I Was Afraid and I Hid Myself: Whitterings, December 2005

“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of Thee in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked: and I hid myself.”
The Book of Genesis 2. 8-10

This summer I went to my old parish church of St Michael and All Saints in Edinburgh where I had been a parishioner for many years. The Sunday I visited the guest preacher was The Rt. Rev’d Douglas Cameron, the Sometime Lord Bishop of Argyll and the Isles (a Diocese which boasts not only two British Cathedrals but also notable ones: the smallest {Millport; The Islands} and the ugliest {Oban; Argyll}). He preached on this passage and it forms the basis of this short meditation.

It is said that one of the hardest things in the world is just to be yourself. To put it in a more Christian language: one of the hardest things is to accept that you are already loved by God. We believe theologically that we are loved by God. It is the central tenant of our concept of the Atonement and Redemption. The Tranfigurative realisation of this is quite another matter. It is difficult to accept emotionally that we are loved just as we are. Our instinct is to hide among the trees. We know we are naked and we are ashamed.

I have often thought that damnation occurs not because God will not look upon us with compassion and forgiveness but that we will be unable to accept it. When we are finally in the presence of the Almighty we will be totally overcome with shame by our weakness, dirtiness and unworthiness – our nakedness. Those who have not learned trust and submission – faith, will be unable to raise our eyes to meet His. We will choose to remain hidden among the trees. I believe in a rough idea of the doctrine of Purgatory, the place of purification. It is that time (a useless concept of chronos within the realm of eternity or God’s time - kairos) that we come to trust and purify ourselves enough to raise our eyes in Humility to the eyes of Love itself and accept Salvation. Archbishop Michael Ramsey, former Archbishop of Canterbury and unofficial Anglican Saint, said that hell must exist because of the Doctrine of Free Will but that he was doubtful that there was actually anybody there. Instead he believed that the naked were all waiting the time when they could accept their nakedness and accept God’s love for them and come out from among the trees. The parallels with the Parable of the Prodigal Son are obvious.

This shame in our own nakedness belies us at every corner. It makes us stiff and careful, unguinine and detached. It makes spontaneity difficult and in time leads to the calcification of the heart. These are the stone hearts the Prophet Ezekiel speaks of. It makes it difficult to be ourselves. It makes it difficult to accept love and therefore difficult to love anyone else.

“You can’t get any popcorn, child. The machine is out of order. See, there is a sign on the machine. But he didn’t understand. After all, he had the desire, and he had the money, and he could see the popcorn in the machine. And yet somehow, somewhere, something was wrong because he couldn’t get the popcorn.

The boy walked back with his mother, and he wanted to cry. And Lord, I too felt like weeping, weeping for people who have become locked in, jammed, broken machines filled with goodness that other people need, and want and yet never come to enjoy, because somehow, somewhere, something has gone wrong inside.” Andre Aneia

Sometimes those who hide can become very good at it. Richard Holloway, when he was Lord Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, once said to me that I had rather sealed my own fate. I was sitting talking to him in his living room about something (probably some minor ecclesiological concern foreshadowing the end of the Church that I had come to see him about) when he stopped me in mid sentence (rather a feat in itself) and just looked at me for a long time. Then he said something like, “the point of masks is for people to see through them and start to pry them off. Your mask is too clever. You use yourself as your mask. When you use the truth to keep others at bay they will never be able to see the mask and can not rip it off.” That day he saw me, and saw me with eyes of compassion. It was an important event for me to see myself though his eyes if only for a moment. I have always loved him for that. I had learned to be clever and analytical and to hide behind the illusion of self knowledge and profundity.

“Anyone can whistle, that’s what they say – easy. Anyone can whistle any old day-easy. I can slay a dragon I can read Greek – easy. I can dance the tango any old week – easy. What’s hard comes simple, what’s natural comes hard. So maybe you can show me how to let go, lower my guard, learn to be free. Maybe if you whistle, whistle for me.”
Stephen Sondheim

The entire time that we are hidden among the trees the Lord is calling to each of us, “Where are you?”. He waits for all eternity for us to come out and face him. How frightening and yet how beautiful. The courage to come out of hiding is, for many of us, the goal of the spiritual life. All of our life’s experience is training for this great enterprise. All love is training for acceptance of the great love. All relationships a reflection of that one great relationship. We fear the voice in the garden calling to us but even more we fear that we will not be able to answer it. So day by day we try again and again to pluck of the nerve to creep out of the foliage and go to Him.

I end with a quote that has unfortunately become something of a cliché for many in the church because of its overuse in the 70’s by a certain type of cleric. However I will risk it. It is the words of the Skin Horse to the Velveteen Rabbit.

“’What is real? Asked the rabbit ‘Does it happen all at once, or bit by bit?’ ‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the skin horse, ‘you become’. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are real you can’t be ugly, except to those people who don’t understand.”