'I was vowed to liberty. Men were to be as gods, and earth as heaven.' Robert Browning.
Ever since Eve was seduced by the serpent while Adam looked on, last Friday was it? - or Tuesday? - I forget, her children have been plagued by a desire to return to the idyll of Eden and to innocence.
There, everything was of a piece. Time was timeless. Language was the inspired communication of all the senses at once. Body, mind and spirit were entwined in a joyous interface that set the scene for success and happiness in all undertakings, and the slip between cup and lip, so to speak, was unknown.
No Decalogue was yet devised to keep our primogenitors address-tagged and mindful of their true home. (Darwin still has a place.) There were no Fauvists, Cubists or Pre-Raphaelites, no practitioners of the Impressionist and Expressionist schools. There was no Canova, Bernini or Michelangelo to beguile them with petrified ghosts of immortality. There was no call for Shakespeare, Ibsen, Tolstoy or Salinger to spin their deep-textured tales and pour wisdom into deafened ears. Furthermore, and a searing index of how consummate their bliss, there was not the faintest need of Mozart and Beethoven, Bach, John Tavener or Bose Ltd!
Adam and his spouse were engulfed in a state of being that naturally incorporated surround sound; they were living the vision. And what a vision it was! A multi-dimensional world of rainbows and efflorescence, abundant fruit and gem-paved pathways, and everything exuding the same radiant energy.
The beginning was a golden time. The tenants of the Garden were as free as air. Or birds. Or fish. Or snow leopards. Or forest gazelles. They could soar with the eagle and dive with the dolphins, interpret the sonar vibrations of the seas, the glistening tick of the cricket in the meadow and the chirrup of the wren in the hedgerows. They could call constellations into being, just for the wonder of it, and dissolve themselves in the spectral colours of a raindrop.
No delight they could imagine was denied them. But there was just one proviso to keep all this in place. The tree at the heart of the Garden was out of bounds. Its pendulous crop, glowing and gilded, must be ignored. That seemed a small price to pay, for Adam and Eve did not yet know how to covet.
All was well, until one day, Eve chanced to walk where the lilies blow. They bloomed near water cascading into a rockpool that was dappled with sunlight and shaded by the mysterious Tree. There she lingered, caught up in the Music of the Spheres, when the breath was suddenly snatched from her throat. The first frown etched her features. A stifled note was struck. A sibilant note that crept and wound and bound the sound, pinning the Music to staves from which it was impossible to fly. A breeze whispered across the surface of the water, disturbing it with a pattern like angels' wings and seemed to speak of other presences.
At that moment, Eve caught sight of the golden snake coiled amiably about the branches, peering between the luscious globes of fruit. He observed her, smiling, and her heart, which had not learnt to fear, did not recoil.
“Come eat,” said the snake, “and you will see what you are missing. You will become as wise as God. The husband who gazes in adoration upon your being will know that you are beautiful and to be forever desired.”
Eve looked down at her reflection and saw that she was indeed beautiful and wished the angels' wings away so that her image was less blurred. She stretched to the highest place her arm could reach and plucked the fruit and bit into its juicy pulp and savoured it.
“Adam, taste, oh taste,” she cried, “this fruit has the most succulent flesh of all.”
“Then we may eat and not sicken?”
He took and ate and it was indeed delicious. The pair were beside themselves with ecstasy to have penetrated the mind of God. They could be in control of their own destiny without let or hindrance. How impoverished seemed the paths of humility which required them to be beholden to their Creator, trusting him like a parent.
Soon the sun began to set, the shadows of evening gathered and the air grew chill. The couple knew that they were naked and, of themselves, without sustenance. Then they heard the footfall of the Lord God upon the stepping stones and were filled with dismay. The spirit of Nemesis stalked them. The lustre was fading fast and the Garden, though hauntingly beautiful, was suffused with a knowledge of blight.
The Lord God was as greatly displeased as he was disappointed. He seemed to have taken on their own fearsome aspect. And still he was mightier than they.
“I gave you the gift of free will, but for one thing. I charged you not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, lest you lose sight of your heritage. Sadly, you have disobeyed. Go, then, and find your own way. Man, dig for your supper as the serpent bites the dust, dig though the elements may conspire against you. Work out your salvation by your own toil. Woman, labour, bear the pangs of Creation in your own body. This is what you have elected.”
The couple's sorrow was profound, so that the Lord God had pity on them.
“Your free will I do not withdraw. Go and do it your way. But whenever you turn to me in distress, I will deliver you. Wrath shall become mercy until many things have come to pass and Heaven is restored.”
He pointed to the horizon beyond the Gates and ushered them out of the Garden, into the damp and the cold, to trudge the desert, looking for this oasis and that, tilling and sowing and reaping, tiring and begetting and striving. When they turned and looked back, there were guardian angels at each entrance armed with flaming swords and none could enter without a key.
All too quickly amnesia set in. And that, perhaps, was a mercy in itself. The memory of possession would have been too overwhelming, the agony of longing for paradise too acute, the remorse too burdensome to carry in the throes of all that must in future be endured.
But all was not to be lost. The where and when and why are gone, but Adam's children know that there is somewhere they belong, in a realm where peace and joy rule and there is no currency of having and getting. Sometimes the soul flashes with recognition, the scintilla of dew upon a rose, the lark song as the streaming sun rises and floods the opal sea with molten fire; the icon, idol and image that are inanimate conceits but yet speak of what once was and still might be again if only the cipher could be decoded, or the shifting formula adjusted this way or that.
Princes and Presidents have not discovered it. Tyrants have mocked it and tried to appropriate their empires by force. Everywhere men and women are in chains, no matter the colour of their skin, or their class or creed. They are pawns of their masters, of their régimes, their bankers, their inner gods, their dogmas. They are hooked on the biochemistry that will keep them forgetting. They are slaves to the lottery, supposing it can restore for them the kingdom of happiness.
The tragedy is that since the great Fall, wholeness has fragmented. Body, mind and spirit have come adrift from each other. The psyche is forced to seek consolation from its dreams and to cling to Hope, its guiding star.
Yet a key still remains under the lily-pot of innocence. It is the lost virtue of humility that admits we are not God. We need our Heavenly Father upon whom to rely in all our vagaries, who is willing to pour out upon us more blessings than we know how to ask for.
For me, this is the essence of freedom.
What we sacrifice is the yearning for what we think will make us happy: what we gain is what we truly need and much more besides.