal image of masculinity. I always thought, “Well, it’s supposed to be really impressive in person; maybe when I really see it, I’ll finally ‘get’ it.
No go. I went to Europe a few years ago and got to see the David “in the flesh”. My impression was the same. It’s certainly a beautiful sculpture; a fine work of art. But the essence of masculinity? It just doesn’t capture it for me.
Before this trip to Europe, I had never heard of Bernini. Then on the flight out of the U.S., I happened to be seated next to this woman who convinced the flight attendant to give a bunch of us some free wine, and we talked for a while about the art we were looking forward to seeing. She raved about this Bernini guy, and even showed me pictures of some of his sculptures from a previous trip.
When I got to Rome (after my disappointment with the David in Florence), I started seeing all these sculptures that I really liked, and when I looked at who had done them… sure enough, it was Bernini. Then on one particular day, I was strolling through a museum and entered into a room and was stopped cold by… this:
Bernini’s David! I didn’t even know Bernini had done a David. I guess I didn’t even know anybody other than Michelangelo had done a David. Anyway, I stood in that room for like ten minutes, just walking around and around the statue, grinning to myself. This thing blew me away. “This”, I thought, “Is a much better picture of masculinity.”
Look at the intensity in his face:
Why is this a good picture of masculinity? it’s not that the guy is particularly huge or ripped. I mean, he’s in shape, yeah, but this is a man who was fighting a nine foot giant. What I love about it is that it communicates an intensity and determination. This man is bringing everything that he has to bear on this battle, laying it all out there.
Apart from intensity, another key word that I think captures masculinity in this sculpture is movement. A man is someone who enters into the world with strength, determined to shape the outcome as best he can. A man doesn’t just think and feel; he takes steps to shape the world. I like how John and Stasi Eldridge say it:
“Adam (man) is captured best in motion, doing something. His essence is strength in action. That is what he speaks to the world. He bears the image of God, who is a warrior. On behalf of God, Adam says, ‘God will come through. God is on the move.’ That is why a passive man is so disturbing. His passivity defies his very essence. It violates the way he bears God’s image. A passive man says, ‘God will not come through. He is not acting on your behalf.'” (From Captivating, p. 36)
Finally, lest we be tempted to think that masculinity is all about machismo and putting on a mask as the “tough guy” all the time, there is a subtle touch to this sculpture that is easy to miss: There on the ground, by David’s legs – it’s the discarded armor of King Saul. David could have stepped out into the battle with Goliath as everyone would have expected, clad in a certain kind of armor, a poseur, pretending to be a warrior that he wasn’t. It took great courage (and maybe even a little arrogance) for David to say, essentially, “This is the kind of warrior I am. I step into my battles with a specific kind of strength that is unique to me.
” This begs a question of all of us: What is the particular brand of strength with which God has endowed me? How specifically has He shaped me to move into this world with strength? Be prepared for an answer that is unconventional.
As I mentioned before, because of my story and my wounding, I’m predisposed to reject masculinity, and it’s rare that I’m inspired by it. But on that day, I walked into that room and saw glory. I was blown away by the capability that resides within a man, and was moved to worship that same quality within God.
I even bought the poster, and now it’s on the wall in my bedroom: