Although the sand dunes cast a healthy afternoon shadow on the shoreline, evening beachgoers still hover to soak up what remains of the day’s fading sun.
The tide forcefully swallows the sand an inch at a time, while gulls snack eagerly on what’s left of earlier picnics. Children cast their kites into the air, capturing the magnificence of the wind. Lifeguards give one last look at what’s happening in the water. The sea is so clear and the sky so blue that only the tugboats gliding on the horizon can define the separation between the heavens and the earth.
I try to draw my son’s attention to all that is going on. I wouldn’t for one second want him missing out on the magnificence of the world around him. But a curious young age, he is lost in the white noise of waves against the shore, sand between his toes (and fingers, and ears and eyeballs) and the stories they form in his imagination.
In his oblivion, however, I wonder if this is what it was to be God’s very first human—taking the original glimpse at creation.
Genesis 2 speaks of a slice in time after the world had been created. God rested and Adam basked in the miracle of the garden. It is this verse that most defines our image of ancient Eden. Out of the ground came “every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food.” Rivers, four of them, flowed all around it. Natural wonders were plentiful and the entire image blessed, especially once a human entered the scene.
It may have been tempting for the first human to simply spend the day lounging on the riverside, swimming in the streams and plucking fruit from the trees to eat. But God had a much greater purpose in the creation of humanity, and that was cultivating and caring for the garden (Genesis 2:15).
The garden was not merely created for human enjoyment. The first man and woman had a responsibility to God and their surroundings from the moment of their first breath.
Even though our modern lives are far from the magnificence of the original garden, I’d argue that God’s expectation for our lives remains. He continues to breathe life into each of us through our mothers’ wombs; and the communities, neighborhoods and villages he places us in might as well be gardens yearning for our nurture, love and protection.
As I watch my son on the beach, I am more and more convinced that we are born with this knowledge. It is the world we grow older in that tells us something different.
It tells us of a garden, planted for our individual enjoyment, benefit and wealth. It tells of the waters, fruits and creatures that belong disproportionately to only those who have earned, bought or inherited them. The world does not tell us of the garden created for all of humankind’s benefit and the task assigned to the people placed within—ensuring that everything continues to flourish.
As adults, the world convinces us of a different role in the garden; but the little boy on the beach still knows his job.
In Genesis 2:19, God brought each of the animals he created before Adam and “Whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”
The crab scurrying across the beach, therefore, is “Pinchy.”
The dolphin in the distance is “Bottle”—the bottle-nosed dolphin.
And there is great concern for the jellyfish, named “Squishy,” whose unfortunate capture in the afternoon waves had left him stranded on the sand above the waterline. We cannot go on without response.
Gently with our emergency rescue instrument—a toy sand shovel—we scoop the magnificent formation of jellied water off the beach, wait for the incoming wave and release it back to its natural habitat.
After four to five more rescue excursions—Squishy’s mom, dad, cousins, grandma and papa—we flop down on the beach in satisfaction.
“The ocean is my friend, Mommy,” he says quite seriously, and I smile with admiration for his wisdom. As a child, he is still close enough to his own creation story to remember what it means to exist. He remembers what was meant when God created Adam and asked him to cultivate and care for his creation.
Meghann Cotter is executive director of Micah Ecumenical
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