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Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Colors of Harmony and Duality

The following post was primarily designed for the Christian Mystics community, as it is relevant to some recent discussions there.  Click on the link and come join us!

“And the LORD God commanded the man, 
'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 
but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,
for when you eat of it you will surely die.'"
(Gen 2:16-17)

We’ve all heard the story: God commands Adam and Eve not to eat of a particular tree; the serpent entices them to eat it by arguing they’ll be “like God”; they eat it; they are cast out of Eden; and now all of us now suffer  the consequences of their “Fall.”  Yes, we’ve heard the story, but like most mystics, I’ve wondered whether any of us understands it.

Throughout the ages, mystics have posed a myriad of challenges to the traditional interpretation: Did they really “fall”?  Who was the “serpent”?  Was he really “deceptive”?  Would they really be “like God”?  If so, what does that mean?  And why would it threaten “God” so much that He would pronounce them "dead"?  Also, why would He command Adam and Eve against the knowledge of good and evil?  Years later, are not Christians encouraged to acquire exactly what Adam and Eve were commanded not to acquire?

“Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant,
is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 
But solid food is for the mature,
who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
(Hebrews 5:13-14)

Once we begin asking these questions, we seem to find ourselves in a never-ending cycle of paradox.   When we read this scripture as literature and apply its own terms, we wonder  which figures in this story are really “good” and which ones are more “evil.”   It seems, perhaps, the most sinister character is the “God” figure who commands against something that ought to be “good” in order to protect His own power.

As I began my own mystical quest, however, I wasn’t ready to go there.  I wished to give the “God” figure the benefit of the doubt and ask what His purpose might have been in commanding Adam and Eve against knowledge of good and evil.  What struck me in this contemplation is that we often refer to “good and evil” as “black and white,” and, as a teacher, I often call upon my students to “transcend ‘black and white’ thinking.”  Think beyond the box.  Think beyond duality.  What brings the rivalries, battles, conflicts and wars in the world?  Black and white thinking.  Duality. 

Perhaps, then, I wondered whether Adam and Eve had “progressed” from a na├»ve, youthful, form of “harmony” in their thinking into a more mature, yet more conflict-oriented form of “duality” in their thinking.  We often look back to Eden with nostalgia and long to return to our childhood there.  Such nostalgia is understandable in light of the conflicts we face here.  But conflict can propel us into something even better.  In the New Testament, this is called the “Kingdom of Heaven.”  In the Old Testament, it is called the “Promised Land” – described as a “land flowing with milk and honey.”  It is flowing with all our needs (milk) and even our wants (honey).  Eden may have provided lovely fruit, but was it flowing even with honey.

As I imagine the progression, I see Eden in color, but in soft colors, neither brilliant nor notable, but still beautiful.  Next comes the Wilderness in black and white, but this time, the black and white is dramatic and notable, and, therefore, beautiful in its own way.  Then I see the Promised Land as both colorful and dramatic – bold, brilliant, and stunningly gorgeous.

The story tells us Adam and Eve's  “eyes were opened” (Gen 3:7).  This suggests new development.  New evolution: a good thing.  But It also demonstrates their new sense of separation.  Adam and Eve had come from a single body and a single source and, therefore, had likely considered themselves a single unit.  What happens after their “eyes are opened”?  One blames the other: “she made me do it” (v. 12).  Duality.  The illusion of separation had begun.

But this illusion of separation went beyond the separation of male and female.  It also moved into the illusion of the separation of God into gods and of the separation of man and God.  So how did Yahweh help the Israelites heal from this illusion of separation?  He had them recite the first command, which the Jews still do today.  They call it the “Shema” and it is the most important prayer of the Jewish people: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deut 6:4)

The Shema may have helped the Israelites affirm the Oneness of God, but duality and the illusion of separation continued to persist.  Then the Messiah arrived on the scene to help restore this severance back into harmony.  We see Yeshua (Jesus) express this “blasphemy” first in John 10: 30: “I and the Father are one."  But he doesn’t leave it there.  Later, in John 17:21, he affirms it for us all, as he prays for his disciples and his disciples’ disciples: “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one--as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.”

Our journey from a youthful perspective of harmony into a more mature perspective of duality continues toward a mature perspective of harmony.  We can see this progression as the faded colors of Eden to the black-and-white colors of the Wilderness to the brilliant colors of the Promised Land.  We’ve been walking through the Wilderness for quite some time, stuck in duality and the illusion of separation.  May we discover the bold, brilliant colors of Harmony in the Promised Land.

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