Sometimes Christians like to talk about this story as if humanity was the result of one big mistake. God made this great world with this beautiful garden and only gave us ONE RULE to follow, and what did we do?
We broke it.
And everything that’s bad or evil in world extends from our inability to follow the rules.
I think, though, reading this story, we can find something quite different.
I imagine God squatting down close to the earth and scooping together a little pile of damp dirt and kind of patting it and forming it into something that God sort of likes. And then bending down and taking a big breath, and breathing life into this mud creature. I can see the lungs suddenly rise as the air enters them. The creature is animated by God: given life and soul.
From the very beginning humanity is constructed as fragile, fallible, nothing perfect. Just a clay figure, made with hands. And into that clay, God breathes life.
What does this say about who humans are?
It says that we’re fundamentally tied to the earth, made from the earth. But we’re also stretched between two realms, because as much as we’re tied to the earth, we’re also tied to God through God’s breath.
We’re part dirt and part breath.
We’re both earthly and of God.
We’re a melding of two impulses that are both fundamentally good, but also fundamentally different. There’s tension and dissonance in that, but the tension and dissonance was part of the design from the very beginning.
Tension and dissonance is also part of the architecture (or landscape architecture!) of this garden God has planted, for it in, we are told, are two trees. One is the tree of life, the other, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And God says that the human, the ‘adam, should not eat from the second one.
It’s a little bit like that old rule of playwriting, that if there’s a stage with two doors, and one of the doors hasn’t been used, somebody’s going to come out that second door by the end of the play. That tree is there for a reason. It's been planted there with purpose. Not to tempt humanity into a fatal mistake, but to reprsent the two realms we live between: of life and death.
Eating the fruit is part of the architecture of this story. It tells us that we’re blanced between two poles. Eden isn’t enough. Life and death are richer.
The notion of trees as a source of life and death is not limited to this story. In the story we tell each week at St. Lydia’s, a single tree encompasses both. Jesus is hung on a tree, a tree that is the tool of death but the doorway to life. In the midst of suffering, he hangs between the two. As God’s children, God’s creatures, we find our whole lives hanging between the two realms: life and death.
We were made that way.
Made of dirt and breath.
Made of earth and God.
I’ve often found it painful to look into the eyes of someone I love dearly and see reflected back a mixture of dirt and breath. I see glimpses of God in that person I love, but I also see all the rest.
I see someone who is both holy and broken,
perfect and cracked,
God’s child and earth’s ancestor.
And all of it, the dirt and the clay and the cracks, is good.
We were brought up from the ground to go back to the ground,
shaped by God’s hands,
enlivened by God’s breath.
This is the stuff of this creation story – just one of the stories that we tell about who we are.
We share the sermon at St. Lydia’s, and so I invite you to share a story from your experience that was brought up by the text or my words.