Saturday, April 7, 2012

"Man of Red Clay: A Novel of Adam" by Jonathan Hooper, Chapter 11

Chapter Eleven

It was in the springtime, when I felt the quick pounding of my heart again; there was work to be done on the farm, and yet the first budding flowers captivated me. Birdsong trilled from the woods, the air teemed with insects of every colour, carried on the zephyr's stream: yellow honey bees, dragonflies, moths, ephemeral creatures. I knew that nature was the very devil, appearing gentle, the creator and not the destroyer of life, keeping its savage face hidden; but the profusion of light and colour, and heady perfumes were like an incense, inducing visions of the Garden. Therefore, I found myself walking through the maze of woods. Eve must have thought me lost, for the time I spent there was many hours.

In the shaded spaces between the trees it seemed that God had made a mirror of the heavens; the clusters of blue and white flowers were like stars, glowing brightly in the firmament, proclaiming the glory of God. Thus I floated between the senses and the spirit, forgetting nature's imperfection for as long as I walked. Erstwhile, I had left the door to my soul closed when confronted with nature's beauty, lest it wither in the mortal air. But now, foolishly, I disarmed myself of my hostility towards the natural world and allowed it to be my doorway to God. Yes, I have despised nature, but that morning I prostrated myself before her.

After a time, I found myself sitting in a space between the carob trees, stretched out on a bed of soft grass whilst the branches wove a net of shadows at my feet. Around me, I saw a million creatures swarming as one mind; it seemed to me that this was the mind of God, incarnate in the natural world, and that everything was an aspect of the One. Is this how man now can see God, I wondered; is it simply a matter of seeing the divine reflected in the visible world if one wants to see His face? I am older and wiser now: I can look at nature and see its offspring caught in a cycle of generations, going obliviously towards death. Had I thought then, I would have realised that my selfhood and soul were at risk; that I too would be assimilated into this single mind. But I was deceived. Yet I have known, though briefly, what it is to love nature; I have sought God in these things.

Between the ranks of carob trees, I had a momentary glimpse of a figure dressed in white; immediately, I recalled the form of the angels in the Garden. I went looking for this figure, for it had disappeared just as suddenly. First, I stumbled down a steep bank of olives, then I wandered through the dense places of the wood, but to no avail. Desperately, I called out the names of the archangels - Gabriel, Uriel, Michael, Raphael - in the hope that it would heed me, but after a time, I began to think that the vision was a trick of the spring woods. Then I stumbled into a clearing, and found Eve, her feet amongst the constellations of flowers, her face lit by a single ray of sunlight. The locks of her hair infused with light, it seemed she wore an angelic crown.

She was dressed in white linen, spun by her own hands, her modest expression only serving to heighten her beauty. The spring had blinded me with visions; so I thought her beauty unfallen, even if her heart was not.

"I came because you called me, husband," she said.

"I was seeking Gabriel, Raphael..." I said, but my voice trailed off because Eve had lowered herself down amongst the flowers and the long grass; her hair had fallen over her eyes and I swept it back with my fingers.

She was sullen, but her beauty stirred me greatly; it occurred to me that she, too, was made in the image of God, perhaps closer to God than I; then my heart shook, for I knew I had blasphemed. Still, however, I remembered her in the Garden, content to be deceived by this emotion that felt like spirit; I saw the unfallen in her. But that same evening, I was angry with her, when the night had dispelled all such thoughts, and I was left with my knowledge of the fallen world and the remoteness of God. I went to sleep alone next to the river, but could not rest, because my heart was in anguish. Then, I did not know why.

I was working in the field when she came to me to tell me her bleeding had stopped. Neither of us could understand why her cycle had been broken. "It is some work of God's," I reasoned. "We will find out in time. In the meantime, pray to Him, in the hope that He will answer you, and that we will know His will."

The season matured into summer; the once cold earth became swollen and abundant with fruits and flowers. But Eve had a mood of blackness on her; she would not share her thoughts with me much of the time, but made it clear that some kind of pain had come upon her, and that she viewed it as punishment for the Fall.

"It is my curse to suffer, as God said," Eve told me during the height of the season. "As you labour, so must I, to bring your sons into the world." She showed me how her stomach had become swollen with our first child. It was a mystery to us both, but Eve, thankfully, drew on the instinct God had blessed her with; her nature was to be the bearer of life, but, being human and fallen, to endure immense suffering therewith.

"I think it is God's will," I said, as her pain increased and her belly swelled greatly. She had become strange to me, but I tolerated all. Made in my own image, as I had been made in His image: God instructed me in a dream what was to happen: our kind, though fallen, would multiply throughout the whole earth. As we had suffered, so our children would suffer; as we had been blessed, so our children would be blessed. Waking, I remembered the words of the adversary, when he had appeared to me in the desert with his dreadful prophecies: he threatened to have his vengeance on all my kind, on my sons, the offspring of my own flesh: "I too have laboured in the wilderness, Adam; I have brought unfallen beings to ruin even when they were guarded by God; how much easier to corrupt hearts that are already fallen. My vengeance on you is just beginning."

In the middle of winter, Eve took herself away. I did not know where she had gone; she had left me no warning of her going. I searched the lands around the Jordan, but found no trace of her. My heart, heavy with reproach because I had been able to do nothing to make the pain abate, felt the chill of a bitter wind that had blown between us; truly I felt the separation of her flesh from my own, made actual now. I went as far as the Salt Sea, looking for a sign of her habitation, but my travels bore no fruit; nor did the days of wandering the wilderness west of the Jordan valley. There is an abyss, I thought, half in supplication, standing finally on the shores of the Salt Sea, between all created things; my own flesh is alien to me, and the things of the world are estranged from each other. Separation from God is separation from all things. It is imprisonment within the silence of ourselves. Knowledge itself is an abyss; understanding a curse. Mankind, and all created things, do not fall once, but plunge forever into the abyss, further and further from God, as their kin multiply. I see that now, and I curse my own frailty.

"In times to come, great minds will repeat your thoughts, Adam, and they too will be left only with bitter hearts."

I looked around for the source of the voice; searched the dry desert and the silent, rippling sea. I was alone. I had not realised that I had thought aloud. Then the voice returned:

"All finite time and space is an abyss. How wise you are to have noticed. Perhaps you would be wiser to keep this particular knowledge from your children. It is an abyss into which all created things are plunged by the hand of God; deceive yourself if you must, tell yourself that your time is a blessed long time. All the while, you are falling into nothingness; your companionship with Eve and with your children is an illusion; the bonds of love an illusion. You are like me, but cast into the pit of mortal life, allowed a few moments of self-deception before you realise His fare for you. The pit into which I was cast has no end; each mortal day, I fall further and further from Heaven, yet still seeing its glory far above me, like a sun that glares down without heat. This life, this descent into the abyss, is hell itself. My sin was but a single act of will; I was higher than Michael or Uriel, and I craved to be higher still. But for this one act, my fall is unending. Is this a just God you serve, man of the abyss?"

I was afraid; I peered into the water of the Salt Sea and between the stones of the desert; still the voice assailed me.

"Your own fall will be completed one day, Adam. I have further wisdom for you before the end, which I will impart at the appointed time. I will send to you one after my own heart: for I too have created minds and hearts in my own image. Wait for this before you die; the last of the fruit must be eaten, bitter though it tastes."

"Where is Eve?" I asked coldly.

"She is alone, of course, in a place where you cannot be; she faces the last pangs of her birth. She weeps and convulses, utterly abandoned by God, estranged from you: the pain inside her is like a fire that burns without consuming, making her mad. Her tears, and the tears of all her daughters, will be an unending river. It is a mortal birth. Know this also, father who conceives his children upon an abyss, that your first son, who even now begins to breathe this mortal air, will be estranged from you and from God. Go back to the Jordan and wait for your son, for you will never find the place Eve is hiding."

The voice was gone and I wandered alone along the banks of the sea, until something of his words brought me to an awareness of the futility of my search, and I returned the way I had come. There, in the mud hut, protected against the blasts of the winter gales, I awaited Eve, keeping the fire stocked for her return. Finally, I heard her arriving, after three days, and saw her standing in the doorway with my son suckled at her breast; I approached her, sought a flicker of warmth on her face, and looked at my own flesh, this frail, breathing form.

"The new Adam," I said as Eve, smiling, the ghost of pain gone out of her eyes, lettme cradle the silent male child.

"No," Eve said, watching him wriggle in my gentle grasp. "God sent me a dream while I slept with the child on the first night. His name shall be Cain."

"Then may he be blessed," I said.     

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