Wisdom from the Garden of Eden
Spring is here and thoughts turn to gardening.
One of the great, universal stories of mankind from ancient Egypt to modern America is the story of the Garden of Eden. This story explains one thing above all else when it comes to gardening—we expect it to be hard work, with lots of weeds and pests. We get our food the old fashioned way—by working for it. No wonder the mall and fast food are satisfying. No sweat. Food appears magically. Technology seems to have undone the curse of the Fall. At last, humans have overcome stubborn Nature that throws up its thorns and weeds to punish us. We are “round-up” ready!
Not so fast. There is another way to “read” this great story of gardens and thorns and trouble. I came across it in Gary Coate’s book, Resettling America, 1981, as he related it as originally told by Gregory Bateson, who is perhaps our centuries’ most important systems thinker. It goes like this:
Once upon a time there were two anthropoid creatures who lived in a garden. They were more intelligent than the other creatures. They could talk and think. The garden was beautiful and provided for all their needs. It was a balanced ‘system,” an ecology, if you will, that included humans naturally. The two enjoyed the place and its ‘grace’. Everyday was a gift—each receiving and each giving.
However, one day on their walk-about, the two humans observed a new fruit way up high on a strange tree. It was beautiful. They could not reach it on tiptoe. Adam sat in the shade and began to think. He wanted to pick it, to taste it, and perhaps own it. He let Eve taste it first to be sure it wasn’t poisonous. It’s newness and elusiveness frustrated him. Suddenly he had an idea. He sent Eve off to find a box. Standing on it, he still could not reach it. He sent her for another, and another, until he finally was able to pick that fruit.
It didn’t taste that good, but the two were intoxicated by their discovery. They had found the best way to get what they wanted. Make a plan. Follow steps ABC and you get D! They began to do things the new way, by specialization and planning. This new way took over the concept of their own total system natures in the context of total systemic Nature—the Garden, or as they called the higher mysteries of how things worked, God.
After they had cast God out of the Garden, they really went to work on their purpose driven lives! Pretty soon the topsoil was gone, plants had become weeds and some animals pests. Adam found cultivation very hard work. He did not like sharing the fruit of the “sweat of his brow.” I am being punished by an angry God, he thought. I should have never climbed those boxes.
Things began to change between Adam and Eve too. Eve was caught up in her purposive activities just as much as Adam. She resented his intrusions for sex and even more that she had to be the child bearer. The pain at birth angered her. How come Adam could do this to her and just watch? She resented him and his strength to rule over her. Her ability to enjoy being alive in her body, to love, to provide hospitality were all diminished. God has punished me, she thought. He should defend me!
They both came to resent the place and the hard work they had to do every day. They were afraid to leave by themselves, so they left together with their children. They never wanted to go back there again.
It should come as no surprise then that the next generation had a great deal of trouble with love and kindness and relationships. The humans, Home techne and Homo fabre, had difficulty finding anything meaningful in life. They wandered around a lot. Their first son, Cain, however, took this purposive business to a new level. He not only fashioned tools, but weapons. With these, who needed boxes. You could make anyone you want climb for you! Food anytime, anywhere!
But Cain grew to hate his little brother, Abel, who wandered around without purpose and did not help him with the business. Abel was a shepherd, and seemed content to live in the natural world with its constraints and limitations. He seemed lazy to his industrious brother. He refused arms to protect himself and yet he was unafraid in the wild. Able even shared food with his busy brother. So why would Cain want to kill him? The memory of the Garden was disturbing and was incarnate in his peasant brother. It haunted Cain and made him question his purpose. Cain’s new God assured him that life without this bad memory would be better. Put this reminder of the Garden out of your mind!
So he did. He literally buried it. And then Cain had his own son, Enoch. Father and son constructed the first and archetypal city where the Garden was totally out of mind. Everything was man-made and artificial. The consequence of building with boxes was long forgotten. Here was a “box” fit for human habitation--tall, neat, and controlled. This is the box in which we find ourselves today.
The Wisdom of Creation (Nature) and the consequences of disregarding The System in which we live are severe, but not irreversible. God is not a punishing God—remember, the story begins with Grace! The System still works and continues to offer all of us its original grace and wonderful gifts.
Cathy and I have left the city, but we still climb our “boxes” to get our food. We hope they will be fewer each successive year as we step down and learn to live with more Grace.