I am sitting here eating my breakfast with Cain and Abel.
The first, but not last, glimpse we have into the complexity of sibling relationships in the Bible. If you haven’t read the story I highly recommend it though I am guessing that at first glance, or Google search, it will reveal Abel God approved of and Cain didn’t quite make the grade.
Abel tended sheep – his offering came from the substance of something he could see moving around, making sounds, it reproduced in front of him visibly and with a force that was akin to his own body’s rhythms.
Cain farmed – his offering came from the substance of seeds that were buried in the hard soil and the product of reproducing was hidden from sight. He had to tend what he could not see and hope for more.
Both were siblings relying on one another – literally for their “meat and potatoes.” They knew interdependency and working together to sustain a living and also the independence of each having their own way of being with God in creation.
I am making a huge assumption here – though I am a parent and I know a little about parenting our children – Adam and Eve taught their sons about goodness. My leap comes from the text because Eve says, “I have created a new human, a male chid, with the help of the Eternal” (sorry Adam, your seed got overlooked). I have held a newborn in my arms and felt utter joy – hope – vulnerability – abundance.
Stay with me I am adding one more assumption about how they parented these two brothers – they taught them about loss – fear – shame – scarcity.
Cain led the way and laid his offering down. Abel followed as he had seen his brother do. Abel returned to his sheep. Cain didn’t return to his farming, but stayed to see what his brother brought. Did he know in that moment he had more to bring?
In this book Whole, Steve’s second question from the text is
Am I my brother’s keeper?
This question is a defensive move but what is he really trying to defend when God is only asking him to look up vs. belly-button gazing? God is asking him to notice his anger not stuff it, run from it or justify it but to name it.
God’s pursuit of Cain is IN his anger. Could God be asking Cain to hold both joy/loss to see that fear/hope are interwoven, that scarcity/abundance is where God meets us.Could our anger be an invitation to notice where we are gazing?
I am Cain – I know the fear of investing in what feels hidden, watering soil and wondering IF anything will come up, let alone be harvestable. And so I have murdered my brother/sister by trying to choke out the nagging voice of comparison, rather than pausing to look up and see the face of my Creator.
I am Abel also – I have brought my very best to God and laid it down and then been “murdered” for it (misunderstood/judged/abandoned feels like murder to me).
“There is something terrifying about giving your best to god when you don’t know how you’ll get what you need.”
Relationships are hard! They require a continual returning to this place of being with one another and for one another in our differences and in our struggles. IF we try to do this with our eyes only on what is in front of us that we can see, we will miss the greater gift of what is struggling to come to life in and through the work of being in relationship.
“When you’re honest about where you are, and when you choose to trust instead of mistrust, you will be given the opportunity to test it out on another human being—your brother or sister. Trust isn’t a concept. It’s a way of being in relationship in which you seek mutual flourishing.”
I sat next to a 10 year old boy last night and in his squirrelly playfulness of hitting me and trying to get a rise out of me he interlaced his fingers with mine, rested his head on my shoulder and whispered – “I love you.”
Somewhere deep inside of Cain was a little boy that knew how to rest against the one he loved. He knew because he risked bringing an offering and there is no mention of him being asked to. Somewhere between the idea to give and the actual offering he began to fear and trusted scarcity vs. God. Wouldn’t a loving God see this shift and seek to guide him into a deeper place of returning to that sacred shoulder of love?
Someday I will be sitting across the table from this little boy that will be a man. I don’t know if he will be able to offer interwoven fingers and whispered words that sear my heart, but I do know that now is real. In this moment we have tasted abundance together. He will forget and it will be my responsibility to remind him of the goodness that is deep within him when he too finds and discovers both Cain and Abel within.
My breakfast is cold and my tea now has a curdled look on the top of it, but I want to thank Cain and Abel for being with me this morning – both continue to teach me about this risky and beautiful struggle of looking up…