We just went on vacation. We went to a place in the Hill Country, to a little plot of land that has been in Lisa’s family for almost a hundred years. The Hagy Camp sits on a bluff above the Western fork of the Frio River, about six miles north of Leakey, Texas. Lisa’s ancestors started going there in the early 20th century, taking covered wagons from San Antonio to get there. There were no roads in, so they went over land, making some twenty-seven river crossings along the way. Given the effort to get there, they often stayed a month or so. In 1927, they built a little cabin that we still use to this day.
Time spent at the Hagy Camp is idyllic. I think there is a clock, but we don’t pay much attention to it. There’s a phone, but no one knows the number. We sleep when we are tired, dip in the cool, crystal clear, spring-fed water when we are hot, and we eat when we are hungry. I’m not sure I’m ever happier, ever more relaxed than when I’m there, sitting on that bluff with the light filtering through the trees, floating in and out of sleep as I read whatever my whims dictate.
Lisa and I have a ritual when we leave that place. It’s a lot of work to shut the place down, so we often take one final dip after clean-up to cool down and wash away the sweat before piling in the car with a week’s worth of trash and dirty clothes for the long drive home. Once we have left the gate behind, as we drive away, first on rough dirt roads and then on the winding highways beyond, Lisa begins to analyze the logistics of the trip. Should we have shopped the day before? Is it better to leave early in the morning to arrive in the afternoon? Or perhaps later in the day so that you arrive late and wake up to your first full day fresh and early? Should we not bring stuff for sandwiches and just eat leftovers for lunch instead? Did we really need to stop for ice in Leakey? Did we get too much or too little? I don’t generally hear a word of it.
I’m looking at the flowers that just popped out from the previous evening’s rain. I’m soaking in the sunlight, whether bright in a cloudless sky or filtered through dark clouds, making the colors on the ground seem deeper and richer. The limestone bluffs rise above us, first on one side of the road and then on the other. Every house poking out of the trees on every hill causes me to live a lifetime in a brief moment. Maybe it’s for sale! We could farm. I could build a studio. We could run a retreat center or a B&B. The truth is, I have spent the past twenty years trying to figure out how I could just stay on that bluff. And whatever Lisa is talking about, I know she’s doing the same thing. How do we get back to the one place where we are the most happy, the most ourselves?
I wonder if Adam and Eve are having that kind of conversation as they walk away from Eden. What went wrong? How did we end up in this place? Maybe we should be more skeptical when animals start talking. Maybe we shouldn’t have eaten that fruit. Maybe we can find a way back. But then Adam says, “Hey, honey. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” And Eve says, “Yeah, alright.” And along comes Cain.
I could totally nerd out on this passage. I think I took Hebrew just so I could read the original. But I’m just going to point out a couple of things to support my reading as a coming-of-age narrative. First, the way the narrative is structured. In the early part of the narrative, they are like kids, running around naked and thinking nothing of it. By the end, they have a baby. In the middle, they make some mistakes. Sound familiar? Second, there’s a lot of word play here, which is very common in the Hebrew Scriptures. The snake is described as “cunning” or “crafty,” but the Hebrew is arum, which is the same root as the word for “naked.” And “cunning” adds an element of menace to it that may not be fair. People who are arum are usually thought of positively. They know things, practical things. They know what to do. In this case, the snake knows what to do with nakedness.
I’m sure most of us have heard someone say something like “he knew her, in the biblical sense.” It’s a euphemism. We even have it here, in 4:1: “Now the man knew his wife Eve.” Since Cain is the result, I don’t think it means that he figured out what to get her for their anniversary. So the knowledge that the snake has and the knowledge that is contained in the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, is a very particular kind of knowledge. It is everything you ever wanted to know about sex, but were afraid to ask. And you should be afraid to ask because it is both the good and the bad of it. This story is often interpreted as if the knowledge is the ability to distinguish between good and evil, but another way to read it is as a merism. A merism is when we name the extreme ends of a field as a way of describing everything in between: “alpha and omega,” “heaven and earth,” “A to Z,” “soup to nuts.” And here, “good and evil.” After eating the apple, they are sexually aware, the good, the bad, and everything in between.
Part of the good is that they can make babies. They can create life, which up to this point was a divine prerogative. In 3:22: “”See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” The bad is that, if you can create life, life must also end. You have to die.
This is reality. As you move toward one thing, you move away from something else. When you cut off other possibilities, you create new ones. But the memories never die. You remember who you were before. You even remember who you hoped to be. So you mourn the loss of things undone and hope for something new, a constant dialog between hope and regret. And too often we forget the place where we are right now. Richard Rohr says we transmit whatever we don’t transform. We can get so caught up in nostalgia for what has been – and even for what never was – or dreaming of what might be, that we entirely miss what actually is: the community we’re a part of; the family we have built; the friendships that enrich us; the person we actually are. We see the world through the fog of our hopes and regrets, rather than what is.
Questions for Conversation
What is your experience of change? How does that connect to this story?
What do we forget that we should remember? What do we remember that we should forget?
As much as this is a coming-of-age story, this is also an origin story. Every culture – and every superhero – has one. Where did we come from? How did we get here? But most importantly, who are we? It’s fun to examine origin stories and look for commonalities, to figure out how we are all a part of one people. But whether you emerged from a block of ice licked clean by a cosmic cow or float on the back of a giant turtle or were created from a stalk of corn makes a big difference in how you understand yourself. This story embodies what I see as the core values of the Judeo-Christian tradition: faith, love, and hope. Faith is engaging the memory of who we have been. Hope is engaging the possibilities of who we might be. And love is the beautifully muddled middle, the part where we are actually present, where we live every day.
1) Death and life are intertwined. If you’re going to make something new, you have to let old things pass away. But part of that new thing is finding the old in the new, learning to remember the things we have loved before and see them in what we are moving toward. In doing so, we see ourselves more clearly, seeing a continuity that is the eternal connection between ourselves and others, ourselves and the Divine. This is usually a painful process. Death hurts. Creating life hurts.
2) Because of the pain, the labor, the sweat, we can’t do it alone. When Adam and Eve left the Garden, they had each other. And, even though this is traditionally read as the eternal separation of God and humanity, if we read it closely, we’ll see that God is right there. God makes them some new outfits and sends them on their way. And when she has Cain, she credits God: “I have produce a man with the help of YHWH.” As Eve sees it, God is still with her, helping her through it all.
Normally, at this time in our service, we would have communion. Communion is, perhaps, the longest standing ritual in Christian practice. It celebrates salvation through the body and blood of Christ. It invites all to God’s table. It joins us together as the family of God.
But something else joins us together. Before the communion table, before the cross, before anything else, we share our humanity. Each of us lives with the curse and the blessing of being sandwiched between all that has been and all that might be.
So today, I ask you to eat the apple, the forbidden fruit, not as a symbol of sin, but as a symbol of change. Eating the fruit was inevitable. And it had consequences. We grow. We change. We can’t ever go back.
So as you eat this apple this morning, I ask you to allow it to mark the changes in your life. What are you holding onto? What have you left behind? What chains you to the past? What do you miss? Acknowledge it all. Embrace it all. See who you are now because of it. And love every bit of it. Love yourself for who you have been and what you will be. Love others for the same. When you eat, you will surely die, but you will die so that you may live.