Thoughts on the Fall

My favorite Episcopal communion liturgy is Eucharistic Prayer C. It not only acknowledges that humans and our earth are but a tiny part of creation, but it also elegantly encapsulates the Biblical story. About the Fall, it says:

“From the primal elements you brought forth the human race and blessed us with memory, reason, and skill. You made us the rulers of creation. But we turned against you, and betrayed your trust; and we turned against one another.”

Dwight Zscheile’s March 1st sermon elaborated on the themes of Prayer C: purpose, trust, betrayal, and conflict. The sermon put the Fall into a relational and communitarian context. In return for giving us cognitive superpowers, God entrusted us with the purpose and responsibility of stewarding the little blue jewel on which we live and all the creatures on it, including ourselves. Our stewardship responsibilities have placed boundaries on us both collectively and individually. We are relational beings, and we can’t have successful relationships with ourselves, other species, our earth, or God without limiting our behavior.

And there’s the rub. Homo sapiens seem to be hard-wired to hate boundaries. The very powers of imagination that allow us to conceive of nations, science, and art compel us to imagine what things would be like on the other side of our boundaries. And those imaginings are exactly what got Adam and Eve into trouble, and which get us into trouble. With the serpent’s help, Eve imagined how great it would be to have God-like knowledge. We imagine things like how great it would be to have sex with someone outside my marriage, how great it would be to have that house (or nation) across the way, or how great it would be to pay back those people who insulted my father (or blasphemed my religion).

And so we blow past the boundaries that keep our relationships healthy, and in doing so we betray the trust that God and others have placed in us. Our abilities to imagine better worlds and better lives lead us to make great advancements, but they also lead us to do selfish and hurtful things.

I think a useful Lenten reflection is to examine your internal dialogue and identify the thoughts and behaviors that hurt and enhance your relationships. What are the healthy boundaries that we should impose on ourselves, and what are the unhealthy boundaries that keep from us deeper and better relationships? For example, you might think, “This spaghetti is overcooked!” but do you really need to tell that to the person who cooked it? Or you might think to yourself, “There’s somebody who looks troubled. Maybe I should say something to him.” (and you probably should.)

What are your thoughts on relationships and boundaries, and where God is in them?

Ron Matross

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4 Responses to Thoughts on the Fall

  1. Grant Abbott says:

    The doctrine of the fall is difficult for those who believe in evolution, because we know there has never be a time of paradise in the evolving creation. The perfection is yet to be. We evolved with survival instincts in a dynamic creation. We have yet to learn to live in harmony with the creative process, with another, and with God. We are like impetuous adolescents who have eaten of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, gaining knowledge and power without the wisdom to use it without destructive consequences. As Ron writes, we humans have this tendency to hubris wanting more and believing more about ourselves than warranted. We trespass boundaries under the illusion that we are atomistic individuals rather than living within a web of life. And, too often, we trespass boundaries without considering fully, and with imagination, the consequences. In the process we too often break our relationships, damage our human community, and harm “this fragile earth our island home.” The prophet Micah’s wisdom is helpful as we try our best to live into the promised future of God: “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”

  2. Barrett Fisher says:

    Ron has drawn attention to two ideas that are important: first, the God-like power of the imagination to create beauty as well as plot evil. It has often been pointed out–but is important to note nonetheless–that the same Nazis who constructed the deadly concentration camps of World War II were often highly-cultured individuals who enjoyed reading great literature and listening to class music, both of which are also products of the human imagination. This is a theme I have often pursued with my students when teaching Shakespeare’s “Othello,” in which it is solely the power of Othello’s corrupted imagination that transforms his love Desdemona from a beloved wife to a hated harlot.

    The second observation about boundaries reminded me–both in listening to Dwight’s sermon and in reading Ron’s response–of one of my favorite films, “Groundhog Day,” in which Bill Murray’s character is doomed to relive February 2 over and over. At first, when he realizes that he can anything he wants (commit crimes, repeat encounters, even kill himself) and he will still wake up anew on Groundhog’s Day, he thinks that this is liberating. “There are no rules,” he crows as he drives a pickup truck into an oncoming train. However, he soon discovers that without rules there is also no meaning (I am reminded here also of the comic strip “Calvin & Hobbes,” and the former’s invention of “Calvinball,” in which the rules change so constantly that there is in fact no way to win the game), and ends up using his time to learn moral lessons and, in a word, become a better person. The boundaries that God establishes are intended for our good, not to frustrate or thwart us. But God made us free beings, not puppets, and for some reason we find it difficult to know what is good without being able to compare it with what is less desirable.

  3. Cecelia says:

    Thanks, Ron, for a reflection that takes us even further down the road that Dwight sent us upon last Sunday. Through his sermon, I saw The Fall in a different way than I ever had before. My husband said he was pretty bowled over too.

    As Grant says, I’ve never seen the Garden of Eden as literal. I’ve seen that paradise as the one to which we all are invited every day — that place where we let go of our ego, our narrow way of determining right and wrong, and relax into God and love. The story of “The Fall” shows us how awful things can get when we choose otherwise. I loved seeing this story in a relational context. I loved the way Dwight drew the comparison to our human-to-human relationships, because we could all certainly relate to the need for boundaries in those relationships. Why would our relationship with God be any different? Boundaries are not bad. Boundaries are good. Boundaries are healthy. Boundaries help us relax into love.

    The biggest boundary I can see, in my current relationship with God, is similar to the one faced by Adam and Eve in this story: I need to relax, to stop thinking that I NEED to MAKE things happen. Like them, I don’t need to know or do everything. I just need to relax, trust, and listen for the nudging from God as to where to go and what to do and/or say next.

    • AC says:

      Hmm….. Lack of toiling is interesting. Are we striving for the wrong things? Are we chasing the wrong shiny ball? Maybe we don’t have to strive. Maybe we can stop toiling and see if Manna shows up. To me, work is not toiling, but angst is…..

      Big shout out to Dwight, for making us all ponder this.

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