When Michelangelo finished painting the Sistine Chapel, neither the Pope who hired him nor the glorified artists of Rome took particular notice of the depiction in the center of the ceiling, where God, whom Michelangelo had the audacity to depict as a Being resembling a human, stretches His divine hand toward the first man, Adam, who is lolling in beautiful yet limp perfection, awaiting The Touch that will bring him Life.
The rich, the sophisticated, the high born, and the well-bred appraised the Chapel in numerous private viewings and judged it to be good work, perhaps even worthy of praise. They thought Michelangelo had displayed craft in handling the difficult curves of the ceiling and the added challenge of painting plaster while it was still drying. They critiqued individual figures throughout the fresco, but no particular section stood out in their notice.
It was not until they opened the Chapel to the hungry eyes of commoners, who would lock on those two fingertips, one Divine and one human, with Life about to leap, that anyone within the Vatican or the learned societies of Rome began to realize that The Touch was something special.
Faith Thomas and Andrew Jones were two of those commoners, among the centuries of tourists who had lifted their gazes within the Sistine Chapel to find themselves transfixed, open-mouthed, filled with wonder and joy. Faith and Jones, as she called him, were not in most ways what anybody would call typical; both in their midtwenties, they were an attractive couple, Faith with blue eyes and dark chestnut hair, and Jones tall and sandy haired, his eyes green and fierce. Among the tens of thousands of young Americans backpacking through Europe in the summer they stood out and drew as many glances as the statues and inlaid floors of the palaces they visited.
Still they were common. Both were from Appalachia, she from the coal fields of Pennsylvania and he from the Blue Ridge in Virginia. They had met in medical school. Now they were lying on their backs on the floor of the great Chapel, gazing upward, necks resting on their backpacks, each containing a battered copy of Europe from $85 a Day. Faith was worried the Vatican guards were going to tell them to get up, that lying in the middle of the Sistine Chapel’s floor was not allowed on tour days or on any other days either, but Jones had whispered something to one of them when they walked in, and the guards seemed to ignore them after that. Maybe because it was the last group allowed in before the Vatican tours closed for the day. The other tourists in their group had already gazed at the ceiling; their eyes already wore the glaze that comes from trying to capture and comprehend the greatness of a work of art whose subject, as well as the technique in depicting it, were beyond understanding. “The Divine Touch” was something to ponder; every person who lifted eyes toward it knew that looking at it was a privilege. But Faith Thomas and Andrew Jones lay on their backs below it and felt the thrill of a special privilege. To lie on a floor where thousands, even millions, of feet walked could have seemed unsanitary to their American minds, but the sanctity of the place made even the floor feel pristine.
“Is it the gift of life?” Jones wondered aloud to Faith, as his eyes, in sync with hers, drifted from the fingertips about to touch to the form of Eve depicted in God’s other hand as a partner created for Adam. “Or the gift of love?”
“Both,” she whispered back. “It says love and life are the same thing.” Without moving her eyes for a long moment, she added, “You’ve got hands like that.”
“Like Adam? Or like Michelangelo?” He was grinning; she knew the cocking grin without turning to look at it.
“Like the Big Guy with the white hair. Your touch brings me to Life.”
In duplication of the painting he stretched his hand towards her; she extended her hand to him. But then instead of brushing fingertips, he surprised her by gripping her hand and pulling something from the coin pocket of his jeans and slipping it onto her ring finger.
It was an engagement band.
She rolled onto her side, looked at her finger, then at him. Suddenly they were kissing, and the whole room full of tourists was applauding them, and the guards were winking at Jones.
Even the painting directly above them seemed to glow brighter.
Excerpted from THE TOUCH © Copyright 2011 by Randall Wallace. Reprinted with permission by Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.