Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

When We Walked with God

The Garden of Eden story fascinates me. I’m going to ask you, just for purposes of this post, to take the story out of Biblical context. Put aside all the theology, all your beliefs and opinions, whatever they are, about the Bible and religion. Just for a few minutes, consider this story without any preconceived notions. Disregard for the moment issues about obedience, sin, and punishment. Please understand that I am not challenging or disrespecting anyone’s beliefs. And I’m not asking anyone to change what they believe. This is just an invitation to look at the story itself without any additional context to see what we notice.

Okay, so you have the first people living in this beautiful place, where they have a life of ease, with plenty of food. The weather must have been pleasant because they were without clothing. They walked in the garden with God, in whose image they were created.

There are many trees in this garden paradise, but only two are named – the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The people are free to eat the fruit of any tree, presumably including the tree of life, but they are warned not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for if they do, they will “surely die.”

Let’s pause right here. One of my first questions is why, if a tree is forbidden, would it be in the garden in the first place? Is that entrapment? When you tell a child “Whatever you do, DON’T do that!” what is the first thing that child wants to do?

And why do these two trees, the only two named trees in the garden, stand in contrast to each other? The tree of life gives immortality, but the tree of knowledge of good and evil gives death. What is it about the knowledge of good and evil that is incompatible with life? It might be easier to understand if the forbidden tree was the tree of evil. But it seems like knowing the difference between good and evil would be a good thing. Why isn’t it?

One way to think about it might be that knowledge of good and evil created duality. Before this knowledge, there was un-self conscious harmony with God.

What is the first thing that happens after they eat the fruit? They become aware that they are naked and they are ashamed. They try to cover themselves up literally with leaves. And figuratively, they try to cover up what they have done by hiding from God.

So in effect, they become self conscious in a way they weren’t before, and separate from God. They are afraid.

The Tao Te Ching says that we only know goodness because of evil, and that goodness only comes into existence when we have lost Tao. So when we are living in harmony with Tao, concepts of goodness/evil, kindness/cruelty, and justice/injustice are meaningless, because Tao transcends duality. Everything happens naturally and without effort. There is nothing to fear because there is acceptance of what is without struggle.

Putting this back in the context of the Eden story, good and evil had no existence or meaning when we walked in harmony with God. By introducing the duality of good and evil, we also created the cycle of life and death. We separated unity into conflicting opposites. We labeled them good and bad. We tried to hold onto the good and reject the bad. We began to struggle with what is. And we suffered.

So what do we do now? How do we restore unity and harmony? Again, leaving aside religious doctrine for the moment, the generic answer is that we repair the breach in our own selves. Where do I struggle in my life against what is? What do I judge as good or bad? What do I desire or reject? In what ways do I separate myself from others through judgment, unforgiveness, fear?

We might have specific answers to these questions, but we can go deeper by contemplating the nature of what creates the breach. If I am angry, for example, I can get stuck in the story I’m telling myself about why I’m angry. Of course, my story will justify my anger, and will probably blame someone else or some outside circumstances for causing the anger. I will be right and the other person will be wrong.

But what if I put the story aside and just observe the nature of this anger? What does it feel like in my body? How does it shape my experience of myself, my relationships with others, my view of the world? What can I learn from anger? How can it lead me back to harmony?

In contemplating this in my own life recently, I realized that I was judging myself for being angry. As I offered myself compassion instead of judgment, the anger softened and I could see that under the anger was pain, pain that I blamed someone else for. When I looked closer, I could acknowledge that what I was blaming the other person for was something that I either had done or was capable of doing myself. I could see that the other person was in pain too. My compassion expanded to include the other person.

My breathing slowed and sank into my belly. I felt lighter. Free. Without forcing anything, I easily released the anger I had been holding onto. I accepted what had happened as well as my reaction to it. I let it all go.

And I went for a stroll with God in the garden.

[Note: The painting above is by my awesomely talented sister, Susan E. Inman.]

14 thoughts on “When We Walked with God”

  1. "One way to think about it might be that knowledge of good and evil created duality. Before this knowledge, there was un-self conscious harmony with God."
    Although I can't fathom in my brain where I heard this years ago, the Garden of Eden story is all about the awakening of our conscious selves, when God not only created us, but gave us an intellect and free will beyond that of the other creatures in nature. In reality, it is the best gift ever and, at the same time, it's the worst. We make the choices, just as Adam and Eve did, and the amazing thing is, God allowed it to happen. He punished His children, but He never forsook them. We can testify to that today as the story of Jesus coming to save us upon the cross, taking all our sins of pride, anger, discontent, etc., and making us new.
    Galen, this is a remarkable reflection, one I read repeatedly before responding.
    Blessings to you!

  2. First, your sister is an excellent painter.

    Second, you seemed to have answered the questions as you told the tale. Good on you!

    Third, I think we can solve a lot of problems in our individual lives by peeling back the layers. God has a marvelous way of leading us in just that.

  3. Thanks for your own addition to the reflection, Martha. That idea of the awakening of the conscious self, in some ways, was also the creation of an illusion of separation. I like the syllable play between a.tone.ment and to show our path back to unity.

  4. Yes, CW, my sister got all the artistic talent in the family!The painting on the cover of my book, the same one that is at the top of my 10 Steps FB page, is also one of her paintings. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  5. Today I am preaching about shame and empathy. I believe that when we have empathy for others (and ourselves), it is the antidote to shame. And then, we don't project onto others the blame. thanks for this!

  6. My goodness, the story is so complex, isn't it? But your post was clear and I got a great deal from it, especially the duality at play externally and internally, within ourselves. I'll be reading more on the story of Adam and Eve now!

  7. Indeed, Lynne. I have tried to write a post on this story for months, but I could never find a way into it. Every time, I would see one angle and then another. I finally gave up and just wrote something! Interesting that you and I are both thinking about duality these days. Thanks for commenting.

  8. I experience this duality in the context of "it is/it isn't." For example, when my adult son experienced a head injury (the ramifications of which were unknown at the time) I struggled with "this is about me/this isn't about me" acknowledging that this was his journey but there would be fall-out to those in his circle. The physical injury happened to him yet I was experiencing emotional angst. I was exacerbating the emotion with a worst-case story that I was telling myself. I struggled with the story I was telling myself and needed to rein in my emotions. I'm working on stopping those stories in my head. In the words of a sage friend, stay with my emotion and see where it takes me without the story in my head. Does any of this make sense? I would appreciate your perspective on this.

  9. Thank you, Mona, for sharing your experience with your son's injury. You described very well the overlap between his injury/journey and the impact on the people around him. It became part of your journey, too. And you explained very well how the duality of is/isn't can affect our experience.

    And then, as you describe, we start to tell our stories about it. This reminds me of the zen story about the old farmer. Do you know it?

    The poor old farmer has one son and one horse. One day the horse runs away and his neighbor laments his bad fortune. The farmer asks, who knows if it's good or bad? The next day the horse returns leading twenty wild horses. Now the neighbor celebrates the farmer's good fortune. The farmer asks the same question. The next day the son breaks his leg taming one of the horses. And so on….

    We judge our circumstances by the stories we tell ourselves about them, and sometimes by the stories others tell about our circumstances. But they are all stories.

    Your friend sounds sage indeed. You can feel worried and sad and whatever else you feel about your son's injury AND at the same time you can recognize that in the bigger picture of the universe, we don't know how it will all turn out. We don't know whether it's good or bad. We are all on our journeys, which dance together, sometimes close sometimes distant. But all connected.

    So we can offer compassion to ourselves and to others as we all have our experiences and feelings and tell our stories (or not!).

    I am sorry about your son's injury. I have dealt with similar things in my own family, so I understand.

    Thanks again for adding your perspective to the conversation.

  10. The conclusion you come to here are so profound and the questions you ask us to contemplate will surely help us cut through duality and walk with God. What a beautiful invitation. This is not easy and I love the example you gave to show us the way. I will keep this teaching in my heart.

  11. Thank you, Sandra. This post seems like a nice companion for your current excellent post on betrayal and the stories we tell ourselves. Isn't it wonderful that we are often so much in sync with each other?!

  12. I love our first parents and their story. This story is all symbolic and has many layers of meaning to it. Perhaps the most significant is that it introduces understanding of the Fall of Adam and Eve. They partook of the fruit intentionally in order to become mortal, gain knowledge and have children.
    We see the law of opposition as an eternal principle whereby we learn through our choices and our mistakes; thus gaining knowledge.
    Unity and harmony with Tao is like bringing our own lives in harmony with God. The Atonement of Christ overcomes the fall; giving us a pathway back to unity with God, if we but take it.
    Like Adam and Eve we too have a constant menu of choices and our decisions often times lead towards painful moments. As we gain that unity or closeness with God we learn to master our appetites and make more insightful choices. Increasing in Harmony helps us to acquire empathy for and understanding of the pain others bear.
    Obviously, I am deferring to religious tone out of this but I did love reading and thinking about your ideas and feelings on this one.

  13. It's hard, I think, for someone steeped in doctrinal context to imagine a story like this from the perspective of someone who has never heard it. I appreciate your explaining your own religious context for this story, LeAnn.

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