I am constantly amazed by the underlying assumption that a good Christian woman should somehow be passive, at least passive in certain situations or places.
So, I wonder, what happened to taking the taking the Garden of Eden seriously? I mean, have you read the story, really read it closely?
Here’s what I see in Genesis 3.
Eve is the protagonist; she is the one who is curious, who takes action, who makes a decision based upon clear reasoning. She doesn’t just eat the forbidden fruit. She eats it for a reason: to become wise. Who honestly believes wisdom isn’t worth seeking? And, don’t we all know that wisdom is born of years of toil and strain and challenge? It isn’t something we inherit or something that easily and evenly develops over time. There is a cost to gaining wisdom.
Eve knew this, I think, and was willing to pay the cost to gain it. She could have rejected this opportunity and lived a life of safety and security and bliss. But we all know that the well-lived life is the one lived amidst challenge, involving risk and rejection. Only through failures, we often hear, do we learn how to succeed. Isn’t it true of wisdom as well? Eve showed us the path to living fully and thereby the path to wisdom.
While St. Augustine has burdened us with an interpretation of this story as “The Fall,” Eve’s decision can help us to understand it differently. Her choice (and let’s be clear that all the while Adam was standing beside her) to seek wisdom resulted in accepting the great human responsibility of “tending the garden,” as Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, would say. No longer would life entail an existence of passive reliance upon the divine. Now humanity was tasked to join with God in the divine work of cultivating creation.
In this understanding, Eve is not the great temptress that countless generations have claimed. She is the hero: the one who risks it all to be, as Susan Niditch says, quintessentially human, seeking knowledge and testing limits.
What if our Christian communities began celebrating women who, like Eve, are protagonists?