Claude Joseph Vernet (1714-1789), Cain and Abel Bringing Their Sacrifices (1789), held in the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE), Confessions, from Book VIII, “Conversion”– What I now longed for was not greater certainty about you, but a more steadfast abiding in you. In my daily life everything seemed to be teetering, and my heart needed to be cleansed of the old leaven.7 I was attracted to the Way, which is our Savior himself, but the narrowness of the path daunted me, and I still could not walk in it.8 
Leonard Cohen – “Anthem” (from his album The Future, released 1992) –
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
Dear Peregrinus (the first Sunday in September):
Thank you for being in touch with both Tara and Mary, who think the world of you, and who love writing to you each summer. Your gentle way with both, having just the right touch with each, proves to me (as if I needed more proof) that you are good with people. Your “way” with them is your greatest, and most enduring, work of Art. It was also Jesus’ greatest work of Art.
You and I have spoken before about how I get “thrown” into biblical texts – a way that God gets my attention. Suddenly, I find myself inside a text, and I do not know why I am in there. It is as if I am in a “house of meaning”, a house that I never consciously chose to approach. But there I am.
When this happens, I learned that it was important to abide there and to begin to attend to that text (a pericope), working with it (reading it carefully; researching it; feeling its flow, and noticing who is there and what they do and think and feel). I learned to say, as once the young Samuel was taught by Eli to say, when he, Samuel, was about to meet God for the first time, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
1 Samuel 3 (NABRE) – 7 Samuel did not yet recognize the Lord, since the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 The Lord called Samuel again, for the third time. Getting up and going to Eli, he said, “Here I am. You called me.” Then Eli understood that the Lord was calling the youth. 9 So he said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” When Samuel went to sleep in his place, 10 the Lord came and stood there, calling out as before: Samuel, Samuel! Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
I never know what insights will come. I only know that inside a particular text “the Lord came and stood there” (v. 10) and that the Lord is lying in wait for me. And so, I lie in wait for Him, waiting for Him to illuminate that text, letting me see it freshly, and perhaps this time through, with greater wisdom.
And so eventually I understood that God teaches us not so that we can “know things” but so that we can know Him, learning incrementally how God perceives this world, the world that belongs to Him, not to us. The “light inaccessible” to which St. Anselm refers below is in the world (not beyond it as the Neoplatonists taught), accessible to us here – that Light by which we see what only God can see, but who in His kindness may let us see when it is time.
St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109 CE), from the Proslogion, Chapter 1 – 15 – O Lord my God, teach my heart where and how to seek you, where and how to find you. Lord, if you are not here but absent, where shall I seek you? 20 – But you are everywhere, so you must be here, why then do I not seek you? Surely you dwell in light inaccessible – where is it? and how can I have access to light which is inaccessible? 25 – Who will lead me and take me into it so that I may see you there? [St. Anselm of Canterbury. The Prayers and Meditations of St. Anselm with the Proslogion (Classics) (pp. 239-240). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.]
And so it happened that last week I was “thrown” inside the biblical text about Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-16). I hope that you open that text and re-read it with me.
But is it not true, that we already know that Cain is bad, and Abel is good? Didn’t God’s preferring of Abel and his sacrifice prove this? Wasn’t the fratricide by Cain proof of how bad he was?
But in concluding too quickly, we miss a great deal of what we ought to notice. For example, this story is far more about who God is than it is about what either Cain or Abel was like, or about what Cain did. To be honest, it was not until now, at 67-years old, that I am catching on. I have noticed these five things.
First Point. In our painting above – Cain and Abel Bringing Their Sacrifices – Vernet’s outsized presentation of the landscape has the effect of shrinking down to size both Cain up there on the left and his younger brother Abel down there on the right. They almost disappear in the rich, variegated abundance of the natural world.
There is theological insight in this re-setting of proportion. Human beings are so small a part of the vast gift of the created world, nay, of the universe. How desperately we need to learn the truth of our smallness. We act in too outsized a way on this planet. Recall God’s rugged and necessarily challenging speech to His servant Job:
1 Then the Lord* answered Job out of the storm and said:
2 Who is this who darkens counsel
with words of ignorance?
3 Gird up your loins* now, like a man;
I will question you, and you tell me the answers!a
4 Where were you when I founded the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its size? Surely you know?
Who stretched out the measuring line for it?
6 Into what were its pedestals sunk,
and who laid its cornerstone,
7 While the morning stars sang together
and all the children of God* shouted for joy? 
Don’t you love that last line, that verse 7, in Job 38?! How much (false) Religion in the world has its power from convincing people that they need to do something for God, to carry out specific actions in the right way and at the right time and in the right place.
It sure makes much more sense to me that God would be pleased to hear our spontaneous “shouts for joy” at the wonder of His works – to be happy in them as God is – and to see us luminous with admiration of Him … and all of this done whenever, with whomever, and wherever we are. I love how C.S. Lewis conceived of the Creator – Aslan, the Great Lion of Narnia – singing into being all things – a piece of the Great Song inside of each living and non-living thing … including human beings.
C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew, Chapter 9 – “The Founding of Narnia”, page 123 – The Lion [Aslan] was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun; a gentle, rippling music. And as he walked and sang the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool. It ran up the sides of the little hills like a wave.
Second Point. I noticed that Cain followed his dad in the family business – the works of the soil – agriculture and horticulture. Remember how God sent Adam (and Eve) into the hard work that any farmer is well able to describe.
Genesis 3: 23 The Lord God therefore banished him [Adam] from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he had been taken.
It was Abel who was the entrepreneur – the first to practice animal husbandry, so that the animals would supply to his family milk and hides and wool (humans were vegetarians until after the Great Flood described in Genesis 6-9).
I began to wonder whether part of Cain’s unsettled relation to his younger brother came from Abel’s apparent disrespect for the family business, and, therefore, for his dad, Adam.
I further wondered whether it was Eve, his mom, who was especially skilled with animals (having learned that in the Garden), and that it was she who had motivated Abel to learn the ways of the animals. But perhaps Abel was motivated by his knowledge of God, who had not cursed the animals (in Genesis 3:13-19), only the soil. And it was God Himself who showed the practical fruits of animal husbandry when He, so tenderly (!), made clothes for Adam and Eve out the animal hides – Genesis 3 – 21 The Lord God made for the man and his wife garments of skin, with which he clothed them. 
Perhaps Abel was not only honoring his mom’s particular gift with animals but also God, who knew exactly what to do with animal hides, and Who never once did, as far as we know, any farming!
Third Point. I noticed and considered how Cain and Abel would not even be standing there (notice how Vernet eloquently paints the physical distance between them as a sign of a developing “distance” happening between Cain and his younger brother) if they had not been conceived, in the normal way of human beings. Genesis 4 states, matter-of-factly: 1 The man had intercourse with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, saying, “I have produced a male child with the help of the Lord.”*
It occurred to me how we “bleach” our conception of Paradise of any reference to the sexual lives of Adam and Eve, in the beginning place, in the Garden of God. And because we do, we, again, assume some essential connection between the “fall” of Adam and Eve and the first appearance of them practicing their sexual lives together (Genesis 4:1). Why, I wondered, has it not occurred to us to ponder that the sexual lives of Adam and Eve in Paradise might have been one of the things that they got right, which was a source of joy and closeness for them both, something playful and life-affirming and artful? Could it be that their sexual lives were for them, well, to practice, while conception was solely up to God (notice the important phrasing at Genesis 4:1 – I have produced a male child with the help of the Lord.”)?
Fourth Point. It occurred to me to wonder how Cain, or Abel for that matter, or their parents, could have known what Death was. Paradise had no death in it. Death appeared for the first time in the human part of the world when Cain killed his brother.
I think of kids, our kids, from whom we wish to shield the reality of Death for as long as possible. But when suddenly a death happens, they suffer a profound confusion, an existential bewilderment – “How can this person or cat or dog or goldfish just die?” It never occurred to them that life could die. I remember when I was a boy, outfitted with my first-ever Crosman, pump-action BB gun, I shot a Robin right out of the sky. It lay dying on the ground, and I felt something dying inside of me. I really, really did not want Death in the world, and yet I had just brought it there. What I did that day still bothers me.
And so it must have been with Cain. I think that he could not possibly have murdered his brother, because “murder” requires, by definition, a deliberate intention to make someone dead. Cain, I do not think, would have known that death was possible.
God’s exceptionally tender way with Cain proves to me that God perceived the desperate bewilderment in Cain (esp. Genesis 4:13-14) and felt profoundly for him. Cain’s face was a study in startled incomprehension, numbness and shock pulsing in every part of him. “What happened to Abel? Why won’t he speak to me?” Cain would not yet have had a word for “dead”. And if Cain knew, as we assume that he did, that his parents had lived an undying life in Paradise (the two boys must have loved hearing those stories!), and who had sought immortality there (as their achievement, rather than as God intended it to be, as a gift), then Cain must have understood, to his horror, that it was he, the first-born (beloved of his parents as all first-born children are), who brought Death into the world – the un-immortality event. It must have been devastating for him.
Fifth Point. Did you notice God’s question to Cain – 6 Then the Lord said to Cain: Why are you angry? Why are you dejected? I think it of great importance that Cain had no answer to give.
Perhaps we readers assume (conventionally not insightfully), considering what later happens out in the field – 8 Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field.”* – that Cain knows why he is angry, why he feels so downcast. Cain did not have an answer for God, because he did not know why he was having these feelings, or what they were, and why they were so dangerous. I walked long among people so assailed by feelings of envy, who did not know it, who were unaware of how dangerous those feelings were, and who thought the danger resided in the person Envied, not in the Envier.
Envy can destroy someone (Job 5:2)
Do not envy those who do wrong (Psalm 37:1)
Do not envy the prosperity of wicked people (Psalm 73:2–3)
Envy steals your peace (Proverbs 14:30)
Envy is a powerful enemy (Proverbs 27:4)
Being envious is foolish (Ecclesiastes 4:4)
Envy can cause you to act rashly (Acts 7:9)
Envy characterizes sinful people (Romans 1:29)
We should not envy other Christians (Galatians 5:26)
Envy has no place in a Christian’s life (Titus 3:3)
Do not harbor envy (James 3:14–15)
Get rid of envy (1 Peter 2:1)
How could Cain have known the nature of the capital sin of Envy, which was already malevolently alive in him (children do not know about such things until they are taught, when they are old enough to understand). I think that God was in the process of teaching Cain about envy, about that which Cain was feeling, which was twisting him up inside. But then God was caught off guard at how quickly Cain succumbed to envy and its dark intent in him – Genesis 4: 10 God then said: What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!
Doesn’t it seem that God knows what is happening inside of Cain far better than Cain does? God’s question, filled with the kindness of a master Teacher, who knows when it is time for a student to learn something, asks: “Why?” God asks not in a condemnatory tone, not in a “gotcha” or threatening way. God asks, “Why, Cain? This is the question you must think about now. I will help you understand yourself if you wrestle now to understand this that you are feeling. It has a name.”
The biblical text minces no words that Cain made a terrible mistake, one that clearly damaged him (not to mention his brother). We hear that damage speaking when 13 Cain said to the Lord: “My punishment is too great to bear. 14 Look, you have now banished me from the ground. I must avoid you and be a constant wanderer on the earth. Anyone may kill me at sight.” It is the Snake’s/Satan’s own voice we hear coming from Cain’s mouth when he says – “I must avoid You.” (Capital sins distort profoundly a person’s image, and therefore understanding, of God.) God immediately recognizes that malign voice coming from Cain, and He stills it: “Not so!” (Genesis 4:15a)
Mark 4: 38 Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”* The wind ceased and there was great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” 41 *n They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”
Well, old friend, that’s it. That is what I found when inside that text. I have much yet to think about. Any thoughts?
Your old friend in Christ,
 I have taken this chilling statement of God to Cain and have subverted it, deliberately. Why? Because in the present American moment, and in our “culture of death” (a constant contemplation of Death in the News and on TV and in video games) – this description coming from the writings of St. John Paul II – we pay far too much attention to what Evil does in this story: the wrecking a good man, who was the first-born of the human race. Cain was beloved of his parents Adam and Eve (of course he was beloved by them!). And in paying attention to Evil and its effects, it is my conviction that we completely overlook what GOD does in this story, the enormous tenderness that God shows to Cain, helping him with kindness (but also holding him accountable) to a degree remarkable. You will see how I have subverted the text at its most chilling point, using that expression – “lying in wait” – in quite another way.
 From Grove Art Online at “Vernet Family” by Philip Conisbee and Dorathea K. Beard – “ Vernet probably received his first lessons in painting from his father, Antoine, who then encouraged him to move to the studio of Philippe Sauvan (1697–1792), the leading master in Avignon…. Imaginary landscapes and marine pictures account for the larger part of Vernet’s output in Italy. The marine paintings, always set on an Italianate coast, fall into two contrasting types: calm and storm. The storm pictures vary, depicting ships either in danger or actually wrecked; the calm views are particularized by their light, atmosphere and time of day or night. The landscapes also vary in the time of day depicted, but, except for an occasional stormy scene, their weather is benign. In this way Vernet introduced variety into his art…. Vernet’s international reputation had followed him from Rome to France, and to his British and French clients he added German princes and Russian nobles. From the 1760s to the 1780s no collection was deemed complete without examples of Vernet’s art…. The excellence of Vernet’s figure drawing and his mastery of gesture and expression brought his work close to the admired genre of history painting.”
*7 See 1 Cor 5:7–8.
*8 See Mt 7:14.
 Saint Augustine, The Confessions, Part I, ed. John E. Rotelle, trans. Maria Boulding, vol. 1, Second Edition., The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2012), 184.
 About this iconic song, deeply admired in Canada especially, see Brad Wheeler in the national newspaper, The Globe and Mail: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/music/article-leonard-cohen-anthem-oral-history/. Wikipedia notes: “Cohen [1934-2016] was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was invested as a Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation’s highest civilian honour. In 2011, Cohen received one of the Prince of Asturias Awards for literature and the ninth Glenn Gould Prize.”
 I am convinced how difficult it is for God to get our attention. And people purportedly, even avowedly, religious become a challenge for God, because they are convinced that they already know Who God is and what God must do in a particular circumstance. Because they know so much, they cease to let God get their attention and to teach them a broader, deeper, and wiser perspective. Jesus had a devil of time getting the attention of the religiously expert of his day, being compelled at times to use these adjectives to describe them: self-righteous, hypocrites, even “blind fools.” Jesus was not “name-calling”; He was describing them accurately but using such rugged language, finally, to get their attention.
 The Oxford English Dictionary at “to abide” – “transitive. figurative. Of a thing (esp. as fate, a surprise, punishment, etc.): to await, remain waiting for; to lie in wait for; to be in store for.”
 The Oxford English Dictionary at the 17th century noun “pericope” (purr-IK-o-pee) – “Chiefly Christian Church. A section or subsection of a religious text, esp. one appointed for reading in public worship; a lesson.”
 The Oxford English Dictionary at “to abide” – “transitive. figurative. Of a thing (esp. as fate, a surprise, punishment, etc.): to await, remain waiting for; to lie in wait for; to be in store for.”
 This discipline with sacred texts (from the Latin noun disciplīna meaning “teaching, instruction, training, branch of study, philosophical school or sect, system, practice, method, orderly conduct based on moral training, order maintained in a body of people”) is what taught me how to do the same when “reading” people, when suddenly I found myself in the presence of a person whom God wanted me to meet. They appeared; I “abided”, opening towards them, “lying in wait” for God to show me why He had brought this person to me.
 A way that I prefer to understand that gift of the Holy Spirit called “wisdom” is that “wisdom” is the illuminating of our minds (Augustine), the raising of our minds and hearts (Aquinas), so that we begin to perceive the world as God does, to see things as God does … as a habit.
 John 1:5 (J.B. Phillips) – “The light still shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out.”
 Anselm, Saint (ănʹsĕlm), 1033?–1109, prelate in Normandy and England, archbishop of Canterbury, Doctor of the Church (1720), b. Aosta, Piedmont. After a carefree youth of travel and schooling in Burgundy he became a disciple and companion of Lanfranc, the famed theologian and prior of the monastery at BEC, which Anselm soon joined (1060). Anselm became prior (1063) and abbot (1078) and brought widespread fame to the school there. Monastic holdings in England drew him into English public life, and he won the esteem of William the Conqueror. When Lanfranc died, Anselm succeeded him as Archbishop of Canterbury (1093). [Paul Lagassé, Columbia University, The Columbia Encyclopedia (New York; Detroit: Columbia University Press; Sold and distributed by Gale Group, 2000).]
 Claude Joseph Vernet (his painting up above) was in his day the master in Europe of landscape painting and, interestingly, of sea battle paintings.
 He finished this painting in the last year of his life, the year 1789, about which Britannica reminds: “French Revolution, also called Revolution of 1789, revolutionary movement that shook France between 1787 and 1799 and reached its first climax there in 1789—hence the conventional term “Revolution of 1789,” denoting the end of the ancien régime in France and serving also to distinguish that event from the later French revolutions of 1830 and 1848.”
 How do I know which is Abel? Because we know that Abel chose his finest animal to sacrifice, which meant that the fattiest part of that animal was being offered, burnt. See that thick smoke? Genesis 4: 4 while Abel, for his part, brought the fatty portion of the firstlings of his flock. [New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Ge 4:4.] That abundant smoke lets us know that that one is Abel’s fire and sacrifice.
 The Oxford English Dictionary at the adjective “variegated” – “Marked with patches or spots of different colours; varied in colour; of diverse or various colours; many-coloured, vari-coloured; spec. in Botany.”
 For example, I have been unsettled by the language we use about “fixing” the natural world – the climate we like to call it, as if that is the only thing in the natural world. There is no doubt that our ungoverned way (ungovernable, it often appears) of using the natural world (often despoiling it as we do so) is a death-dealing habit that we must own up to, and repent, so that our hearts and minds might be set free to be in the world in a non-exploitative way. But we can do very, very little to “fix” the natural world. We are simply too inconsequential in relation to so vast a System! The point is that the natural world is well able to “right” itself if we human beings re-learn how to live in it in an ordered, and grateful, way. The point is not “new technology” needing to be discovered and deployed; the point is learning how the natural world works and to live in sync with it. Its elegant patterns and processes will show us how to do that.
* Now the Lord enters the debate and addresses two discourses (chaps. 38–39 and 40–41) to Job, speaking of divine wisdom and power. Such things are altogether beyond the capacity of Job. Out of the storm: frequently the background of the appearances of the Lord in the Old Testament; cf. Ps 18; 50; Na 1:3; Hb 3:2–15.
* Gird up your loins: prepare for combat—figuratively, be ready to defend yourself in debate.
a Jb 40:2.
* Sons of God: see note on 1:6.
 When the whole point is to do God-like things in the way that Jesus did them: God’s demonstration of what a true human being looks like, acts like, feels, and endeavors, so that others might know and love God too.
 All of which the Institutions control. When real relationship is judged unnecessary, or too much work, relationships devolve into manipulations. “Relationships” become a field of combat where someone(s), or an Institution, tries to control the other, compelling them to do what he or she or it wants, or if they have enough formal power, to demand and threaten that they do … or suffer punishment.
 The Oxford English Dictionary at “horticulture” – “The cultivation of a garden; the art or science of cultivating or managing gardens, including the growing of flowers, fruits, and vegetables.”
It is important to notice that God formed “man” from the dust of the Earth, while Eve was formed “out of” that original being. This original “man” was the earth-creature as scholar Phyllis Trible translates it – the Hebrew ha-adam. It was a sexless but human being (we cannot conceive of such a thing), who only became sexual when Eve was created by God, a further gift for the enrichment of human being. Pamela Milne, for example, when speaking about Trible’s point: “The creation of woman last is part of that symmetry: Woman completes the creative process begun with the creation of ha-‘adam in Genesis 2:7 (variously translated as “man,” “the man” or “Adam”; ha is the definite article). This ‘adam need not necessarily be thought of as male. Rather, she argued, the Hebrew text presents us with a wordplay: ha-‘adam (“earth creature”) is created from the earth, ha-‘adamah. This earth creature remains basically sexless until the differentiation of female from male occurs in Genesis 2:21-23. Only with the advent of sexuality does the term ha-‘adam acquire the secondary meaning of “male”; but even then, it is an ambiguous term.”
 The Oxford English Dictionary at ‘husbandry” in relation to “animal husbandry” in particular – “Careful management; employment of a thing sparingly and to the best advantage; frugality, providence, thrift, economy.”
 I learned this from the Jewish biblical exegete, Nahum M. Sarna, commenting on Genesis 4:2 – “keeper of sheep … tiller of the soil – Adapting to the new ecological conditions encountered outside Eden, human society produces a mixed subsistence economy based on stockbreeding and agriculture. Labor becomes specialized. Cain, the first-born, follows his father’s occupation, while Abel branches out to new areas. The two parts of the economy supplement each other. Since, in the biblical view, mankind was vegetarian until after the Flood, the function of animal husbandry at this point was to supply milk, hides, and wool.”
* The Hebrew name qayin (“Cain”) and the term qaniti (“I have produced”) present a wordplay that refers to metalworking; such wordplays are frequent in Genesis.
 The pun accidentally intended.
 He did, however, commit a homicide, a fratricide.
* Let us go out in the field: to avoid detection. The verse presumes a sizeable population which Genesis does not otherwise explain.
 The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. – “seven deadly sins. They are: (1) pride; (2) covetousness; (3) lust; (4) envy; (5) gluttony; (6) anger; (7) sloth (‘accidie’).
* Quiet! Be still!: as in the case of silencing a demon (Mk 1:25), Jesus rebukes the wind and subdues the turbulence of the sea by a mere word; see note on Mt 8:26.
* Jesus is here depicted as exercising power over wind and sea. In the Christian community this event was seen as a sign of Jesus’ saving presence amid persecutions that threatened its existence.