Non-verbal Communication: Cain looking at us

Cain and Abel – the mythical story of the first two children of humanity – in the Book of Genesis (Genesis 4:1-16) is about something that never happened way back when but about what is always happening with us: the inexplicable violence to which humankind turns against itself. It’s about the yawning abyss of violence into which we plunge when we can’t make sense out of life or when things don’t go our way.

Yesterday’s brief post on Via Lucis Photography of Religious Architecture focuses on a capital of Cain and Abel in a Romanesque church.

Photograph by Dennis Aubrey of Via Lucis Photography of Religious Architecture

Photograph by Dennis Aubrey of Via Lucis Photography of Religious Architecture

Like the Genesis writer, the Medieval artist whose hand crafted the story in stone many centuries later was doing theology and anthropology. The biblical author told the story with words; the Medieval sculptor told it with non-verbal communication.

The face of Cain on Via Lucis held my attention long after I’d gone on with the day. It kept returning to mind.

Cain’s head isn’t turned toward Abel whom he is pummeling to death with his stave. He’s looking away from Cain at someone or something else, as if to say the viewer, “So, you think I’m cruel. You think I’m different. You’re looking in the mirror.”

In the biblical story God tells Cain, “sin is crouching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” The Medieval sculptor’s art seems to be saying it in stone. Cain’s head is cocked, his eyes looking at us. At you. At me.  And, perhaps, at God, to whose failure to rescue Abel he shifts responsibility: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  The capital seems to say Cain knows he owns us and the endless history of violence in which the blood of the silent victims cries out from the ground, unless and until we – persons, groups, religions, races, cultures, nations, a species – master the sin that’s forever crouching at our door.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 16, 2015

 

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