I began the season of Lent as I always do. I even said “I say this every year but, much like Lent, it bears repeating.”
So, here it is again. I think it’s important to remind people that when Jesus goes into the desert, he does not go alone. In the story which inspired the season of Lent - a time of reflection, self-examination and preparation for the Easter story - Jesus goes into the desert for forty days with the Spirit. Through the desert, the fasting, the temptations, the wild animals and the angels, Jesus is not alone, whichever version of the story you read. The Spirit is there.
Well, of course the Spirit is there, you might say. Yes, it’s mentioned in the story, but we also spend a lot of time and talk on how God is present in the world. At least, I do and I was thinking about that this week in relation to another foundational story.
I believe we’re created in the image of God, however you understand God. That could be in the religious sense, whatever your faith tradition, or simply that God is love, the energy that runs through all living things, the fabric of creation, a higher power - however you might understand God. So we are love and grace, we are inherently good, but we have free will and make choices, not always good. Frequently not, in fact. I mean, look around you.
I also believe that, whether you hear the creation story literally, mythically, metaphorically or otherwise, we are created both of the earth and by that same divine spirit (however you understand it, see last sentence). And I wonder if that isn’t part of what Jesus is all about: not changing us, but showing us and helping us to live into who we truly are and all that we are truly capable of. If God is in all creation, that means God is in us, just as God is in Jesus. Jesus is attuned to that dual nature and that’s what he mentors in us. We’ve become disconnected. Jesus tries to bring us back.
I think about how often we say things like “God is with us, we are not alone” (that’s in the United Church creed and I’m sure we all have similar statements) and we ask people to look for God or Jesus or the Spirit in their neighbours, friends and enemies alike. We say we are all children of God and that God is in all creation, the flowers, trees, the earth, water, sky … and yet, we are profoundly disconnected, from each other, from creation and God.
So I was thinking about another foundational story this week.
We tell a story of the very beginning, in which God creates all that is. And after God has created all that is from God’s divine spirit, God creates human beings from both the created earth and the divine spirit, in God’s image, and places them in a beautiful garden. Then, the story goes, they are tempted to sin, disobey God, gain knowledge and are subsequently cast out of the garden into the barren wilderness of the world and punished with the pain of childbirth and the need to work the land for food as if it were now an adversary. (Genesis 3) Our relationship with the earth is broken, our connection to God is lost and we are alone - alone - in the wilderness. Subsequent stories are told about our brokenness and how we might be fixed.
But what if we didn’t need fixing, we needed healing? What if we imagined that story differently? What if we turned it on its head, like Jesus did?
In the garden, we are so connected to the earth that we wear no clothes and every tree, fruit and vegetable, every animal and fish and bird helps feed us. We even name them. (Genesis 2) We are so close to God that God walks in the garden with us and Adam and Eve hide from God when the choose to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. (Genesis 3).
What if the choice to eat the fruit wasn’t just about acquiring knowledge but free will as well? What if God knew that, and instead of being cast out, we were sent out? Sent out from the wilderness of blissful ignorance in the garden, where everything was done for us, into the wonder which is the world, with knowledge and wisdom, to create and grow and care for the rest of the world. What if God’s intention was never to break our relationship with God and the earth, but to grow it, to build on it, to encourage us to live into the humanity and the divinity that was in us?
Imagine, just for a moment, how different our approach to life might be if our origin story wasn’t about being cast out in sin, but being sent in love.