Unknown source. Please e-mail me if you know the artist.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Tree of Duality

(The theme of duality has been a popular one lately, so this post and participants' comments can also be found at the Christian Mystics site.) 

“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 we all suffer the consequences of their “Fall.”   The traditional script continues, in the logic of Augustine, to express that we all have been born into sin because our first parents ate from the fruit of the wrong tree.

Ironically, this “wrong” tree was called the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.”  One might expect “knowledge,” particularly of “good and evil,” to be a virtue, one that equips humans to be better equipped to make good choices.  So we face an irony in the traditional doctrine: we are “sinners” because our first parents “fell,” and they “fell” because they sought something typically designed to help humans avoid sin!

A few questions naturally arise:  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 find ourselves in a never-ending cycle of paradox.  To use the same distinction noted in the tree Adam and Eve ate from, it is hard to know which figures in this story are really “good” and which ones are more “evil.”  One could argue that choosing to overcome ignorance for knowledge is “good.”  One could even argue that a command against something that ought to be “good” in order to protect one's own power is “evil.”

But what if none of the choices and none of the characters in this story are “good” and none are “evil”?  What if the story is more about evolution in consciousness and those very distinctions – good and evil – are teased in order to help us see in a new way?

The story tells us their “eyes were opened” (Gen 3:7).  This implies new development, new evolution.  Such development expresses what the mystic desires: a forward path with eyes that can see better.  But the story also suggests the cost of better eye sight.  Those eyeglasses aren’t free!  According to the warning given by God, this improved eye sight brings “death” and, according to the consequences, “separation.”  As soon as the eyes are opened, one blames the other: “she made me do it” (v. 12).  The illusion of separation begins.  The man and woman who had been one from a single body now see themselves as separate and perceive in “good and evil,” suggesting a new name for the tree from which they ate: "the tree of duality."

The separation incurred by the improved eye sight also suggests what had been perceived through poor eye sight: connection, harmony.  Before their eyes were opened, the man and woman not only felt unity between themselves, but also with God.  Afterward, they felt separation particularly from God.  This prompts us to return to the question of whether they “fell” or whether they “moved forward.”  If they had been in harmony and now they were not, traditional logic says they moved backward, they “fell.”  But prior to the separation, their eyes had been closed.  In essence, they had a blind sense of harmony.

What becomes hard for traditional logic to follow is the notion that a movement that brings separation and suffering can still be a movement forward, something positive.  But it would not be desired for the movement to end there.  The “death” that came to our first parents was a form of amnesia: a separation they perceived from the divine.  But God himself did not perceive this separation and wished to cure them of their amnesia.  So He issued the first command and the most important prayer, the “Shema”: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deut 6:4).

The Shema may have helped the Hebrew people affirm the Oneness of God, but their own separation from the Lord continued to persist.   Through the greatest of blasphemies, Jesus then came to provide the next step: “I and the Father are one" (John 10:30).  If that weren’t enough, he went further on behalf of his followers: “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” (John 17:21).

When the eyes of our first parents were opened, a form of suffering and death resulted; it is to be expected that when our eyes open again, another form of suffering and death are to come.  Often, Jesus warned us to so prepare.

Just as many have a nostalgia for childhood, many also have a nostalgia for Eden.  There exists a wish to return to blissful innocence, spared from the conflicts of duality.  But perhaps this wish is rooted in part by an aversion to suffering.  But if we are willing to face the cost, even if it feels like a “fall,” then we can experience something much sweeter: a return to harmony with open eyes.
 © 2012 by karina.  All rights reserved.  Please use with permission or a citation that links to this blog.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Hidden Resurrection

We enter Holy Week on April Fool’s Day.  Delightful synchronicity for my musings.  Holy Week is often a time when we contemplate the Mystery of Resurrection.  Lately, I’ve also been contemplating “Hidden Resurrection,” such that the ignorant are “fooled" into perceiving that one who has come "alive" remains instead in his prior state, "dead."
The first story I discovered in scripture of “hidden resurrection” is the one of Isaac in  Genesis 22.  We imagine, like all the pictures depict, that Abraham and Isaac were alone on their journey.  But we discover in verse 3 that Abraham took not only Isaac, but also “two of his young men” to whom he says, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go yonder; and we will worship and return to you” (5).  Perhaps they both do, but the text doesn’t say that.  Instead, after Isaac is freed, the text reads, “So Abraham returned to his young men” (19), suggesting Isaac’s absence.

Christian readers may roll their eyes at such an absurdly literal reading of this scripture, but the Jewish sages have made it common practice to observe the “plain text” and see what mysteries may lie there.  The Midrash apparently did ask, “And Isaac, where was he?” (Sasso, “What if the Angels should come too late?” in God’s Echo: Exploring Scripture through Midrash) Although the Midrash may have been more interested in why Isaac wasn’t mentioned, where he was, what he might have been doing, and how long he was absent ((traditionally answered as three years), what interests me is what the two young men may have thought.  To them, was Isaac dead?  Had they thought he had been sacrificed?  Were they aware he was alive?  If not, then Isaac experienced what I am calling a “hidden resurrection.”  Following the Midrashic interpretation, it could be that after three years, the young men discovered something extraordinary: April Fool’s!  He’s alive!

A New Testament corollary to Isaac’s “hidden resurrection” takes place for a little girl whom Jesus raised, but we’ll wait to share her story until A New Testament corollary to Isaac’s “hidden resurrection” takes place for a little girl whom Jesus raised.

"And one of the synagogue officials named Jairus came up,
 and upon seeing Him, fell at His feet,
and entreated Him earnestly, saying,
“My little daughter is at the point of death;
please come and lay Your hands on her,
that she may live”
(Mark 5:22-23)

The symbolism may have been far too controversial in the wake of the destruction of the Temple had the gospel writer chosen a Temple official for the worried father of the sick daughter in Mark 5.  Hence, a synagogue official provided a nice substitute.  Perhaps this following interpretation may be understood by the mystics, but I have never before heard it, so bear with my own discovery of the “daughter” of the synagogue official, who was “at the point of death” (Mk 5:23), as potentially representing the Temple.  True to form, the “daughter” apparently dies, but Jesus tells the father, “Be not afraid, only believe” (36).  When Jesus finds the people in “commotion,” “weeping” and “wailing,” he asks why they are making such a raucous and says, “The child has not died, but is asleep” (39).  In secret, he then raises the child to life and she begins to walk (41-42).  The few witnesses of the event (the parents and three disciples) “were completely astounded” (42).

Perhaps even more astounding is what he tells them: “He gave them strict orders that no one should know about this” (43).  Generally, we read this verse to mean that “no one should know” that the little girl was not yet dead.  What if, instead, we read it that “no one should know” she was raised to life?  In other words, according to the weeping and wailing people outside, she was still dead!  In this mystic reading, the ignorant weeping masses are fooled that she remains dead.  April Fool’s!  She’s alive!

Even today, the commotion surrounding this daughter, the Temple, continues with very literal “wailing” at the “Wailing Wall.”  Meanwhile, even orthodox Christians have adopted the mystical interpretation of the Temple as “raised” within us, the followers of Christ.  "Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?" (1 Cor. 3:16)

Still, Jesus foresaw a time of “sleep” for the new Temple he was raising among his own followers.  In the parable of the ten virgins, in fact, “all became drowsy and fell asleep” (Matt 25:5) – even, then, the “wise” ones.

Jesus' own resurrection, hidden from the many and revealed to the astonished few, continues to mystify us all.  As each of these, in some way, may be a hidden resurrection, so may be the series of little hidden resurrections within the mystic.  Then when the ignorant wakes, the two can look upon one another and laugh: "April Fool's!  We're alive!"