Clothed by God

Yesterday was such a beautiful day–it felt like perfection. Warm sun, cool breeze, birds singing everywhere, flowers blossoming, trees greening up, lovely sky—clouds high and wispy against a brilliant blue sky. Don’t you imagine that was just the kind of weather Adam and Eve enjoyed in the Garden of Eden? It wouldn’t have been too hot or too cold. The world was new, fresh, quivering with life. Humankind was a new creation, innocent and free, made purposely to be God’s companions, to enjoy the life given them in this place of abundant, living perfection, to walk and talk with God in the cool of the evening. Sounds like paradise, doesn’t it?

What more could Adam and Eve have wanted in that setting? What more was there? They had all they needed each day, they were safe and warm and fed, they were loved and valued, living in a place made especially for them.

No one knows where the serpent came from or why he had such a wily, devilish desire to drive a wedge between God and his newly created children. Have you ever thought about that? Where did the serpent come from and how did he develop a will that was different from God’s? Was he jealous that these new beings were so close to the divine creator? And what put it in his crafty little head to lead these poor innocent new beings astray with such devastating results? Perhaps he only meant to stir up a little mischief and didn’t realize what the far-reaching ramifications of their one disastrous choice would be. But he manipulated Eve and caused her to think a thought that had never before been in her quiet and simple mind—to choose something other than the good God had given them, to make a choice against God, asserting her own will instead of respecting what God had said to do, even though that was best for them. “You have one job,” God told them, “Don’t eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

And we know what happened. The opposite of what God wanted. And so our Old Testament scripture for today picks up at that point, when God comes walking into the breezy garden, no doubt looking forward to hearing all about Adam and Eve’s day and enjoying their time together. But when God arrived in the garden, Adam and Eve were hiding.

Hiding? This is a cosmic shift in their relationship. Just hours before, they trusted God, they loved God, there was a flow of simple, open, loving purity between them. They talked and shared and listened and enjoyed, full of trust and peace and light. And now…how could it be possible that God’s children felt they needed to hide from him?

God asked, “Where are you?” And Adam answers that he’d heard God’s voice in the garden and was afraid because he was naked, so he hid. Now we have not only hiding but fear—a new emotion that hadn’t existed before they took that bite of the apple. And of course God realized immediately that Adam’s recognition of his nakedness was something new, and then Adam shifts the blame to Eve, who shifts the blame to the serpent, and things just get worse from there. The dizzying spiral of life in the human realm has begun, and it will soon cast them from paradise and put them in a world literally spinning with images of good and evil, constantly tempting and taunting them, capable of leading them even further astray.

With one bite of an apple God told them not to eat, our earliest ancestors brought the possibility of separation into our relationship with God. It is a rupture—a rupture between us as we know ourselves to be and our divine center, that of God in us and in everyone. Christ came to heal that rupture and we continue—one by one, day by day—to try to live lives that reflect that resurrected relationship with God. It’s not easy to do or to remember in this chaotic and overstimulating world.

When God sees that Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent, he understood what had happened. He must have been heartbroken, devastated. He had just lost the very thing he wanted—companionship, fellowship in perfection—and we might wonder whether that had ever happened to God before. He spoke the world into being. He created day and night, land and seas. He made humankind with his hands—in his own likeness. Had anything ever not turned out God’s way before?

In what I think is probably the most tender scene in all of the Old Testament, our upset, heartbroken God makes garments of skin for Adam and his wife. “He clothed them,” the scripture says. What a tender, beautiful thing for God to do in that moment. God had a whole range of options there—he could have blotted them from the earth and started again. He could have zapped their memories so they didn’t remember what they’d done and go back to life as it was.

But these new children have been created in God’s likeness, and that means they had free will and creative ability. In their devastating choice, God saw that Adam and Eve had just split their minds when they ate the apple—they wanted something more than the perfection God had already given them—and in doing so, they created a new reality where they could “go against” God, which was the birth of shame. So God made them garments to lessen that shame, to give them some comfort and equip them to face the new, confusing and difficult world they had chosen to create for themselves. It would be—as they would learn and as we all know—far from a perfect world.

Last week I finished reading a book called, Body Mind Balancing, by Osho, an Indian philosopher and spiritual teacher who writes about ways we can live more whole, loving, joyful lives. One passage I found quite simple and true—he’s talking about how we often live scattered, with our bodies doing one thing and our minds somewhere else. And he gives us a few simple ideas on how we can undo that split so we feel more whole again:

“Humor will join your split parts, humor will glue your fragments into one whole. Have you not observed it? When you laugh a hearty laugh, suddenly all fragments disappear and you become one.  When you laugh, your soul and your body are one—they laugh together. When you think, your body and soul are separate. When you cry, your body and soul are one; they function in harmony.
Remember always that all those things are good, for the good, which make you one whole. Laughter, crying, dancing, singing—all those make you one piece, in which you function as one harmony, not separate. Thinking can go on in the head, and the body can go on doing a thousand and one things; you can continue eating, and the mind can continue thinking. This is split. You walk along the road: the body is walking and you are thinking not thinking of the road, not thinking of the trees that surround it, not thinking of the sun, not thinking of the people who are passing, but thinking of other things, of other worlds.”

We Friends can add another activity to the list of laughing and dancing, crying and singing—those things that bring our bodies and minds together in the moment. When we sit in silent worship together, our bodies are stilled, our minds are quiet, and we are waiting on God. Maybe that’s why silent worship can feel so good and so restful: our minds and bodies are whole, open and waiting for our garden companion.

This split that Osho describes made me think of the split that happened in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Suddenly there were things to think about, situations to worry about. Their minds began creating imaginary worlds—a world where God could be mad at them, where their trust was broken, and they needed to hide. And suddenly their natural state—unclothed, like all the animals before them—was something that was wrong with them, not natural. Their minds told them so. Instead of being revealed and innocent and in tune with God and the truth of being. Adam and Eve created a split in the mind—perhaps it is a division in consciousness, the birth of duality—and they and now we live a split existence every day if we choose, with our bodies to do one thing while our minds travel off somewhere else.

We know what it means to be whole, in tune with the joy and energy and exuberance of life—we likely lived that way once, in the earliest days of our lives. We all were born into life as whole and wholy integrated little beings, perfect, free, spontaneous, curious. We see this so clearly in our kids and grandkids—children are so alive. So joyful. So full of themselves. And full of hope.

I love the way this poem by Quaker Christopher Morley captures the innocence and excitement of childhood. It’s called, “To a Child.”

The greatest poem ever known
Is one all poets have outgrown:
The poetry, innate, untold,
Of being only four years old.

Still young enough to be a part
Of Nature’s great impulsive heart,
Born comrade of bird, beast, and tree
And unselfconscious as the bee-

And yet with lovely reason skilled
Each day new paradise to build;
Elate explorer of each sense,
Without dismay, without pretense!

In your unstained transparent eyes
There is no conscience, no surprise:
Life’s queer conundrums you accept,
Your strange divinity still kept.

Being, that now absorbs you, all
Harmonious, unit, integral,
Will shred into perplexing bits,
Oh, contradictions of the wits!

And Life, that sets all things in rhyme,
may make you poet, too, in time-
But there were days, O tender elf,
When you were Poetry itself!

We each have, still, within us that tender, vibrant, playful, adventurous, and creative spirit we had when we were four and we each were poetry itself. Yes, our bodies age and we slow down a bit and have more aches and pains. But I bet we all have had the experience of looking in the mirror and realizing that the person we see reflected there seems much older than the person we feel like we are—us, ourselves—on the inside. Our spirit, that part that makes us us, doesn’t age. So what makes us lose touch with the energy and vitality of the deepest joy of life?

In the 1980s and 90s, John Bradshaw was an addictions counselor and author who wrote several books for families and individuals in recovery. He spoke often about the problem of shame and how it causes us to hide the parts of ourselves we feel are unacceptable to the outer world. This hiding can impact us in many ways, making us feel as though we’re inauthentic in life, causing us to be hard on ourselves and overly critical, undermining our trust in ourselves and each other, and ultimately God. This hiding robbing us of –yet again—of the real intimacy, vitality, and joy we lost in the Garden of Eden all the generations ago.

Bradshaw says that one of the ways to heal the shame that steals our love of life is to come out of hiding. To let ourselves see what we see and feel what we feel and be how we are, out loud. To stop expecting ourselves to be perfect in everything we do and give ourselves the grace to be human, to mess up, to admit we need the help from someone infinitely kind and loving and wise. To come out of the bushes and drop the fig leaves. To admit we need God.

In our New Testament reading, Jesus knew—well in advance—that Peter, poor, impetuous, passionate Peter, would deny him three times after he is arrested. Jesus told Peter this would happen when they were sitting together at the Last Supper. Peter of course said that was impossible, adding, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you.” But as we heard in our story today, Peter did deny Jesus and he did it just as Jesus said he would. He did it without even knowing it. And when he heard the rooster crow, the scripture says, “he broke down and wept.”

God had seen what he had not seen. God was right and he was wrong. Did Peter feel shame in that moment, the shame that made Adam and Eve hide themselves from God? Most certainly. Did God love him anyway? I believe that’s why Jesus told him in advance that it would happen—it was an example of prevenient grace, grace that is given us before we even need it. And the outcome of that awful moment—when Peter felt the full pain of his raw failure—was that Peter would turn even more strongly toward God and trust Christ with all he had. And on Peter, the rock, Christ would build his church.

John Bradshaw says that human beings make mistakes about 15% of the time. Our judgment is imperfect because we see only through these human eyes and hear with these human ears and make decisions as best we can based on the information and experience we’ve got. But all that is partial and not whole, part of this reality, with its whirling pools of good and evil.

But there is One whose vision is whole and complete, who looks on us in love still as the perfect children made in God’s own image and likeness. If we will only come out of hiding, God will gladly take away our masks and the sting of our failures and let all that separates us be dissolved in the perfect God created and continues to offer–a limitless garden of grace.

In closing, I’d like to share with you a poem from the poet Danna Faulds. It’s called, “White Dove.”

In the shared quiet, an
invitation arises like a
white dove lifting from
a limb and taking flight.
Come and live in truth.
Take your place in the
flow of grace. Draw
aside the veil you thought
would always separate
your heart from love.
All you ever longed for is
before you in this moment
if you dare draw in a breath and
whisper “Yes.”

RESOURCES

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