There are many legends about the gates of paradise. One says when we were exiled from Eden, God told the Cherubim to stand with burning swords at those gates. The gates were sealed. Roaring flames obscured the entrance from the world. This story appears in Genesis 3:24.
The Cherubim guarded the gates for millennia. No one was given a whole vision of paradise. We’d fallen away and couldn’t find the returning path to the tree of life in the garden. The Cherubim were terrifying with their imposing four faces—human, lion, bull, and eagle; but, strangely, their cloaks were coloured a deep sky blue, a welcoming shade.
People sometimes had glimpses of Eden. A sound played from paradise, like the sound of a crystal bell. The scent from the tree of life wafted across a field. A kiss, like your first one, tantalized you. A poem offered an inkling of the original language. A meeting of friends, a betrothal, a marriage, a birth, a death, a funeral, provided moments of transcendence from routine.
All these glimpses and scents had escaped through cracks in the gates of Eden. Nevertheless, the gates remained closed. The fiery Cherubim kept their swords ready.
There’s another legend.
At a point the gates of paradise were opened. God sent the Cherubim to other guardian tasks. The invitation back to paradise was transmitted everywhere.
This welcome was relayed. Its message said, return—the starry shore, the glittering floor, are yours again. The gates of Eden stand open.
There were rumours that the opening had come. Some people misinterpreted the rumours. The possibility that the gates of Eden were open was called Armageddon or The Rapture. These were imminent ends through war or an extraterrestrial intervention (an ET ex machina). People began to take shifts in weather patterns to be signs. The clairvoyant, and the so-called clairvoyant, prophesied the end: nature would supplant technology; electricity would fuse out and we’d return to a golden state without machines. Movies and books provided catastrophic visions, shivers of dread.
The gates of Eden had opened. But the flood that came through them had a new shape. It looked like big data. The data battery seemed to sharpen into the callings of wisdom and the summoning of prophecy. It was hard to know if this was merely a seeming, nothing else. Experts and soothsayers appeared, and it was difficult to know if they were wiser or more gifted with insight than others.
Messages crisscrossed. Technologies appeared that amplified and accelerated the messages. Sometimes these were like a calling out to eradicate loneliness: often they made loneliness worse. Whatever was happening, it was an overflow—the abundance was a deluge.
The legend said, the gates of Eden would stay open for long enough to allow people to find it, each according to the paths they’d chosen for themselves.
The realist’s question about the legend was this: where, exactly, are the gates?
How many of us have arrived at gates and looked into the promise of paradise, and said—no, thank you, I prefer suffering and slavery. How many have said I want to keep working for the Structure which encourages the pleasure of exploitation and the addiction to security.
Exegetes of the legend suggested that the gates of Eden are a metaphor for our senses. We must taste, touch, hear, smell, and see, in a quintessence, to sense how paradise is around us. Other exegetes said paradise is in the imagination. Still others said the gates are made of streams of love. Others again said the gates are concepts of justice: all must march through so that the distribution of its bounty is fair.
Pessimists said, since we live in exile—in cool desperation—it may take longer to get back to paradise: we aren’t ready for it. Still others asked how long we have before the gates close again.
But there’s another legend.
It´s called the legend of exile.
In this story it was said that it is alright to cry out, to call up, to chant and sing, to speak out, to refuse to be a doormat, to confess, to murmur and groan, to call out your lover’s name, to look for symbols, to follow the signs that were left by others who’d made their journey through the wilderness and to speak to your companions while you did so, to express a new idea, to act in love. All of this carried the traces of Eden. Open your mouth and a breath will begin to flow through. This is to say, we carry paradise, and we must find its opening for ourselves.
An opening is a time of extreme vulnerability.
Who knows what will be said?
Who knows what will come through the opened passages?
But what will happen if the gates close again and the moment passes? Could the gates be closed by fear?
The last legend: the gates of Eden are open and could close; the opening is brief. If they close again, we will have to wait for another millennium. The Cherubim would be asked to return with their flaming swords and told to stand guard for centuries. Terror would win. Minds would close, and so would our dreams.
Maybe we are being asked to choose the legend that speaks to us.
“Where Seas and Fables Meet: Aphorisms and Parables” BW Powe (Guernica) 2015
I choose the legend that has the gates open long enough for us each to find it; to enter and savour. I’m lucky enough to continually enjoy tastes of what lies beyond the gates here and now in my life through love, beauty in nature, music and art.
Lovely and thought provoking piece, Bruce.