First Story

He is holding out on me.

This thought, for a split second, seemed to me utterly improbable.  My friend, the gardener, had walked with me through fields of flower, knelt with me streamside and shown me mysteries of nature, picked with me bushels of fruit.  My trusted friend could not possibly be keeping secrets, could he?  But it soaked so quickly into my mind, my heart, my gut, that even my fingers tingled with the truth of it.  Astonishing.  He is holding out on me.

That first thought multiplied:

He is withholding from me something better than what he gave.  I deserve more.  He is selfishly keeping it out of reach.  He lies… he is a liar.

All that I want, I can have.  I don’t need him.  I can be free.  I can choose.

And so, I did.  I glanced at the one goading me on, saw the encouraging smile, made a choice.  The fruit hung there before me, full ripe.  It was so bursting with juice that the moment I touched it, it fell from the branch and into my hand, spilling a scent like heaven.

Heaven — of course it smelled like heaven; it contained all the secrets of the universe.  I looked around.  There was my husband, watching me with a mixture of puzzled fear and curiosity playing over his features.  Another thought flickered through my mind: I don’t need his approval!  It was exhilarating.  I smiled.

The first bite exploded in my mouth like angel song.  I’ve never tasted anything like it, through all the long years since.  No wonder he wants it all to himself, I thought, triumphant.  I closed my eyes, savored it.  I waited.

I’m not sure what I thought might happen.  Knowledge, he’d said.  Wisdom.  I expected it to flood my mind all at once, I guess — the names of stars, the colors under the sea, the uncharted maps of galaxies.  When nothing happened, I felt the bitter bloom begin.

Many years later, I dipped a smooth white shell into a pond and scooped a clear drink, but the shell’s sharp edge pricked my lip.  That quickly, a drop of blood bloomed into the water like a rose, then disappeared, leaving my drink pink-stained.  At first it seemed so beautiful, then, as the sharp pain registered in my mind, became hateful to me, and I dropped it.  The shell hit a stone and split in two, spilling the tainted water.  Always now I think of both events whenever I think of one:  the quick blossom of beauty, the aftertaste of poison, the vessel broken.

There sat my husband, gaping, looking suddenly ridiculous and exposed.  I knew at once he’d have to join me in this or I’d bear the guilt alone.  Here, I offered, wiping an arm across my lips.  They burned.  I smiled again, but found I couldn’t look at him.  I held the fruit out sideways, chanced a peek.  With a hungry look I hadn’t yet seen on his face, he took it, too.  I know that look well, now, and see it often in the expression of his children, his great-grandchildren.

 As my husband bit into the fruit, I felt the fruit bite back.  Fear — I’d never known it before.  What was there to fear in this garden?  Shame, hot and angry.  Resentment.  He’d tricked me — they’d tricked me.  Both the snake, slithering away now into the weeds, and the gardener with his slippery names.  The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?  What knowledge?  All I knew now was confusion.

We hid, Adam and I, and not just that night.  Shame and fear do that to you.  I felt a dread I could not yet name.  The gardener had always been our friend, but my easy comfort in his presence fled, replaced with the knowledge of his incredible power, his otherness.  He may have been holding back, but I had been the one to betray.  And though I’d hoped to acquire goddess stature with my easy bite, I realized now the absolute chasm between us.  How had I believed it possible, to be like God?  We sewed fig leaves into costumes to cover this naked embarrassment.

At night sometimes I lay underneath the stars and search for him, but he is out of reach.  All that, he made.  I remember him laughing, showing me pinpricks of light, naming them for me: planet, comet, moon.  At the time when he explained it all, I understood, but the snake robbed me of all that.  When I try to explain it to the children, they shake their heads, bemused.  I traded understanding for knowledge, and the knowing is bitter and broken.

It has been long years since we were driven east of Eden.  So much that happened we understand only in bits and pieces.  When we first met death, for instance, we couldn’t possibly fathom what it meant.  The absolute shock of it!  Oh, we’d seen animals die, the first time at the hand of the gardener himself.  There was a mystery.  Instead of wrath and fury, there were tears; he killed the beast and sewed of its hide clothes to replace our scanty leaves.  Such sadness filled his eyes as he pressed those first clothes into my hands, such love and grief.  But the death of a human being?

I tasted the gardener’s grief myself when my child died at the hands of his brother.  Finally, I thought, a punishment suitable for what I have done.  Still, I didn’t fully comprehend it.  After all, trees die every year, flowers, shrubs.  And all through the cold winter they lay still.  The first time it happened, I thought they’d gone forever, thought the world would always be so barren and brown.  But spring!  And when Abel’s bones were laid under the ground, I waited for spring to come again, waited for resurrection.  It never came.  Whole centuries passed, and still my boy is gone.  How?  Deep in my soul I know that Cain, too, heard the whisper of the serpent:  you are unloved.  It isn’t fair.  He is holding out on you.

One by one they all fall to the same lie, they all forfeit life.

Before me there were two trees, forbidden Knowledge and beautiful Life.  Dizzy with the power of choice, I turned my back on Life.  But there was planted also that day, however frail, a tiny seed of hope.  Not all my sons will be murdered, murderers.  One day, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh will crush the serpent’s head.  He has chosen me to be the mother of all that lives, and through me someday to restore:  poison to promise, knowledge to joy, death to life.  In spite of everything, he loves me still.

***************

OK, so A, I have been thinking all week about choice/life and the ongoing abortion battles waged in our culture.  I mentioned to my husband that it reminded me of Adam and Eve, the Tree of Life and the choice to rebel.  He pointed me to this incredible sermon by John Piper.  Y’all.

And B, I am participating in a Bible study focused on the drama of Scripture and the meta-narrative of this epic we find ourselves in.  Which got me thinking, way, way back.  What was it like to be Eve?  What did she actually believe?  What do I really believe?

Now Eve’s gotta be the most unreliable narrator of all, right?  I mean, her downfall came because she believed a lie, and if she’s anything like me, the lies she ingested at the beginning stayed with her a long, long time.  Did she ever understand what it was she’d done?  Did she ever see what she traded?  Was she repentant or bull-headed?

So there you go.  A different kind of blog today.  What do you think?  How does the Big Story affect your little one?  Do you hang onto lies?  Are they very different than the ones Eve bought?

Love to hear your thoughts! Please leave a comment below!

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