A gospel instructor recently introduced me to a new concept:
“Men and women are each required to lay down their lives for the sake of giving life to others. Women lay down/risk their lives in childbirth to give physical life. Men, in turn, are called on to provide spiritual rebirth to other souls, and to be willing to give their lives for this cause.”
Does this idea ring true? What are its limitations? Gender roles in the plan of salvation definitely blur together; men and women prove essential to assisting in each other’s life giving roles. In other words, women are also needed to provide spiritual life, and men are needed to provide physical. Nevertheless, I keep finding myself drawn back to this insight as I contemplate this big question that has already been raised:
Why are Adam and Eve created so differently, and what might this teach us about gender difference?
In this post, I’d like to contrast it with a birth experience. Is there any sense in which Adam is laying down his life symbolically?
One thing is clear at this point just prior to Eve’s creation: there are no mortal women on earth to give birth to new souls. While Adam is hatched or molded on ground level like a seed or an egg, Eve’s organic material is removed from Adam’s body and remolded and structured like clay by a potter. It is resuscitated with new breath to become female and independent from Adam’s body by divine hands. Why should Eve’s body originate partly from Adam’s, with him serving as a kind of surrogate male mother/father for her? By fusing Eve’s creation so closely with Adam and his body, the story invites us to plumb the emotional and psychological depths of Adam and Eve’s first meeting. I am particularly intrerested in the joy and feelings of unification Adam feels when he wakes, rises and first looks on Eve. What does Adam’s part in Eve’s creation signify, and how might this process be said to transform and prepare him?
Point of contrast 1: Anticipation
Any awareness Adam might have had concerning the creation of Eve beforehand is unclear. Encountering other living creatures and naming them might have starting him thinking about the possibility of a female human being.
“And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.”
Adam is the active agent in the first half of this verse, perhaps the “not finding” is on his part. Was Adam was searching and waiting for a female human to come?
Did God give Adam any clue about what to anticipate with Eve’s creation? There doesn’t seem to be clear evidence of this unless we want to assume Adam overhears God’s plan: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” But God seems to be talking about Adam to someone else. The biggest evidence that Adam may have hoped for Eve’s creation is his words “at last,” or “now”—“This at last is bone of my bones” as if he had been waiting for these events, even hoping to have this kind of “same flesh” relationship with another being.
And a new mother is like Adam alone– the last link in the chain of her own family’s line. She feels desire for a relationship with a child, but of course can’t know what being in this relationship will entail—what she will feel, experience, sacrifice, and become. Nor can Adam.
Julie raised the question why of the commandment not to eat the tree, and then the Lord’s determination to get things rolling with Eve’s creation should go together. Maybe God needs Adam to gain knowledge, but he isn’t ready for Adam to actively partake of knowledge himself. Might we see the course of events as God asseringt parental control over what knowledge is revealed? Understanding of what it means for Adam to be male, and Eve female, and for them to be partnered together is coming Adam’s way through God’s actions rather than Adam’s. Like a child, Adam is treated as if he is not ready to have much foresight or to choose his own course of learning. A structured rites of passage is presented as suitable for him as to a little child who doesn’t appreciate parental perspective.
2. Labor, deep sleeps, and other trances
Labor is comparable to a kind of sleep in that it is for many women a trancelike state. A woman loses consciousness of time. Bodily pain causes her to turn in and become somewhat oblivious of surroundings and people. Completely unprecedented behavior reveals itself—the women is out of her element, transformed. She is never more aware of herself than in these moments, yet also never less aware. She, exhausted and terrified, is compelled to focus on the labor at hand. Labor and birth is more like a state of hyper wakefulness and awareness beyond ordinary consciousness.
Adam probably doesn’t suffer physically and is unconscious. Adam has something more akin to the early 20th century American birth experience. Many doctors, not wanting to deal with all the drama and trauma of women in labor, thought it best to knock patients out and wake them up when the baby was out (this is also known as a “twilight birth”).
Adam is put into a “deep sleep” with the intention of waking him when Eve is prepared to meet him. Deep sleep from God tends to be invoked for merciful purposes. Deep sleep induced by God, used symbolically, protects the unprepared and heedless from divine wrath. It also comes upon enemies in order to liberate captives in the Book of Mormon. A similar thing happen when David is spared from sleeping enemies. Perhaps God mercifully lets Adam sleep through this “procedure” in our story because wakefulness would cause him needless suffering. The JPS commentary shares this: “a deep sleep Hebrew tardemah is … abnormally heavy sleep, divinely induced. It has here the dual function of rendering the man insensible to the pain of the surgery and oblivious to God at work.” Eve’s creation may be something he was not prepared to witness and understand. Again, God is treating Adam like a child. Adam may be unprepared to have the knowledge of what it means to suffer and sacrifice. Adam’s body being new to him, we would imagine him being frightened and overwhelmed by his experience.
Some women consider it a privilege to suffer in order to give life, and to retain this knowledge. My husband’s grandmother begged her “twilight birth” doctor in the 1940’s three times to stay awake for the deliveries of her children unsuccessfully, which haunted her. She wanted to be present. Labor and birth are not things to sleep through—they are things to wakefully engage and gain a knowledge of. For a mother, birth is an act of sacrifice and suffering and a brush with death. She gives life through suffering that is difficult and probably impossible to measure and fully describe. She lays her life on the line during labor. There is no guarantee her body can make way for the baby to come out. After the baby is out, she bleeds heavily, and even risks death again with this bleeding.
In Adam’s case life is literally in God’s hands, we assume he is safe. Nevertheless, how do we imagine Adam’s body in this experience? Is he bleeding? Does he need to receive resuscitation? Will there be afterpains? Prostrate and unconscious, with his chest slit into, he may actually appear closer to death than the actively laboring mother, or something more like organ donation than birth.
This image of Adam prostrate and opened foreshadows in my mind the powerful and divinely given human capacity to lay down our lives to give life that is described in the thesis I shared above. You might even suggest that the taking of Adam’s flesh gestures toward all the ways that we are related the Christ—through the suffering of his body, his death, and the symbols of his body used in the sacrament.
3. Moments of birth/creation
A baby comes out crying, drawing in air into its lung on its own for the first time, covered in blood and fluid and ready to be human and bond with its mother. Adam’s ribs come out, fairly small white bone covered in muscle, fat, veins and blood. A piece of flesh, not a living soul. Seeing as how God intends Adam to go into a deep sleep, it seems to be suggested this restructuring process takes a long time. A human being is formed from part of another human. This happens behind veil of a mother’s womb every day; in this story, it happens in the open air of a garden. Why doesn’t Eve fly out or come pulled out of a part of Adam’s body like in some other ancient myths? This part of the story seems to bear special emphasis on gender identity and sacred purposes in gender distinctions. Only the hands of God can make flesh of identical origins ontologically distinct.
4. Waking, Meeting, Bonding, and Joy
Divinely invoked deep sleeps often lead to revelation and transformation that is evident at waking. King Lamoni, his father and mother, and many others received powerful testimonies of Jesus Christ while in deep trances. At waking, they are filled with profound joy and cannot be withheld from testifying. Job describes being awoken from a deep sleep to be faced by God himself with the crucial questions of his life, such as “Shall mortal man be more just than God?” (Job 4:13).
Sleep is forgetting, dust, and death. Waking and arising are remembering, drawing strength, and preparing for sacred and celebratory events (Isaiah 51-52). The sleep of God transforms us—just as after an ordinary night of rest, we wake with new strength, and knowledge we are present in a new day.
Giving birth is a kind of “waking” experience out of the trance and pains of labor that transforms a new mother. The pains of her labor prepare her for moments of profound new love, bonding and revelation. The presence of the child can be saturating, overwhelming. A woman once shared with me how she found herself asking, “This is what has been growing inside of me, with this little face?” I remember the first moments I saw my son Adam. The fact that his gender is different than mine is vital to what I thought and felt. I recognized Adam bore an unmistakable resemblance to me, yet being male made him completely other. He bore an uncanny similarity to myself, he was even a piece of me taken out, but coupled with distinctions that would never be reconciled. I witnessed he was in a sense “flesh of my flesh,” but never before had a being presented itself with this same/other quality. These thoughts were coupled with the epiphane that every male person I had ever encountered had started as one of these innocent and helpless beings. Every son must have or should have struck awe and elation in this way. It was a moment of healing for me when bitterness melted away. My eyes were opened to see gender identity, particularly males, anew.
What I thought and felt when I first saw Adam is comparable to what passed through Adam’s heart when he first saw Eve. Adam is filled with sudden, surprising joy. As the JPS Torah commentary suggests, “Man’s first recorded speech is a cry of ecstatic elation at seeing the woman.” Adam confirms the eye opening experience to himself, praises God, and perhaps indirectly speaks to Eve with these words:
“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.”
The opening of Adam’s body for the sake of taking out flesh for Eve both gestures toward birth and distinguishes itself as producing this new relationship. The rib is not put back, there is a hole in Adam where Eve’s transformed flesh once belonged and in a sense she still belongs there. Knowledge that Eve is created of his flesh cultivates special feelings and thought in Adam. He seems to instantly and wholeheartedly recognize the closest of familial bonds between the two of them—something possibly closer than family, unity on the level of self. If a man is to “leave his father and mother” to cleave to a wife, only a relationship that can compete with or supersede the bond of son to parents would motivate him to do so. At this moment, Adam wraps his mind around two seemingly paradoxical insights—he feels such unity with Eve that it is as if she is still inside him and is part of his own self, and yet she is so ontologically different that she needs her own name that denotes a completely different way of being.
Man and woman: a relationship with potential to be as emotionally powerful, binding and sacred to human beings as any. This is not because of parental or blood bonds, but, least to begin with, because we experience such powerful unity and sameness combined with interesting and fulfilling otherness.
This unity/otherness leads Adam and Eve influences Adam and Eve’s first choice—Eve independently partakes of the fruit, Adam out of loyalty chooses to do the same. When Adam chooses Eve there is a sense in which he also deliberately and willingly chooses death (as Milton suggests in book 9 of Paradise lost, sorry, can’t find the lines right now, it’s just so amazingly long). What might Adam’s choice can lead us to understand something of the love, impulses, and feelings of duty and protectiveness that lead men to be willing to lay down the lives for others and perhaps particularly women? As likely in Adam’s case, the spiritual wellfare and mortal safety of others are entangled together in men’s motivations—they shield against and fight violence both spiritual and bodily violence.