We said in the previous reflection that the relationship between mother and child is a sanctuary that God has preserved in the midst of creation. In this space God provides a safe place in which we can grow; he also gives us a foundational intuition of the mystery of Love and of our deepest vocation to intimacy. Finally, as we said, this encounter of love is an image of the very inner life of the Trinity itself.
From this sacred space of the relationship with her mother, the child will naturally grow into a healthy sense of her own individuality and into loving and trust-filled relationships with others. However, as we know, there are also many things that militate against this natural development. The world we live in is profoundly broken, and what God has joined together has been rent asunder by human sin. We need to think only of the tragedy of abortion, in which the womb that was meant to shelter becomes the most unsafe place. Or we think of the wounds that are so often left by adoption—which in itself is a gift of loving acceptance and desire by the adoptive parents, but which takes time to be understood by the adopted child, who often has the ingrained sense that one has been rejected by one’s biological parents and is therefore unwanted. In a word, healing and liberation comes when the face of Love and its sheltering embrace is rediscovered as stronger even than the limitations and failures of one’s parents. We think also of neglect or abuse. If you are someone who has suffered from any of these, you have probably found the above meditations very difficult. I only ask you to persevere…for there is a powerful and beautiful answer.
God created us out of the abundance of his pure love and generosity; he fashioned us to be as a little child in his arms, receiving and reciprocating his smile, his look, his embrace. We are born from the communion of the Trinity’s life and invited to return at last into the fullness of the Trinity’s perfect embrace…into the beauty of the communion shared eternally by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, from the first sin of Adam and Eve until now, the human heart has been tempted to tear apart the inseparable union between “You” and “I.” It has been tempted to refuse to be dependent on Another, to receive oneself as a gift from Another, to belong to Another in vulnerability and love.
The temptation of the serpent was precisely this, wasn’t it? Let us read the account:
Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” (Genesis 3:1-10)
The serpent tricked Adam and Eve into believing that they were not safe and sheltered in God’s love, that they were not loved and desired for their own sake. Rather, he deceived them into believing that God was withholding things from them, jealous of his own “prerogatives.” He also insinuated that God was a Taskmaster who imposed arbitrary burdens in order to enslave his creatures to himself. He made them think that the communion that enfolded them, the all-enveloping embrace of the Father, was constricting them from being their true selves, and that in order to be free and “mature” they needed to rebel and go their own way. Rather than abiding in childlike playfulness within the enveloping security of the Father’s love, in the joy and peace of being infinitely and unconditionally loved, they wanted to be in “control” and to go their own way. In this desire for a false autonomy, they were tempted to create from within themselves what could only come as a gift from the outside.
In truth, they were a gift from Another, and in simply accepting this gift they had everything else as well. The Father’s Love enfolded and protected them, and as long as they consented to remain rooted in this Love, to remain always within this Love, they could exist and blossom fully in their own unique personal existence. Here “You” and “I” and “We” would be profoundly united, creating together a beautiful harmony of love and relationship: the intimacy for which the human heart was created and in which alone it can be at rest! Each human person would be united to God, the loving Father, as his precious child. And from this place of communion with God, they would also be able to relate to other human persons in freedom, confidence, and joy—since all of their relationships would spring from the Father’s Love within them and remain encompassed within this Love. In other words, because all would abide in the bosom of the Father, they would be able to share themselves with one another too, being united profoundly within the intimacy that God’s cradling Love makes possible.
But, as we know, Adam and Eve turned away… They chose the path of isolation rather than the path of communion. They refused to belong to Another—to the One who was the very Source of their existence and their only true Home. They refused to be vulnerable before the gift of his love, and to give themselves to him, and to one another, in return. Rather, they grasped the gift as their own possession and turned it away from the Giver. They wanted to master it, to make it merely their own (even though it was their own, precisely as his gift!). They wanted to bring forth from within themselves the fulfillment of their desires—desires which only unceasing acceptance of God’s free gift can satisfy.
And now the whole history of our world, and every human life, is marked by the rupture that this first sin caused, and which is perpetuated in every sin committed since. Now we see that, corresponding to the “original experience” of enveloping Love, there is an “original rupture” which seeks to cut off the human heart from this Love, to close it in upon itself. Rather than expanding on the touch of Love, being wide-open and vulnerable in trusting acceptance and reciprocal surrender, the heart is tempted to collapse into narrowness in fear and shame, crying out with Adam: “I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself.” Every sin, indeed, can be understood as a way of “hiding from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” A way of seeking to cover over one’s vulnerability with partial and fading things. A way of seeking fulfillment in what cannot satisfy.
We saw earlier that, in her experience of her mother’s love, the little child spontaneously desires to receive this love ever more deeply and to give herself back in return. The same was true of Adam and Eve before the fall, in relationship with their loving Father. But after sin, the very face of Love was fractured for them, since they could no longer see, their trust in the goodness of the Father having died in their hearts. Because of this, the ardent and life-giving desire that springs spontaneously from loving encounter—from that shared smile of recognition—is submerged under the fear of being unsafe, unsheltered, and unloved. The human person now begins to live out of fear rather than out of desire. He or she sees life, vulnerable human relationships, and the commands of God, no longer as a liberating gift, as a pure expression of Love’s generosity, but as an external and arbitrary burden, constricting the heart. One thinks that one must now “measure up” and attain through one’s own efforts to what was meant only to be a pure gift, received, interiorized, and lived in joyful freedom.
Rather than living from Love, within Love, and ever deeper into Love, the person now feels that it is necessary to live toward Love…a Love that is inaccessible and absent and can only be found at the end of a long and lonely journey. This, of course, is a lie. God’s Love is just as present to us as it has always been; it still envelops us entirely on all sides; it still penetrates every fiber of our being. But we have become closed to its presence, and turned in upon ourselves. The living relationship that was meant to be ours with God has been ruptured by sin, by false independence, by fear. Our hearts have collapsed in upon themselves, and we are tempted clothe ourselves with whatever we can find to hide our nakedness…since we are afraid to open ourselves to vulnerability, uncertain of whether or not authentic Love will be there to receive and shelter us.
– In what ways is my own image of the heavenly Father distorted? Do I see him as a Taskmaster rather than a Father, as an angry and judgmental God rather than the “Father of mercies and God of all consolation”?
– In what ways do I find myself “hiding among the trees of the garden” and concealing my vulnerability from the face of God? Why do I do this?
– How can I re-open myself to receiving the free gift of his love again, when I am tempted to turn away? How can I let him hold me in his loving arms, as the little beloved child that I am?