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Three Little-known Facts About Adam and Eve That Prove They Were Really Sorry

Adam and Eve are tempted

Byzantine mosaic, Adam and Eve in paradise

Did you ever wonder what life was like for Adam and Eve after they were exiled from Eden for eating from The Wrong Tree? Imagine having to leave paradise, a place where your feet barely skimmed the earth because the human body was more spiritual than physical then. Where your skin shimmered with angelic “bright nature” and your eyes were powerful enough to see beyond the stars and deep into the earth to marvel at hidden treasures there. Brilliance of mind and love of all creatures was effortless, and work was easy. No unrequited longings or doubts gnawed at each day’s bliss. You breathed in sync with the Eternal Now, while the One who had created you spoke with you face to face.

When you think post-Eden, think PTSD

Picture then Adam and Eve’s shock when the gates of Eden slammed behind them (metaphorically or otherwise). Their bodies were naked and coarsened, while shame, fear, back-breaking work and above all, remorse, now plotted their every step. They blamed the snake, each other, probably God. Did they ever recover from the shock of what happened? I’ve always wondered.

So when I discovered the ancient, pseudepigraphal work titled The First Book of Adam and Eve, a fabulous life-and-times account of Adam’s and Eve’s struggles outside Eden, I got a whole new bead on how those two might have responded to how bad it really was. The stories in this brief work have a larger-than-life quality to them (remember, our mythology is full of heroes, giants, and gods for a reason) and I’ve got a hunch we postmoderns with our blasé sensibilities might benefit from a dose of this kind of preoccupation with unholy shortcomings.

To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. On every page of The First Book of Adam and Eve, we feel the passionate sorry-ness of these two people in proportion to the gravity of their sin. For after all, it isn’t everyday somebody upsets the equilibrium of the entire cosmos with one act of disobedience. Here are a few of our forebears’ actions that moved me with their pathos and sweet sincerity.

Getting creative to show you’re sorry

  1. In chapter 5, God sends Adam and Eve into a dark cave for forty days, to symbolize the darkness they had brought on the universe and into their own selves. Adam prayed with such fervency that he fell into a sort of coma from the shock. “So he cried and beat his chest hard, until he dropped, and was as dead.” Is this a foreshadowing of Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, when the severity of his prayers against temptation caused him to sweat drops of blood?
  2. In chapter 32, after other adventures, Adam and Eve journey to a holy sea where they stand up to their necks, praying for 35 days. “And they stood praying; and besought the Lord to forgive them… and to restore them to their former state.” Notice that God didn’t remind them that they could never go back to Eden. He let them do what they needed to do. Maybe a month standing in cold water made them more sorry than ever for what they had done.
  3. Later, in chapter 72, fallen angels visit Adam, tempting him to “marry Eve,” and filling his heart with lustful thoughts. Though it’s suggested that God had intended celestial celibacy. Adam lays out his case as he asks God about it: “Because if you do not give us permission, we shall be overpowered, and follow that advice of Satan; and you will make us… perish.” God replies, “O Adam, if only you had had this caution at first, before you came out of the garden…” Adam was learning his lesson. One ousting from God’s graces was enough.

 

What ideas do you have about the Adam and Eve story?

Soup and Misery: What motivated me to write my first book

After my mother died on a cold January morning, I stayed in the hospice room for the next eight hours with my hand over her womb, contemplating my own impending death. No, I’d had no bad news test results, no aches or agonies. But in middle age, I was looking more and more like my mother. With a little imagination, that could be my body on the bed, empty of soul and out of time. In those hours of fresh grief, I sat with my oldest friend, Julie, and felt the last vestiges of my innocence about my own mortality fall away. For the first time, I knew with a pale, grim certainty that one day I would die.

Julie and I finally went out into the winter dusk for a bowl of soup, and there I poured out my misery. It wasn’t just my mom’s passing that engulfed me in mourning; it was that I saw myself for what I really was, a fearful woman who allowed that fear to rule my choices in lots of areas, and at the head of them all was the gnaw of my inadequacy when it came to my writing and the terror of trying to get published. To anyone who ever wondered what the most boring question in the universe is, it is this: What if I’m not good enough?

Well then, and what if I am? I’d been fooling around for a year with a short, humorous manuscript about my experiences discovering the Orthodox Church. Now that manuscript, and my lack of attention to it, began to haunt me. I wasn’t finishing the book because …. because what? Because I’m scared, lazy, easily distracted, and live under the delusion that tomorrow is as good as today, that’s what. I knew that unless I got serious fast and wrote as hard as I could for the rest of my life, I would never be my truest self. I would be committing psychological suicide. Everything changed then. Serial rejection by publishers every day and month and year for the rest of my life seemed suddenly less torturous than the bleakness of never trying. I decided I would write my first book and have some portion of it on an editor’s desk before Thanksgiving.

 It’s a blessing that the stakes were high, and that death was looming. Out of desperation to stay alive, my motivation grew to the proverbial fever pitch. The lean, mean muscle of disciplined writing made those months exhilarating. I even met my self-imposed goal, literally running through the season’s first snowstorm because the roads were bad in order to get my manila envelope in the mail, full of precious chapters. It was very dramatic, very writer-ly.

The following year, Regina Orthodox Press published my book, Great Lent Unplugged (alas, that little experimental gem just went out of print). It was the rush of my life, right up there with other highly memorable rushes, all of which seem to have taken place when I as a teenager, like my first kiss and reaching the top of Mt. Rainier alive. Despite the book’s flaws, I still feel exhilaration when I pick up my copy to read favorite passages once again and look at the cover with my name on it. Note to everyone: one’s name on the cover of a book is a drug.

Of regret, British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes said this: “The only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart…”

Don’t die; invest enough heart.

Getting Rid of Cain

“Cain flying before Jehovah’s Curse,”  Fernand-Anne Piestre Cormonc. 1880, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

 

I’m happy to announce a republishing of Gold in Havilah: A Novel of Cain’s Wife through Westbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan. The challenge of editing to Westbow’s specifications was a great learning experience; I’m glad I made the effort and am satisfied with the results. Click on any of the Buy buttons here on my site and the little publisher’s helper out there in cyberspace will patch you through to Amazon or Westbow. The prices are the same both places.

Meanwhile, I’m smitten, dizzy-in-love with the plot and characters in my second book in this series of ancient fiction stories centered around the early chapters of Genesis. The working title is, for the moment, Zyla: A Seer’s Tale. I’ll do a couple of things in this book, the first being to introduce an amazing new female lead, Zyla, one of the wives of the infamous Lamech, sixth from Cain and the first bigamist mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 4:19). Zyla is a cerebral, willful woman with a prophetic gift who must learn to use her gifting wisely. Being a book character, that’s going to be harder for her than it should, because that is how book characters are. Just like in the movies, these guys always, always go into the dark, creepy house while you pull at your hair and scream, “DON’T GO IN!”

I’ll also satisfy the curiosity of some of my readers who have been asking, “So what happened to Cain?” They’re right, for after all, I did leave Cain’s miserable self pretty stranded at the end of Gold, without a resolution to his story. Readers’ interest in Cain’s outcome made me realize I hadn’t yet exhausted my treatment of this annoying villain, the world’s first murderer. I promise I’ll sate people’s appetite for more about Cain, and his measly seven generations of progeny as well.

So get ready for Cain on steroids, with his scabs and scars and bad attitude and all the rest, just as you enjoyed him in Gold. And get ready to like Zyla, even if she does have to learn everything the hard way, which shouldn’t sound too unfamiliar to most of us.

The Case for Cain

 

“Cain smiled then, at no one in particular. There was something like cruelty in it. Cruel, yet beautiful.”            

Cruel yet beautiful, that first murderer on the earth. Cain’s brutish fratricide and bitter defiance toward a God who only wanted restoration ring out like a cacophony of madness against the backdrop of the silent antediluvian world. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain spews when God asks him where Abel is, the younger brother Cain has just murdered. Without an impoverished cultural climate or bad parenting to blame, Cain simply envied Abel, then killed him. And because the short narrative found in Genesis 4 is so powerful, Cain has become one of the ultimate villains of our collective consciousness. His story in some form permeates the literature of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religions. Artists across the centuries have immortalized real and imagined scenes from Cain’s life, and numerous films and books play off the subject of Cain’s fratricide, even an award-winning 1992 documentary, Brother’s Keeper, about an elderly, illiterate Texas man falsely accused of murdering his brother. The issue of murder within family systems reaches deep within us all. Few things strike us as more horrific.

Yet Cain’s story is a cautionary tale. Though Adam’s first son took his string of sins to extreme ends, In Gold in Havilah, my lead character, Akliah, states, “Killing takes many forms.” And after a long and eventful life she reflects that, “We all murder our brother, if not with flint or stone then through slander and the jealous broodings that fester in every heart.” Anyone who has searched her own soul knows that chillingly negative thoughts toward others are, sadly, sometimes part of our human experience.

It makes me wonder: If more of us took to heart that we each have the power of “cruel yet beautiful” and the capacity to either enhance or disrupt the peace around us, the more of that elusive Peace on Earth there might be. What do you think?

 

 

Writing Gold

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They say you should write the book you always wanted to read. That’s where the inspiration to write Gold In Havilah came from, for those early chapters of Genesis are a life-long fascination of mine. There’s nothing like that mysterious narrative about a paradise called Eden and the human beings who once lived both within it, and later, maybe just outside its gates. Apparently I’m not the only one, though some people’s interest takes what appears to be more subtle forms. Everything from song lyrics to the legend of Atlantis to our craving for tropical vacation getaways enjoyed in the semi-nude suggest we know at an intuitive level that the earth was once a pristine bliss bath where there were no words for things like clothes and work and sickness. In her hit song “Woodstock,” songwriter Joni Mitchell expressed what many of us already ache in the knowing of: We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden. We all strive by some means—holy or profane—to get back to that garden. We want to be golden again.

Though my Gold in Havilah protagonist, Akliah, is a speculative character, her name, as well as her sister Luluwa’s, are mentioned in several extra-biblical texts as being among Eve’s children besides the two we know about: Cain and Abel. I’ve chosen to tell Akliah’s story in the straightforward way the author/s of Genesis tell theirs, working from the assumption that the people and mysterious events in the Bible’s first stories happened in real time and space, not serving as evasive metaphors for something else. If we accept that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are historical figures—and most historians do, not to mention traditional Jews, Christians and Muslims— then why do we balk at the Adam and Eve tale just because it seems so otherworldly? That’s part of the point: things have definitely changed around here since God created it in a pristine state. We don’t have to understand something for it to be helpful, or true. And the first three chapters of Genesis offer about as good an explanation as any as to why things are the way they are on earth.

Thank you for reading Gold in Havilah. Zyla: A Seer’s Tale, the next book in this series, should make its appearance around the end of 2017. Its lead character is Zyla, one of the wives of Lamech, mentioned in Genesis 4:19. It’s these biblical women with little or no story behind their names that attract me.

Darkness Rather Than Light

02212014_kevin_spacey_house_of_cards_netflixIt has always seemed strange to me . . . the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egoism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first, they love the produce of the second. – John Steinbeck

What epitomizes the essence of Steinbeck’s ruminations better than the highly successful Netflix TV show House of Cards, a statement on the ruthless spirit of Washington politics (real or somewhat imagined) that even a sophisticated reviewer for the New York Times admits “may be the most joyless show on television.” Nevertheless, I hear it everywhere: emotional downer shows that cash in on human evil are “actually quite literary,” and this type of “finally, something intelligent on television” programming spells the Salvation of Western Civilization.

While admitting the show is joyless, the Times reviewer still considers this drama series “exhilarating and binge-worthy.” She’s right; looking voyeuristically into other people’s soul sickness is a rush, and addictive because we unconsciously recognize it in ourselves. The spirit behind the Machiavellian Frank Underwood and his grim, shifty-eyed ilk appeals to the Black Plague germs lurking in us all, our love of darkness rather than light (John 3:19). Steinbeck needn’t have been surprised by this human tendency. Read more

 

Becoming Two-Eyed

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When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light. ~ St. Luke 11:34

In accurately rendered Orthodox icons of the Mystical Supper of Christ, both eyes of each of the human subjects present are viewable to the observer. Except one, for Judas the traitor is painted in full profile, a single eye exposed. This is a common iconographic technique, to depict evil persons or the demonic obliquely, sometimes smaller and darker, their faces usually obscured. The use of this artistic form serves as powerful theology in the Church to symbolize spiritual and psychic absence — the half self — the body language version of the inner choice to succumb to spiritual disintegration.

Weak and double-minded though the eleven still were on that fateful night the Lord broke bread in their midst, the hearts of these men were ultimately captivated by Christ, a state never rendered more beautifully than in the ardent bending of St. John’s ear toward the locus of the divine pulse. Judas alone moves outside the symmetry of the circle, his one-eyed view and compulsive, grasping movements signaling a departure from the others’ resolve, to bring themselves calmly and fully to the table, as it were, waiting on Christ. Read More…

Beauty and Saving the World

This is an excerpt of the article originally published by Relief Journal, a Christian online publication. Click the link below for full article.

Beauty will save the world. – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

In the Orthodox Church, from Easter to the Ascension, an ethereal hymn is sung while the faithful partake of Eucharist. The brief lyrics implore all who will, to receive the Body of Christ, drink of the Fountain of Immortality. Assuming this transformation of bread and wine into God-flesh and fluid to be mystically true, one can only wonder why an earthquake doesn’t rupture the flooring or angels crack the rafters wide as we small and salvaged ones string forward like ducks to water to ingest Life itself. I’m reduced to a whisper as I sing, as the beauty, the “high art” of this hymn enmeshed with Eucharist, incrementally saves me.

My composer friend Don Newby explains that technically, the musical setting of this hymn feels the way it does on the human psyche partly because its composer has introduced suspensions—non-chord tones—into the line of music at strategic places to create tension, which is then each time given over to release. To the emotions and unconscious mind, these suspensions and subsequent releases feel familiar, mirroring human experience with its constant tensions and releases, dejection and joy, wretchedness and nobility. The music reflects life’s troubled splendor. Read More…

The Desert Hides a Well

water in a dry land

Photo credit: George Steinmetz The Desert Hides a Well

What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

~Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

Immersion into the strange, stark beauty of one of the world’s great deserts can lead to unexpected insights. While on pilgrimage to a monastery in the great saguaro desert of Arizona I took a walk the length of two Sabbath days’ journeys outside the monastery gates. It was mid-afternoon, the sun at its zenith of intensity as it dropped westward in the brassy sky. Read more