Story of politician, surgeon and architect. It is certainly true that our first reading gives us a fascinating account of the first “reconstructive “ surgery performed on earth – the taking of a rib from the first man and using it to create the first woman. I was always intrigued by this story as a boy, and wondered where did God get his anesthetic from, in order to put Adam in a deep enough sleep not to feel the effects of the surgery? It was only recently that I discovered that opium poppies were growing way back in the earliest civilizations in Sumerian along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now modern-day Iraq. We have written evidence of the use of opium as an anesthetic dating from 1500 B.C. The writer of this account of the creation of woman would have known that and would have incorporated it into his story without having to draw attention to the method used.
Of course, these creation stories are what are technically called “myths”. A myth is not “something made up” in the way that modern sceptics dismiss the stories in the Bible as just myths, fantasies. No, a myth is an attempt to convey deep truths in a form that is easy to understand, using stories or poems for instance. What matters is not the individual details of the story, but the underlying realities that the writer is trying to convey, by means of these details. We find different creation stories in various early civilizations, where sun, moon and stars, animals, and humans themselves, were worshipped as gods. The writer of the creation accounts we find in the book of Genesis was wanting to refute these other creation myths , by emphasizing that everything , be they celestial bodies, animals, or human beings, were all created by God , and that therefore , none of them were to be worshipped, only God alone.
What other truths are we to take from our first reading today? To begin with, God is intimately involved in every detail of his creation, especially when it comes to forming us human beings. We did not roll off a conveyor belt in some cosmic factory. No each detail of our humanity was carefully and lovingly designed and crafted by God himself. We are not drones, robots or mannequins. God breathed his divine life, the life of the Holy Spirit of God into us. We live because God wanted us to live. We are so dependent on him that , were he to withdraw his Spirit, his life-breath from us, we would die, as Psalm 104, verse 29-30 reminds us forcefully :”when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust/when you send forth your spirit, they are created”. We are of a different order of creation from the rest of inanimate and animate nature, such as the animals, which is why , much as pet owners might strenuously disagree, animals can never really satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart, for a life-partner, a soul mate, as we see in our first reading. Nevertheless, though of a different order, and endowed with free will, and a spirit, we human beings are connected with the rest of creation in being made by God – we are not “self-made” as some atheists in their arrogance assert. We are also connected in being given responsibility to till and to care for the rest of creation, again as our first reading tells us. The modern movements to protect our environment from pollution, abuse and climate change all reflect something of this divinely revealed truth (cf Pope Francis; recent encyclical on the environment, called “Laudato Si”}
So, we come to the creation of the first woman, God’s answer to the man’s deepest longing on earth, apart from God himself, of course. We see here in this account that God has placed these longings within us, precisely because he desires and intends to fulfil them, not to leave us endlessly miserable and frustrated and lonely throughout our lives. If that is how we feel at times, it is because we have perhaps missed God’s “best “for us, through hasty, ill-informed, emotion-driven choices. Even if so, nonetheless God , who is eternally creative, can find some kind of a fulfilment for us in other ways, if we will let him guide us there, through faith-filled and trusting surrender to his divine will, no matter at which phase of our lives we make that surrender at last.
Jewish tradition has a beautiful “take” on this biblical account of the creation of the first woman, and I have referred to it before, and I often use it when I am giving a wedding homily. The tradition goes like this. “When making the woman, God did not take her out of the foot of the man, because man is not meant to dominate woman. Nor did he take her out of the head of the man, because woman is not meant to dominate man. Rather, he took her out of his side, because she is meant to be by his side, as his soul- mate and life=partner, in a mutual, intimate, and equal relationship. “.There is even a delightful play on words in the original Hebrew of this Genesis story. The word used for “man” here is ish, and the word used for “woman” is ishah, literally translated as “her man”. Eve looks on Adam as “her man”, just as Adam looks on Eve as “his woman”.
That is the way God intended it, how he designed it, how he crafted it to be. Those are the deep divine truths that this creation “myth” is seeking to convey. Any failures on the part of humankind to live up to these ideals are not to be laid at God’s door. Any attempt on the part of humankind to construct an alternative view of how things should be is not some logical extension of God’s will ,vociferously and stridently as modern day advocates may argue, but a distortionof God’s will. How those alternative “myths” have come about is a topic for another day. Let me end with a beautiful prayer, based on the divine plan for each one of us, called “Identity and Intimacy”.