Take and Eat: A Contemporary Ignatian Meditation on Genesis 3: 1-24
At a workshop on Ignatian Spirituality at the April 2018 Spiritual Directors International Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, presenter Marlene Marburg invited participants to experience the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius through “A 21st Century Lens”, and directed us to the third chapter of Genesis—the narrative of Adam and Eve’s original sin and expulsion from the Garden of Eden—which Ignatius of Loyola frames in this way in the First Week of the Exercises:
“I bring to memory the second sin [the sin after that of the rebellious angels], that of our first parents; how after Adam was created and placed in the terrestrial paradise, and Eve was created from his rib, being forbidden to eat of the tree of knowledge, they ate and sinned, and afterwards clothed in tunics of skins and cast from paradise, they lived without the original justice which they had lost, and in many labors and in much penance.”
~ Ignatius of Loyola, “First Exercise”, in David Fleming, SJ, Draw Me Into Your Friendship: The Spiritual Exercises: A Literal Translation and a Contemporary Reading (St. Louis, MO: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1996), p. 47 (adapted).
When invited to engage this Ignatian exercise, I wondered why this meditation was chosen for our contemplation. How could this difficult story of “original sin” and the expulsion of our “first parents” from Eden meaningfully engage my imagination as a twenty-first century daughter of Eve? Believing that difficult stories can be disarming containers of God’s mystery waiting to be gently cracked open through Ignatian prayer and contemplation in correlation with experience, I persevered. The meditation below began to grow, like the Tree that engendered it:
In my imagination the Tree of Good and Evil lured me, and I sat down beneath its branches. It was a sunlit day with the barest of breezes rustling the leaves of the tree, and its plump, ripe figs invited me to take and eat.
I don’t like figs, so I did not immediately do so. I stayed peacefully under the tree, leaning on its trunk, feeling sheltered, embraced, and enfolded in its mystery—as if I had become the trunk of the tree, or an integral part of it. Then I heard the tree saying, “I am rooted in the holy ground of the creating God, and my fruit has blossomed from God’s love of all creation, not from God’s condemnation. It was that creating love which Adam and Eve hungered for from the beginning, and in following the footprints of that love, they would have found my fruit on their own and eaten it, without any need of a serpent to tempt them. They were created out of the love and desire of their Creator God; how could they not have hungered for that fruit and eaten of it?”
Then a gust of wind shook the tree’s branches, and a handful of glistening brown figs fell on the ground next to where I was resting on the trunk of the tree. Again, I heard the tree speaking to me, saying, “In the confidence that you too were created out of God’s love and desire for you, I invite you to eat this fruit, knowing that it is good fruit, bearing gifts of wisdom, understanding, and the capacity to choose between good and evil, which is part of your creation in God’s image. Do not let a serpent’s wiles or a writer’s fabrication of the God for whom he claimed to speak deprive you of this gift, even though it will—and must—lead you out of this Garden to exercise it in the crucible of a more challenging and demanding world that will sometimes break your heart. For the God who created you will be with you, and God’s image in you will be your birthright, your inheritance, and your hope.
“Imagine, finally, that there is a tree of the knowledge of good and evil growing within you, inviting you to water that tree, to care for it faithfully, and to give it freedom to root itself firmly at the core of your being and to let its branches extend throughout your body, bringing wisdom’s sap to your inner being and to all of your extremities. Imagine, too, that this tree within you is bearing the fruits of the choices you make every day, and inviting you into a practice of daily discernment in regard to those choices.
“You will not always make the best choices, nor will you always be in control of the choices you make, any more than a tree is in control of dry seasons that wither its roots or damaging storms that break its branches. But as you follow the promptings of the wisdom coursing through your branches, know that it is the wisdom of creation itself – and the Creator – that is guiding you into fruitfulness and abundant flowering, and will continue to invite you into the holy mystery of human choosing, clothe you in your nakedness before that mystery, and lead you from Eden’s Garden to a world that needs the sweat of your brow and the toil of your hands—a world that will ask of you all that you have to give, and—however sweet the fruit that falls from your tree—will sometimes break your heart.”
Lucretia B. Yaghjian taught Writing at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, Chestnut Hill, MA, and at Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, MA. She is the author of Writing Theology Well: A Rhetoric for Theological and Biblical Writers, 2nd ed. (London and NY: Bloomsbury-T.T. Clark, 2015), and is a spiritual director, based in Concord and Acton, MA.