For sin had made its entrance long before the serpent spoke, long before the woman and the man had set their teeth to the pale, stringy flesh, which was, it turns out, also quite without flavor. Rather, sin had come in the midst of an evening stroll, when the woman had reached to take the man's hand and he withheld it...
Scott Cairns, "The Entrance of Sin"
I heard this poet give a reading last week. He did a fabulous job. This poem, in particular, seemed to catch my attention as he read. Yes, there was this fruity moment of transgression where the man and woman disobeyed the express intent of God. However, WHAT IF ("what if" - a very important aspect of midrash - the Jewish reading of the scriptures) "sin" was there before the apple, or whatever type of fruit it was? What if sin first slithered across the world with dew still on it in a stolen moment, when "the woman had reached out to take the man's hand and he withheld it"? That would make the apple moment just the next logical progression in a pattern of turning your back on beauty, allowing yourself to be separated from another and The Other.
As I think about the sin in my life, this seems to ring true. There are specific actions or words that one could classify as "sin-full," but they are usually a result of some prior turning away, either from God, someone, or even myself. Withholding. And a taste of withholding leaves you wanting more, and a little more, and so on and so on. And eventually, I find myself in a position to speak harsh words or entertain violent thoughts or indulge in self-hatred; these are but the fruits of a tree called death.
The poem concludes with these lines:
The beginning of loss was this: every time some manner of beauty was offered and declined,
the subsequent isolation each conceived was irresistible.
Dear God, how many times is beauty offered to me and I decline? How many opportunities are there in a day when someone makes eye contact with me, searching for someone just to notice them? How many moments when those I love most reach out to me and I pull away, not having time or the desire or both? How many seconds tick away when my children say, "Dad, play with us" and I withhhold myself from them because of work or weariness? How many fractions of moments of facets of seconds when my wife seeks to share her heart with me and I go quiet, declining her beauty and the possibility of communion? Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I have withheld my love, my affections, my touch, my attention, my forgiveness, my smile, my affirmation...myself.
We keep focusing on the fruit, when the problem is with the root. So, my two or three gathered at the Shame, when beauty is offered to you this week, don't decline. Don't withhold. Don't turn away. Resist the irresistible seed of isolation. For once the seed is planted and watered, sin comes forth. And death and hell follows. We have focused so much on saying "no" to the things of this world, that we've declined to say "yes" to the beauty of this world. Repent and turn while there's still time.