When open and empty hands, receptive,
turn away from the ever-flowing gift,
grasping for possession and control,
they find themselves lacking what, before,
they had in such great abundance, pure.
Little children, infinitely loved, were our parents,
Adam and Eve…and like them we are too.
Yet to know this truth, to feel it,
yes, to allow it to flow in, penetrate,
and transform every aspect of my life,
this, loving Father, can only be your gift,
reawakening the broken and sinful heart
to the gift from which it was first born,
and to which, with every fiber of its being,
it unceasingly thirsts to return.
Nakedness of transparency in love,
children before the loving Father,
siblings, spouses, friends before each other…
now gives way, through this sinful grasping,
to the shame which covers over heart and flesh.
I cover over myself because I am afraid,
who was created for perfect confidence,
the simplicity of a beloved child,
unreserved in openness, joyful trust,
like an infant in his mother’s arms,
nursed lovingly on her milk,
nursed, even more deeply,
on her tender gaze, her kisses,
her smile which awakens his in return.
I am afraid now because I experience,
no longer only the cherishing of true love,
but the vulnerability of being abused,
disregarded, and even, yes, profaned.
It is true, my heart so deep within
is sheltered for you, God, alone,
but what violence can be done by others,
hurting me almost to this sacred place,
cloaking it over thus by woundedness and fear.
And I am also ashamed, not only of others’ eyes,
which can gaze to possess, control, dominate,
but of my own eyes, in which I feel this same disorder,
something I renounce and surrender to you,
Father, to be purified in your own vision, your own light.
But our first parents are now, at the moment of their fall,
overcome by the newness of this shame,
the burden of guilt and alienation that is theirs,
and which we, their children, receive from them.
The garden of innocence and purity,
the fullness of loving gift and blissful embrace,
becomes a memory of the past, and then less,
as humanity experiences for the first time
what it will experience in so many ways through time:
the pain and loneliness of exile, far from the blessed land.
The heart’s nostalgia, yearning for something more,
this can never cease, however dull it becomes,
for you, Father, have yourself implanted it within us,
and never cease to foster it in so many ways.
From the very moment of our first infidelity
you reaffirm again your fidelity to us, wayward children,
promising in veiled images and words
the seed of a woman (though woman does not bear seed)
crushing the head of the serpent.
Yet this woman’s seed, this man,
is also wounded by the serpent’s strike,
with the wound of sin that we bear,
and yet he is the one that is victorious,
at last, within this fight.
Ah, but how many years yet need to pass
until this obscure promise comes to light!
First, man experiences the burden of bitter work,
the earth giving forth thorns and thistles,
and woman experiences pain in childbirth
…the fragmented and obscured radiance
of the paternity and maternity, my God,
which you have intended to shine through us.
And the priestly offering that is ours,
carrying the whole creation back, in purity, to you,
now becomes the slavery of bitter work,
backs bent and weighed down by hard labor,
and desert wandering with frail hope,
struggling to avoid worshiping other gods.
And brother turns against brother, sword in hand;
brother turns against brother, land dividing,
separating so as to avoid conflict,
what was once had in perfect abundance
because fully shared.
Yes…what heavy bonds we bear,
hearts afflicted by the disorder of our sin,
the pain, the suffering, the death,
which it has brought in its wake.
But these hearts, nonetheless, are still awake,
however numb and blinded they may be,
yearning for something they have lost,
yearning, indeed, for the fullness
The pain and loneliness of slavery,
burdened with bitter work,
unable to celebrate in freedom
the deepest yearnings of the heart,
at rest within the arms of God, reposing.
In the first garden there was a sacred sabbath,
indeed, all work itself was enfolded
in the sabbath joy and rest of childhood,
enfolding in itself the spousal love of man and woman,
and their pro-creative fruitfulness before your love.
As the result of sin, yes–sin’s very essence–
this ordered harmony and beautiful unity
is broken asunder, fragmented,
as the cord of sonship and daughterhood
is torn and frayed, estranging our hearts from yours.
Then the radiant beauty of spousal love
is infiltrated by possessive grasping, domination,
and the purity of all relationships among us,
and between us and your whole creation,
experience the anguish of discord.
Fruitfulness too, therefore, is no longer transparent,
radiating purely with your holy light,
but giving-birth occurs in pain and difficulty,
and the ground yields thorns and thistles.
Our forefathers experienced this keenly,
in both truth and symbol, in their slavery,
bound by the burdens of the Egyptians.
Yet the burning furnace, Father, of your compassion,
is never exhausted, never spent.
From the first moment of our parents’ sin
you have already promised the hope of reconciliation,
and you show yourself, again and again,
the God of faithfulness and love,
the God of the covenant, reestablishing again and again
the bonds of love and belonging we have rent.
But it is yet a long time until the covenant is perfected,
as the divine pedagogy progresses over time.
Touching the heart of Moses, away from home,
you reveal yourself in the burning bush,
and then send him home again,
so that he may lead your people, at last,
away from slavery and into the true homeland.
I have heard my people’s crying
under the burden of their taskmasters,
and I know well what they are suffering,
you say, and ignite in Moses this same flame,
burning so ardently: compassion for the people.
You show signs and wonders in Egypt,
your hatred for the sin which enslaves us,
and your immense love for us,
deeper than all that holds us bound.
And the climax of all these works
is also the greatest promise of what will come:
the Passover sacrifice of the spotless lamb,
redeeming blood on the cross-beams of wood,
and a communion feast shared together,
dressed as pilgrims, yet foretaste of the future.
The angel of death passes over
sparing, through this blood, enslaved hearts,
and then the pillar of fire and guiding cloud
leads your children out of slavery,
across the waters of rebirth, into the desert.
The desert of testing and purification,
yet so much more, also, of covenant-love,
the espousal between Bride-Israel and Bridegroom-God.
The gifts that you give in the solitary wasteland,
in the immense silence of sandy expanse,
begin to hint that this place is not empty,
but that precisely here, in the desert,
hearts are initiated into the garden of love.
They know this too, our fathers,
when you at last lead them into the promised land,
there setting up your temple,
though your tabernacled presence was already there
with your chosen ones in the desert journey.
Yet they are unfaithful, wayward children, an adulterous Bride,
to the God of love and unending fidelity.
Their sins and infidelities bring upon them their effects,
and they find themselves exiled from this land,
back in the desert of estrangement and slavery.
But here again the desert becomes something more,
as your prophets slowly begin to reveal,
a place where the heart is cleansed, renewed,
to open again to you as in the beginning,
in the nakedness of trusting love and simple hope,
in the poverty and dependency of “little ones,”
so great that in them you find a dwelling place.
The garden-love becomes a central theme,
the hope that barren heights will flow with water
and the barren steppe will sprout and bloom,
that, indeed, you will lead your beloved ones
back to the land of their hope, and yet renewed.
Thus a deeper hope awakens:
for a definitive, final exodus,
passing-over from the greatest slavery
and being enfolded, at last, forever,
in your tender Bridegroom-arms.
In that greatest Song of love,
the garden is the place of everything,
looking back to what once was, for Adam and Eve,
yet forward to what could be, and is now,
finding this garden present in you, God,
and in your unending covenant-love.
The Bride calls out, yearning, wounded by your beauty,
for the Bridegroom in whom alone she can rest,
and her very longing expands her heart,
opening it to receive and to give.
Indeed, in the desert of her searching
she is led back to the inmost place: her very heart.
And here she finds the Beloved dwelling,
among the flowers and perfumes of the garden,
this fallen and yet healed body and soul,
made a garden precisely because you are here.
And a most beautiful prophecy is given
at the end of this Song of Songs,
pointing to the garden of redemption
and, yes, the garden of consummation.
Who is this coming up from the desert,
the nations say, leaning upon her Beloved?
Ah, it is the chosen Bride,
led from the slavery of Egypt,
from the exile of Babylon.
Yet it is something more, too: it is us,
the beloved Bride whom we are,
the spouse that each and every one of us is.
Then the Bridegroom speaks:
There under the tree I awakened you,
there where your mother first was corrupted.
Garden of paradise becoming garden of sin,
after centuries of longing and of hope,
is now beginning to give way, at last,
to the garden of true, unbreakable union.
As a tree was the place of our downfall,
so a Tree will be the place of our restoration,
a man and a woman there, too…
yet not turning away in sinful pride and fear,
but open unreservedly, with hands upraised,
accepting the gift, my God, from you,
and giving all, trustingly, in return.
Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm,
Bridegroom and Bride say together.
And this, too, will be the case
as the lance pierces the inmost Heart,
and Love etches itself, enduringly,
on the heart of the woman who stands below.
Ah yes, for Love is stronger than death,
and jealousy deeper than the netherworld.
Its flashes are flames of fire,
the very fire of God himself.