In my last post I made some comments on the Genesis story and how the Hebrew might point to a deeper reality somewhat obscured by our English translations. I shared my post with an online community of Christians with whom I interact from time to time. Many enjoyed the post and resonated with the ideas expressed. But one member voiced some concern with making scientific statements from religious texts and that perhaps I was distorting things a bit. He joked a little and said that ‘When God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, He didn’t halve Adam and make a Bruce.’ Of course I completely agree, and this comment, though said in jest, shows that he didn’t fully understand what I was getting at with the halving idea. It also made me want to substantiate my arguments a little more. What follows is drawn from my response to his concerns:
My point is definitely not that God simply split the male Adam in half and that the two halves were thus the same i.e. a potential Adam and Bruce. In fact quite the opposite. My point is that biologically life began as One non-sexed reality. Later this single celled androgynous organism evolved into male and female and continued the long stretch of evolution that would eventually produce our Adam and Eve.
So back to Genesis:
While I fully understand that Genesis is not a scientific document I do believe it is a text inspired by God and thus able to speak to realities that both include scientific reality and go beyond science to the spiritual and metaphysical.
In the first creation account (Gen 1:26-27) the text in the Hebrew says that God created ‘adam’ (which is really just a play on the word ‘adamah’ meaning earth/ground/dust) in His Image. It goes on to say that he created this ‘earth/human being’ or ‘adam’ as both male (zakar) and female (neqebah). So here in the opening chapter of Genesis we have ‘adam’ referring to the entire human race both male and female, not just the male half.
In the second creation account, ‘adam’ appears for the second time. Here it also seems to indicate simply a human being (Gen 2:5) needed to cultivate the land. Genesis follows this pattern with ‘adam’ representing simply the unsexed human creature created from the earth. Of course I don’t think this means that the historical Adam was an androgynous or hermaphroditic human being – but I do think this MIGHT speak to the reality of life starting out as ONE undivided reality which predated the emergence of gender based life.
That the story should not be taken literally/scientifically seems to be quite clear at various points. The poetic formulation of the days of creation is one such point, the presentation of the animals to the ‘adam’ is another. All these creatures seem to be sexed creatures of the male and female variety but the poor old ‘adam’ seems to be the only creature without such a mate. So God gives the ‘adam’ a little spiritual anesthetic and removes one of his ‘tsela’ (Gen 2:21).
In our English bibles we read that God removed one of the ‘adams’ ribs. This is the only time in the whole Old Testament that ‘tsela’ is translated as rib. Unfortunately the only other use of the term rib, is found in the Aramaic book of Daniel and thus cannot be directly compared with the Hebrew. But ‘tsela’ does appear more than 40 times and all other times the word is translated as ‘side’, or associated terms. Thus I put forward that what was taken from the original ‘adam’ was not a rib but a side – the female side to be exact. Now I’m no Hebrew scholar, though I do enjoy researching, but this translation is supported by a number of Jewish scholars and rabbis, especially those who appreciate the mystical aspect of the text.
Only once God has taken the woman from the ‘adam’ is the original ‘adam’ referred to as man/husband (ish) and the new being referred to as woman/wife (ishah). Their relationship is immediately shown to be one of cleaving in which the two will become ‘One Flesh’ again. I think this supports my case, as man cleaves to his missing half rather than his missing rib. From here on the ‘adam’ often indicates the male person and ‘ishah’ the female.
Only in Genesis 3:20 is the ‘ishah’ given a name, ‘Chavvah’ (Eve) because she is the mother of all who ‘Chayah’/’Chay’ (live/living). At this point it becomes clear that the male human being continues to be known simply as ‘adam’.
In chapter 4 ‘Adam’ and ‘Chavvah’ the original husband/man (ish) and wife/woman (ishah) have been expelled from the garden and life as we know it begins. They love, they fight, they buy a house and have babies ;), some of whom turn out well, others, not so much. But just in case we forget that though the ‘adam’ now refers to the male human being in the family it wasn’t always so, the story ends with just such a reminder.
In Genesis 5:1 we are told that we are reading the book of the generations of the ‘adam’ in the day that God created the ‘adam’ in His own Likeness. Male and female He created them and blessed them and called THEIR name ‘adam’ in the day when THEY were created. And subsequently Adam dies.
After Adam’s death the word ‘adam’ continues to be used to denote the entire human race both male and female (e.g. Gen 6:1 and on).
In conclusion I’ll leave you with another interesting fact to add to this little investigation. The belief in the androgynous nature of the first human being is actual quite a cross-cultural phenomenon. It is found explicitly or implicitly in the writings of the Hindus, Greeks, Romans, and Sumerians, as well as in our case, the Jews and Christians. This link will give you more details should you wish to explore some of these other accounts. While I find the author’s research interesting, I wouldn’t go along with his rather literal approach to the data, but as I said I believe these myths point to the spiritual and metaphysical truths behind the story.
For those of you who know the Enneagram, I relate strongly with the type 5, but also with 6 and 7, all of which fall into the head center (the other centers being heart and gut). As such I live most of my life in my own head, a fact that my wife will confirm to be quite true – to which I thank her both for her gracious acceptance and her encouragement to explore the world beyond my own mind. I’m an extreme introvert and struggle immensely with interpersonal interactions.
When I became a Christian I wrestled deeply with the implications of Christ’s message and the challenge it posed to my natural personality. For a long time I felt like just being myself was sinful. I’m naturally so anti-social that most of the ‘community mandate’ of Christianity scares the living daylights out of me. I took some comfort from the fact that history was dotted with mystical hermits who felt quite justified living isolated lives committed to the God of Christianity. But I also realized that in my own life, with a wife, two kids, and a job, I would never be able to adopt the solitary lifestyle of a detached recluse. I also never felt completely comfortable with the hermetic model since I wasn’t sure whether it actually did justice to the relational focus of the Christian Faith.
All of this caused a great deal of internal pressure both to follow my own heart and to conform to the seemingly extroverted character of biblical Christianity. In the end I’ve decided to go with my own heart – and something quite interesting has started to happen.
As I’ve become more and more comfortable with just being me I’ve also felt a shift in my ability to move towards people. It seems as though my introverted psyche felt attacked by my desire to be less introverted and thus expressed itself even more. But once I accepted my introversion as normal and natural it allowed that part of myself to let go a little and allow other elements of my internal world to express themselves again.
A similar struggle and shift seems to be occurring within my mind-body dichotomy. My “headiness” and intellectual pursuits have often been condemned by my ego as un-masculine and weak. The result has been an overwhelmingly single-minded focus on all things mental and intellectual to the absolute disregard for my physical body. From this has come a distrust of gut and heart reactions, which are both quite bodily, and a biased favoring of the powers of the mind and intellect.
Here too I’ve been experiencing a shift towards acceptance of my mind as a wonderful tool through which to engage the universe – and again this acceptance has led to a quieting of my mental voice so as to make room for my body to once again be heard. This in turn has led to a greater freedom to experience embodied reality and embodied spirituality.
This growth has been fruitful in many areas. I’ve found new energy to engage my wife, my kids and God with my whole body instead of just my mind. I’ve started exercising again and doing yoga, and I feel a deeper desire to use my body to encounter the world around me.
My relationship with God has experienced its’ own development through this process as I’m trying to bring my prayer life out of my head and into my body as the temple of God. I’m starting to feel a more consistent move within myself to express my praying through my breath, my body posture or movement, groaning, tongues and listening to the movements of desire and energy within my body. While I’ve experienced similar initiations in my prayer life before it seems as though my internal battle between body and mind kept them from deepening into what they now seem to be becoming – an embodied spirituality.
This embodied spirituality has caused me to reconsider my body both generally as a human body and then also more specifically as a male body. The flip-side of this is that I’ve also realized how dominated the Christian Faith seems to be by male images of God.
While other faiths seem to generally have a well balanced approach to the masculine and feminine aspects of both the human race and of God – I’m thinking here of Taoism, Buddhist and Hindu Tantric spirituality, Kabbalah etc. – this seems less true of Christianity. Partly this can be accounted for by the fact that the relationship between the Father and Son is one of the central realities within Christianity. This can therefore eclipse other more feminine aspects of the Divine. Certainly I don’t think this exclusion of the feminine is a wholesale reality within Christianity – Catholics for example include Mary quite deeply within their understanding of the divine economy – but even here, Mary is still only human and not actually part of the Divine Identity as such. And it is also true that feminine images of God exist in the bible, but they are usually only cited as a defense against feminism and not to encourage any real exploration of the Sacred Feminine.
I think a helpful place to begin looking for the Divine Feminine is in the revealing of the Shekhinah in the Old Testament and the Holy Spirit in the new. While both the Old and New Testaments reveal God as Masculine, Father, Son, King, Warrior etc., the mystical traditions of both Judaism and Christianity have looked to the Holy Spirit to provide the necessary balance to the “male” God. That isn’t to say that the Holy Spirit is actually female, but that she provides one of the best opportunities to envision the female characteristics of God. God is pure Spirit and therefore without gender. But perhaps a better way to say it is that God is pure Spirit and therefore contains within God’s self both male and female. Since the Father and Son provide such obviously male images, perhaps the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life and Rebirth, the Helper and Companion, the Sustainer, Giver of Gifts and Producer of Fruit, is a fitting model for the Sacred Feminine.
I find it interesting that even biologically the first life-forms where single-celled, neither male nor female. But that as life developed the creator saw fit to split the unity of the “one” and to create from it both male and female. And then later in the biblical story of Adam and Eve we see this same division of one into two. The original Hebrew should be read in a way that sees God creating a genderless “earthling”, who He later separates into male and female. He does this, not by removing a “rib” (which is an often used yet untenable translation) but rather by removing “one side”, as the Hebrew actually denotes.
I see so much potential in this for both men and women – instead of seeing God only as beyond gender, we can see that the very image of God in us includes both the feminine and masculine. That our very sexuality forms an integral part of our spirituality both as individuals and as couples. That just as there is no separation in God, it is the union of male and female that provides the clearest vision of the whole Godhead.
Through the image of the Sacred Feminine woman can see themselves as absolute equals in sharing with men the image of God. Men have easily seen themselves in this light. Maleness and Godhood stand side by side all over the biblical text. Both in sonship and fatherhood, kingship and priest, men have multiple accounts from which to draw divine likeness. All women have been offered is a rib, and a male rib at that. But in the creation account, understood as the division of One Divine Image into equal parts – Male and Female – we have a truly empowering vision for all women, created in the image of God, to embrace their sexuality as divinely inspired.
Likewise men can also benefit from contemplating the Divine Woman. It is through the Sacred Feminine that men can best understand their own passionate desire for that part of creation that carries with it the potential to realize the fullness of the divine image – male and female united as one. In a world plagued by pornography and the sexual exploitation of woman, we could all stand to gain from a re-emphasis on the image of God in woman. We need to move beyond both shameless exposing of the feminine image, on the one hand, and the complete disregard for the beauty and splendor contained in every female, on the other. The answer is not a prudish renouncement of the power of female sexuality – by hiding the image under a burqua or disfiguring it in business suit and tie so that male and female can no longer be distinguished. No – a far harder task it to celebrate without exploiting, to welcome the passion it evokes without turning that passion into promiscuity or licentiousness. We need to recognize that the passionate male response towards woman does not come from sin, or evil, but from a deep desire for transcendence.
And so begins my own journey towards embodied spirituality and the embrace of the Divine and Sacred Feminine.