closing down and opening up

(fr. Cyprian)

The fifth week in Ordinary Time we heard the story of creation and the fall from the Book of Genesis, the foundational myth of the Judeo-Christian tradition, especially what was the well-known unfortunate climax of the story, Eve and then Adam eating the apple from the tree of in the middle of the Garden of Eden. Finally we hear at end of the week the consequences of that act.

There’s an ancient prejudice about the Divine embedded in this story, it seems to me. Many of the ancient peoples thought of the gods and goddesses as competitors, and they wanted to keep them as far away as possible and do anything they could to appease them, not irritate them, to avoid their wrath and their anger. And so a whole dynamic of competition is set up, for example the myth of Prometheus, where Prometheus tried to steal the fire from heaven and is punished for it by being chained to the mountain where his liver gets eaten out every day and grows back every day. When Thomas Merton wrote about this (in “Raids on the Unspeakable”), he laments that we moderns are still so fascinated by this image (of Prometheus), because in Christianity, our God wants to give us the fire––we don’t have to steal it! And in some way the same thing is operative here in this story of Adam and Eve: the sin seems to have been grasping and grabbing for divinity, demanding to be equal to God. What they didn’t know, and perhaps what we only know through Jesus, is that our God actually wants us to share the divinity, but we can’t grab at it––it has to be given! And so Paul tells us that this is the salient feature of Jesus that though he was in the form of God he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, rather he emptied himself… and it was therefore that God raised him on high and gave him the name above all other names. This is a big problem with many of the modern day spiritual movements: We claim our divinity, we grasp at and grab after equality with God, but we wind up divinizing our ego. The way, Jesus shows us, is through emptying ourselves completely.

And the outcome, which we hear about in today’s reading (Gen 3:9-24), is simple: everything falls apart. In some way you could say that because that one relationship has been disrupted—the relationship with God with whom up to this point Adam and Eve have been able to walk together in the garden in the cool of the evening breeze¬¬¬¬—because their relationship with the Spirit has been broken—both the Holy Spirit and that spirit blown into the center of their own beings at creation—, all the other relationships fall apart. We use an acronym sometimes in teaching about yoga; “yoga,” you may know means “union”; it is a means of establishing union with four things––S-O-N-G: self, others, nature, God. If we turn that backwards: because their relationship with God has been broken they are out of right relationship with everything else: nature¬¬—the ground is cursed and they will only get food from it from the sweat of their brow in toil and hardship; others—the union between the two of them is disrupted (originally they were partners, now he will be her master; interesting to note that the male domination over women is a result of the fall, not part of God’s original plan). And worse yet, they are now out of touch with themselves, even their own bodies! The woman now has to endure intensified pain in bearing children, and what’s even more significant, they are ashamed of their nakedness, they are ashamed of their own bodies. This must be a big deal since it has been mentioned twice before that they were naked and unashamed. The image I have is that suddenly everything that was open has now shut down, and most especially the garden itself, the place of union with God, where now there is a cherubim with a fiery revolving sword making sure it stays closed.

In the gospels on the other hand, we see that whereas Adam and Eve were out of right relationship with God and therefore out of right relationship with everything, here we have in Jesus someone who is absolutely in right relationship with God, with the Spirit—and everything is opening back up again! The winds and the seas obey him, crippled and blind and even dead bodies come back to life. Relationships are healed and sinners are forgiven without having to do anything to earn the forgiveness. And instead of having to beat the heavens and toil in the earth to bring forth happiness and abundance we have Jesus saying that he has compassion on the crowd, and I have to come bring the fire to the earth… I came that you may have life and have it abundantly… the Father is glad to give you the kingdom. And in the marvelous miracle of Mark (8:1-10) that is read on the same day as the casting out of the garden, there is not only enough to eat, but abundance! There were seven extra baskets left over! It seems equally important that this is the second time we hear a version of this story in Mark. The first time in Chapter 6 (:35-43), it was twelve baskets of broken pieces, perhaps a symbol of the twelve tribes of Israel. But this time Jesus is coming in from Tyre and Sidon, modern day Lebanon, outside of the Promised Land, and has just healed the Syro-Phoenician woman. Scholars tell us that this version is for the Gentiles, and the seven loaves may represent the 70 nations of the Gentiles. Everything is opening up, even the covenant! I wonder: could those seven baskets of leftovers be also symbolic of the seven days of creation and here it is the bread of the eighth day, that great Eucharistic symbol, not just enough bread for one day’s journey, but abundance, a good measure, pressed down, flowing over.

In the story of the fall of Adam and Eve we see everything close down. In the story of Jesus we see everything open back up. The universe is not a dark foreboding place; it once again becomes a garden of delights and riches, which our God wants to pour on us. Our God is glad to give us the kingdom; and Jesus wants us to share in his divinity just as he shared in our humanity.

14 feb 15

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