Saturday, February 02, 2008

Did Adam and Eve get a kiss good-bye?

This afternoon the house was empty
so I cranked up the Metropolitan opera broadcast of Wagner's Die Walkure. Almost everyone knows the famous "Ride of the Valkyries" (or has heard it thanks to Apocolypse Now). But for me the best comes last: the closing scene, "Wotan's Farewell," (which you can start watching here and finish watching here. ) In the final act, one of the Valkyries, Brunhilde, disobeys her father, the god Wotan. Here is the Met synopsis of the scene:
Left alone with her father, Brunhilde pleads that she was really doing what he wished. Wotan will not relent: she must lie in sleep, a prize for any man who finds her. But as his anger abates, she asks the favor of being surrounded in sleep by a wall of fire that only the bravest hero can pierce. Both sense this hero must be the child that Sieglinde will bear. Sadly renouncing his daughter, Wotan kisses Brünnhilde's eyes with sleep and mortality before summoning Loge, the spirit of fire, to encircle the rock. As flames spring up, Wotan invokes a spell forbidding the rock to anyone who fears his spear (fire music).

I have often imagined the expulsion from Eden to have been a fiery, thunderous affair, rather like the Archangel Michael wielding his flaming sword in Respighi's Church Windows. But now I wonder if it wasn't more the way Donald MacIntyre (as Wotan) sadly kisses Gwyneth Jones (as Brunhilde) good-bye. Like Adam and Eve, Brunhilde's disobedience results in a Fall. Wotan, like Yahweh, punishes in order to preserve justice. Both do so with simultaneous love and pain. Wotan gently lowers Brunhilde onto a ledge where she will sleep in safety, awaiting her fate. Yahweh graciously makes garments of skin for his naked, rebellious children before he banishes them, for their own good.

There are similarities, but there are also important differences. Wotan cannot redeem. He can only wander off into the distance and await his destruction, and hope that the flames will protect his beloved daughter from harm. As the dispirited Wotan kisses Brunhilde goodbye, he knows that he is condemning her her to her eventual death. Perhaps he even sees his own future, wherein his spear, symbolizing his power, is broken.

But Yahweh is the Almighty, who, even as He judges, works to restore and renew. Instead of imprisoning us in our own private, unconscious Edens, He sent us out-- together--to witness and share His salvation, unleashed by a soldier's spear (John 19:34). We are protected not by flames, but by faith in Him. (1 Peter 1). Our story is the reverse of Brunhilde's; she starts out immortal and ends up a mortal; we start out mortal, and we end up immortal (1 Cor. 15:53-54). Wotan cannot redeem, but Yahweh can and does.

So. Did God kiss Adam and Eve goodbye?

I don't know. But there's something I'm wondering about even more: will He kiss us hello when we rise from death?

Somehow I think He will.

NOTE: Want to learn more about Wagner's Ring?Here's Eric Rawlins' straitforward, non-threatening, amateur's introduction. You might also be interested in his analysis of the musical themes in The Lord of the Rings, here.

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