Today, I came up with a less patriarchal Garden of Eden story:
Endelyn (age 7): “When I think of my soul, in my name “fire-soul,” I think of a powerful wind.”
Me: “That makes sense, since one of the names in the Bible for God/ess is Ruach, which means “breath” or “wind”, but we call it the Holy Spirit. God/ess is also symbolized by the other elements: fire, air, and earth – like when she shaped Eve and Adam out of clay.”
Endelyn, “What? I don’t remember that story.”
Me: “Oh, ok, I’ll tell you.” ……
Here’s the part where I froze momentarily, thinking “how can I tell my children that misogynist failed mentor story? how? how?” <deep breath>
Me: “Ok, so this story is thousands of years old, and there are many versions of it. This is mine:
You remember the story Elizabeth was telling you about how Mother God/ess created the darkness and the light, the moon and stars and sun, and the Earth, separating land from sea, the plants and animals? Well, after that, God/ess knelt down in the dirt and scooped up some clay, She formed the clay to look like the part of herself that is like people. She made Eve and Adam. She made them a beautiful garden to live in, with everything they needed. They never were too hot or cold, they didn’t need any clothes, they didn’t need to work at anything or have anything difficult happen.
She told them, “Just stay away from that one tree and don’t eat its fruit, or you will die.” But one day, Eve was sitting under the tree, when another face of the God/ess, the snake, the serpent of Earth wisdom, came and spoke to her. And she told Eve, “Did Mother God/ess tell you that if you eat this fruit you will die? She was trying to protect you, but that’s not true. If you eat this fruit, you will become much more wise and be able to choose whether to do right or wrong. You will become wild and free, and you will experience difficulty and pain, but you won’t be sheltered children in a gilded cage anymore. You will be able to learn and grow, become adults, make love, have children, and learn from your mistakes how to become much more powerful. Once you eat it, you can never go back to being sheltered children, though – you will understand that life is full of choices, and those choices have consequences, and only by experiencing those consequences can we learn and grow.
Eve said, “I want to be wild and free and grow wise, even if it hurts and is hard.” So Eve ate the fruit. Then she understood what the serpent meant, and even though it was scary, she was glad she had eaten it. So Eve took the fruit to Adam and told him what the Serpent God/ess had said, and Adam chose to eat the fruit as well.
Then Mother God/ess came and realized that Eve and Adam had chosen to eat the fruit. She sighed. “OK,” she said, “I guess maybe you were ready. I wanted to keep you as my sheltered little children awhile longer, but I guess it is time for you to be free to learn and grow in wildness and wisdom. I want to warn you that sometimes it will be very, very painful. But I will always be with you, and my healing Love will always surround you. You are very brave already, and I know you will grow more and more wise and strong. I am so proud of you. I love you so much. I give you my blessing, always.”
Endelyn: “I think I have heard a different version of that story.”
Me: There is a version most people tell. That version was written by men who were likely trying to control women and by leaders who were trying to control the people under them, so that version has it that Eve was wrong to eat the fruit and to offer it to Adam, and God/ess got very angry with them both, she kicked them out of the garden as punishment, and then their lives were miserable.”
Endelyn: “THAT’S AWFUL!!! I don’t like that version at all!!!”
Me: “I think there’s a lot to learn from that version about what the story tellers were trying to teach people. But I guess I like my version better.”
Endelyn and Zawna (age 5): “ME, TOO!!!”
Trelawney Grenfell-Muir is an adjunct professor in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance with a specialization in Cross-Cultural Conflict at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. She was a fellow at the Institute of Culture, Religion, and World Affairs and at the Earhart Foundation. Grenfell-Muir has conducted field research in situations of ongoing conflict in Syria, Lebanon, and Northern Ireland. Her dissertation explores the methodology, constraints, and effectiveness of clergy peacebuilders in Northern Ireland. She has been an invited speaker in community settings and at MIT, Boston University, Tufts, and Boston College on topics of gender violence, economic injustice, and religious or ethnic conflicts and has also moderated panels on genetic engineering, cloning, and other bioethics issues.