After the Garden

 

"The Garden of Eden with the Temptation in the Background", by Jan Brueghel the elder, c. 1600, (Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
“The Garden of Eden with the Temptation in the Background”, by Jan Brueghel the elder, c. 1600, (Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

Scripture Passage:  Genesis 2: 15-17, 3: 1-7 (Lent 1A)

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”…Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’“ But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

So at the beginning of this year’s Lenten season, the Lectionary propels us back into our somewhat sketchy past.  St. Augustine and myriads of theologians to follow would have called it the “original sin”, as if it is the cause of all other sins that follow.  Now, admittedly, I don’t like to get stuck on that idea of original sin.  I’m pretty sure that if the first humans had not messed up, someone soon after would have.  But this is the story we have.  We have images of humans walking in a beautiful garden hand in hand without a care in the world.  And then we have some sort of talking snake or prehistoric serpent or some other obnoxious creature that pulls them away from who they are and who they are meant to be.  And they give in.  They give in to the first temptation to be someone they are not.  Then they realize their mistake much too late to change the course of their action.  Well, we know the story.  (Oh, who are we kidding? We’re LIVING the story!)  They are no longer innocent and the beauty of the garden is lost forever.

This has always been an odd story to me.  Now, admittedly, I’m sure it is of no surprise to most of you that I tend to assume that this is fable rather than a literal historical account. But just because it probably isn’t “true” does not mean that it is not full of “Truth”.  In some respects, this is the rawest, most profound, most human Truth that there is.  After all, we all wander down the wrong road every now and again and some of us do it daily without even intending it.  And we all live with consequences of trying to overreach, trying to be someone we’re not, trying to assume things that are not ours to assume.  We all live with consequences of, essentially, overstepping and overreaching and trying to be the god of our own life.  And we all lose that innocence that we once had.

But, really, does God want a bunch of mindless innocents walking around in this world?  If that were the case, then God would never have shared the part of the Godself with us that is known as free will.  You see, God in God’s infinite wisdom gave up omnipotence for relationship.  God doesn’t want a bunch of robotic beings following the Great Divine because they know nothing else.  God created us to desire, to choose, to follow God of our own volition.  Innocence is way overrated.  You see, if God wanted us to stay in some sort of garden, fenced off from the rest of the world, I guess God would have left us there, protected from the world and, mostly, from ourselves.  I really don’t think that this journey we’re on returns us to the Garden, whatever that was.  That was our beginning.  The journey returns us to God, to who God envisions that we can be.  Think of the Garden as our womb, the place that protected and shielded us until we were ready for the journey, until we found that part of ourself that chose to follow, that chose God. 

So what do we do after the garden?  We follow where God leads us; we follow that innate sense that all of us have to return to God and to whom we are called to be.  You see, we have no more excuses.  Read the end of the passage.  Our eyes have been opened.  We know where we fall short; we know that we cannot do this by ourself; we know that God is God and we are not.  And in that is our beginning.  Thanks be to God!

Sin is our only hope, because the recognition that something is wrong is the first step toward setting it right again.  (Barbara Brown Taylor, Speaking of Sin:  The Lost Language of Salvation)

So on this Lenten journey, open your eyes.  Open your eyes and take a good hard look at yourself.  What do you need to choose to leave behind?  Where do you choose to go? What does your beginning, your escape from innocence, look like?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

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