By Carolyn Shields
Whenever we read texts like Mulieris Dignitatem: On the Vocation and Dignity of Women by John Paul II, or any time we seek to understand the feminine heart, we are constantly escorted back to this woman. For being the first, she sure is timeless. Here are a few immortal lessons that Eve may teach us about the intricacies of our heart, the allure of sin, and the ribs from which we were drawn.
- Have you ever looked up the Creation of Adam by Michelangelo? No, okay, pause. Check out that link. Usually our focus is pulled toward that little space between man and God, but take a look under God's arm. Look who He's protecting already beneath his bicep, look who He has in mind as He creates man, look who He is holding back just a little longer to be with Him. Eve! And she's looking right at Adam.
- Secondly, and of course art is up for interpretation, the flowing red cloak-like thing resembles something really important in the human body: the brain. However, a new theory from art critic Adrian Stokes claims it is a uterus, the place from which we are born.
- Man was alone before Woman. He was created from the clay of the earth, which is a mix of earth and water, right? St. Thomas Aquinas writes in Summa Theolgiae that for this reason, "man is called 'a little world,' because all creatures of the world are in a way to be found in him.'"
- But after Adam's creation, God said the first thing in creation that was not good was man being alone. So He created Eve. And St. Paul tells us, "Man is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man." (1 Cor 11:7).
- And how was woman created? From the rib of man. Why not any other part of the body? What do the ribs do? They protect the vital organs. They defend. They are also located at the center of the body, not at man's feet or above his heart. It represents a sort of equal dignity as St. Augustine writes, "[woman came] from the side, to be side by side with him to be equal with him. From under the arm to be protected…and from the heart to be loved."
- And so you think about the orchestra of events, the roaring sky, the gentle breeze, the ladybugs and wild lavender, the naming of the stars, and the pinnacle of all this was Woman. God chose to not create anything else after her. Complex, enriched, enticing, she draws the heart toward Christ by simply being.
- She was wild. Untamed. She was the only.
- And so Eve walks, right, and there's this moment that we all long for where we encounter another and think, "Ah, yes! Here is my beloved whom I desired so much I didn't even know I needed, and God saw this ache within me and gives." And here is born this beautiful, deeply rooted truth of our faith: we were made for relation. We see this first in the Trinity but also in creation itself. This is profoundly felt in the heart of a woman who came to serve this purpose. Most of our heartache is usually rooted back to some type of relational issue, isn't it? John and Stasi Eldredge write in Captivating, "Whatever else we know about women, we know they are relational to their cores...this is so second nature, so assumed among women, that it goes unnoticed by them....most women define themselves in terms of their relationships, and the quality they deem those relationships to have. I am a mother, sister, a daughter, a friend. Or I am alone...So God endows Woman with certain qualities that are essential to relationship, qualities that speak of God. She is inviting. She is vulnerable. She is tender. She embodies mercy. She is also fierce and fiercely devoted."
- And even the body of Woman reflects these qualities of the feminine genius. Think of that term as the space where the body and soul of a woman collide. JP II categorized them as inherent receptivity, sensitivity, generosity, and maternity. Look at a woman bearing a child...what maternal strength! Think of the way a woman receives during intercourse. Think of her womb. Think of her heart and its depths! Her soul and her body are complimentary, just like a man's is.
- The story gets dark shortly after though and we know this. Satan saw how powerful a woman can be when she owns who she is and thereby draws others towards God. Something had to be done. The Greek translation for 'serpent' is actually 'dragon,' which can kind of change the way we see the story of the fall, isn't it?
- So Satan makes his entrance, and we have to ask where Adam was in all this. The Hebrew translation of scripture tells us that Adam and Eve were literally side by side, and yet Adam didn't intervene. Eve didn't ask for support, for that protection from which she was created. This speaks volumes of truth and resonates with us today. Oftentimes, a woman feels the ache of the Fall today when she attempts to take on too much as Eve did here. When they feel like they have to go at it alone. Similarly, many women's laments with men today is that they do too little, "He won't ask me out. He won't text me. He won't defend me." And Adam, well...didn't.
- Which is where we see this monstrous ache erupt, because from this episode in salvation history, we are flooded with twisted clarity. The Eldredges write again, "[Man] is captured best in motion, doing something. His essence is strength in action. That is what he speaks to the world. He bears the image of God who is a warrior. On behalf of God, Adam says, 'God will come through. God is on the move.'"
The New Eve
- But though we fell in the garden, we would also be redeemed in one named Gethsemane. We lost by the tree of knowledge but were saved by the Cross. Though this time, Adam did not come before Eve; rather, the new Adam proceeded the new Eve and she anticipated His birth for nine months in her womb. Fulton Sheen writes in World's First Love, "The mystery of the Incarnation is very simply that of God's asking a woman freely to give Him a human nature. In so many words, through the angel, He was saying: 'Will you make Me a man?' As from the first Adam came the first Eve, so now, in the rebirth of man's dignity, the new Adam will come from the new Eve."
- Since creation was flawed, Mary was the immaculate conception in order to vessel the Creator.
- And even before Christ's birth, Mary is often depicted as standing on a serpent's head for it was written in Genesis 3:15, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel." (Which, ps, Genesis itself means 'Beginning.') Immediately after the fall, God went, "It's okay. I already have a plan." Or in other words, hope for humanity.
- We may have gotten lost because of Eve, but Mary will lead us back to paradise. Fulton Sheen writes, "Eden is now being reversed. Three things cooperated in our fall: a disobedient man, Adam; a proud woman, Eve; and a tree. God takes the three elements that led to the defeat of man and uses them as the instruments of victory: the obedient new Adam, Christ; the humble new Eve, Mary; and the tree of the Cross." And it was there that Christ said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
This woman is certainly fascinating, and as women we each bear in our souls her heritage and feel the weight of her decision. Pull out Genesis and reflect on it this month...after all, it's only the beginning.