There are two trees. And I’m almost always walking towards the wrong one.
One is the tree of life, the fruit of which brings us into complete union with God and his love. It changes everything about the way we show up in the world, freeing us to express our own divinity in beautifully diverse ways. It fills those who hunger and thirst with living waters and the bread of life, forever nourishing them.
The second is the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The fruit tastes good, soothes our basic desires, gives us access to seeing some things, but ultimately keeps us wanting to come back for more. Temporary satisfaction, but the hunger remains. It makes sense, we were warned that this tree would not bring life. We grasp for the fruit of knowledge often, when what we really need to satisfy our souls is the fruit of the first tree, the tree that God offered to us freely from the beginning.
I’ve thought about these two trees a lot the last few years. I’ve wondered just how literal the creation story is, or if it says far more about our personal creation process. It has opened me up to seeing a lot of things about myself and my experiences that I hadn’t been able to see before.
I used to think it seemed spiteful to place cherubim and a flaming sword in front of the tree of life just because Adam and Eve made a mistake. Super harsh. But now, I see the purpose of cherubim’s refining fiery sword that both cuts away the residue of life’s baggage that builds like a plaque around our hearts and also instantly cauterizes the wound of the transformation, comforting those that mourn after they’ve emptied themselves in preparation for the ultimate filling. Cherubim doesn’t chase you down for daring to walk to the tree of life, he stands as sentinel, keeps the way, and let’s you borrow his sword when you’re ready to make a clearing for the mystery of God’s eternal love.
I used to think that eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge would make me wise and like God. Until I remembered that it was Satan that told me I needed to do that. God told me I already was divine, created in his image, and I could eat of the tree of life freely. But I was blinded by the craftiness of the accuser who convinced me I wasn’t worthy and that I needed to know specific things in order to be like Father. Then this knowledge, in all of its claiming certainty, kept me blind to even greater mysteries and became the very baggage that cherubim was charged with destroying.
I used to think that getting answers to questions and developing a testimony based on knowing things would save my soul, afraid that not knowing enough might leave me less than godly. I thought that faith was useful as a step to that end, not realizing that faith is something different. Faith is our acceptance of the unknown in a way that brings us to a place of completely trusting God to sustain us. And he does sustain us, leading us directly into the mystery. Faith is the path that leads to the tree of life. The path that leads to the other tree is fear. Fear of being wrong, fear of not knowing, fear of falling short, fear of being deceived. Faith and fear are two different paths. Asking questions and needing answers are two different paths.
Last night I asked God if the Book of Mormon is true. I love the Book of Mormon. I love the characters, the stories, and my many contemplative experiences inspired by its verses. But, it’s not without its problems, so I’ve asked and received answers to this question many times before. This time, I came with a different purpose. This time, I was willing to just have the question. I didn’t need a definitive and unapologetic “yes”, and I also didn’t need a definitive and actionable, “no”. I just wanted to sit with the question as an experience and see what happened. It went something like this:
Me: Is the Book of Mormon true?
Abba: Is that your question? You realize that’s a loaded question, right? No matter what answer you get you’ll be able to twist it around to whatever feels the most comfortable. Is that what you want?
Me: No, I guess not. I don’t think I’m really looking for an answer, but since we’re here… why is it a bad question?
Abba: I didn’t say it was bad, just loaded, and honestly not very useful to you anymore. You see, if I say “yes”, you’ll take that as meaning all sorts of other things about the origin of the book, the historicity of the book, the life and teachings of my son, Joseph, and all sorts of other things that my “yes” doesn’t necessarily mean. If I say “no”, you’ll take that as meaning the exact opposite of all of the “yes” assumptions. Either way, it’s only going to lead you into more assumptions and claims that won’t help you stay open to the mystery of reality that is far more nuanced and simple than anything you can come up with.
Me: Wow. Okay. So is there a better question?
Abba: No. There are no good or bad questions. There are only questions that come from faith and questions that come from needing answers. Why are you here?
Me: I want to say faith, but I guess because I want an answer.
Abba: Yeah, I could see that before you knelt down. It’s okay, life feels rough sometimes and certainty feels like comfort. Do you want certainty?
Me: Is there anything else?
Abba: What do you think?
Me: It feels like there could be something else. Actually, it feels like not needing to know, and trusting you to sustain and guide me moment by moment, is more comforting. There’s no guilt about the past or worry about the future. Just presence. Like breathing out instead of always trying to breathe in.
Abba: So, what do you want?
Me: I want to breathe out. I’m ready. I can see the two trees, and that I’ve been walking towards the wrong one. I’m ready to walk towards the tree of life, towards the mystery, towards love…
Me: Wait! There’s cherubim there! Um, maybe I’m not ready. No, I’m definitely not ready. Actually, I’m a little terrified.
Abba: Look at cherubim. What does it say to you?
Me: There are no enemies here.
Me: Okay, I’m ready, kind of. Is that enough? To only be kind of ready?
Abba: You are always enough.
Me: … <<goes to take a step towards an unpredictable experience with cherubim>>
Abba: Wait, is the Book of Mormon true?
Me: It doesn’t matter.
I used to think that knowing answers and how to get answers was the only way to feel safe. I’ve been walking towards the wrong tree most of my life.
Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Turn towards me, and I will receive you.
Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely. (Alma 5:33–34)