The beauty that exists in a family that is whole and functional, plodding along unselfconsciously and happily– it is like water in brook in the woods when the sun is shining. The light dancing in patterns on the water, the trees above, and gurgle of water. It just is.
I think many of us would gladly go through quite a bit of pain to have one, or what is more, to know there is one. Knowing one just exists means a great deal more than possessing it. To quote an old poet, “it means far more that Heaven should exist, than that we should ever get there.” Sometimes just knowing good is, is worth dying about.
And the first human family was a broken one. A brother killing a brother, after scheming and tricking him to violate his trust. It’s a sad and rather heartbreaking story, that pains all the more because there was something beautiful that was destroyed.
To quote Robinson’s novel Gilead, about a sprawling pastor’s family, who later suffer heartbreak and scandal:
Four girls and four boys he had, robustious little heathens, every one of them, as he said himself. But good fortune is not only good fortune, and over the years things happened in that family that caused some terrible regret.
Still, for years it all seemed to me to be blindingly beautiful. And it was.
I cried the first time I read that. It’s a terribly vulnerable thing, to make life, to try to make whole and holy what is already cursed. Sacred and divine too, though, since we carry the breath of God in our lungs. That is the inheritance of being a human: devil and God himself, the cursed and the sacred, all inside of us. And we make life, opening ourselves completely vulnerable to bitter shame and heartbreak. And still, to go on trying.
Genesis 4 takes on a whole new meaning when you translate the names. The first man is dust. The first woman is life itself. The first child, in all the miracle of his birth when the world was young and wondrous, will grow up to be a murderer and become cursed. His name is the received-one, the gotten-one. So he is our inheritance. He is what we have received from God’s hands.
Now the Man knew his wife Life, and she conceived and gave birth to Given-One, and she said, “I have gotten a manchild with the Lord.” Again, she gave birth to his brother Breath.
Adam = the man, dust
Eve = the living one, Life (“Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living“)
Cain = the given one, the gotten one
Abel = breath
(1) The first family was created by God. It was His picture which he made. The man was given a woman. The woman was given a child. Nobody asked for it. They didn’t get to pick their roles either, or their identities. They just received at God’s hand what was given them.
(2) The first conception was made by God himself. Eve + God, the woman and God, working together to make this miracle.
(3) In the beginning, woman was life. We are made vulnerable, and we are made the life-givers. It is a burden and a curse, and a holy and dreadful honor.
(4) This first child was a miracle and became a murderer. So the first family was sacred and precious and marred and broken.
(5) Abel = breath. The breath of God is His Spirit. The Holy Spirit. So in the very first family, the most sacred one was killed first. It is always the good that will suffer. But they will not lose.
And the Man knew his wife Life again, and she conceived a son and named him Seth.