Today’s passage from Genesis 2 is a small excerpt from a story that is likely familiar to us all. It has also become a part of secular popular culture. We see characters reference it in movies and television shows, and many songs have made use of the story and its imagery. Even people who know nothing about the Bible are often familiar with it. That is how firmly it has been embedded into our culture. This oversaturation can leave us feeling like we know the story inside and out. Then, when we actually encounter it, we might not truly read it. We either think we know it well enough or we are simply bored by the story.
This text beautifully illustrates how deeply connected we are to each other, to God, and to all creation. The first thing we see is that the first human is created from the ground and then brought to life when God breathes his spirit into the creature. We will call this first creature Adam, which shares its root with the Hebrew word for “ground” – the same ground from which God created the human. After that, God begins to create other creatures from that same ground and animates with the same divine life-breath. So, we immediately see that we are not only connected to these creatures, but we are indeed related to them. As St. Francis proclaimed and Pope Francis has written, God’s creations are our brothers and sisters.
God sees, though, that Adam still needs a different kind of relationship and connection. So, God creates another human partner for Adam by taking a part of his own body. The woman is described as Adam’s helper. There is no subservience or subordination indicated here, as it has often been misinterpreted. Indeed, God is often referred to as Adam’s helper or Israel’s helper. Instead of subservience, this text describes the deep connection that God intended all humans to have with each other. The humans are both a part of the earth, as Adam was made from it and the woman was made from Adam. But they are even more so a part of each other because they share the same body and the same life-breath that God breathed into Adam. They are able to support and care for each other in a way that animals cannot. Marriage is one special way humans can honor the connections God has established between humans, as Genesis 2 emphasizes. The Gospel reminds us that this connection is made for life. What God has joined, no one can sunder.
The bond that exists between Adam and the woman cannot be described without including the sexual nature of that connection. The word “sex” or “sexuality” comes from the Latin word, “secare,” which means, “to cut.” It refers to the very first episode of our lives; for when we were born, the umbilical cord was cut, severing the connection between us and our mother. However, nature usually forces each of us to seek out a bond with our mother, a bond that is described in Hebrew by the plural of the Hebrew word for womb or uterus. The child naturally bonds with mother and father at first; however, as each of us grows, we start looking for other connections, other bonds, in friendships. For most men and women that search gradually becomes the choice of a mate or spouse, a bond which involves deep physical sexual intimacy. Some men and women remain celibate, and sometimes that celibacy means choosing to form a connection with God, a connection that is intimate on a spiritual plain.
Tomorrow we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis and the Church’s Season of Creation for 2021 comes to an end. St. Francis of Assisi is one of the most famous and celebrated celibates in history. His Italian poem, the very first poem written in the Italian language, begins with the words “Laudato si,” or “Praised be.” Pope Francis chose those words to begin his encyclical letter on care of our planet’s environment and the movement to protect creation. He reminds us again of the connection we have with all other creatures, referring to Brother Sun, Sister Moon and Stars, Brother Wind, Sister Water, Brother Fire and Sister Mother Earth. Our reading from Genesis today reminds us that we are all part of God’s creative genius. Protecting God’s creation is self-protection, self-survival.