the prisoners and the freed man
“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” – Michelangelo
The Prisoners and The Freed Man
I slowly walked down the hall gazing at the imprisoned statues. Their faces seemed to ache as they tried to pull their way out of the marble; their bodies looked tired, working against the cold stone for a freedom that would never come. Their features were formed but still foggy; they would forever remain a blurred shadow of what they could be if they had only been completely cut from the rock that bound them.
I felt desperate sorrow. I knew they would never escape. I knew they would forever remain here in this form. I knew their sculptor would likely have diligently finished the work he had started in them if the situation had been different. As it was, they would remain in this art museum hall, forever encased in marble.
I gathered myself because, they were after all, just unfinished statues. I turned my gaze ahead to the real reason I had come. I walked down the hall to the domed room and looked up to see what I had viewed so many times in books. I marveled at the stark contrast this statue had to his imprisoned comrades in the hall behind me.
He was strong and free. Perfectly formed, poised as an image of perfection for the last 500 years. He wasn’t pulling away from any leftover marble, his face unblurred and smoothed off. He looked as if he might step down off the museum display.
As I looked, my husband inquired, “Is it as great as you expected?”
My response, “No, it’s much better.”
David – The Freed Man
We were gazing up at Michelangelo’s David in Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy. This space in the art museum was crafted for David and his enslaved marble neighbors. The unfinished prisoner statues lined the long hallway and just beyond them, under a dome shaped ceiling stood a seventeen foot tall David, the picture of what his prisoner friends could have become.
This presentation of Michelangelo’s work was incredible to me and left me standing in awe of the stark contrast between this finished and unfinished work. Michelangelo once said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” He believed every stone had a statue inside that just needed to be discovered and set free. He was just getting rid of the extra marble.
Michelangelo had been commissioned to create the statues, but when the one who had commissioned the work died, so did the progress of the statues.
Our tour group moved on, and I trotted along in a daze of reflection and contemplation. I followed the crowds until we were standing in the gift shop. Everyone was making purchases and my husband asked if there was anything I wanted. I was still in a blur, my mind on the slaves in the hall.
I knew I could spend money in the gift shop, but my real souvenir was my memory from this day, and it wouldn’t be found in the store. I excused myself, told my husband I would be back, and did an awkward run-walk past the immaculate David, past the foggy prisoners, until I was once again at the beginning of the hall.
I whipped around and took a deep breath as I looked at the scene afresh. It was the same but different now that I had walked around and inspected every statue. I knew the time was limited so I snapped a picture and then another before I took one more long look down the hall.
I scurried back to my group and left the museum. We walked through streets of Florence seeing the views and snapping pictures; however, my mind constantly wandered back to the hall of prisoners through the whole of the day.
Living In The Hall of Prisoners
Those prisoners continue to stay with me, and even now I often go back and stare at pictures of their faces pulling at that rock. I do this because I stopped just seeing their faces that day in the museum and instead saw my own face trying in vain to pull away from that stone. These slaves were a representation of what I looked like in stark contrast to the freed “David” that I so longed to be.
They captured the longing I’ve felt for so many years as a follower of Christ and only just recently recognized was lying under the surface. I’ve struggled along in my journey for so many years like these prisoners, and I didn’t even know it, much like the Israelites forging through the desert for forty long years.
Forty years. Forty years, Moses walked God’s people around in a sandy wasteland while they lived on manna and half-heartedly followed God, wishing to be slaves again in Egypt and making golden calves when things didn’t go their way.
Their story is heartbreaking, a free people who couldn’t learn to be free, and so they remained in a desert wilderness imprisoned by their minds and their old ways of thinking. All the while they had a master Sculptor ready and willing to be commissioned to chip away those things that left them encased in lies and old paradigms of their life in Egypt.
Why did they settle into a strange half-life? Why do I? Why do we believe, think, and accept Jesus as only capable of giving a small amount of freedom?
That recognition, that desperate longing in me, didn’t stay long once I recognized it, because, well, that’s not how the Spirit works. He didn’t leave me in despair but brought me new hope. Hope that even though I’m still an imprisoned statue, I can commission Him, the Great Sculptor, to finish the work He started in me.
A half-life in Christ isn’t enough for me anymore, and now that I recognize that, I won’t stop until I’m chiseled free like David, like the free Israelites who followed Joshua and knew how to be warriors and gain the land God had promised them years before.
Friends, sometimes I want to live in the desert, sometimes I want to be a slave and a prisoner because gaining that free life in Jesus is so incredibly much work. It's real work, but I won’t run away, now that I’ve seen what could be, I might spend a few days bruised at camp, but I will not be defeated.
We were created to be free in Christ. We were created by an incredible Artist who longs to finish the good work He started in us. Join me friends in pursuing that walk from the Hall of Prisoners to the Freed David.
Below are some tangible steps I’m taking in my own life to pursue freedom:
- Asking the Spirit to continue working in me and to show me where I need to be chiseled and accept new ways of looking at things.
- Identifying old paradigms and old ways of thinking and then taking time to pray about and plan new approaches to put in place of those old things.
- Memorizing scripture that supports my goal and continually approach scripture with fresh eyes. Each time I read, I pray that the Spirit would help me see the scripture as He would have me see it, not with old lies distorting it.
- Practice, Practice, Practice. I go about my day and then mess up and do things the old way. As soon as I realize it, I mentally stick a fork in the cogs and gears that were trained to move that way. I stop, I think, and I practice a new healthy way of thinking and praying through that moment.
- Believing that Jesus wants me to be free. Believing the great Sculptor is ready, willing, and able. When I don’t believe, admitting that and praying about it.
- Prayer. Oh, so much prayer. As I struggle and fight to win these mental and spiritual battles happening in my mind, I gain new land in my heart, my spirit, and my soul. And slowly, oh so slowly, I’m leaving the prison of stone and the prison in the desert and claiming space in the Promised Land.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. -Galatians 5:1
Post by Randa Smith (CG West). Want to connect with us about our blog? Send us an email.