“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves”
The story of the Fall is familiar to all of us: disobedience, blame, exile, death. But before the angel bars our first parents from returning to Eden, before they are sentenced to a life of toil and sweat, let us consider for a moment the full impact of Adam and Eve first recognizing their nakedness before one another.
It was not solely modesty that propelled the couple to clothe themselves with fig leaves. It was equally a sudden, terrible understanding of their vulnerability — the realization that each had the power to take advantage and wound the other. The fig leaves, as flimsy as they were, served as armor as much as clothing.
And so, there in the Garden, with the taste of forbidden fruit still on their lips, Adam and Eve are introduced not only to relationships based on power (“your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” – Gen 3:16), but also to the inevitable war and strife that follows such a structuring of human interactions.
Yet all was not lost. The Protoevangelium promised a Savior, and thousands of years later, He came. His birth was lauded by angelic beings, who promised that both peace on Earth and goodwill to men would be possible through this tiny baby swaddled in a manger. Prince of Peace, He would be known. His people would be commanded to make straight the paths for Him, to work to align roads that had been made twisted by sin and war and strife.
This second Sunday of Advent, we are exhorted:
“Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery;
put on the splendor of glory from God forever:
wrapped in the cloak of justice from God”
Justice and peace shall kiss, the Psalm promises us. And in this second week of Advent, our attention is directed to ways this will happen. God will call all His children to Him, call us from all the corners of the earth. Ways formerly twisted and hard will be made straight and easy. We will be like people dreaming- our mouths will be filled with laughter, and our tongues rejoicing.
But what does this look like in our modern world? What does it look like when war and strife cease, ushering in peace, but with justice is also satisfied?
For a contemporary answer, we need to first look back 128 years ago, to a frozen creek bed in South Dakota called Wounded Knee. There, members of the U.S. Calvary disarmed hundreds of Lakota who had been rounded up and brought to the site. The situation quickly spiraled into chaos and death, as perceived resistance on the part of the Lakota resulted in the Calvary opening fire and ultimately killing more than 200 unarmed men, women, and children.
While the 1990 centennial of the massacre was marked by both houses of the US Congress passing a resolution marking “deep regret” over the events, the union of peace and justice seemed far off. How do progeny of such violence, both victim and victimizer, fulfill the prayer of Paul in this week’s readings, that we all be:
“pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
filled with the fruit of righteousness”
Enter Basil Brave Heart, a Lakota Catholic, and Brad Upton, the great- great- grandson of the man who led the soldiers in the assault on the people at Wounded Knee. Upton first became aware of his ancestor’s actions as a child, when a relative showed him pictures of the corpses of slain Lakota, images that seared themselves into Upton’s heart. He wondered if such sins of violence may have echoed down through the generations, and been partially responsible for tragedies suffered by people in his family tree.
Through the straightening of very crooked paths, God made it possible for Upton to meet up with Basil Brave Heart, whose own people had suffered at Wounded Knee. Brave Heart had been raised by his grandmother to reject resentment against those who had committed that violence, but rather to seek healing. That is where justice dwells- in the seeking of forgiveness, in healing and the forming of community. The two men met, and Brave Heart led a healing ceremony, a prayer service where justice and peace could meet in Christ.
In Upton’s words, the ceremony was “completely transformative…[p]art of my prayer is to return again and again and be accountable to the Lakota Nation and heal with them.” Brave Heart described the relationship as “something in sacred motion”.
“Something in sacred motion”. In these words, we see the true victory that is often hidden behind the Fall. Beyond the disobedience and vulnerability and sin, we see the promise of redemption. Through the lens of Salvation History, we see that God has set something in sacred motion, and that something is the healing of all wounds, if only we will set aside our fig leaf armor and humble ourselves to cooperate with Him.
Advent is the ideal time to work such healing, to allow our hearts to forgive and be forgiven, thus allowing more room for the Divine Infant to be born within us, and within our world.