Many years ago I was travelling on a bus and sitting behind a taciturn old farmer. Beside him was a younger woman who worked as his housekeeper. Rumour had it that the woman was the farmer's illigitimate daughter although this was never publicly acknowledged. The bus stopped and the farmer got up to leave first. As he did so the woman stretched out her hand and brushed some stray debris from his overcoat collar. The woman WAS his daughter. I was sure if it. I could tell from the expression on her face and the gentleness of the gesture. I knew from experience that only a wife, a mother or a daughter would touch a man so.
In A.A.Tolkein's, 'Lord of the Rings', there is an account of another gesture. I find it the most deeply moving and suggestive passage in the whole saga. The, 'Lord of the Rings', is a the story of two bold hobbits, Frodo and Samwise, who succeed in destroying the Ring of Power in the fires of the Dark Lord where it was forged. If the Dark Lord had gained possession of the Ring before its destruction it would have meant the ruination of Middle Earth. The two hobbits, man like but furry footed, are joined in their quest by a strange, depraved, but not totally depraved, creature who lusts after the Ring. Gollum is the only real person in the book because he is so obviously fallen. But what was Gollum? - that snuffling, pale eyed, boney fingered, furtive being with an interest in riddles and an even keener appetite for fish.
The secret of Gollum's origins is revealed in a short but poignant incident. He has returned from business of his own and finds Frodo and Samwise sleeping. The story continues: 'Gollum looked at them. A strange expression passed over his lean, hungry face. The gleam faded from his eyes, and they went dim and grey, old and tired....... . Then slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo's knee - but almost the touch was a caress. For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time...'
The strange expression and faltering caress were a flashback to Gollum's past. Yes, he, too, was a hobbit and if you had witnessed the event you would have known. Can there be evidence of this sort for man's origin's - for that state of innocence that the Bible teaches. Are there any flashbacks to Eden?
In my early years as a worker at a Christian Camp I had the misfortune to be in charge of a tent full of awkward boys from Aylesbury. One of the tricks they liked playing was to spill their hot tea on the trestle table at which we sat and tilt it in my direction. One lovely Sunday afternoon I took these miscreants down onto the beach at Sheringham in North Norfolk to explore the rock pools in the flinty wavecut platform. They were fascinated. Their villainy was shed as a garment. The expression on their faces was one of rapt, innocent delight as they sampled one of nature's many wonders. It was a flashback to Eden when man in his innocence explored and marvelled at the creator's handiwork.
A BBC broadcast about Richmond Park on the fringes of London featured an eccentric, middle aged lady who spent part of every day feeding nuts to the grey squirrels. She knew her grey squirrels by name. They were her family and took nuts from her hand. There was an innocence in her pleasure that I have seen many times as goodwill is expressed to God's creatures. Whenever young children or old men feed the ducks there is a flashback to a different age; an age for naming the animals God made instead of exploiting them.
My grandfather was a market gardener. One afternoon I watched him pick chrysanthemums. He gathered the blooms reverently cradling them on one arm as lovingly as a tiny baby. He had about him an air of tranquility and innocence. He was completely forgetful of self. Most of us find it peculiarly satisfying and absorbing to gather the fruits of nature: blackberries, crab apples, wild nuts and mushrooms. This enchantment is a flashback to that time when gratitude for God's provision was exuberant and uninhibited.
We have all watched, with, perhaps, as the years pass something of a pang, two lovers on a beach. What silly games they play. Hand in hand they race against the breaking waves. They splash each other and find it hilarious to get wet. The girl finds it difficult to climb the breakwaters - any excuse to fall into her lovers arms. The young man finds a dead jelly fish - and the chase is on! They do not mind that they appear foolish. No one else seems to matter. There enjoyment of each other is what matters and there is an innocent quality to it. We gain a brief insight into the lighthearted, joyous, relationship of our first parents before guilt and self-consciousness intruded.
My father was a very wise husband. He would compliment my mother when he could. He would say after a good meal, "That was lovely, dear. I'm so glad I married a wonderful cook". Just for a moment my mother's face would light up and the smile which wreathed her face was beautiful in it's innocence. She wasn't at that moment proud of her culinary skills but, rather, happy at pleasing another. There it was, just for an instant, a flashback to Eden when man's greatest and unalloyed joy was to please his Maker.
I suppose there are those who would argue that I haven't given any scientific proof of man's age of innocence. I did not need scientific proof to convince me of the parentage of the young woman on the bus. All I needed was a gesture. My experience of human nature told me the rest.