I carved until I released it
On a recent trip to Italy, my husband and I had the privilege of exploring the bustling metropolis of Florence. The must-see piece of art in this town – which has an amazing amount of art – is Michelangelo’s statue of the Bible David. As Brad and I entered La Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze where the sculpture is located, we wore headphones, listening to a podcast tour of the gallery. We were asked to enter through a certain door and informed that we would find David in a rotunda at the end of a corridor lined with other statues and paintings. The podcast encouraged us to head to David immediately from “you know you want to see the statue first”, then come back to see the other work later. We followed this advice.
A large crowd of tourists were already surrounding Michelangelo’s seventeen-foot masterpiece, and we joined them, slowly circling the sculpture to see it from all angles. The statue certainly lived up to all the hype. One couldn’t help but appreciate the artistic genius of Michelangelo, who was only in his twenties when he was commissioned to sculpt this piece.
After viewing and photographing David for several minutes, Brad and I returned to the hallway we had entered, inspecting more statues and paintings. We found other works by Michelangelo there, including four sculptures called Prisoners. Their voluminous forms were left raw and unfinished, the chisel marks evident, each work depicting the partial figure of a man or youth encased in marble. The figure that caught my attention the most, and which has stuck with me ever since, showed a man struggling to free himself from the surrounding stone. His head hasn’t come out of the plate, forcing him to support a heavy weight, which threatens to crush him. This prisoner is called Atlasfrom the Atlas of Greek Mythology who was forced to carry the weight of the heavens on his shoulders.
Several times, I went back and forth between David and Prisonersreturning to the statue of David to see the flawless stone image – smooth and completely free of its original marble block. But I was repeatedly brought back to the figure of Atlas. It was both fascinating and heartbreaking to watch his struggle, and I felt the tension between stone and man – the seeming struggle. Since then, I have wondered why the raw and unfinished figure of Atlas touched me more than the famous sculpture of David. I have concluded that it is because I sympathize with Atlas–I relate to his struggle as I struggle daily to free myself from the restraints of the natural man.
Once, when Michelangelo was asked to describe his sculpting process, he explained, “I saw the angel in marble and carved until I freed him.” For me, the David statue represents someone who has given himself into the hands of the Lord – the master sculptor – the only one capable of freeing us from our natural prison of man. Like Atlas, we can push, strain and twist against the stone that holds us captive, but we alone can never completely free ourselves from the bondage of sin, weakness and dependence. “…they were in bondage, and no one could deliver them except the Lord their God.” (Mosiah 24:21).
My adopted brother Mark experienced both the uphill struggle of escaping sin and addiction, and the liberating process of turning to Jesus Christ and finding deliverance from bondage. His painful journey lasted a total of fourteen years in prison, until he finally reconnected with God and cried, “I don’t know how to stay clean and sober!” He had learned that “there is not enough mutual aid in the universe to fix some things.” Eventually, Mark felt inspired to try the 12-step recovery program again and discovered that it was about faith and repentance. He began to understand that God had never stopped loving him.
Mark has now been sober for more than two decades and spends many hours each week as a service missionary with the Church’s addiction program. I share the following brief story courtesy of Mark. To me, this is living proof that when we surrender to the Lord, we can literally become new creatures. He is quite capable of delivering us from addiction or any other form of bondage.
“When my son Ammon was in third grade, he invited me to a school assembly for fathers called Watchdog Dads. They had brief motivational chats about coming in and volunteering to help kids in the classrooms, on the playground, as hallway monitors, and more. They were playing Rocky themed music in the background – Eye of the Tiger. Of course, they bribed us with pizza and coke, and after a few cokes and some pizza, I was ready to sign up for almost anything, so I started filling out the application to become a watchdog dad.
By the time I got to the final result, it said, “Background check required, $20, felons don’t need to apply.” I had to look at my son and say, “Ammon, you know I’ve been in jail before, and I can’t do this, that’s what it means. He was really disappointed and asked me several times to apply, but he finally gave up and we went home. Of course, it wasn’t very good.
Well, the next year, the fourth year come, and the same congregation come, and Ammon said, “Daddy, I really want you to do it this time.” And I said, “Ammon, you remember it’s always the same situation and they just won’t let me, even though I really want to. He had a funny look in his eyes, but he let it go. About a week later, I received a phone call from his manager, Mrs. Bellitti, and she said, “Ammon was in my office this morning. I said, “Oh oh, what did he do?” She replied, “No, you don’t understand, Mr. Miner. Ammon came in and said, “Mrs. Bellitti, I want my dad to be a guardian dad. I said to him, “Sure, it’s not too late, just fill out this paper and bring it back with $20.” Ammon replied, “You don’t understand, Mrs. Bellitti, my father has been in jail before, but he is no longer that man.”
Suddenly my eyes began to water and a special peace came over me, and then Mrs. Bellitti said softly, “Something persuaded me to do my own background check, and you are the kind of father we want in our school. ”
Mark concludes, “I’m not the man I used to be anymore.” (1)
Mr. Catherine Thomas shares this important insight: “A challenge for the spiritual seeker is to distinguish between the adjustments he is able to make in his daily behavior and that drastic change of heart described by the Scriptures…The old self must be dissolved and a new self unveiled.” Using Alma the Younger as an example, Thomas continues: “…we see that he entered into the experience of spiritual rebirth of one type of person and emerged an entirely different person. The old natural man had been swallowed up in the Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the most interesting facts about Michelangelo David is that the huge piece of marble used for the statue had already been rejected by other sculptors due to perceived flaws and impurities in the stone. We can take great comfort in knowing that Jesus Christ sees the angel in our marble, that He has a true vision of who we are and what we can become through the power of His Atonement. His “work and glory” is to set us free.
President Joseph B. Wirthlin counsels: “Spend time with [the Lord]. Meditate on His words. Take His yoke upon you. Seek to understand and obey…As our love for the Lord deepens, our minds and hearts become purified. We experience a “great change in… our hearts, so that we are no longer disposed to do evil, but to do good continually.” (2)
The more we understand the life and teachings of Jesus, the greater our ability to exercise faith in him and his atoning power. Then, “…if you turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of spirit, if you do this, he will deliver, according to his will. and his pleasure. get you out of bondage. (Mosiah 7:33)
I have learned from experience that regular temple attendance (or indexing or family history work) and ongoing review of my covenants and intentional keeping are one of the surest ways to release the Lord’s power to overcome the natural man and resist temptation. “Our covenant commitment to Him enables our Heavenly Father to let His divine influence, ‘the power of godliness,’ flow into our lives.” (3)
As I review my life, remembering actions and words I regret, I recognize that the Savior has gradually changed me. In many ways, I can say, “I am not that woman anymore. I don’t think, say, or do many of the rash or judgmental things that I used to think, say, and do. Of course, I am not completely free from my marble prison, but I can feel the power of Jesus Christ working within me, slowly shaving away my rough edges. How grateful I am to the Master Sculptor. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be truly free. (John 8:36)
- Personal correspondence, Mark W. Miner.
- The Great Command, by Joseph B. Wirthlin, October 2007 General Conference.
- The Power of Covenants, by D. Todd Christofferson, April 2009 General Conference.