Monday, April 07, 2014

The Garden Revisited

The Garden Revisited

G-d came walking again in the Garden this morning. 10:01 AM, just like every morning. Just like Immanuel Kant and his famous evening strolls by which his fellow Königsberg residents were able to set their clocks. “Heh heh, he was one of my better creations,” G-d chuckled to the birds lighting on G-d’s fingers. “A little anal retentive, way too stuck in his head, but definitely one of my better creations.”

Adam, humanity! Hawwah, mother of all life! Where are you?” G-d called. This was one of G_d’s favorite games. Of course, G_d knew where they were. G-d always knows where all of us are. Our brother, Jesus, taught us a long time ago that not a single sparrow falls from the sky that its Creator is not aware of it.

Even so, G_d loved this game. And so they played it, every morning.

But today, Adam and Hawwah weren’t answering. They were trying to hide for real. Of course, they knew it was pointless. They knew that G-d loved hide and seek even though G-d always won. But today, they weren’t playing.

G-d stood on the wooden footbridge over the little meandering creek looking down at the many beautiful fish scooting by in the current, just down the path from where the two human creatures huddled behind an enormous baobab tree. Some called the baobab The Tree of Life and they said it connected heaven with its uppermost branches and earth with its deeply plunging roots.

A frown crossed G_d’s face. “Why are you hiding from me?” G-d asked.


“OK, I know you’re hiding over there behind that baobab tree I created. Come on out. Let’s talk. Tell me what’s going on.”

Adam and Hawwah slowly stepped from behind the tree and onto the path. Adam’s hands covered his genitalia and Hawwah tried to cover both her breasts and her genitalia.

“Uh-oh. Adam, Hawwah, you ate from that Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, didn’t you?”

Silence. Downcast eyes.

Adam looked up and pitifully started to ramble, “It was her fault, she…”

G_d cut him off mid-sentence. “Oh, please, Adam, spare me the blame game. You are adults now. That’s what the tree was about. Knowing good from evil means making moral choices and being responsible for those choices. It’s what we expect from adults. The tree and the serpent were all a part of the plan. It was time for you to grow up. There’s no room for blaming here.”

Hawwah now spoke, “But if I had only not listened to that damned snake…”

Again, G-d cut her off mid-sentence. “Now, Hawwah, don’t be ugly. That ‘damned snake’ is also one of my creations. Remember, what the writer I inspired to write Genesis told you: It’s all very good. Including you. Besides, the snake was doing its job, just like I told it to.”

Adam persisted: “But Augustine said everything you create is perfect and that the only way to ever account for evil and wrong-doing is to blame it on us humans. He said we’re responsible for something called “The Fall” and the whole Creation getting messed up because of us. He said you’re going to kick us out of this Garden and that every child who comes after us will begin life with something he called “original sin.” And he said that if they don’t choose the right belief system (meaning Augustine’s, of course), you’ll send them to a fiery place called Hell to be punished eternally.”

Adam bit his lip and continued, “G-d we’re really sorry about the fruit and all.….but don’t you think that’s a bit harsh?”

“Aha! I see the effects of the Tree are beginning to kick in already,” G-d said with a smile.

Then G-d sighed deeply.

“Poor Augustine. He was also one of my better creations. Smart, earnest, loyal to the end. But Augie got a little lost along the way. He was dealing with a lot, you know, what with his obsessions over sex not to mention the invading hordes pounding at his city gates. For some reason, he felt he had to defend my honor like the Roman imperial rulers he admired so much. And he somehow felt compelled to explain how evil things could occur in a divinely created world thus tainting the Creator’s reputation.

“So he started with some Greek philosophy. (How about that Plato fellow! Sharp cookie, no? I was on a roll the day I created him!) He sautéed it with a little Manichaean dualism, added a dash of Neoplatonist philosophy of the One, brought it to a boil and then stirred in bits of Hebrew Scripture, apocryphal Jewish writing and a badly translated chapter from Paul’s epistles. (I think Augie should have spent a little more time on his Greek and less on working out his issues in the Confessions.)

“What he ended up with was a rather grim, convoluted account which ended up blaming my human creations for everything wrong with the planet. Poor Adam, you became Augustine’s fall guy and Hawwah, not surprisingly, when the good ole boys adopted his work as their textbook, they ended up shifting all the blame to the woman. As Augustine told the story, after the little incident with the tree and the snake my human creations were left corrupted and powerless, particularly when it came to sex, requiring constant supervision. (No small amount of projection going on there, no?) And as if things weren’t bad enough, he named this craziness after me, The City of God.

“The worst part of all this is that he said that my forgiveness was somehow contingent upon the brutal murder of one of My beloved children, Jesus, to satisfy my need for retribution and to restore my honor. Otherwise, I’d be unable or unwilling to forgive everyone of this invention of his called original sin. And, as you said, they’d all end up in Hell.

What was he thinking? I’ve been forgiving all levels of beings for all kinds of things since the dawn of time. What would make him think I ever required a human sacrifice to do that?

“Somehow Augie failed to realize that I expected my human animals to grow out of that sacrifice bit as quickly as possible along with their other tribal understandings that illnesses and natural disasters were somehow my abusive parental way of punishing disobedient children. Why on earth he thought I would actually require Jesus to be slaughtered as a condition of forgiving people of their sins, I have no clue.

“Poor twisted soul. He never did come to grips with all his personal demons.”

Hawwah now stepped in: “So, wait a minute. You mean women are not the cause of all that is evil in this world? You mean all our granddaughters don’t have to start out life with two strikes against them because of me? You mean they won’t have to live into demands that they make an impossible choice between Mary the perpetual virgin or me as the whore? You mean I’m not responsible for everyone having to constantly be in fear of death, worrying about whether you’ll forgive us for everything we think, say and do that is wrong (especially those sexual fantasies)?”

A lump came to G_d's throat. “Oh, Hawwah, my daughter,” G-d began. “I am truly sorry these destructive theologies have been developed in my name. Watching you standing there shivering in my presence breaks my heart. I loved you at your Creation and I love you no less now. So let me lay out a few things for you right here.

“First, the potential to do evil has always been a part of the creation. What you call sin is simply the violation of relationships; relationships between you and the depths of your own soul where my love for all creation is written; relationships between you and my other creations - your fellow human animals, the non-human animals, the beautiful plants I have given you to feed yourselves. The beauty of all of these created beings alone should remind you of my love for my own Creation. Even the good Earth itself was created for relationship with its inhabitants.

“You were created for relationship. And when you forget that, you are prone to sin.

“Clearly, sin is not a trivial thing. It’s a major impediment to relationship. And it has the potential to do great harm to the good Creation and its inhabitants. But the fruit you’ve just eaten today already is telling you something important. If you are capable of making decisions which result in evil, you are equally capable of recognizing your mistake, changing your minds and making decisions that result in good. That change of mind, change of heart and thus change of interactions with others is what repentance actually means. In many cases those changes have the power to heal damaged relationships with our inner selves, our fellow human animals and the rest of Creation.

“Most of all, it is always my joy to see you turn from ways of thinking, speaking and acting which harm yourselves and the Creation around you. The Creation is always a better place when you do. But you should never, ever, think even for one second, that anything you do can rupture your relationship with me, your Creator. You came from me and when you die, you return to me. And in between, you are always connected to me. Your very being is grounded in me, even when you choose to ignore that.

“But, Augustine said…” Adam interjected.

“Oh, I know. Augustine told you that eating from this tree resulted in an eternal, essential change in human nature and the Creation. He said you were fallen and you couldn’t get up. (Sorry, guys, just a little consumerist advertising humor there. I couldn’t help myself! That ad is so funny!)

“Of course, Augustine gave human agency way too much credit. Think of how ridiculous his argument is that a human decision, made before the humans even knew the difference between right and wrong somehow had the power to change the very nature of My very good Creation.

In what universe?

“Poor Augustine. He really tried, which is more than I can say for a lot of the folks that came after him (like those tormented souls of the Reformation era who tried to out-Augustine Augustine). Thank Me that there really is rest and peace in the afterlife for those who suffer from acute existential anxieties during this life and manage to impose that suffering on everyone around them as a result.”

Adam lit up. “So you’re not going to kick us out of the Garden, then? Can I make reservations for three at the Tree of Life Terrace for sunset? They have the best Mai-Tais!”

“Not so fast, Adam. I told you that you were now grown up. But there’s some bad news in all this as well. Now that your have finally evolved into homo sapiens, capable of knowing, remembering and predicting, you also have become aware of a part of Creation that was always there but which, as children, you simply didn’t know about.

“All created beings are finite. They have a life span. They are born, they grow and mature, they age and then they die. All of it is a part of the design of living beings and has been from the beginning. The only difference is, where before you were oblivious to this reality, now you know that your lives are finite. I’m sorry to have to give you that news. But I suspect you will learn to deal with it in an appropriate way. You’re quite creative and ingenuous. I should know. I created you bearing My image and the potential to grow increasingly into My likeness.

“Now about the Garden. With the knowledge of good and evil, you have matured to adulthood as a species. You must now make moral decisions that arise from living in community with your fellow human animals. You are no longer the hunter-gatherer homo habilis free to roam a fertile garden with all you needed to survive with no effort on your part. You have evolved into the thinking, social animals, homo sapiens. You now have responsibilities to yourselves and to others. And you must use your ability to think, remember and predict to create and maintain a healthy social world for yourselves.

“So, you can’t stay in this Garden. It’s time to take up the work you were created to do. Try not to forget the rest of Creation in that work. That you have the power and the ingenuity to use the Creation to your own benefit does not mean you should necessarily do so in any fashion you choose and particularly not in a way that does not respect its dignity. You have obligations to the rest of Creation not the least of which is to always remember that while you are an important part of the good Creation, you are ultimately just one part.

“Try not to forget that whatever else you do, you remain connected to and grounded in Me. I am as close as the breath you breathe, the breath that means the very difference between life and death. I am the wind whispering in the trees, the water that washes your hands, I am the soil under your feet and the sun that warms your face. Mine are the last hands to touch you before you enter this world and mine are the loving arms that embrace you when you return home to Me.

“Your brother, Jesus, was right: I really am with you always even unto the end of the age. And I like your company. You should pray once in awhile or at least text me occasionally."

And then G-d smiled. “You’re welcome.”

With that G-d turned and walked down the path, over the bridge, disappearing around a bend into the greenery of the Garden. Suddenly Adam and Hawwah found themselves outside the Garden, wearing Nikes, khaki Dockers and polo shirts with corporate logos, smartphone in hand, looking backing at a gateway into the Garden they had never previously known existed.
For a second they looked longingly at the gate and the Garden beyond it. An angel stood in front of the padlocked gate, light saber in hand, and said, “Uh, uh, uh, folks. You can’t go back now. It’s time to go to work.”

They looked at each other and Adam said to Hawwah, “So, what do we do now?”  

The angel just grinned at them.

The Beginning.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, M.Div., J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Associate Lecturer: Religion and Cultural Studies, Humanities, Philosophy of Law
Osceola Regional Campus, Kissimmee
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
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