This breathtaking window in the cathedral’s nave depicts Eve in the Garden being tempted by a frightening and oddly beautiful serpent. The Dean at the time had the window designed to incorporate his wife’s image as Eve but absented his own image as Adam in favor of a majestic, observing lion. The image caused a scandal at the time of the installation as the cathedral was being built because his wife was entirely naked. So the window was removed and edited so that roses and hair covered her in part.
Augustine was helpful when he reminds us that if sin were ugly, it would not be attractive. The tree orchid sits on the tree as a beautiful addition and yet its roots slowly kill the tree. The tree orchid’s beauty is something to catch the eye. Its beauty is something seen and found attractive. Were it a big steaming pile of dog poo I think we would not reach up for it. It would smell. It would repulse us. But sin is not that way – at least for me. Sin is delicious or it would be easily rejected. And by sin I do not just mean sexual sin – the go-to notion of a horribly sexually repressed society. I mean sins like the gluttony of an entire hemisphere rapping the world’s resources so that our standard of living is thousands of times that of the rest of the world’s population and contributes directly to the starvation of almost a billion of the 7 billion people on the planet. And since more than 3.5 million children die each year from starvation, I am wondering what my serpent-dragon looks like as I stand in the Garden of Eden. I know the statistics and yet I like my comforts. I like food in plastic. I like pizza delivery. I like a house lit by light bulbs. I like to drive around free and alone. I like the new couch I purchased yesterday. I have one bottom and Kai takes up two seats when he sleeps. So why, when I need a place for three bottoms, do I have seats for 17 in my tiny little house?
When I lived in Haiti in 1986 after the revolution, the country was in turmoil and the city – Cap Haitien- was a hotbed of revolt and public executions of the Ton Ton Macoute. The kids I taught english were lovely and kind. They brought me mangos in mango season and avocados in avocado season and coconuts all year round. They wanted to learn and they seemed to be a web in the city, always keeping an eye out for “the big white one” so that I was never harmed by the riots. It is all the harder to have lived among the poor – to have visited their homes – now that mine is so unnecessarily lovely.
It is easy to see sin when it is a big, bright, colorful beautiful dragon – when it is an extramarital affair or an intentional manipulation or an outright lie or a calculated betrayal. It does not stop us but it is easier to see. What is harder are the baby-water-moccasin-snake-sins. The small sins, which kill our souls with a thousand paper cuts – carelessness, mindlessness, unkindness, callousness, over-work, recreational eating and shopping and disinterest. I know of a child who died because the worms he was using to fish with kept biting him – he died later that day. They were not worms he had found. They were poisonous, baby water moccasins whose venom is much stronger the small they are (like scorpions) . I don’t need a savior for the bright, colorful dragons in Lent. I can see them. I can even, at times, avoid them. It is the many small slitherings which I find to be a challenge and for which I need Jesus today. Right now. A minute ago. And again, right now. And in a few minutes.