Our task (Part 3)

What sort of work will occupy us in paradise? What sort of work did Adam and Eve do? As Scripture says, the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Delight to cultivate and keep it (Gen 2.15), in other words, to protect and cultivate the plants there. Those plants were like a robe of divine beauty, forming a natural world, a natural expression, of God’s majestic holiness. The natural world was a reflection of God’s grandeur, and through nature God was visible to the eyes of our first ancestors. In tending the garden, they were attending to the glory’ and majesty of God, carefully tilling and cultivating the living things around them.

In the first place, then, comes work. We can never experience God without work. People who don’t work hard and succeed at their earthly labors are not likely to find much success in their spiritual lives. We have to work.

After placing Adam and Eve in the garden, God said to them: you may eat of any of the trees in paradise (Gen 2.16). Don’t be surprised by this. Eating is also a spiritual task, because paradise is a place that relates both to the senses of the body and to those of the intellect. Adam communed with God by means of the fruit of the trees, which was a figure of the food of heaven, about which Christ says: Take, eat, and drink (Mt 26.26-27). By eating of the food of the garden, Adam wasn’t merely nourishing his body, but also his soul. It was a way for him to participate in God. And thus, when we hear the words: Take, eat, drink, we hear the voice of God calling us to the communion of paradise. But whereas Adam’s food was the fruit of the garden, we eat of the bread which came down from heaven (Jn 6.32-35).

For Adam, the act of eating and drinking was an ascent toward God. And so, it is with us: we are nourished by the divine teachings, and by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Mt 4.4). The words of the Fathers are also food and drink, as are the lives of the saints, and all the prayers and hymns of the Church. And this is our garden of delights, our Eden, a divine banquet, an enjoyment of, and inebriation with, God. This is how the kingdom of God is made palatable to us, digestible, and thus able to offer itself to us as spiritual nourishment.

Of course, there was one tree, as you know, the fruit of which Adam was forbidden to eat, because he wasn’t yet ready, he hadn’t matured enough. In order for someone to receive a great spiritual gift, or the revelation of a great mystery, he must grow and mature in obedience, in order to show, over a long period of time, that this is what he wanted. This is why your spiritual father may give you a rule: “For two years you’ll do this or that,” so that you can show in those two years, or two months, or whatever the time is, that there’s been a change for the better, with your obedience being the sign of your commitment. That is what God did with Adam.