Summer in Western New York is a time for working in the garden with the soil, the plants, the flowers, the bushes, the trees. So this is an appropriate time to think of the first "garden story" in the Bible, that of Genesis 2:4-24.
In this narrative of creation, one finds the heavens and the earth existing, but neither shrubs nor grass are present, since there had been no rain nor was there a creature to till the soil. There was however, a stream coming up out of the earth. So God made the first human, Adam, and planted a garden with trees for food for Adam. Only the fruit of two trees in the middle of the garden was off limits to Adam. When Adam needed a partner, the animals and the birds would not do, so finally God fashions a partner for Adam, Eve. So creation was now complete. Later, we hear that God walked in the garden "at the breezy time of the day," maybe early evening, enjoying the beautiful garden.
Then comes the most remembered part of the account. Eve, then Adam, ate the forbidden fruit, egged on by the serpent. They recognized what they had done, experienced shame, and made clothes from fig leaves. God called to them, discovered their deeds and announced their punishments, culminating in the expulsion from the garden out to the east.
Before the actual expulsion, one verse is most often overlooked: "For the man and his wife the Lord God made leather garments with which He clad them" (2:21). Here God acted as a seamstress. At first I thought of "tailor," but then remembered the last verses of Proverbs 34, the description of the strong/worthy wife who spins yarn, makes cloth, doubly clothes her family, and fashions garments to sell in the market - a seamstress.
But why the leather garments? Most commentators say to cover their nakedness; but they had already used fig leaves for that purpose. Rather, God was about to expel them from the garden to the east, who knows who or what is out there. Later in Genesis, Cain fears being killed as he wanders in the east. Clearly our God was providing the man and the woman with protection, an act of compassion, mercy, no doubt meant to assure them of God's steadfast presence. Throughout the Old Testament we hear God say, "I am with you," or "I will be with you," covenant language. Notice, the woman and man faced the consequences of their actions, but they did not lose God's presence and protection.
All the way through Chapters two to 11 of Genesis we see this pattern: blessing/sin/punishment/mercy - the "mark of Cain," the saving of Noah with the rainbow and the covenant with Noah and all humans, and finally after the Tower of Babel, the calling of Abraham, along with his wife, Sarah, to go back west to a new land to form a chosen people.
The New Testament Gospel of Matthew ends with the disciples, after the betrayal or desertion by so many of them, meeting the Risen Christ in Galilee where he too promises, "I will be with you" - presence and protection.
Consider the words of Pope Francis reflecting on our creation by God: "Do we come to think of God like the caress that grasps us in life? ... He could simply have come to know us as the Supreme Being, giving his commandments and waiting for the results. Instead, God has made and makes infinitely more than this. He accompanies us in the path of life, He protects us, and He loves us." (Aug. 26, 2015).
Sister Marion Moeser, OSF, is a Sister of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities and a guest columnist for the Western New York Catholic.