The Search for Eden
5th Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

Recently while on my way to school I passed by a very large estate that was perched on a grade, at the end of a long driveway. The entire property was surrounded by an iron gate. As I was looking at the entire property, what struck me was that I was reminded of a castle in a fairy tale that I would have read as a child. I’ve passed a number of these kinds of estates recently, each one with a very large mansion on it, and each time I was reminded of a fairy tale. The thought occurred to me that these people who obviously possess great wealth are simply realizing their childhood dream of living in a fairy tale. A great American philosopher recently wrote that “fairy tales fall into the category of stories that depict golden ages, and thus they are really dreams of Eden – as well as of that greater Paradise of which Eden itself is but a dream”, namely the kingdom of heaven. That’s why children love to read them; that’s why we all love them.

If you’ve ever read any of the myths of Aboriginal tribes throughout the world, you know that they are of the same character. They are very enjoyable reading, and they all speak of another world that is eternal and forever young. The entire life of Aboriginal man is a series of rituals that have as their sole purpose renewed contact with this other world, depicted in myth. Why do we love myth? Why does the child in us love fairy tales? Why are books like The Lord of the Rings, or The Hobbit, or The Chronicles of Narnia, etc., so popular and are read and re-read by people of every generation since they were written? The reason is that we long for Eden, which mankind lost. Man has been searching for Eden ever since he was expelled from it.

The child in us loves not only fairy tales; we also have a favorite game: hide and seek. And that’s God’s favorite game as well. The history of Religion is really the history of a game between God and man, and it is a game of hide and seek.

After the sin of the first parents of the human race, they hid themselves among the trees of the garden, and God went looking for them. Then they were expelled from Eden, and since then man has been searching for that which he lost, and religion is his way of attempting to recover it. The religions of the nations are man’s search for God, and thus man’s word about God. And there is a tremendous amount of wisdom in those religions.

In today’s gospel, Christ says: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. When I think of the word “Way”, I think of ancient Taoism. The reason is that the Tao means Way. Now allow me to read to you a description of the Tao, written by Lao Tzu in the 6th century BC: “There was something formless and perfect, before the universe was born. It is serene. Empty. Solitary. Unchanging. Infinite. Eternally present. It is the origin of the universe. For lack of a better name, I call it the Tao. It flows through all things, inside and outside, and returns to the origin of all things.”

When I read that, however, I call it, for lack of a better word, God. For God is the origin of the universe, He is eternally present, infinite, unchanging, without physical shape or form, and perfect. The problem is the Tao is indefinable, unnamable, infinitely beyond human conception. If it can be named, it is not the Tao, not the Way.

It sounds very much like the God of Hinduism (Brahman). Brahman is the infinite and Unsearchable; God is neti…neti, which means ‘not this… not this.’ Brahman is that before whom all words recoil.

But man struggles to find God, so much so that Taoists eventually made Lao Tzu a god. Mahayana Buddhists made Buddha a god as well. Hindus have ishtas, which are cherished divinities; to worship an ishta is to worship a god, but a god in Hinduism is really only a limited aspect of the One Reality, Brahman. A favorite among Hindus is devotion to one of God’s incarnations as depicted in Hindu mythology, such as Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu (God as preserver). And so you can see this abstract and unnamable Brahman has become accessible in Hinduism. This is testimony of man’s need for the Incarnation.

The history of religion is rich and fascinating, but it is really a variation on a theme, too large to unpack here. But how does God respond to this, man’s search for Him?

Christians believe that God chose to come searching for man, sort of like the one who is hiding and no one is able to find him—although they make great progress and discover many clues--, and so he comes out of hiding. But he does not want to ruin the game, because that will ruin the fun, so he continues to hide, but under a disguise. We believe that God came out of hiding and disguised himself, so that He could be found—but we’d still have to search diligently for him and find him on our own.

God became flesh. The Tao became flesh. The unnamable and infinite became incarnated not in myth, but in history. Christ said it: I am the Way. He is the Tao; He is our way back to Eden, and from Eden to that greater Paradise, the heavenly kingdom.

Christ is everything that the human heart longs for; and he is everything that the great religions of the world have been searching for. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

The Way is no longer abstract. The Way is a Person. But it is a painful Way. It is the Way of the Cross: “Anyone who wants to be a follower of mine must renounce himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” The way back to Eden is through the new tree of life (axis mundi), which is the cross of Calvary. When St. Thomas More was locked away in the Tower of London by King Henry VIII, he wrote one of his greatest works, The Sadness of Christ, and in that work he warns us: “Do not try to build your kingdom of heaven on earth”. And that’s the line that I remember every time I pass one of those giant estates here in North York. These are people who are building their kingdom of heaven on earth. They are trying to recover Eden. But the Way to Eden, the Way to the Tree of Life, has been revealed, has come in the flesh, and it is the Way of the Cross, the Way of humility, the Way of self-sacrifice. It is about living a hidden life of love and service of God, and love and service of neighbor.

The time for rest is later. The Lord will grant us an eternal Sabbath rest, but now is the time to labor in the vineyard, to allow ourselves to be used by God as His instruments to bring the life of grace into the world. This life is short, our health will eventually fail us. What a waste of energy it is to work your whole life, save your money, finally build your fairy tale castle, and then be told by your doctor that you have cancer. Or maybe not even that. You just have to look at yourself in the mirror and see that you are getting older, you’re moving slowly towards the grave. Our purpose here is to use every minute to conform ourselves as fully as possible to Christ, to grow closer to him every day, to love God and neighbor better today than we did yesterday, to use the sacrament of Confession to help us to that end, and to feed on his body and blood.

As we progress down that road, we will receive something that a beautiful estate built here simply cannot impart to us. We will grow in an interior peace that the world cannot give, that the world does not even know. All the world knows is anxiety, the fear of loss, and the inordinate desire for more. Christ gives us himself, and He is the Truth that we long for, and He is the life that we lost in Eden, the life of divine grace, that supernatural life that primal man dreamed of and tried to procure for himself through ritual. Christ is that life, and he gives it to us within the tangible and visible reality of the Eucharist.

We’re here to live in Christ and to proclaim Christ, but we proclaim him by living in him, by showing others how happy we are, how peaceful we are. If we don’t have that joy radiating from us, then we are not proclaiming Christ, he doesn’t live in us, we’re still searching for him because we have not yet found him, and that can happen even though we attend Church every week. We can go to Church every Sunday all our lives and never know the Lord. That only shows that God is really a master at this game of hide and seek. He can now be found, but he is hidden, like the story the Prince and the Pauper, God switches clothing and is now hidden under the rags of a pauper. He died on a cross and he is present under the humble appearance of ordinary bread. If we want the eyes to see him, he will give them to us and we will find him at last.