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27. Rodin’s hands

We spent the Saturday in Paris just before Robert died in the Musée Rodin. It was a bright, early autumn day, warm with a gentle breeze, clear blue sky, signs of browning leaves. Many of Rodin’s sculptures are on permanent display in the garden of the house. Rodin had lived and worked there for many years and on his death donated it, with its contents, to the French nation.

We loved being in this garden, standing close to the sculptures, in no rush to get away. The sunlight made the black sculptures sparkle. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

The Burghers of Calais                                                                                                             The most striking of the sculptures is the powerful six-man, larger than life Burghers of Calais – see above. Here’s the story if you don’t know it:

In 1346, during the Hundred Years’ War, Edward III of England laid siege to Calais. Eventually the city surrendered. Edward III promised to spare the citizens on one condition: six of its leaders were to walk through the city gates with a noose around their necks, carrying the keys to the city and the castle. Six men volunteered, knowing they were walking to their deaths. Calais ‘belonged’ to England from then until 1558.

(I’ve recently discovered that Philippa of Hainault, the Queen of England, dramatically implored Edward to spare their lives…which he did! She was known as a good queen and a good influence of Edward, who was a less good king!)

We were very moved by these men, who were prepared to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their fellow citizens. Controversially, Rodin had presented them as defeated in their body language, their emotions carved into their faces. Yet at the same time they had an air of nobility about them. They were liberators.

If we’d been looking at the copy of this sculpture in London, close to the Houses of Parliament, we may have felt less awkward, but, being English and in Paris, we were embarrassed by this piece of our history. We gazed at them, we touched them, we reflected on what it cost to be a liberator. This is a powerful image of the cost of Christ as our liberator, saving us from destruction.

(Had Robert been alive a year later, in September 2019, we’d have talked about what can happen to liberators in the light of Robert Mugabe’s recent death.)

Rodin’s hands                                                                                                                         

Rodin was especially interested in hands and studied their anatomy. We commented on the powerful hands of his figures in the garden. (These hands are said to be one of Rodin’s hands and the other of his long-term partner.)

About 20 years ago, Professor James Chang, studying medicine at Stanford Medical School, discovered Rodin’s hands in the nearby Cantor Arts Centre. There are over 200 of Rodin’s sculptures in this collection. Chang observed that eight of Rodin’s hands in the gallery were diseased hands. More recently, Chang has used these hands in his teaching, creating virtual images.

It’s not known why Rodin sculpted diseased hands unless it is because these were easily accessible models from the morgue. Maybe they revealed more interest and emotion. Fascinating! See:

Resurrected hands?                                                                                                             Our afternoon in the Musée Rodin left me with wonderful memories, for which I am grateful. Robert had wide, strong ‘working hands’, as he would describe them, with neatly clipped nails. His father began his working life as a gardener. One grandfather had been a miner and a groundsman at Trent Bridge cricket ground. Their hands were like his.

I loved his hands and I loved holding them. We held hands for most of that afternoon as we sauntered around Rodin’s garden. Within days Robert’s hands would lie still and lifeless. But I suspect he has now received his resurrection body including his resurrected hands.

We know for certain that the hands of resurrection bodies are recognisable because Jesus showed his nail-printed hands to his disciples. They were proof of his identity. Maybe I will recognise Robert by his hands! That’s a joyful thought!

This is a work in progress…

I know God’s mind is unfathomable, but he invites us to wonder and to strive to know him more deeply. I know Robert is with Christ. I know my story is unique. But, in my grief, I want to know more…I want to know whether Robert is asleep, ‘disembodiedly’ conscious or has already received his resurrection body.

Writing Sudden death…then what? over many months has channelled my thinking. Many people haven’t thought much about this. That’s why I’m sharing my embryonic conclusions about resurrection bodies, eternity, life – plus reflections on the specific impact of sudden death. I’ve written this on 6th October 2019.

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