The Garden Part 4—Aftermath
“ Now the human knew Havva his wife…”
The set changes quickly once the man and woman are expelled from their lovely world of rivers and trees. The text does not linger to reflect on what has just happened. The woman and the man make love and then disappear as through a trap door on the stage floor. The result of this act of “knowing” results in two sons, Cain and Abel. Hebraic sensibility does not suggest anything beyond the biological consequence of physical intimacy. The quick succession of births signals the pace the text will acquire as we move quickly past the incident in the Garden, the “pivoting point,” which Avivah Zornberg calls, “the preamble to the problem of man” (Origins of Desire p. 14). This rush into the cascading implications for human relations and for the world now takes over. The momentum is fierce and headlong—from eating fruit one moment, to the murder of one brother by another in the following scene, to an earth filled with violence, the result of the hearts of humans planning evil all the live long day (Gen. 6.5).
However, we do not need to jump into this furious rhythm without taking some time to wonder what it might have been like for these first two human beings in the moments after stepping into the outside world. After all, they stay together after the expulsion. This, it seems to me, is something worth noting. In addition, their desire for each other follows into their exile, unless we accept, without blushing, that their “knowing” each other is pure biological instinct. Perhaps, but as active readers we may invoke the privilege to stop at any time, step outside the flow of the story and ask whatever we wish. Did the man and woman talk about the whole debacle? Did they come to mutual agreement or continue the blame game? Did the episode become one of those events that families decide never to bring up? Did they tell the story to their sons or were Cain and Abel acting unaware of the family secret?
Some may object to raising these concerns. What does this have to do with the essential concerns of the fall of man? In response, we may want to ask an important reading question: if the text is not interested in these queries, can we continue to raise them as legitimate concerns for exploration? Put another way, is this text simply disinterested, focused on matters the author deems more important or is this an example of condensation? Remember, condensation is the most fundamental style of biblical writing. By condensing a text, a maximum of meaning may be conveyed by a minimum of words. For most texts, motivation, intentions, feelings, inner thoughts, and reactions between characters are withheld from the explicit text, but assumed into the spaces between the letters, words, and phrases. In other words, the text is written with the assumption that readers will inquire into these dimensions, in order to fill out the many layers that make up a full human life. Curiosity is the primary attribute needed at this point, curiosity about everything and everything. This also requires that each of us become willing to take the risk of imagining ourselves onto the stage and into the moment. On this basis, I follow this rule. If a question comes to mind, I ask it. However, I carry an important caution during the inquiry. Any conclusion must remain only as possibility and not settle into certainty. We cannot climb into the role of the narrator and self-validate our insights. But, even if the text does not validate (as some will) or even notice our observations, it remains our privilege to ask the questions. When we accept the invitation to open our imaginations and our lives to these texts, reading bible becomes the life giving and transforming word that it was intended to be.
Our particular text offers little help and guidance to our exploration. However, we are rarely alone with our questions. Whenever we look about us, we discover that many others have gazed upon a text with the similar concerns and questions of their own. Listen to this poem by the Argentinean poet, Jorge Luis Borges translated from the Spanish by Alastair Reid.
Adam Cast Forth
The Garden—was it real or was it dream?
Slow in the hazy light, I have been asking,
Almost as a comfort, if the past
Belonging to this now unhappy Adam
Was nothing but a magic fantasy
Of that God I dreamed. Now it is imprecise
In memory, that lucid paradise,
But I know it exists and will persist
Though not for me. The unforgiving earth
is my affliction, and the incestuous wars
of Cains and Abels and their progeny.
Nevertheless, it means much to have loved,
To have been happy, to have touched upon
The living Garden, even for one day.
Once upon a time there was a place, a moment in time, distinct from any other time and place. Do the man and women remember that time once they cross the threshold into the outside world? Does it fade away with each passing day, or as the “incestuous wars” rage, or under assault from the new realities of their post-garden life. Or is it possible that they carry this memory with them, as images rooted in some deep ancient soil within, feeding the roots of longing for what can never be. The juxtaposition of expulsion seems violent. Adam is taken from Adamah—the soil. The expulsion sets the human into conflict with the very humus from which it came. As Carl Jung observes—the human now enters into a state of war with itself. And yet, is it possible that, while this daunting conflict threatens to overcome it, the memory of a different time and place, perhaps even a way of being, clings to the soul and is enough to satisfy the thirst of exile. This thought is not unique with Borges.
Isn’t it part of our own inner geography, this same place of origin somewhere within each of us, passed down generation to generation, or perhaps reenacted when we are born, when we cross the threshold of womb to world. This same drama, open to the mythopoetic eye, holds us to hope, not by reminding us of a place of innocence protected by eyes not yet opened to which we may never return, but as the “pivoting point” endured as an essential and shared experience in the human drama, moment by moment, time after time. The text reveals that humans not only eat the forbidden fruit and suffer exile as a result. They continue to “know” each other—in nakedness (arum) and in their subtlety and deception (arum). Thus, we read a single phrase revealing that before the births of the children, the two lie in each other arms. Do they not feel the grief of loss, the betrayal each has visited upon the other, yet they lie in each other’s arms, searching perhaps, for that oneness that comes through the fires of desire and the universal impulse for progeny. Here, before the text spills down the slope into its incessant tragic rush, we may pause with wonder and amazement so that we remember this unspoken moment since we will visit it again and again throughout the epic that is about to burst upon us. Each occurrence will help keep alive this primal memory of another time and place. Sarah and Abraham, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and Rachael, Hannah and even poor old Elkanah, David and Bathsheba, will re-enact the play with their own twist upon the script. Even so, each time, if we are reading carefully, we cannot help but be moved by their struggle to find each other midst all the forces that pull apart.
Much of theology excoriates these first humans. They are representative of all human failure and disobedience. Such a perspective comes from a narrow reading of a life and is usually self-serving. Ironically, those intent on reading the narrative as a literal rendering of first things do not consider the man and women to be real people. They are turned into caricatures, cardboard figures we hardly recognize as genuine. We must breathe into their forms the breath of life.
Perhaps it takes a cynic with a warm heart to notice what is really happening between the lines in that single phrase. Mark Twain imagines the old man, Adam, standing over the grave site of Eve. He says: “Wheresoever she was, there was Eden.” I wonder if God could have imagined such a declaration. Either way, he must have been seized by wonder as he gazed upon the work of his own hands.
The grandeur of human relation is how tenacious it is. As pastoral counselor, I learned this first hand and I also learned that this tenacity was the most important force to align with whenever a couple came to marriage therapy. I began the therapeutic process by listening to the complaints: to the hurt, the frustration, the loneliness, narratives of betrayal, the deceptions and the grief. However, early in the sessions, I also asked them to tell stories about their meetings, the courtship, the bonding that developed between them in their original moments. My intent was not to ignore their pain by changing subjects, or address the negative by looking at a more positive time in their relation. One theory of conjoint therapy suggests that the strength of the original bond helps determine if the couple can struggle through the pain of betrayal and deception, in order to rediscover each other and rebuild the relationship. This is what I was searching for—that memory that might hold them together, now that their eyes were open to each other as they really were—naked, crafty and afraid. I watched carefully the way they told these stories. It could be never be the same as it was before. No relation can remain in the garden or return after the expulsion. Perhaps, however, the journey ahead begins by invoking the same original memory:
To have been happy, to have touched upon
The living Garden, even for one day.