Already it’s apple season. And that brings lots of things to be thankful for: Apple cider, apple cake, cinnamon apple bread, apple pies. Tart apples, sweet apples, crispy apples, red, green, and gold. Life is good, especially in the fall, isn’t it?
The local you-pick apple orchards are now open for business, and farm stores and markets are bringing out baskets full of their best early season apples. This is the beginning of harvest time—the time we’ve been waiting for—when all the planning and planting, caring and tending comes to fruition. No matter what we’re trying to accomplish in life—growing a garden, raising kids, earning a living—the harvest time is when all our efforts and hopes and prayers pay off.
Our culture is full of stories about apples. We’ve all heard the old saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” That’s actually an Americanized version of the 1866 Welsh saying, “”Eat an apple on going to bed, and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.” Unfortunately, it also turns out to be more of a marketing slogan than a medicinal truth—a research study done in 2011 found that there was no correlation between people who eat apples every day and a reduced number of trips to the doctor. A follow-up study found, however, that people who eat apples regularly do seem to take fewer medications. So I suppose it might still be true to say, “An apple a day keeps the pharmacist away.”
Apples often mean something good. There’s the nice gesture of taking a shiny red apple to school as a gift for your teacher. Historians say that tradition began back in the days of one-room schoolhouses where towns were responsible for the care and feeding of their local educators. Especially when times were tight, those gifts of produce demonstrated the care and connection of community.
Apples have also symbolized divine wisdom. Heracles was a hero in Greek mythology, and the culmination of his quest involved traveling to a far distant garden and picking the golden apples from the Tree of Life. In Norse mythology, the apple tree was considered sacred, serving as a fountain of youth for all who ate its fruits.
But, on the flip side, apples have also planted seeds of deceit and division. One Greek story tells of a strong, intelligent woman named Atalanta who didn’t want to marry. She agreed to run a race against all her suitors. If she won, she could live as she chose. She was faster than any man who wanted to marry her—but was ultimately bested, not by a faster man but by a deceitful one, who distracted and delayed her by offering three golden apples. In another story, the Greek goddess of discord, angry that she had not been invited to a wedding, tossed a golden apple inscribed with “for the most beautiful one” into the midst of the wedding party. Three different goddesses demanded that they should get that apple, and the struggle that resulted was said to have caused the Trojan War.
There’s also the story of Snow White, who was given a poisoned apple by her wicked and jealous stepmother, the Queen. Ultimately the Queen’s dark magic was no match for Show White’s goodness. Thanks to the well-timed appearance of a prince and seven faithful dwarves, the story turns out alright in the end.
And of course, we have our own connections to the fateful apple. So beautifully red and shiny—and perhaps delicious, too. That’s what the serpent told Eve in the Garden that day. Yes, God had told Adam to stay away from that tree, saying he would die if he ate its fruit. But maybe, the serpent slyly suggested, God just wanted to keep his children in the dark. “God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,” he hissed.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could go back in time to that morning in the garden, before anything had happened, when the serpent was still plotting his approach and Eve was innocently gathering fruit for breakfast? There’s a moment there: The dawn light is soft and pink, and God hadn’t yet arrived for his morning walk. Birds are chirping and a soft breeze is moving through the leaves. Maybe Eve was humming to herself. She surely would have been happy and at peace. What might we have said to her in that moment of innocent perfection? Could we have done anything to help her make a better choice?
Maybe we could say something that would wake her up to the paradise she was living in. Perhaps we could suggest that nothing—nothing—is worth risking the sweet, easy relationship she and Adam had with God. Maybe we could warn her against temptation, caution her about the deceitful words of the serpent, tell her to not believe anything that causes her to doubt the overall goodness of God and God’s tender care for his creation. Don’t you see how good you have it? We could ask her. All you need to do is enjoy the beauty of this garden and delight in the companionship of God.
A poem called Higher-Order Thinking offers a snapshot of the decision Eve faced in the garden that day:
What if Eve, eyeing the
red lusciousness of the apple,
feeling the tightening twist of desire
and the yawning chasm of hunger
Had felt so at-One with God,
so grateful for long evening walks
and the trust that cements belonging,
that Love, the compass, kept pointing her true north.
Perhaps she could have paused,
drawing full breath into her earthy frame,
locking her wise eyes with the snakey glint of temptation,
and said coolly, “I see what you did there” and
But of course, without any intervention or change of heart, the worst happens. Eve listens to the serpent and sees what he’s getting at. She takes a bite of the apple and finds out that it is sweet. She gives some to Adam, who also eats it—and then they realize they are naked and for the first time, they feel shame. They begin to cover themselves, hiding what they now judge to be unacceptable. When God comes along for their morning walk, Adam and Eve are no where to be found. He calls out to Adam, and Adam answers, saying he was afraid because he was naked and so he hid from God.
Now not only shame is with them in the Garden, but fear, too.
“Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” God asks them. And what does Adam do? He passes the buck, saying, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”
Now we have shame and fear and blame.
So what was it that died in the Garden that day? God had said it would happen. It wasn’t Adam and Eve’s physical life that ended there, but rather something of the innocent, undivided wholeness of their spirits. The way they were able to know God. We can see this in our own lives too, when we feel split, when the struggles of our world seem more real to us than God’s loving presence and ability to act. When we’re out of attunement with God, we lose touch with our innocence; we lose our ability to see God at work in our circumstance; we sacrifice the feeling of safety we get knowing that God is providing what we need as we need it. We may feel cursed instead of blessed, hopeless instead of hopeful. Our feelings—fear and upset, anger, shame, and blame—are the same ones Adam and Eve felt as they hid from God in the garden that day.
Our New Testament reading, from the book of James, offers ideas that can intervene and help us when we are tempted to despair, to doubt, to believe the worst about others or about God and God’s world. James reminds us that deepening our connection to God, staying in tune with spirit, is not only about what we say “yes” to—prayer, silence, kindness, honesty—but it’s also about what we say “no” to.
In verses 12-18 of chapter 1, he writes, “Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
James goes on to say that temptations do not come from God himself, “for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one,” but we get “tempted by our own desire, being lured and enticed by it.” He’s not talking about apples here. He’s talking about whatever invites us to forget that God is good and we are one. These temptations are anything that reinforces our worst fears, that causes us to believe there is a growing darkness over the world that even the light of God cannot counter. These temptations are whatever brings out our worst impulses—gossiping, judging, rejecting, ignoring the pain and needs of other living beings: human, animal, and planet.
James gives us the antidote to temptation, suggesting that we can re-establish our connection naturally and easily with a change of heart and mind: “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” When we act in accord with God’s love and light—giving from a generous heart, trusting the goodness of others, caring for others as we are cared for ourselves, telling the truth—we are already connected to God, for all these gifts flow directly from our divine source, that of God within us. This is the promise of the garden—that safe space where all our needs are met, where we live in the midst of divine and perfect beauty, and all we need to worry about—and even that is not a worry, it is an happy anticipation—is when we will walk with God next in this place of perfect peace.
Across the years, apples have been used to symbolize all kinds of things—both good and bad. Perhaps this year, as we enjoy the apple cider and the scent of apple turnovers baking in the oven, we can remember that the apple was never the problem. Rather, it’s our very human tendency to forget God and become mesmerized by the intrigue and drama of our loud and colorful world. It’s possible, James says, to keep our connection with God intact, no matter what’s going on around us. And then, because all good things come from God—we’ll be able to bring more of God’s light, God’s love and peace, to every person, every heart that needs it.
- OT Genesis 3: 1-2
- NT James 1: 12-18