Editor’s note: We’re privileged to help wind up Colleen C. Mitchell’s blog book tour by hosting this excerpt from her book, When We Were Eve, a new release from Franciscan Media. Colleen has a particular gift for encouraging women, and as the publisher’s website notes, this book “helps readers find new perspectives on what it means to be a woman: young, old, single, married, mothers, nurturers, strong and vulnerable, loving and being loved.” It’s on the top of my to-read pile — I can’t wait to dive in and share my review! -Barb
~ Considering Creation ~
In the Genesis account, Eve is God’s final and most eagerly anticipated creation. The story of creation commences with the Spirit of God moving across the void. We tend to think of this as the beginning of God in our Christian knowledge of him, yet because we recognize that God exists outside of time and space, and that God is immutable and unchangeable, we know that this cannot be the true beginning of God, who always was, always is, and always will be. What we know of the God who has always existed is that he is good, he is love, and he always has been.
When we consider creation from that perspective, it takes on a new significance. Everything that God created was born of his love and born from his goodness. And every created thing is born into goodness for the purpose of love. The whole created world was pleasing to God in that respect, so much so that “it is good” becomes the refrain of the creation story.
God moves across a void and delineates spaces in wide swaths—sky, sea, land. In increasing detail, creativity, and wonder, he begins to fill the world with his goodness. Plants and trees and the flowers that bloom on them. Stars and constellations, wind and waves, and the creatures that fill the sea. Daisies and dandelions, Venus flytraps and crimson roses. Tadpoles that turn into toads and starfish and dolphins and anemones that swish their colors with the currents. Then he fills the sky with birds who build nests and lay eggs in those trees—magpies and toucans and bald eagles and tiny, flitting hummingbirds. Bees begin to buzz, and beetles shine on forest floors. Then he waves his hand over the earth, and giraffes roam the savanna on one side while buffalo herds trample the plains on the other. Polar bears romp through the ice at its tip, and penguins splash into the water on the reverse pole.
And then, in what I imagine is clearly meant to be a crescendo of the symphony of creation—in which both action and sentiment reach unparalleled levels that draw us up and out of ourselves to be lost in the glorious rush of it all—“male and female he creates them, in his image he creates [us].”
While God does not repeat the refrain “it is good” when it comes to the creation of man, it is, of course, a presupposed fact, because he states that they have been created in the image of God, who we know has always existed as goodness and love. It is interesting to consider that God created them “in his image” and “male and female” in Chapter 1 of Genesis, while the story of the creation of man and woman as distinct and separate forms does not appear until chapter 2 of Genesis.
This double-sided perspective suggests the timeless reality of God. From outside of time, humanity in its male and female forms, both created in his image, were thought of and planned for. Woman does not come along after man in the way a postscript tags on to the important part of a letter, or the encore is a short redo at the end of a stellar performance. No, from eternity man and woman were thought of by God, and at a given point in time, his creative impulse brought them into being along with, yet different from, the rest of the created world.
God brings man into being in a culmination of his creative force, and an increasing desire for relationship with his creatures. Everything else in creation simply springs forth from his word, coming to be as soon as he speaks it into being. Man, however, is fashioned. God considers man as he forms him. He molds the dirt of the earth into a human form with his hands, covers it with his touch, imprinting his image on it as he does. Then he breathes life into man. Here is our evidence that man is unique in all of creation. He is brought to life by the breath of God. God fills man with his own life, exhaling himself into humanity, in order that man might live.
What a distinct difference from the way the rest of creation comes to be! Men are fashioned and filled with the life of God and then given dominion over the rest of creation. God offers man to creation as its caretaker and creation to man as his source of well-being. And he delights in the fact that man bears his image.
And yet—oh, what an “and yet” it is! After all that progression from void to more detailed and imaginative creation, to breathing his life into a human and fashioning him in his likeness, God turns and looks at the created world, and for the only time in the whole creation narrative, his response is that it is not good. “It is not good that man should be alone,” he declares in Genesis 2:18, and he sets about fashioning him a helper.
Stop for a moment and think what this might mean. God looked at the world he had created, teeming with life, stars flung across the heavens, every bird and bug and animal and flower in its most glorious state, the rivers and mountains and valleys and seas, and man—perfect in his reflection of the image of God— he looked at all of that, and saw that it was incomplete, that something was still missing. Before the Lord of the universe could sit back and rest, knowing his creative work was done, he longed for one more thing—he longed to bring woman to life.
At the culmination of God’s creative love, we arrive at the shaping of woman, whom God forms from the rib bone of man to be helper and partner to him when no other created being suffices to fill that void. In all the world, nothing exists that can fulfill the need for woman. So God again sets about fashioning a being, this time, putting man into a deep sleep, opening him up, taking from him a rib bone, and shaping it into woman.
It is interesting that woman is not molded, but pieced together, starting from the strength of bone, the life-giving core of marrow, and becoming, layer by layer, softer and fuller, more and more of the image of God as he brings her to life. She is formed from the rib, the bone meant to protect the lungs of man into which God first breathed his own life. Woman is gifted to man and all of creation as helper, protector of the life of God within it, made to expand to cradle growth and contract to blow away what is not life-giving, strong but pliable enough to withstand the pressure of the responsibility with which she is charged.
And when God sees woman, what he sees is not simply spirit, but her physical body, itself a reflection of him. Rather than proclaiming its goodness himself, he leaves the refrain to Adam, who stands in place of all humanity as he proclaims with joy her name, “Woman,” spoken for the first time in gratitude for the gift that she is. For woman is the only aspect in all of creation, its final, sweet note, that God gives to the rest of the created world as gift. “Here,” he says, “I see you are missing something. Here she is. My woman. Now you are all I ever imagined you would be.”
In the physical existence of woman, God’s longing for a relationship with the created world and his desire for the good of humanity are met, and he is able to rest. Woman becomes gift not just to the world, but also to God himself, who finds his last longing fulfilled and rests in his satisfaction.
Excerpted from When We Were Eve: Uncovering the Woman God Created You to Be, by Colleen C. Mitchell, with permission of the publisher, Franciscan Media.
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Copyright 2017 Colleen C. Mitchell