Eve and Adam had many children. Two of them, the sisters Cain and Abel, were best friends. When they grew up, Cain became a farmer, and Abel became a shepherd. In their community, people shared what they had with each other. They shared this way in order to help the community be strong, and to practice gratitude. They shared with each other in sacred, holy ceremonies, in which they put their communal offerings onto an altar for Sister God/ess, to be blessed. One day, both Cain and Abel brought an offering to their community. Cain brought some food she had grown, and Abel brought a sheep. The community gathered for the ceremony. They prayed prayers of gratitude and blessing, and thanked the Earth for its abundance. They each laid hands on the sheep and thanked her for her life, blessed her spirit that it might journey peacefully and joyfully to reunite with Sister God/ess, and praised her for giving her body to feed the community. Then they killed the sheep, as quickly and carefully as they could, and set the meat in the sacred fire to cook. Abel was glad that she could help her community be fed and healthy with the sheep she had given.
Now it was Cain’s turn. Cain laid her vegetables onto the altar, and the
community gathered to bless them. But then Abel noticed something strange.
“Cain,” said Abel, “These vegetables all have mold on them.”
“Yes,” said Cain, “All my vegetables are like that right now, because of too much rain.”
“But Cain,” Abel said, “Last night when we ate together, you used vegetables with no
“I know,” said Cain, “But there are no more vegetables left that are not moldy. Those
were the last ones.”
“Cain,” said Abel, “I saw your storage cellar. You had many good vegetables in there.
Why are you giving only the bad vegetables to your community?”
Now Cain became angry. She knew Abel was right, and she felt ashamed that she
had not been honest or generous with her community. She felt embarrassed that her
community all knew how she had made a bad choice. She was afraid they would think
she was a bad person. She was afraid she really WAS a bad person. She was so afraid that
she got angry at Abel.
“If you don’t want my vegetables, fine, I will keep them all!” Cain shouted, and she ran
Abel followed Cain out the door, running after her sister.
“Cain! Cain, wait!” Shouted Abel. “Come back!”
Finally, Abel caught up with Cain. Cain was sitting behind her house, staring at her
vegetable garden. When Cain saw Abel, she jumped up and punched Abel in the face.
Abel’s nose started bleeding, and some of the blood dripped on the ground. Cain’s hand
bled as well, and her blood also fell onto the earth. Where the blood touched the ground,
a vine grew. The vine grew very fast, and as it grew, it wrapped around Cain and Abel
and held them close together. They struggled, but they could not escape. Then the vine
grew a beautiful flower, and the flower had petals of many colors. The flower spoke. It
“Sisters, the earth cries out with your blood. When one of you hurts, the other hurts as
well. When you hurt, I hurt. When you hurt, your community hurts. We are all connected,
together. Sisters, you must, you MUST learn to live in harmony. You are your sister’s
keeper. You must learn that all are One in my embrace.”
Then the vine fell away to the ground, but the flower did not wither or fade.
Cain and Abel looked at each other. Then they both burst into tears and hugged
“Cain,” said Abel, “Why are you afraid?”
Cain said, “I am afraid that if I share my good vegetables, I will not have enough to eat.
There was too much rain this year, and I did not get a big harvest.”
“Cain, I am so sorry,” said Abel. “I should have known you were afraid. I should have
done a better job paying attention to how worried you were about your harvest this year.
You have tried to tell me that, but I have not paid attention. If I had been paying
attention, I would have been able to help you.”
Then Cain and Abel looked up and saw their community had surrounded them in
a circle. People from the community came forward and laid hands on Cain.
“Cain,” they said, “We are sorry. We were not paying attention to how worried you were
about the harvest. We love you and bless you. We will always take care of each other, in
good times and in bad times. We honor your hard work growing food in all kinds of
weather. We will always help you however we can.”
Cain knelt down and wept. “I am sorry that I held back the good vegetables,” she said. “I
am sorry that I lied, I am sorry that I hit you, Abel, and I am sorry that I did not try harder
to tell you all how worried I was.”
Then Cain rose and got good vegetables from her cellar. She laid them on top of the vine,
around the beautiful flower. Her community gathered around this new altar and sang
songs of praise to Sister God/ess, who heals every hurt and binds every brokenness. Cain
sang especially loud, and she danced a dance of freedom and joy around the sacred fire,
holding hands with her sister Abel. She felt a beautiful unity with the soil, the plants, the
animals, her community, and all creation. She knew that whatever the future held, they
would all face it together. And for the rest of her life, she had a scar on her hand from
where it had bled. She called that scar “The mark of Cain,” and every time she looked at
it, she remembered the powerful, beautiful lessons she learned that day.
Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, 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. Previously 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. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.
16 thoughts on “A Feminist Retelling of Cain and Abel by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir”
This is totally the matriarchal worldview and the gift economy as described by Heide Gottener Abendroth and Genevieve Vaughan. The only glitch is that if you are in the gift economy you would not hoard because you would know and trust that you would be provided for. I still see this to a small extent in Crete, where I am now.
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Wow, I’d love to read more about that. So then, here is a story of how the gift economy teaches people not to hoard. You continually make me want to visit Crete.
Exactly, it is a story about the gift economy and it teaches us its values! Brava!!!
Love it! This is the story that needs to replace that old, mean story in the so-called Good Book, which doesn’t have a lot of good in it. We need more stories that show people giving and sharing. Thanks for writing this story.
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Thank you, Barbara! I wonder sometimes how many of these stories were written to critique their community leaders. I try hard to find the pearl of wisdom inside the story and dust off anything that hides its beauty… and polish it up so it can shine in new settings. It means a lot to have your affirmation!! I just can’t tell my little daughters those old stories uncritically. I tell them mine, then they want to know what happens in the biblical versions… and they are always horrified. And we puzzle out why those authors might have told it that way.
I like this version much better than the Genesis story! It always saddens me when I spontaneously share something, there is usually the response: “How much do I owe you?”. I’ve had to learn myself to accept gifts with grace, knowing it is also a gift to be thankful to others for their kindness and love.
Thank you for this story, Trelawney
Thank you, Barbara. I begin to believe that community wellness depends heavily on being able to trust that we are not going to try to take advantage of each other. There’s some kind of underlying mutual respect and generosity of spirit between me and my closest friends… it’s a precious gift. I’m so glad you like my story. <3
Interesting version of the story— somehow you’ve held it together humorously, lovingly and delightfully. Thanks, Trelawney.
Sarah, I could not ask for better adjectives!! You make me feel relieved and happy, indeed, to have my efforts so affirmingly received!!
Thank you, Linda!
So beautifully done, Trelawney.
Thank you! I keep thinking about your idea of a more adult/liturgical version. Fun to ponder.
Thank you Trelawney – I was uneasy when I saw the title and started to read even though I knew I was in safe hands – but I could have trusted your safe hands without concern – and I’m so delighted to know you are retelling the stories to your lovely daughters. For me it shows the value and scope of story to touch perspectives and bring change – keep retelling for the good of all who meet you and who meet those you have met you.
I love re-framed Biblical stories! Thanks.