This post is a story-sermon by Trevor Dennis,
Vice-Dean of Chester Cathedral.
One hot afternoon Adam and Eve, unselfconsciously naked, sat on the bank of one of the rivers of Eden, dangling their feet in the water. Eve picked up a flat round stone, stood up and flicked it in twelve graceful bounces right across to the other side.
‘Who taught you to do that?’ asked Adam.
Adam turned towards God, ‘Did you really?’
‘And could you teach me?’
‘Of course. Watch.’
God stood up, chose a stone carefully, kissed it, curled his finger round it, and, with a movement of his wrist too quick to catch, sent it spinning downstream. It went almost as far as Adam and Eve could see, then swung round in a tight circle and came speeding towards them again, till with one last bounce it skipped back into God’s hand. It had hit the water two hundred times, and had left two hundred circles spreading and entwining themselves upon the surface. From the middle of each circle a fish leaped, somersaulted, and splashed back into the river.
‘Now you try!’ God said.
Adam pushed him into the water. God came to the surface a few yards out from the bank. ‘That was level ten, by the way.’ he called. ‘Eve’s only at level two at the moment. Aren’t you Eve?’
‘You were showing off, God,’ said Eve. ‘You’ll be walking on water next.’
‘That’s level twenty.’ laughed God, and promptly disappeared beneath the surface.
So it was once in Eden. So it can be still. So it is, on rare and precious occasions. But Adam and Eve complicated matters. They grew up to think flicking stones child’s play. They turned in upon themselves, and God remained out of sight, beneath the surface. They did not sit with him on the bank any more. Now and then, realizing their loneliness and overcome with sudden longing, they would gaze out across the water and see the ripples he left behind. But these were soon gone, and the water would resume its customary smoothness, as if nothing had happened, as if he had never been there. The Garden had ceased to be for them a holy place.
So they went in search of one. They left Eden behind. It was, after all, too small a place, too familiar. It held no surprises for them any more. They supposed they had nothing more to learn there, except for getting to levels ten or twelve, but that was child’s play, not worthy of their ambitions.
God followed them at a distance. Sometimes they could hear his footsteps behind them Occasionally he came so close they could feel his breath on the backs of their necks. Very occasionally he sat down with them and shared their food and made the spot and once a holy place. Yet they were never satisfied for long. They would move on, hoping for more, yearning, though they did not realize it, for the days when they could sit with their feet in the waters of Eden, and push God in and hear him laugh, and marvel at what he could do with a round pebble and a flick of the hand.
It had all been so natural then. Perhaps it had not been child’s play, after all. Perhaps it had been God’s play. Perhaps they were the same thing. When such thoughts as these broke the surface of their minds, then God seemed, indeed was, very close once again.
Adam and Eve did not stay just Adam and Eve for very long. They had been told to be fruitful and multiply, and so they were and so they did, until, no longer only a couple, they became a family, then a clan, a tribe, a people.
The clan invented what they called ‘religion’, and the tribe and the people set about improving it. God was still following, at a distance. He carried a tent on his back, with the centre pole tied across his shoulders. The clan and the tribe tried to organize him. They told him where to pitch the tent, and the times when he should be there to meet them. But a sense of direction and punctuality did not seem to be among his strengths. Too often his tent was nowhere to be seen, or when they found it and raised the flaps to peer inside, he seemed not to be there.
The people said the whole idea of meeting God in a tent was absurd, if not an insult. They forgot it belonged to God and that he carried it himself on his back. They decided to make him a much finer place, one that could not be moved, one that was solid, predictable, fit for a king certainly, and suitable, thy hoped, for a god. So they built him a temple in the heart of their capital city, next to the palace of their king, and nearly as big, overlaid its walls with gold and ivory, painted heaven on its ceilings, filled the air between with incense and sweet song, and became very serious about it all.
God arrived there one day, when the people were so engrossed in what they were doing, that they were not expecting him at all.
‘Do you have balloons here?’ God enquired.
‘Balloons?’ they replied, ‘Balloons? Balloons are child’s play. We are serious here.’
‘Oh,’ said God, and retreated out of the door. He had propped up his tent in the entrance. He picked it up again, tied the pole across his shoulders, and went back to to Eden, to flick some pebbles.
The first one bounded three hundred times, went round in three circles and had the fish doing triple Salchows. ‘Level twelve,’ murmured God. But no one heard him.