a Thursday morning meditation on our ontology

This morning, following a practice of many years, I read and reflected on scripture. Today, two passages.

Garden of Eden - God confronting Adam & EveThe first, Genesis 3.1-13: The serpent, craftier than any other animal that the Lord God had made, said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”’ The woman answered, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, nor touch it, or you shall die.’” The serpent said, “You will not die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The woman, seeing that the tree was good for food, a delight to the eyes, and thus to be desired to make one wise, took of its fruit and ate. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then their eyes were opened, and they knew they were naked; sewing fig leaves together to make loincloths for themselves. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden during the evening breeze and hid from the presence of the Lord God, who called to the man, saying, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid.” The Lord God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” The Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” She said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

Jesus Healing the Blind El Greco

The second, Mark 8.22-25: (Jesus and his disciples) came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. When he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, Jesus asked him, “Can you see anything?” The man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again and looked intently and the man’s sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

However one reads the Genesis story – at one extreme, as a literal account of historical events or, at another, as a poetical allegory – legion are its lessons. I read it as myth; not fiction, but rather as an ahistorical narrative pointing to that which is quite true and very real: Human disobedience to God or, in less theological terms, the established order of things, and the subsequent fall from the grace of the intention of creation.

Notwithstanding the text, one aspect of this fall is not the discovery of nakedness (a metaphor for the natural, created state of being; an existence of openness, honesty, vulnerability), but rather the necessity of covering, camouflaging, concealing it. (Ever notice how babies and young children love to shed their clothes and run about naked? That is, before we socialize them, teaching them the shame of being true to themselves, the guilt of exposing that nakedness, the fear of that of others, and the prudence of guarding against the uncertainty and insecurity of life in the world around us.)

Another element of this fall from grace is the inability to accept, but rather to hide from personal responsibility for thoughts and feelings, intentions and actions. God calls the man and woman to account for their disobedience. The man blames “the woman whom you gave me” (thus, God, too!). The woman blames the serpent (a creation of God, thus, also God, too!).

We humans, ashamed, guilty, and fearful spend lifetimes learning the art of hypocrisy (from the Greek, hupokrités, hypocrite; in ancient times, an actor, literally, a two-faced person who, on stage, wore masks to convey a range of emotions or states of being). We are masterful in saying much while revealing little and doing much to hide from others and ourselves our fear that we, to paraphrase the hymn, “just as we are without one plea”, are not and never will be enough to satisfy some oft inchoate, though deeply embedded and abiding notion of who we should be.

For these reasons, the aforementioned gospel story speaks volumes of truth to me. How is it that, following Jesus’ initial administration of healing touch, a half-blind man can behold his fellow humans so clearly, so wholly: “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Yes, trees! Tall. Strong. Like the biblical cedars of Lebanon. Is that not how we yearn to appear? To be? But we aren’t. At least, not always, nor in all ways. We oft are short of faith and hope and fall short of truth and love, and thus are long in fear and our well-practiced fabrications, the faces, the masks, the disguises we show the world.

For these reasons, I delight in being in the presence of folk who are able and willing to be nakedly vulnerable (and I rejoice to see and hear it in me!). Not parading their weaknesses as in the seeming humility, which really is a form of morbid conceit (“No one possibly can be worse than I!”), but rather with the honesty that, when appropriate and necessary, can and will confess personal limitations and lack, fault and failings, and all without condemnation of self or others.

Illustrations: God accusing Adam and Eve, detail of the left door, Bronze doors from Hildesheim, Germany (1015) and Christ Healing the Blind Man, El Greco (c 1565)

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2 thoughts on “a Thursday morning meditation on our ontology

  1. Dear Paul,

    Thank you for the honesty in your reflection. Both passages were very meaningful for me. We humans certainly do hide a lot including wearing a variety of masks! I love the reference to being strong trees and I hope that can be attributed to me!

    For me, being vulnerable is the best gift you can give to another person. I’ve learned over the years that hiding (though I guess most of us have plenty to hide from) takes a lot more energy trying to juggle the masks in order to show the right face to the right people, than just being who you are. I’d say we like being around they same type of people, those willing to risk vulnerability. There’s much joy in that!

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  2. “I’ve learned over the years that hiding…takes a lot more energy trying to juggle the masks in order to show the right face to the right people, than just being who you are.” Amen. Your observation reminds me of a word attributed to Samuel Clemens referencing how being honest and open requires less energy than duplicity or hypocrisy: If I tell you the truth, then I don’t have to remember what I said.

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