What God Has Joined Together
This is the story of the heavens and the earth at their creation. When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens—there was no field shrub on earth and no grass of the field had sprouted, for the LORD God had sent no rain upon the earth and there was no man to till the ground, but a stream was welling up out of the earth and watering all the surface of the ground—then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being
The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the LORD God made grow every tree that was delightful to look at and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
A river rises in Eden to water the garden; beyond there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is the Pishon; it is the one that winds through the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. The gold of that land is good; bdellium and lapis lazuli are also there. The name of the second river is the Gihon; it is the one that winds all through the land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it is the one that flows east of Asshur. The fourth river is the Euphrates.
The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. The LORD God gave the man this order: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.
The LORD God said: It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him. So the LORD God formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each living creature was then its name. The man gave names to all the tame animals, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be a helper suited to the man.
So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The LORD God then built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman. When he brought her to the man, the man said:
“This one, at last, is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
This one shall be called ‘woman,’
for out of man this one has been taken.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.
Gen. 2, 4-25
“This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”
Gen. 2, 23
I never get tired of pointing out the fact that reading the Bible isn’t nearly as important as interpreting it is. Today’s first reading, for example, can be interpreted so that it aggrandizes heterosexual married men at the expense of everyone else. God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.” For some people, this verse is interpreted as, “It is good for men to be married. I will give the man a wife to populate the family he will head.” This interpretation may have been marvelously expansive at an earlier point in your spiritual development; but for those of us who are longing to advance along the path of discipleship it is constricting in the extreme.
We should begin by recognizing that it’s a mistake for anyone who’s awakened to the reality of women’s equality, or to the numerous opportunities for a meaningful life outside of marriage and family, to allow her/himself to get caught up in the extraneous aspects of this story. Adam, we’re told, is male. Eve is female. Their relationship is the relationship of marriage. Those of us who want to get beyond a superficial understanding of this story would do well to transcend the restrictions that these details suggest. I think it would be more helpful, for us, if we oriented ourselves – not along the male/female dichotomy – but, instead to see the people in the story as the ‘subject’ and the ‘object’.
It is not good for you to be alone. God knows it. I know it. You know it yourself. The one who takes it upon herself or himself to reflect on her/his aloneness is the subject of the story. When you read this story you should understand that you yourself are the subject. You are Adam, whether you happen to be male or female. The story is about your aloneness, and about what you need to do to overcome it.
God showed the man “various wild animals and various birds of the air” and the man named them all. What Adam does in this story is something you have been doing for your entire life. You make sense of everything that reaches your attention, and you give these things names. You call one thing ‘dangerous’, you call another ‘desirous’. You have names for other things as well: ‘opponent’, ‘supporter’, ‘enemy’, ‘facilitator’. You are the subject, the center of your own concern, and you refer to other things, objects, according to the impact that they make on you.
As long as you relate to everything according to the good, or the harm it can do you, you will be unable to find a ‘suitable partner’ in your quest to live a truly abundant life. You’re in the position Adam is in before he meets Eve. Before Adam meets Eve, everything is brought to him – and nothing is satisfactory. Adam’s relationships to the ‘objects’ he’s presented with, his relationships to the birds and wild animals, never penetrate his being. For Adam, the ‘objects’ either gratify or frustrate his desires, but no amount of gratification will solve the problem of aloneness.
Then Adam does something radical, he embarks upon an action of self-giving. He puts something of himself into his relationship with Eve. He makes himself less, so that there will be room for her.
Eve is a different sort of ‘object’ because Adam’s relationship to her comes at a cost to self. Remember, the interpretation of this story hinges on your ability to identify with Adam, and your ability to recognize, in Eve, the object that solves the problem of being alone. We can go our entire life, relating to everything and everyone as if we were the true center of the universe, and never find a solution to the curse of aloneness. If we do this, we will never know ‘right relations’.
We know, however, that Adam discovers right relations with Eve because he says, “Here, at last, is flesh of my flesh.” In other words, “She’s made of the same stuff I am!”. Eve is like Adam because she, too, is a subject. She is, for Adam, the object-recognized-to-be-a-subject. What’s more, when she reciprocates, when she notices that Adam is made out of the same stuff she is, Adam becomes for her the object-recognized-to-be-a-subject.
There are only two elements of this story that are truly salient. Adam put something of himself into his relationship with Eve and he recognized that she was more than a ‘thing’ to be of use to him. What isn’t salient is the fact that the subject, in this rendering, is male and the object-recognized-to-be-a-subject is female. What is also not salient (in fact, it isn’t even stated) is that Adam and Eve embark upon a husband/wife relationship. It wouldn’t matter if their relationship were parent/child or teacher/student or brother/sister, or neighbor/neighbor, or employer/employee, or vendor/client. What is essential is the Eureka! moment when the subject recognizes that s/he really isn’t the sole center of the universe.
It would be foolish to wait to find a marriage partner before solving the problem of aloneness. It would also be foolish to assume that, if you’re married, you have solved your problem. Marriage is only one possible avenue for solving the problem. You can have the Eureka! moment while you’re waiting in line at the bakery and it dawns on you that the person in front of you isn’t merely someone standing between you and what you want. The “Eureka” comes when you recognize that that ‘obstacle’ is actually someone who will be enjoying bread in her/his own right.
God joins a man and a woman in marriage, and that puts a touch of the divine into the state of matrimony. What isn’t noted enough is that God joins any two people who recognize their shared humanity. As soon as I recognize the humanity in the ‘other’, as soon as I make myself available to enter into the other person’s subjective reality, the problem of aloneness is solved, a sacred relationship has been brought into being and God dwells in the space between me and you.