I am surrounded by waters: waters that have been to me both life and death, providing refreshment and reminders. In the morning when I wake they herald the refreshing cycles of the earth. In the evening when I put my head back on the soft ground they remind me of past pains.
My first memory of water was at The Tree. I know now that I should have never gone near The Tree but there was something alluring about that beautiful tree rooted next to a majestic river. The sounds of the water rolling past The Tree spoke to me as if there were a deeper wisdom in the earth: a wisdom as yet inaccessible to me.
After most long days of enjoyable work, I would sit near the bend in the river with my feet dangling in the water. Its cold refreshment felt as though it was more than just water, it somehow carried life with it. In fact, it seemed to be full of life and in some way embody the mystery of life.
It was from this bend in the river that I could see where the waters poured out from the ground. Above the gaping chasm in the earth from which the river flowed, stood The Tree. While there were many trees in and around the garden, this one seemed to be the guardian of all of them. Its massive system of roots framed the mouth of the earth from which the river flowed and ran deep into the water. Beyond The Tree its roots could be seen emerging and diving into the earth as they spread far and wide into the garden. It seemed that The Tree was a conduit for the life-giving water as it moved from the river to the fields bringing growth.
In the other direction, downstream from the bend where I sat, the grand river split into four. Out of the one, many. Without diminishment. Without decrease. The river continued to flow in its four directions to parts of the earth that I had never been. And as it brought life to me and all the exquisite plants and animals in the garden, I imagined it bringing life to any others that were close to the river in far off lands.
In was in these times of rest as I sat at the edge of the river that I noticed the beautiful fruit hanging on the many trees of the garden. They all were quite pleasing to look at, and each that I had tasted was quite delicious as well. But of all the fruit in the garden, it was the fruit hanging on The Tree that was the very definition of beauty. It was unlike any fruit found elsewhere else in the garden with an allure that was almost hypnotic. But as I think back to those times of peaceful rest, while I can clearly recall the fruit’s constant allure and its affect on me, its shape and color are indescribable. I had often wondered why we were not allowed to eat of it, but since I loved and trusted my husband I obeyed him when he said we should not eat of it. Even so, its beauty was beyond compare.
One day after working in the garden and while sitting at the edge of the river and taking in the vision of beauty around me, my focus slowly shifted to the fruit of The Tree. Almost in a trance, the center of my focus soon became the fruit with all else fading and disappearing in the distance. Its beauty grew. Its once subtle colors became vibrant and alive. Its once plain shape now pulsed with life, growing, shrinking, and subtly changing form. The beating of my heart slowly matched the rhythm of the now scintillating fruit.
I wondered how such beauty could be forbidden to us…to me. No other object in the garden ever had such energy as the fruit did in that moment. I was completely transfixed by the fruit and staring into its ever opening and increasing depths. I could see layer upon layer of beauty, wisdom, and amazing delights. I was driven to my feet by its steadily increasing pulsation. I felt alive, truly alive in a way I had not thought possible. What was He thinking when He told us we couldn’t eat this fruit? What did He want to deny us? Was He afraid of what we would become? Was He afraid that we might become His equal? I, for one, was not afraid of the mysteries this delightful fruit held wrapped up beneath is glistening surface. Joy called to me. My limbs felt alive. I wanted to dance, to sing, to create! All of life up to this point now faded to a dull shadow compared to the promises that called to me from the depths of this fruit. I was being pulled into the light and I was not about to resist.
I ran towards the tree, but just as I was about to arrive, my husband called to me. I turned to see him running towards me waving his hands and shouting.
“What are you doing?” he blurted out.
Backing up to the tree and reaching my left hand towards him I urged my husband, “The fruit. Have you not ever seen it before? I mean, have you ever really looked at it? Why has He kept it from us? I think He knows that when, when I say, not if we eat of it, we will become far greater than we are now…greater than He ever wanted us to be. Don’t you see, He’s been holding us back. We will see and know things that He has hidden from us. We will have the power to make our own decisions. Yes! That’s why He has forbidden it, and that is why we must eat it. Don’t you understand?”
My husband hesitated before speaking. “But He has always been good to us. He has always kept us safe and comfortable. Why would He lie about this?”
He looked from me to the tree and back to me again. I took his right hand and pulled him towards me. Kissing him gently on the lips before pulling away, I said “Just look at it once with me. Look closely and tell me we shouldn’t try it.”
He slowly turned his head towards The Tree and focused on the fruit. Hand in hand we closed the gap between The Tree and us. I shifted my gaze to him and then back to the fruit. I reached out my right hand and touched its glowing surface. Its shape pulsed and emitted a glow of light.
“Yes. I see what you mean,” my husband said.
I pulled the fruit from the tree and held it between us. We were now standing face to face with the fruit in my right hand held mouth level and my left hand clinging to my husband’s right. I took a bite of the fruit. Then he took a bite. For a brief moment I felt a surge of energy vibrating through my limbs. As the energy died down there was a moment of silent calm during which I could hear the sound of hissing laughter. The grass behind my husband moved ever so slightly before complete silence overtook the garden.
The fruit’s taste, far beyond any expectation, lingered on my tongue for a moment. Its juice flowed out of my mouth, across my lips, to my chin, and dripped onto my breasts. It was sweet and cool. But as it lingered in my mouth and dripped down my chin, its coolness turned to fire. I looked to my husband and saw that he felt the change as well. I quickly wiped my mouth, chin, and breast trying to remove the increasingly hot fluid, but instead of removing it, it merely spread the heat and pain across my skin. In a moment, not only were my lips, cheeks, and chest burning with intense heat, but my hand and stomach were now as well. Looking for a way to relieve the pain, I saw the river and decided to jump in thinking that it might wash the pain away as it had washed all dirt away in the past. But I was wrong.
What had once been a cool and refreshing river now spread the heat and pain of the juice to every part of my skin. In fact, instead of washing the pain away, the river’s water seemed to intensify it. Each moment in the water magnified the pain to unbearable levels. Flailing and crying out, I quickly moved to the riverbank. I saw that my husband was experiencing the same pain as we both thrashed our way to the edge of the river. I was the first to grab one of the tree’s roots and quickly pulled myself free from the now painful waters. I fell to the ground next to The Tree and rolled around in the grass, all the while rubbing my body trying to rid myself of the pain. Behind me, I heard sounds that told me my husband was likewise occupied. It took quite a long time of rubbing dirt on my body and rolling in the grass before the pain began to subside. Eventually the pain disappeared and we both fell quickly asleep.
When I woke I was relieved to find the pain and heat had gone, but I now felt exposed in a way that I had never felt before. True, there were times, usually when expelling waste that I felt exposed and sought privacy, but this was different. I now desired to hide and cover myself. I quickly found a bush to hide behind before realizing that I didn’t know who it was that I was hiding from.
Looking out from behind the bush I saw my husband still asleep on the ground, but he seemed to have changed somehow. His body that had always brought me pleasure looked different, almost as if I were seeing something that I shouldn’t. It seemed as though the juice from the fruit and the water from the river had either given me new sight to see things as they really were or they caused me to lose the sense of true sight and I was now seeing things as less than they were. Which it was I do not know, but I as looked down at my body I found that I looked the same way: I had the same body as before, but it was now changed in ways I could not comprehend. Staring at my body I saw that my breasts were exposed and the space between my legs was awkward and unsightly. I quickly covered myself with my hands and looked for a place to hide.
Looking around for a hiding place and ultimately something with which to make a covering, I caught a glimpse of the fruit on The Tree. Startled, I paused for a moment. What was once beautiful and desirable was now unsightly and mottled, just as my body currently was. Yet even with the fruit’s present ugliness, my desire to consume more was unchanged. Even though my eyes and mind rejected the fruit, the longing in my body grew and changed into an ache that I knew would not be satisfied unless I once again tasted the fruit’s juice. I stood up and knowing full well that intense heat and encapsulating pain was a price I would have to pay, started towards The Tree. But as I took my first step I heard sounds in the bushes behind me. Turning my head I saw my husband stirring, and like a fog being quickly blown away by the wind, I snapped free from my desire. I quickly ran to the more densely covered parts of the garden looking for a way to cover my nakedness.
I eventually chose some large leaves and a nearby grape vine with which to fashion a crude covering. When I had arranged them in such a way that I was at least partly comfortable with my new body, I ventured out from the garden and found my husband had also covered himself with similar leaves. What an odd looking pair we were now, for our once beautiful bodies were now awkward looking things roughly covered with leaves and vines. As we haltingly talked trying to avoid looking at the parts we had just covered, I noticed another tree on the far side of the river. Even though it was a tree I had seen a number of times before I had never given it much thought until that moment. It stood tall and majestic and it presently overshadowed The Tree from which I had eaten the fruit. A closer glance revealed fruit that looked much more appealing to me now than any time previously. I don’t know how I missed it before.
I looked to my husband and it was apparent that he was having the same thoughts about the tree across the water. He grabbed my hand and we both walked around The Tree intending to taste the fruit of the new tree on the far side of the river but then we heard the sounds of Him approaching from the direction of the new tree.
Not thinking about why, we quickly looked for a place to hide, soon finding a small indentation in the ground under one of the roots of The Tree. My heart was racing and my palms sweating. I looked to my husband and saw the look of fear in his eyes that I knew in my heart.
“Where are you?”
We looked up and turned our heads around, looking over the roots of The Tree. He was standing merely a few feet away looking directly at us.
“We…uh…well, actually, we were hiding from you.” We both attempted further explanation as we slowly stood up from our hiding place, but the proper words seemed just out of reach. Fully exposed now we stood before Him, both of us shifting our eyes from His face to His feet and then the nearby garden. It was strangely quiet: there was no sound of the wind gently blowing through the leaves and grasses; there were no animal sounds; nothing, save for the sound of my husband and I breathing.
“What have you put on your body?”
“Well…uh…we…uh, we just realized that we were naked and thought it would be awkward to stand in front of you that way.” This seemed like a good explanation. Gaining a small bit of confidence, we both stood taller and shifted our gaze to His face. Maybe He wouldn’t ask any further questions.
“Who told you that you were naked?”
“No one. Isn’t it obvious?” My husband stepped forward and pushed me behind him as he pointed to his body.
“Did you eat the fruit from The Tree?”
My husband stepped back and pushed me forward, I then heard two things. First, my husband said, “She did it.” And immediately following the last sound of the last word of his statement, I heard the hissing laughter once again, this time coming from some place up in The Tree. I looked up and saw a small serpent. Then I looked to Him and saw Him staring directly at me.
I pointed up. “It somehow made me do it. I don’t know how, but it was there and tricked me somehow. It forced me!” I looked to my husband who had stepped further away from me. I fell to the ground weeping.
I don’t know how long I knelt there but eventually my crying subsided and I looked up. He was still there looking directly at me. My husband was standing behind me a few feet. He was looking in the other direction. Frightened and alone, I stood up and looked back to Him.
“You must leave now.”
“The garden. You must leave. But first…” he raised his arms and stretched out his hands away from his body, holding them shoulder height. We silently stood there as He held His arms outstretched pointing in opposite directions. Shortly two sheep came to him. He bent down and gently touched each of them on their head. A lone tear rolled out of the corner of His eyes as the sheep lay down on the grass before him. Starting with one, then moving to the other He grabbed their neck and then I heard a “snap.” The eyes of the sheep went blank. Their body went limp. He then dug his fingers deep into their soft white coats and clenched his hand. As he pulled back I heard a sickening wet sound as their skin peeled away from their body. On the ground in front of me now were two horribly disfigured naked bodies of what were just moments before vibrant and gentle sheep. I began to weep.
“This must happen again.”
It wasn’t long before He had fashioned coverings for us and we were wearing the skins of animals instead of the leaves and vines we had found on our own. With the lifeless bodies of the sheep still lying in front of us, he stepped back and pointed down the river. “Go,” he said. “Life will be different now. Pain, suffering, anger, hatred, jealousy, and more: these are what now define you.”
We left the garden and found a spot far away but still in sight of the waters of the four rivers. Unable to access the garden we had thus far spent our life in, we began to cultivate the land outside the garden so that its produce would sustain us. This was not easy work as thorns and thistles permeated the vegetation and choked the good plants. This made each day’s work harder than anything we had known before. There were frequent rain showers and storms, something we had also not encountered before. We built a small shelter to keep us dry and safe. In nearly every way our life was now different, but the most radical changes for us since leaving the garden related to the river.
The river still cleaned and refreshed us, but not in the same way as before. Whereas before when we bathed in the river we were fully refreshed, now we left the river still feeling tired and needing rest. Even when drinking the water, the refreshment lasted only a short time before needing more. I think it is safe to say that the river now felt like mere water: nothing more and nothing less. It was now lacking, even empty as if it had lost some, if not all of its mystery.
Not long after I felt the loss of the water’s mystery my husband and I came together to form our first child. I didn’t know that it would take such a long time to bring a child into the world. Nor did I fully realize the extent of the great pains that would accompany its growth inside me. Most of all, I had no way to anticipate how great the pains were that came with a child leaving me. Nor did I expect the flow of water coming from me upon the birth of my first son, Cain.
As this water spilled on the ground, making the earth damp, I felt the immanent awareness of life in a way that I had previously felt in the waters of the river. Its mystery seemed to echo in the water that flowed from me, although it only lasted for a brief time after which, came Cain. Not long afterwards, in part driven by the sensation of life I encountered with the water, my husband and I came together again and made another child, a boy, a man whom we called Abel. And just as before, preceding his leaving me, another flow of water containing the echoes of life dampened the ground.
Abel, our gentle son, was drawn to the animals. He found ways to take their hair and make clothing for us. We all marveled at the mystery found in the birth of newborn animals and the accompanying flow of water. We knew that somehow the new life was a reflection of our own life and in a way a hint of what He meant when He said to us in the garden that it must happen again.
Cain, on the other hand, was drawn to the trees and the crops, gleaning fruits and vegetables for us to eat. We found that the constant rains, as troublesome as they were, and the water from the rivers brought life for the plants, the animals, and for us.
These first years out of the garden were hard years with tough lessons about life’s thin thread and how death hung at the end of it. Even though there were constant reminders of life in the river’s flow, the flourishing plants, and the birth of new animals, death now surrounded us. Instead of being fully and solely enamored with the beauty of creation, as we had been in the garden, we now saw plants and animals in the light of their future death. We watched the animals grow old and die. The plants flourished and then withered and decayed to dust. We even saw the signs of our eventual death as our bodies changed from firm and supple to stooped and wrinkled.
The hardest lesson about death happened one day after the sacrifice, when we found Abel in a field surrounded by damp earth turned red. The earth looked the same as the earth looked after water spilled from me during the birth time of my children. But this time it was not damp with the water of life, but with Abel’s blood. Holding Abel and wailing in desperation, I quickly became soaked in his blood. Tears flowed down my cheeks to my chin and onto the cloak covering my breast and brought with them great pain. Though to this day I know not which pain was worse, the pain from the fruit that burned my flesh and banished me from the garden, or these tears burning a hole deep inside with the knowledge that my son was now lost to me.
Eventually my wailing subsided and I looked at my son who was now covered in blood. Taking my damp cloak, I tried to wash the crimson stains from Abel’s body, but the more I rubbed, the less able I was to clean his skin. All of my work merely spread the stains across his body. After a time my husband and I dug the wet earth away until we found dry ground. Then we gently placed Abel’s body in the hole and covered him with the wet red earth. I often visit there to remember. We call it The Red Earth, and to this day nothing will grow on this spot.
After Abel’s burial, we never saw Cain again. Both sons were now lost to me. There is now constantly a flow of water from my eyes that is a flow of remembrance and of pain. The water that once was life to me, now reminds me only of death.
Some time later, with the pleasure nearly all gone, the water of life flowed from me once again. Another boy was born and we named him Seth. But this water no longer reminded me of the living water flowing under The Tree. It no longer reminded me of the ripples of life I felt as I birthed my first two children. It reminded me of the two lives of my children that I no longer had. Their life had come from me and their life was now ended. Their thin thread of life was cut short and their water was wasted.
As I see Seth playing in the fields and learning to harvest crops, I often think back to the bend in the river and the beauty of The Tree. I think of the water flowing across my feet and how it nourished my life. The peace I had in that place and at that time was now lost me. And try as I might, it is a peace I’ve never been able to recover. Water now haunts me. It reminds me of what once was and is no more. It reminds me of life and its thin short thread. It reminds me of the lives that are no longer mine to know. And now when I drink, bathe, cry, or give birth, I am reminded of the echo of life that is fleeting. That which was once full of life is now empty.