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You all know the story, don’t you? Or do you? On the sixth day God created man and woman; he created them, except it didn’t happen that way so fast did it. There are actually two stories of the making of humanity in the Bible. The first in Genesis I is the one we are most familiar with, God just creates Adam (not Eve) like himself. Like cloning but bigger. And then God sets him up in a Garden and gives Adam (the name from the Hebrew is A-Dam, meaning of the earth or earthling) and gives him dominion over all the earth. But then, in Genesis 2 we get a second story on the making of Adam, when God “formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed from his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being” (Gen 2:7) Are there two men or is the second story about being made from the earth a revision of the first. Scholars now believe that the man from dust story is the far older and it was allowed to stay even though a more majestic story about the six days of creation jumped to the front of the Bible.
Regardless of how the man is created, the next part is even more interesting. God gives all these animals to Adam to help him, but none seems to work. Adam is lonely. Plain and simple. I should point out that loneliness is a recurring theme in the Bible, starting with God himself, “In the beginning was the word, and then” the God that was all made a world separate from itself, in affect creating a separateness from the creation. Why? Perhaps God was lonely being all there is? It is lonely at the top. Perhaps he created Adam and then Eve because God was lonely.
Anyway, none of the animals are quite doing it for Adam. They don’t talk to him, they don’t even understand him but then maybe Adam needed a dog, dogs and cats they understand. So, God says “It is not good that Adam should be alone. I will make him a helper comparable to him” and finally he makes wo-man from Adams rib. Actually, most scholars now believe that rib is bad translation the word Sela in Hebrew is better translated as Side. The Wo-man was the other side of the Adam. And crucially she is comparable to Adam. And she was called Eve, meaning life.
Adam exclaims “At last! This is who I want. And so it begins. Adam and Eve are set into the Garden of Eden to begin humanity and their own struggles with love. It is anything but smooth sailing.
I chose to recall this ancient story of creation because it speaks powerfully to the many kinds of love. Adam and Eve represent the very first community. There is God as well but He is more removed. The two of them created and struggling with love and companionship mirror the essential angst we all feel when we are in the presence of more than ourselves. Adam and Eve, couples, families, clans, tribes, villages, towns, cities, states, nations, perhaps even planets. The allegorical power of this first love story is in the fact that what was once nothing or God in everything, ex nihilo is now something more than just one. When two or more are gathered there is community.
The Bible as we all know is full of inconsistencies, how is it that God created Adam twice, what does Adam mean after he exclaims she “is bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23) and the next line reads “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24)? What? Wait a minute, I thought Adam and Eve are the first, but now there are mothers and fathers and procreation. This and other lines suggest that there were others at least in the Garden with them. One of the more intriguing proto-Bible stories is that of the Woman Lilith, who was Adam’s first wife but who was too independent for either Adam or God and God started all over again, which he does do in the Bible.
There are other possibilities as well, Bruce Feiler in his outstanding book on this suggest one story:
One day in the Garden of Eden, Eve called to God “Lord, I have a problem.” “What’s your problem Eve?” asks God. “I know that you created me and put me in this lovely garden with all the animals. But I’m just not happy anymore” “Why not Eve?” asks God “What’s gone wrong?” “Well, Lord I guess that I am getting lonely. These animals don’t talk. And to tell you the truth, fresh apples just don’t do it for me anymore.” God thinks for a moment and then says “Eve, I have a solution. I’ll create a man for you.” “What’s a man Lord?” “Well he is bit like you but flawed. He tough and not easy to get along with. But he will be bigger and faster than you so he can help out when needed. But he will be a bit dimmer than you and you will have to help him figure out what to do. But he will be able to talk with you and you can do other things, fun things with him, so all in all not too bad, and definitely a step up from the animals.” Eve thinks for a moment and then says, “so what’s the catch Lord?”
“Well” says God “there is one condition attached.” Eve smiles wisely and asks “And what’s the one condition Lord?” God says “You will have to let him think I made him first”.
Adam and Eve are in love. In love with each other and in love with the Garden. Why not? It’s, well, it’s paradise. What’s not to love? But like all good stories this one has an antagonist. God told Adam and Even that they can eat of any of the trees in the garden including the one of everlasting life but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they must not eat. Enter the snake. Now the snake is a powerful symbol in mythology, not all of it negative. Snakes are wily to be sure, but they also have powers of regeneration, as in shedding their skins, they regenerate, snakes are on the symbol of American Medical Association. The Greeks regarded snakes as sacred and used them in healing rituals to honor the god Asclepius, as snake venom was thought to be remedial and their skin-shedding was viewed as a symbol of rebirth and renewal. This snake lures Eve to the tree and offers her the fruit (not likely an apple), “taste and open your eyes” suggesting that Adam and Eve are somehow sleep walking (Red pill or Blue pill). Eve says to the snake “no way, God said if ate from this we die”. “You won’t die” said the snake (well, at least not right away) “but you will be free of this whole paradise mind trap, God has created” And so Eve, always curious bites and then offers Adam some. Adam is momentarily stunned “What are you doing? God said…” “I know” says Eve “but you got to taste this”, and so he does and their eyes are open. To what? Well, the bible suggests it is shame that they are naked but that’s too short sighted. I think their eyes are open to the fact that the two of them have free will to act, either alone or together. Preferably together. And so, they run off to find some fig leaves to cover themselves and then God comes into the Garden (“strolling in the cool of the evening”). “Adam and Eve, where are you my lovelies?”
They finally answer “we are here” and they step out into the clearing fig leaves and all. Once God figures out they have disobeyed him, we see the first of several moral failings in Adam. “The woman, who you made for me, she made me do it. Eve, now pretty miffed at Adam, says “the snake made me do it” and the snake doesn’t have a leg to stand on. The first betrayal. Just like love. Every love has its first betrayal, couples learn something darker about the other than ever thought possible, kids reject their parents, sometimes, parents disappoint their kids, and communities like this one aren’t all we dreamed them to be and it all comes crashing down.
So here is the big crash. God is angry. And we know from later stories in the bible that this is not a good thing. But he doesn’t want to destroy his creation so he banishes them from the Garden. To Eve he says “In pain you shall bring forth children, I will greatly multiple your sorrow and your conception… and to Adam “Cursed is the ground for your sake in toil you shall eat of it…for dust you are and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:7-19). It seems like a bad deal. But is it? Bruce Feiler and others have pointed out that this is a coming of age story. No longer just a creation in a Garden, humanity now must become creators themselves, “multiple your conception, and eat of the earth”. The created becomes creator. Free will given to us in the fruit, now bears its own fruit, bitter as it may be, Adam and Eve, leave home and start out on their own. All of us know this heartache, to be thrown out, rejected or having grown away from what once loved as children or as couples we enter the so-called real world and strive to make a life out of it. Love’s labor’s lost and found. Couples have children and according to every study in the world, parents face the most difficult years of their relationship and later the most satisfying years as well. Parents lose their children. Children lose their parents to death or dementia or estrangement what one poet called “the last gasp of our innocence.” Communities lose their way. Love is not hearts and candy. Its work. And it’s worth it.
One way or another, Adam and Eve stay together despite it all. They manage to pass through the valley of sorrow and pain, and like Eliza in Hamilton simply takes hold of his hand again. Love is beginning again. Not always with the same person but beginning nonetheless.
Adam and Eve have twins. Cain and Able. The first family is getting along swimmingly until one day God asks Cain who is farmer and Able a nomadic herder to offer sacrifice. Cain comes up with his very best fruit for God, Able comes up with a lamb sizzling on the grill. God, being a vengeful God, likes the meat and rejects the fruit. Cain furious at this rejection kills his brother Able. This rejection has deep historical roots. Most portions of the Hebrew Bible were written during the shift from nomadic cultures to farming cultures around 2000 BCE. This shift left a particular tension with the early Hebrew people who were largely nomadic. Cain represented the farming culture and Able the nomadic. Being a nomadic people (after all they invented Yahweh as a sky god that would be with them wherever they wen) God favors the meat of the herd over the fruit of the earth.
In any case, Cain’s rage led to the first murder and not just any murder, a fratricide, a murder of one brother of another. Cain murders Able. God comes searching for Able and the “earth cries out with his blood” and God asks Cain “where is Able?” to which he replies famously “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God then banishes Cain from civilization itself. (Gen 4:6-13) This is no longer just love’s labor, this is alas, Love’s tragedy as Bruce Feiler suggests “The fractured relationship between parents and son becomes the driving force of the entire drama and…the reason the family ends up destroyed (see Bruce Feiler The First Love Story: A Journey Through the Tangled Lives of Adam and Eve in Felier’s bibliography you will find excellent first source commentaries from such luminaries as Lord Byron, John Milton and Mary Wolfenscraft).
Such a tragedy is for most of us unimaginable and for some of us here all too real. The loss of a child is a forever. And yet, we find a way to go on. While not all couples survive this, many do and if they do, they realize a new kind of depth to love. Even losses not so final, the child who struggles with addiction, the parent who has an affair, the sister who steals from the family, these and so many more are also part of love’s story. And sometimes we come back from the edge. Not the same, of course, but we can come back.
In his powerful novel The Overstory author Richard Powers portrays a couple Dorothy and Ray who have lost a daughter at a young age. They do everything they can do move beyond this lose but it is so hard. Dorothy starts having an affair, Ray loses himself in his work, until one day when Ray suffers a massive stroke. Completely paralyzed but very much conscious, he struggles to tell his wife to leave him. Somehow, they find a way through the valley. Dorothy ends the affair and in caring for her paralyzed husband who can barely speaks she and he sit in the bed together with a pile of books and try to identify the trees in the yard. They start with the magnolia they planted in their daughter’s memory and through patience and perseverance and Dorothy talking and Ray grunting in agreement or not, they make a life out of staring into their back yard and imagining their daughter growing up among the encroaching woodland. They stop cutting their grass, letting it go to meadow, the city threatens to sue them, Dorothy and Ray ignore them. And they find happiness among the woods all around them.
Somehow Love remains. Adam and Eve reunite after wandering away. Feiler says “…Those seismic fluctuations that (drive us apart) when we are young … become more bearable as we age. A love that endures repeated disruptions learns to endure them more effectively, if not more easily. Real conflicts between people are not always destructive writes Erich Fromm in The Art of Loving ‘They lead to clarification, they produce catharsis from which both persons emerge with more knowledge and more strength.’” (As quoted in Feiler)
Adam and Eve have more children, including daughters and die in a tried and true love, worn smooth with the trials of life. Love is like that; never easy and always worthwhile regardless if we lose it again.
When my mother died, my father was his usual stoic self. Until one morning, I came upon him with tears streaming down his cheeks. “We had our problems,” he told me “but time is forgiving mistress, and despite it all I loved her very much.” I put my hand on his shoulder, “and that love does not die, Dad, it never dies.”
So, this Valentine’s Day I leave you with this simple question: “when have loved and lost and loved again?” Indeed, my friends, it may be the most important question we ask ourselves. Happy Valentine’s Day!