Friday, July 06, 2007

A Life No Longer Shameful: Genesis 3.8-24

Shame is a universal human experience. Psychologically, shame is the experience of being vulnerable, unable to protect ourselves in a hostile world. To understand what shame means for our spiritual life, we can turn to Genesis where we read the following:

And they heard the voice of the LORD God, walking in the garden in the cool of the day. And Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. And the LORD God called unto Adam and said unto him, "Where art thou?" And he said, "I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself (3.8-11).
Shame in biblical anthropology is the experience not of being naked, but of the fear of one's nakedness of being vulnerable. This fear flows from my disobedience to God and causes me to lose the experience my own humanity and dependency on God and my neighbor as a good and even joyous thing.

Ironically, it is precisely my dependency on others that brings me this experience of shame. Again, as we read in Genesis:

And He said, "Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?" And the man said, "The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate."And the LORD God said unto the woman, "What is this that thou hast done?" And the woman said, "The serpent beguiled me, and I ate." (vv.11-13)
As the text suggests, once we cease to care one for another, once we fail to actively seek th good of our neighbor, everything begins to break down--a cascade of failure, degradation, corruption and shame flows naturally from our disobedience and indifference to the commandments of God and the good of our neighbor. Again, from Genesis:

And the LORD God said unto the serpent, "Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field. Upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her Seed; It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel." Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return (vv. 14-19) .
The serpent loses his ability to walk up right; the woman becomes subject to the man and only fulfills her maternal nature through submission and pain; the man's stewardship of creation is rob of joy and becomes a painful labor; creation itself becomes disordered and divested of its original beauty.

And death and reigns where once life and glory held sway.

And yet, all is not lost. There is still the possibility for renew, for forgiveness and starting anew:

And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them. And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life (vv. 20-24).
Though we are no longer clothed in divine glory, but in mortality ("coats of skin") and have been expelled from Eden, the First Eve becomes the mother of the Second Eve how will herself give birth to the Christ. From Eve until the birth of the Theotokos, each new conception represent the renewal of hope--that now, this time, our Redeemer will come to us. And not only is this hope if fulled in the Incarnation, each new birth since then is a reminder of the fulfillment of humanity's hope in Jesus Christ. Before Christ each new human life hinted at redemption; maybe this time our Redeemer will come.

And after Christ, each human life embodies the real opportunity for the human family to shake off a bit more of the "coats of skin." Each new human life represent the real opportunity for humanity, in this or that person, to clothe ourselves anew in divine glory through baptism and the sacraments.

Our great inheritance as Christians is this: To us has been entrusted the liberation of all humanity from a life ruled by fear and shame. This is at the heart of the Gospel we preach; this is the Gospel that we are called to testify to not simply in words, but through the integrity of our lives personal and ecclesiastical--in our daily lives as individual Christians, in our families, in our parishes and as the Church. Though this world, and the princes of this world, rule by fear and shame, we live and serve by love and glory and beauty and peace having been freed from fear and shame by our cooperation with divine grace.

In her blog The Dawn Patrol, Dawn Eden offers a lovely meditation on just this theme. She writes:

One of my favorite prayers is the Anima Christi, "Soul of Christ," which dates from the 14th century.

The Anima Christi is a series of petitions that begins, "Soul of Christ, sanctify me. Body of Christ, save me. ..."

A few lines further and the petitioner is hit with a strange and mysterious verse: "Within Thy wounds, hide me." The original Latin is more evocative: "Intra tua vulnera absconde me." Vulnera, the root of vulnerability. We are asking Jesus to hide us in the wounds caused by His consenting to suffer for our sake.

As a single, childless woman who desires to be married and a mother, my temptation is to focus on feeling the sense of lack in my life. When I allow myself to feel that lack, it feels as though I am carrying around a great void within my heart that has never been filled and, for all I know, may never be filled. The void resembles a gaping spiritual wound.

Jesus has wounds too — but the voids in his body are not because He was never full, but because He emptied himself. For me and for you.

If I am carrying around a big void, I can't hide in Jesus' wounds. I'm too big. He has room for the entire world, but not for those who insist on taking emotional baggage with them — let alone one who's toting an outsized storage cabin "TO THE UNKNOWN HUSBAND."

At some point, difficult though it is, in response to Christ's invitation I need to lay aside, at least for the moment, my own fear and shame and see myself as He sees me. This, in a nutshell, is what happens when I go to confession--I realize that even in the midst of my shame and sinfulness, I am loved by Christ; even while I crucify Him, He forgives me and intercedes on my behalf to the Father. At some point, I need to not allow fear and shame to be the dominate notes in how I see myself, my neighbor and my God.

The great challenge that the Orthodox Church faces in America is that we are here and for the first time in centuries, free not only from Caesar's persecution but also his support (which the finally analysis is even more deadly then his torturers and prisons). Can we now really live in freedom--can we live in gratitude for the gifts Christ has given us not only in Holy Tradition, but in each of our neighbor.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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