In writing Ruby Slippers, I often imagined what life would have been like for the first women, what her experiences would have been of God, of Man, of the earth. For to understand Eve is to understand much of who we are as women, East of Eden, today.
Would she have been stronger? Would she have been fuller, richer, more fitted to this earth than her daughters feel now? Was did the judgement do to her?
Every once in awhile you stumble upon a book that holds all the hope and imaginative power that you longed for. I have found Eve's story in Tosca Lee's new novel, Havah: The Story of Eve. As sumptuous as Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, but distinct in that Lee is theologically accurate (she does not depart from the Biblical text--something so rare and exquisite to find in a well-written novel today). It is so good that I urge you to go out and borrow, buy, but by all means read this new book.
The story is rich with dignity for the first woman, Havah, a name Lee uses for Eve, a name that sounds like the gasp and exhalation of breath. Lee gives us the story from her perspective, how she awakes for the first time and is known by God and by Man. It is replete with her sense of being needed on earth, with the mutual partnership between the first man and woman and the total effacing power of the first judgment on their lives.
This book begins with these words,
"I have seen paradise and ruin. I have known bliss and terror.
I have walked with God."
This is an Eve that knows God, not just mediated through Adam's words, but through her own experience, her own walks and runs (as you'll see) with God. Lee draws on historical research, theological insight, apologetic depth to show us: how woman was meant to be, the romance between equals, the way the first Adam reflected her first love, God himself. How Havah could say after Adam "I knew then he was as much mine as I was his." How all creation constantly hummed with communication to one another. How man and woman could speak without words.
Lee walks us through Eden where we can understand how the serpent could have beguiled her so well, the attractiveness of his words, his wisdom. She shows how the Man was with her when she ate and how he could have eaten along with her. She explains the sinless hunger for each other's bodies and souls in the first time a man and woman made love, made a home together in Eden.
And it's all in a novel! So that means it was a delight to read. I scarfed it down in a week, making furious notes, noting how much really changed by the judgment. I particularly appreciated how subtly Lee shows us the beginning of sin in human society, relationships, how men began to use their wives and failed to see them as co-image bearers. How idolatry crops up, how Havah and Adam are afraid to speak of what they had lost. All of it, the first sacrifice, the first murder, the first marriage are understandable, relatable, horrible and yet we do not feel angry, only the pain and depth of the sin. We are living beyond the valley of Eden, we are thick in the sin, her judgment. In so many ways we are living Havah's story today.
And yet, a pin-prick of light remains in Havah's life, when Adam, even in his last days, buries his head in her neck and whispers, "I can still taste the earth of that valley in you." She is the last piece of paradies to her, and he to him. And yet for most of the novel, their silence, their broken communication will rend your heart. It clawed at all that I longed for for them, it tortures you as you read of their life outside the valley of Eden, this unbearable weight of separation. The two can rarely be one flesh. When Havah, in the last, pages, dies, still outside the garden where she was made to live in forever, you glimpse a hope. But I will leave that for you to discover.
Read this for a refreshment of how we were first made to walk, how we now limp and how we all hunger for the redemption of everything we know, our bodies, our souls, our relationships, our earth.
My favorite scene was near the beginning with Havah learns she can run with all the eagerness and bold self-knowledge of a woman who needs neither modesty or restraint,
"I raced across the southern hills, leaping rock and shrub and stream. I was a great runner. I lifted my knees high as I hurdled shrub and bush and stream. Laughter bubbled up from my belly as I took to the foothills, past the grazing onager. It brayed after me, and the sound was like laughter. I knew the adam watched me from below, and that the exuberance of my legs and quickness of my breath accelerated his heart. I knew, too, when he launched after me, but he was no match for my start or my speed. Only Levia, the lioness, was my equal.
I bounded down the hills toward the valley floor. It was midday, and the sun was hot upon me, and its rays loved me, warming the dark honey of my skin, beading sweat between my breasts and among the hairs at my nape. I was small-breasted then, lean as the new colts.
See me! My soul shouted. Watch me run! I ran through the valley like the wind through the meadow in spring. I was tireless, euphoric at my great strength and with the One who had given it to me. I ran faster and faster--faster than I have seen any woman or man run since.
In my soul I heard laughter--first of the adam, from where I left him in the meadow--but more brightly and keenly--of God. Then--oh, great mystery, such a moment! There came a rush of wind and warmth that was not the sun. It was at my shoulder, in my ear and my face: the One that Is, running alongside me, his laughter honey in my ear" (Havah, p 38).
It made me hunger for my God and ache for the redemption of all things.
Stay tuned for next time, an interview with Tosca Lee.