Tuesday, October 20, 2009
What If? Arbor Vitae....Redemptionis
Some time ago I wrote a post about the fact that fiction safely asks the question, "What if?"
It asks us to suspend belief, to enter a different dimension and accept the parameters of the fictional life being given. This crosses all the genres; historical, future, science fiction, mystery, and the obvious fantasy. Even anecdotal accounts have a certain amount of "literary license" or "poetic license" in the telling of tales.
There is beauty in this, though, for often these fictional worlds force us to consider things that transcend us. Not all of those things are good; not all have at their heart Truth or Beauty or Goodness. Not all of them INTEND to have those things at their source, not because they want to challenge us, but only to present something totally oppositional to what we live, which, in the end, forces us to realize those things that ARE true and good and beautiful.
Of course, there is fictional writing out there worth even less than the "Piss Madonna" or whatever that waste of urine is called. Oh, and not just the "artist" but his blasphemous work, too.
But I digress.
This evening I had a conversation with a friend and we discussed a few things that have come to mind during the last few years of my theological studies and some recent talks I have given.
The conversation made me muse a bit more, realizing that questions are important and it's possible to ask them in a way that doesn't offend Truth, but perhaps maybe reveals it more clearly. I don't know. All I know is that I am pondering some theological questions, hope to do so faithfully and no matter where I tread, I hope to remain a loyal daughter of the Church.
Of what, you ask, do I muse tonight?
It goes back to Genesis and Original Sin.
Fascinating stuff, of course. We know what happened but I'm going to recap anyhow:
Eve was hanging out in the Garden one day, minding her own business when the Serpent slithered up the Tree of Life under whose branches Eve was innocently contemplating God's Glory.
The Serpent, a real snake of action, never known to be appreciative of contemplation himself, rudely interrupted her reverie and asked her randomly,
"Did God say you shouldn't eat of ANY tree in the garden?"
His deception was simple and subtle and he licked his lips while he waited for Eve to process what he'd asked. But she was actually more astute than he'd realized.
Eve, rising from her prayerful contemplation, corrected the Serpent, and said, "That's not what God said and you know it. He said we can eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but if we eat from a particular tree in the center, we can't touch it lest we die. THAT tree, not "any" tree. Be proper in your use of language; language can be really misleading. You should know better."
The serpent, realizing that God had gifted humanity with a real intellect and not just tree sap for brains, saw that he had to be even more sublime in his tactics. But he also saw an opening.
Rather than engage in the semantics of the argument, he started a new one, to see if he could keep Eve guessing. This was fun!
"WHAT?!" The Serpent exclaimed. "He said WHAT?!"
He noted with satisfaction Eve's expression, alarmed both at the blasphemy (for which she didn't have a word) and the seeming intelligence of the Serpent.
Eve felt a shadow creep into her intellect and will. She deliberated and thought maybe she should listen to the Serpent for a moment, even though every fibre of her being told her she should run away screaming.
The Serpent, seeing in her eyes the doubt creeping in, continued in his most enticing of voices, speaking in a conciliatory manner so as not to offend her sensibilities, "You will not die. God knows that when you eat of this fruit your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
He waited, licking his lips, resting on a branch in a bit of sunlight that had made its way through the leaves. He moved a bit so that the light wouldn't fall directly on him, for he hated when his scales reflected the sunlight. He found a satisfying spot in the crotch of the tree and rested there, burrowing deeply in satisfaction, sighing in preparation for a nice nap after his present work was done.
Eve pondered the Serpent's subtle words. "Eyes opened?"
Did that mean her eyes weren't opened? She reached up and wiped her eyes for a moment, looking around her at the beauty of creation, the sun, the dappled spots on the ground, and the animals crowded around her feet. They all seemed oblivious to this conversation, but only went about gnawing on leaves or resting in the shade cast by the Hosta plants under the Tree of Life. Eve wiped her eyes again, wondering if perhaps it was possible there was something she WASN'T seeing? Could the Father have held something back from them? The Serpent seemed to think so. Why would he use that phrase if she already knew everything she was supposed to know? Was she supposed to know MORE?
And what of this "good and evil"?
What did that mean?
Eve looked around her, and saw that everything was good. She had intimate union with God, she was physically comfortable all the time, she had enough to eat, just the right amount, and life was perfect. Most importantly, she reveled in the love of God and perfect union with Him while enjoying His Creation.
What was "evil"?
This made her curious. What would the deprivation of good be like? Was there another side to things? Wouldn't it be interesting to see what it was like where God was not present?
The Serpent rested, watching Eve's deliberation, watching her eyes taking in everything around her and finally alighting on the Tree of Life.
Her eyes, focusing on the Arbor Vitae lit up in a different way. She saw that the Tree was good, too, and the fruit...quite inviting. It was colorful and emitted a tantalizing fragrance, perhaps even more so because it was forbidden.
She'd noticed it before but in purity of intention considered it nothing more than an inedible flower in a different form. But now, wondering if God perhaps hadn't told them EVERYTHING she felt her mouth watering and reached out to the tree, almost against her will...but not quite.
Once it was in her hand, she hesitated no longer and quickly brought it to her mouth. The taste was sweeter than anything she'd ever experienced or imagined, and this solidifed the doubt introduced to her by the Serpent. Yet she could not understand the sudden bitterness that caused her to spit out the seeds, gagging but unable to eject the pulp she'd ingested so willingly.
The sense of nausea and bitterness faded quickly, and overcome again by the inviting fragrance and salivating taste buds, Eve bit again into the flesh of the fruit, then offered it to Adam, who finally appeared out of the dappled shadows of the garden.
He did not hesitate to eat of the fruit offered to him from his beloved spouse, although she offered him no explanation. It was enough to him that the fruit was in her hand. The fragrance of it called to him and even if he'd been able to resist the sensation, her trusted hand, he thought, would never lead him astray. In his love of Eve, he ignored the echo of the voice of God speaking deep within him cautioning him against eating of the Tree of Life. Eve...her hand...her fruit...was Life ITSELF!
He bit deeply of the fruit, wallowing in it, reveling in it, not even noticing the Serpent gazing from the crotch of the Tree, his forked tongue betraying his excitement.
Then Adam and Eve locked eyes and were ashamed, for they realized neither were covered, and they stood immodestly. They both dove to either side of the Tree and then, carefully made their way to the foliage on either side, both pulling Hosta leaves and fig leaves as they went, trying to cover their shame.
Neither understood the sudden desire they had for the other, a desire that focused not on their ends, but on their parts; not what the other would attain in sanctity, but what they could experience physically in that moment.
Then God walked through the Garden as was His custom and called out to Adam and Eve who were suspiciously absent from their typical joyful greetings.
"Where are you?"
God knew where they hid, but knew they had a choice: to accept or reject His loving question. He knew their shame and was saddened, but instead of condemning, He asked them first to come to Him in love and humility.
They did not come. In their shame, they continued to hide, and gather more leaves to cover themselves.
Adam, the first to speak, blamed Eve, and in so doing accused God, blaming HIM for putting "that woman" with him.
Eve, incensed, spoke up from the next thicket, claiming that it was all the fault of the Serpent. But she did not come out from hiding, for she was busy weaving clothing from the foliage that surrounded her.
We know the rest...we're living it every day. We know that Christ died because of this very event and the effects that followed.
But WHAT IF....
What if, when God walked through the Garden, Adam and Eve had come to Him as He called?
What if Adam had gone to God on his knees with the remainder of the fruit of the Tree of Life? What if he had taken personal responsibility for his actions, and instead of blaming Eve, had admitted that he firstly had neglected to protect her and secondly, had directly disobeyed God both out of his own will and out of his disordered love for Eve over God?
What if Eve had knelt in humility before God and admitted she engaged the Serpent instead of walking away, instead of calling God, and, worst of all...for doubting Him in favor of the word of a creature she could crush under her own heel if she but tried?
What would our theology be like, what would our world be like if Adam and Eve had, in effect, gone to Confession?
Yes, their sin would be erased...to a degree. But original sin, in some sense, would remain. Temporal punishment would still be a reality, for the wound would still be present. The propensity to sin would still have been introduced.
It would make sense for them to be ejected from the Garden, and for the same reason we recognize today; if they continued to have access to the Tree of Life, having already tasted its sweetness they would not be able to withstand it without eating of it, and, of course, if they continued to eat of it they would not be able to be healed of their disobedience and doubt. Ejecting them from the Garden was an act of Mercy which pointed, from the beginning, to the coming Redemption.
But, in the case of Adam and Eve's repentance, would the effects of original sin be lessened? Would the world be more like the Garden but without the Tree of Life? Would there still be pain in childbirth? Would food be brought forth through thorn-infested land or would it grow more easily with minimal efforts to harvest it? Would the preternatural gifts of the original pair be part of humanity now? And would death have entered the world?
I have all these questions, and more.
As my friend pointed out this evening, this is what happens when one gets a little theology. We ask the deeper questions, the "what-if" questions. Not seeking to change reality, but rather, hoping to better understand the reality that we live every single day.
My own pondering will continue, and as I understand it, this is of the type that has kept theologians awake for centuries. "What if?"
It's the "what if" that brings us into contact with God and forces us to pursue Truth. True questions don't lead us OUT of the Church, but INTO it.
On a personal note...
I look at the story of Genesis, and realize I'm a part of it. I live it every day. I give in to the Serpent's suggestions, I enter into dialogue, I deliberate and I eat of what is forbidden. And knowing my influence, I offer it to others, those who should know better.
We all live Genesis every day.
I am reminded of the Exultet sung at the Easter Vigil:
"O Felix Culpa!" O Happy Fault! O Happy Sin of Adam that has won us so great a Redemption!
Oh, yes, I've experienced the greatness of God's mercy. I fell hard, and I fell long but when I came back, God's mercy was far greater than my sin, for the Redemption is ALWAYS more powerful than the Fall.
I guess "what if" doesn't matter. When I look at the story of our Redemption, I do not see the the Fall, even though I live it. Rather, I am drawn into the Wounds of the Savior who reaches for me from the Cross, which has taken the place of the Tree of Life, for Jesus is life itself and feeds us directly from His own Body and Blood, while the Serpent lays crushed dead beneath the weight of the Cross and the heel of the Mother of God who kneels with all her children, pointing to her Son, pointing to Love Incarnate.
The Cross, the Crucifixion...there is the Tree of Life, the Arbor Vitae, the Redemptionis Sacramentum. There is Life Itself, raised up, drawing us to Him, just as He promised.
God always keeps His promises.