And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” - Genesis 2:16,17
The garden of Eden was quite a place, I guess. There, plants animals and people lived in harmony. Each respected the other as creations of God. And human beings lived among all the other creatures as part of a harmonious whole. There were sparkling rivers and beautiful and bounteous trees. And they were all free to eat any of the fruit from any of the trees and enjoy the garden fully. There was only one rule. That tree in the center of the garden - the tree of the knowledge of good and evil - you can't eat that fruit. That fruit is bad for you. Do not eat it.
When I was a very little girl, I remember an old, local lady I knew in Stoddard who took me out into our woods and showed me a plant that had berries that looked like blueberries, but were not blueberries. Our place in Stoddard was, and remains, a blueberry wonderland, covered with both high bush and low bush wild blueberries. Knowing I was a no-sense Boston child, she leaned down, looked me straight in the eye and said, "Now don't eat them berries, Elsa. They look good - like big, fat blueberries - like the best blueberries on the lot - but see, they ain't on a bush, but on a little stalk, and them's deadly poison. Don't you be eatin' em. Them's deadly poison." Her warning was very stern and made quite an impression on me. I steered very clear of those berries and made sure to warn any of my visiting friends about them too. I've never looked up that plant to see if those berries are, indeed, "deadly poison," but I think about those berries whenever I read about God's warning to Adam. Perhaps I wouldn't have died if I'd eaten them, but I'm sure it would not have been good.
And that is what happened with Adam and Eve. They did not die, either, but what happened was not good. Before eating the fruit and having their eyes opened to good and evil, they were like any of the other creatures of the garden - simply being who God made them to be - living in the present moment and praising God through their existence. Once they started looking at the garden with a critical eye, they began to make value judgements that created tension, embarrassment and shame.
As I read this story today, I think about all the many judgements that fly around among and between us - judgements about who is right or wrong, who is in or out, what is good or bad. We are wired, it seems, to make judgements, and it is not always good for us. The story of Adam and Eve is a way to try to make some sense of how we, as people, cannot seem live like other creatures seem to live - simply being who God made us to be in the present moment and praising God through our existence. Our natures are complicated, because we seem to have just a touch of God's ability to see the bigger picture, but not enough of that ability to use it well and for the good of all. And sometimes, like our current times, our judgemental streaks go off the rails and cause great conflicts and schisms among us. Using our strange ability to make judgements, we complicated human beings have the ability to create something quite the opposite of the Garden of Eden.
As the season of Lent begins this year, it is important to take a good look within to see where we each have allowed our own personal judgements to have free reign, and to examine the illness such judgements have caused in our own lives and in the lives of others. It's not an easy thing to do and takes some courage to look at our failings and our shortcomings, but it is an extremely important step in making our way toward a more faithful life and a more peaceful world. This is why every year we take six weeks to do this very thing - to step off any high horses we may find ourselves on and come back down to earth, back to the humble dust from which we are made, remembering that is it only God who has the full picture, and that only God is God - and we are not God.