Restless

When we think of Adam and Eve, we think of the Fall, of sin and its impact upon the world and upon each of us individually. Rightly so, but there is another aspect to consider. Certainly, to live outside of Eden in the physical world meant struggle and sweat and pain and toil. But I also think that my Ancestral Parents lived with a great sadness that came from their remembrance of Eden, and this sadness was deepened by the frustration of not being able to return to it. This existential reality, the remembrance of Eden and the frustration of being kept from it,  has remained in the hearts of all of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. Generation after generation has, in its own way, attempted to get back to the Garden and has felt the frustration of the failure to do so.

One biblical account of this effort was the tower of Babel. We believed that if we could just build high enough we would converse with God.  We would regain our status as children of God just as it was when He walked and talked with us in the Garden “in the cool of the evening.” The problem was that  God  placed an angel with a flaming sword  at the gate, and every attempt to enter would fail. At Babel, the tower experiment failed and the human family was divided by language, a tragedy that continues to shape and form our  history and society today. One theologian speculated that the formation of cities was an attempt at Eden, but often Sodom was the result.

Some years ago, I attended a lecture on architecture and the professor skilfully showed how that many abiding features of architecture psychologically reached back to the remembrance of our primitive past. For example, he stated that columns represent trees and architecture uses them to create not only an aura of strength, but also to remind us of the times when we lived among the trees.  With this insight, I began to notice expressions of the Garden in many things. I walked into a shopping mall and there was Eden with trees and fountains. I saw it in  hotel lobbies. I saw it in the way some commercials on TV were crafted to imply that should I buy this car, I would be driving in a self-contained, temperature controlled, rolling paradise. I begin to notice how we create our gardens and lawns and public parks-all of them to make us feel “at home.” You can even see it in rock music concerts with the haze and smoke and special lighting. Surely, we modern folk are striving to fulfil an inner and sometimes undefined desire to re-enter the Garden.

As with the tower of Babel, this remembrance of the Garden and our desire to enter is frustrated, often with tragic consequences. We might call this deep seated urge the “pursuit of happiness.”  Though it is our birthright guaranteed to us by the founding documents of our society, the pursuit of happiness rarely results in the possession of it. The angel with the flaming sword still stands at the gate of Eden and will not allow us in. This produces a deep frustration  that creates a sadness or anxiety that our lives will never be complete, or happy, or of any lasting value and this thought makes us frantic to prove that it is not so.

Despite our frustration and all evidence to the contrary,  we continue to pursue it with vigour. We believe that if we can just get that promotion, if we can get a raise in pay, if we can find a partner who will serve all of our physical needs, if we can live in a finer home, or write a better book, lose weight, gain weight, get some plastic surgery, win the lottery, be a star, better drugs, more parties, another drink, etc., we will cross over the threshold into our own gated community and happiness will be assured. We hang on to this conviction despite the evidence that many who gain these things eventually end up broken, divorced, addicted, or dead. The power of our desire for Eden blinds us to these facts.

It has always seemed to me that we have come to believe that science will lead us to a new utopia. I am no luddite and I appreciate all that science has accomplished. Yet I remember the day that the Challenger exploded over Florida. Besides the shock and sadness at the loss of so many talented people, I thought of the tower of Babel. This tragedy was a reminder that the angel still stands at the gate.

Let me reverse my thoughts about this.  This desire for Eden is important and God allows it for a good reason.

Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”  The Lord Jesus said, “Blessed are they who hunger, for they shall be filled.”  This hunger for Eden is important because without it, we would give up our pilgrimage. Desire and longing are vital because they will not let us rest with what is. This desire propels us to scan the horizon for a new place to dwell.  We would surely die without this inner thirst and hunger. As a priest I often pray, “Lord, give us all a sense of starvation that we might seek the Bread of Life.”

Yet if the way is blocked,  is God only torturing us with this restless desire?  In fact, the gate to Eden can be opened and the angel will let us pass. The key to the gates of Paradise is the Cross of Christ.  By it and only by it, can we  enter into the Paradise of God. Remember what the Crucified Lord said to the thief, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” When the gates of Eden open in our hearts, and we find the Kingdom is within us, we again converse with our Father because the Lord Jesus said he would come into our house and sit down with us. The Fathers also say that humility opens the gates of Eden. There is no difference here because it is only by embracing the Cross that anyone can attain true humility.

Fine architecture, nice homes, good automobiles, health, well-being – there is nothing wrong about any of these things as long as we understand that we will not find paradise by them.  The momentary happiness they bring will pass. There is a joy that can remain and we can abide in that paradise. St. Paul said that the Kingdom of God was “joy in the Holy Spirit.”  That joy will not come and go with the circumstances of life. That is certainly paradise.

I want to end by saying that we err if we think that Paradise is just an inner state of being.  I will refer you to the life of St. Euphrosynos the Cook for further details.

 

 


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