It’s a cryptic but arresting phrase, isn’t it: The great yes and the great no?
I tripped on it while searching for something online a couple of weeks ago. After listening twice to a ten-year-old homily of Bishop Barron’s called—you guessed it—The Great Yes and the Great No, I decided to write this piece.
Although the Bishop intended the homily for the Sunday readings of August 4th, 2013, his words pack a whallop today—every day.
POW! The ongoing battlefield between good and evil is reduced to these seven words: The Great Yes and the Great No.
It’s a message to every one of the almost 8 billion souls on this planet. But one that’s anathema in our dangerously adolescent black and white culture.
But first, the readings of this past week.
Followed by the only safe place.
Genesis: I remember reading it when I first read the Bible following my decision to become a Catholic Christian. And how struck I was by the beauty of the words, more than prose, they’re lyrical, almost poetic.
Years later, I followed a friend’s suggestion that I read a novel called Havah and then read Genesis a second time. And realized I could read it a hundred times and still not plumb its depths. Lee’s novel captures the extraordinary, supernatural lives of our first parents brilliantly. She doesn’t simply write an ordinary story. Instead, she immerses us into the psyche of Eve and her flights on the wings of the wind with Him.
Here’s how she begins:
A whisper in my ear: Wake!
A sea awash with nothing but a drifting bit of down carried on an invisible current. I closed my eyes.
Light illuminated the thin tissues of my eyelids. A bird trilled. The percussive buzz of an insect sounded near my ear. Overhead, tree boughs rustled in the warming air…
I could feel the thrum of sap in the stem—the pulsing veins of the vine, the movement of the earth a thousand miles beneath, the beat of my heart in harmony with it all…
Then, like a gush of water from a rock, gladness thrilled my heart. But its source was not me. At last! It came, unspoken—a different source than that first waking whisper—and then the voice thrust aloud, jubilantly to the sky: “At last!” He was up on legs like the trunks of sturdy saplings, beating the earth with his feet…Flesh of my flesh…
At last. I heard the timbre of his voice in my head. Marvel and wonder were on his lips as he kissed my closing eyes. I knew then he would do anything for me.Havah
is a phrase that appeared in my head when I stopped running away from God. Reading Genesis that first time as a believer felt as if I were reading the history of mankind…our genesis. When we risk opening ourselves up to the power of those words they can’t help but evoke wonder and awe.
And every now and then galvanize an echo of Eden.
Maybe with the love of a dog.
Or watching a sunrise.
Or merely remembering how to communicate with animals— when I/we knew more.
Each of last week’s daily readings in the Christian liturgy brought us back to Genesis.
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth,
the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss,
while a mighty wind swept over the waters.
Then God said,
“Let there be light,” and there was light.
God saw how good the light was.
God then separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.”
Thus evening came, and morning followed–the first day…..
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.
Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea,
the birds of the air, and the cattle,
and over all the wild animals
and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.”
God created man in his image;
in the divine image he created him;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, saying:
“Be fertile and multiply;
fill the earth and subdue it.
those beginning chapters, the astounding beauty of creation and its creatures.
We’re not Puritans, Dualists or Gnostics, Barron sharply exhorts us in his ten-year-old homily. We Catholics believe that the world and everything in it is GOOD! Just so, we know that our bodies and our sexuality are Good! This is the reason our Church is so very passionate about marriage. And also priestly celibacy.
The apple Eve reached for and offered to Adam was also good, it could not have been bad or it would not have been created.
So wherein lay the problem?
The woman answered the serpent:
“We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;
it is only about the fruit of the tree
in the middle of the garden that God said,
‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.'”
But the serpent said to the woman:
“You certainly will not die!
Eve knew her God had said “No!” but she did it anyway. Attracted by the beauty of the fruit and the specious wisdom of the serpent. And then, of course, she had to share it with her husband.
Why? The serpent was “the most cunning of all the animals.”
The first time I read Genesis seriously—prayerfully, I stopped there, at the wily serpent: he knew to approach Eve.
And not Adam.
The LORD God called to Adam and asked him, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden;
but I was afraid, because I was naked,
so I hid myself.”
Then he asked, “Who told you that you were naked?
You have eaten, then,
from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!”
The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me—
she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it.”
The LORD God then asked the woman,
“Why did you do such a thing?”
The woman answered, “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.”
What might have happened, we must wonder, if fear and shame hadn’t prevented Adam from answering truthfully? Or if Eve had taken responsibility: “It was I!
I was the one who perverted your law and the Adam!”
But the power of that serpent is supernatural, his hatred for humanity a thing that even the most vicious of humans cannot conceive of. Tosca Lee writes in Havah:
….How deftly the human finger pointed at me was returned to its owner. But greater than that was the sorrow behind it—a sorrow made deeper by a history of love.
Did God weep?
Was the One capable of tears?
Dust you are . . . to dust you will return. The light faded like a back that turns to walk away.Havah
St. Pope John Paul ll once referred to Genesis as holding the answer to every human question.
To live in the only safe space that exists, we live between the two extremes: the dualistic, puritannical hatred of the world and the idolization of it.
We must live in the tension between The Great Yes and The Great No.
Sometimes, Lin, it is incomprehensible how this is how it was meant to be…