Regaining the  Lost Embrace

(Fr. Dr. K. M. George)

In the story of creation in the book of Genesis, Adam woke up from a deep sleep to find a charming figure standing beside him. She smiled at him.  He loved her at first sight and said to her tenderly, “Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2: 21-23).  He called her Hawwah (Gen 3:20). 

Adam is taken out of the dust of the earth, so his name means earthly . He is subject to death.

  Hawwah means life, mother of all life.

 What is earth without life?  An arid, inhospitable place, the ultimate void of death. 

What is life without earth?  Rootless, unable to survive, doomed to wither away.

 Adam and Eve, Earth and Life, embraced each other – a life-giving embrace in love and peace.  Shalom. 

The Holy Scripture begins the story of all creation with this primal embrace between earth and life.

 We are gathered here in Jamaica because we, children of Adam and Eve, are deeply distressed that a fatal divorce is now taking place between earth and life, our first parents.  We are threatened in our very existence.  The crisis of our times is precisely that the earth is being emptied of all life and life is being uprooted from its ground.

 Three weeks ago, we celebrated the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ (a rare common Easter date for all Christians). We proclaimed with joy that Christ is risen from the dead and has beaten death by death, granting life to all those who are in the tombs – enslaved to the chain of death-dealing forces, injustice and corruption, violence and war…

 Let me tell you a personal story, I celebrated the Easter liturgy at the Indian Orthodox Cathedral in New Delhi.  In the evening of Easter Sunday, the joyful hymns of Resurrection still ringing in our ears, a friend of mine and I took the night train to Benaras, India’s most ancient and venerable city for Hindu pilgrimage on the banks of the holy river Ganges (Ganga).  There were the usual sights of men and women ritually bathing in the holy river, yogis chanting mantras looking at  the rising sun or sitting in silent meditation, disciples falling down to earth before their gurus, funeral pyres burning the dead and sending up  smoke to the sky mixed with the camphor smelling air…

 The ancient river, matrix of a great civilization, was flowing quietly carrying all the filth of a polluted and crowded city and the sins of innumerable repentant pilgrims.  I was reminded that Josephus the Jewish historian in the first century AD had identified the river Ganges with the river Pishon, one of the four rivers that parted from the great river that flowed out of the Garden of Eden, as narrated in the Bible (Gen 2: 10-14).  I was also painfully aware that this holy river considered in Indian mythology to have originated in heaven, flows down from the snow-clad Himalayas where snow caps are gradually disappearing and age-old glaciers are melting because of global warming.

 Watching the gentle ripples of the mother Ganges, the life-giving force of water that nourished a great civilization, one is at the same time anguished at the possibility of it drying up because of human greed and inordinate consumption.  Yet in Benaras one cannot but notice the profound spiritual quest of humanity paying homage to the five elements of nature that sustain life – earth, water, air, fire and the sky (space).

 From Benaras we went to Saranath where the Buddha, the Enlightened One, preached his first sermon some 2,500 years ago.  It was the message of karuna or compassion, not only to human beings but to all sentient beings – a message that began to change the face of Asia 25 centuries ago. 

 However, it is distressing to note that the Buddha’s message of compassion to all living beings including plants and animals, and his revolutionary movement against the caste system, his rejection of the Brahmin God and Scriptures   -all stood in stark contrast with the violence in our cities against women and children, against Dalits and the poor, the simmering conflicts within and between our nations and the greedy, exploitative march of some of our booming economies on the wings of neo-liberal globalization.

 Yet, Buddha, as depicted in his various images, remains calm and composed, radiating a peace that is contagious.  Near the Buddha stupa, the peace monument, we met an American, a top executive from a well-known business firm. He said he wanted to drive out from the corporate culture the dominant male values of competition, aggressivity and profit, and bring in feminine values of intuition, compassion and care.

 From Sarnath, I went alone to Calcutta, leaving my companion for his work, taking the night train to the Northeast coast of India along the Gangetic plane.  In Calcutta, I was staying close to the “Mother House,” where Mother Teresa is buried.  After my work with Serampore University research department, every evening I joined the Sisters of Charity for the evening meditation and prayer.  There I saw Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and people of all colors praying at the tomb of the Mother, that small, fragile woman who showed the compassion of Jesus to the poorest of the poor, the destitute, the orphan and the leper.  She always spoke about the love of Jesus.  Millions are inspired by her example.

 A little bit like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we had to struggle in our ignorance and insensitivity with the meaning of the series of experiences – all in the Easter week.  Relying on the Risen Christ, our invisible co-traveler, for interpretation and insight,   I found few convictions grow stronger in my mind:

 A first conviction is that there is a deep connection between the three levels of experience that we successively encountered

-          The reverence shown to the five elements of earth and water, air, fire and sky.  No life would emerge or be sustained without them.

-          The compassion shown to all sentient beings including the millions of micro-organisms, known and unknown, that invisibly sustain our life

-          The tender love and compassion shown to human beings, made in God’s image, especially the least and the lost of our own brothers and sisters

 We need to affirm in joy and gratitude all these different levels as one single reality.  Peace and justice are not simply human issues to be debated and worked out in isolation, but integrally related to the respect and compassion to  the myriads of created existence that God saw good.  All carry the stamp of God’s Will and Love.  All life is hatched in the uterine warmth of the Holy Spirit, the Life-Giving Breath of God.

 A second conviction is about enlarging the biblical image of the Body of Christ to the whole creation.  Ancient sages in many civilizations had taught about the organic oneness  of the body of the universe.  Christ the Word incarnate of the Creator God has assumed a material body, the very stuff of our human body and of the universe.  Christ thus has given us a new perspective on the organic and holistic nature of the body of creation that surrounds us.  Our sacramental vocation as God’s image is to transfigure continually this world into the luminous, peace-giving, healing and reconciling Body of Christ in justice, love and respect.  The great Cappadocian Fathers called the human body and soul as “fellow servants yoked together” in the quest for theosis or divinization.  The whole creation has a profound share in our body and the divine right to be tenderly cared for in view of its participation in God’s glory.  Justice is essentially loving care to a member of our own body.

 A third conviction is that our present paradigm of progress and development is to be radically questioned by our churches, if not condemned out rightly.  What do we mean by achieving ‘higher standard of life, increasing production, maintaining modern lifestyle’ and so on.  Crawling daily through the choking traffic in our poor cities, breathing in carbon smoke and filthy dust raised by the ever surging number of motor vehicles we are bound to ask, “Is this progress and development?  Is this the greatest human achievement?  Is this civilization?”

 At the Miami airport, you see written repeatedly in bold letters in the Sky Train between terminals “Eat, drink, fly, shop..Eat, drink, fly, shop..”  Of course you are forbidden to ask, “eat what, when and where? Why shop and at what cost?  Fly where?  For what?”  Questions are taboo in the “global criminal economy” as phrased by Manuel Castells. 

 At Benaras Hindu University, I talked to a professor in Gandhian studies about the relevance of Mahatma Gandhi.  He said respectfully, ‘Gandhiji maybe relevant for the post-capitalist West, but not for the pre-industrial India.’  I didn’t ask him about E. F. Schumacher of Small is Beautiful fame or Arne Naess the Norwegian Deep Ecologist or Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela – all those who followed Gandhi.

 Mahatma Gandhi was teaching Indians to be locally self-sufficient in food and clothing and live in such a way that you do not drain the resources of the Mother Earth.  He said there is enough in our world for everybody’s need but not for everybody’s greed.  Our total inability today to see the difference between need and greed is at the root of all violence.  In fact, every form of greed is violence against others, against nature.  This critical distinction is to be maintained in every sphere of life  - from the simple act of eating our bread to the ambitious projects in biotechnology and information technology as well as in space and nuclear technologies.  To know the limit and discern the alternative is wisdom. Then only a different world – a just and peaceful world – is possible.

 Finally, in the context of acrimonious debates about anthropocentrism and androcentrism in theology or about the strong and weak anthropic principles in cosmology, we may recall what St. Isaac of Nineveh (a seventh century ascetic bishop in the Persian church, the man who shed tears of compassion, even for the devil) said of human body smell.  He says that Adam the first human being had a very pleasant body smell, that attracted all birds and animals to him.  They approached him without any fear or intimidation. But when he sinned, his body smell became repulsive and threatening.  All creatures were scared and they fled  from him because it smacked of violence. (This is our condition today.  We have the killer’s foul odor which we try to cover up with perfumes and deodorants.) St. Isaac suggest that our calling today is to regain the lost fragrance of humanity through the path of holiness, self discipline and compassionate love.  .  This is the “aroma of Christ” about which the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians. We are the aroma of Christ, the aroma that leads from life to life (II Cor 2:14-16).. This is  regaining  peace with the earth, regaining  the lost embrace between Adam and Eve.. Shalom.