Who told you that you were naked? Unless you understand the circumstances, the question seems nonsensical. After all, who doesn’t know when he is naked? Unless, of course, he happens to be a newborn – which, in a way, Adam and Eve were, even though they were not born in the conventional sense. They were fully grown but still innocent -- at least until their fateful encounter with the serpent in the Garden of Eden. They ate the forbidden fruit, then scurried for cover when they heard the Lord coming. "I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself," Adam said by way of explanation. This merely begged the question: how did he know he was naked? In eating the forbidden fruit, he had been enticed with the promise that he would become like God, knowing good and evil. This was a lie on two counts. First, he was already like God, created in his image. Second, God did not know evil; when he beheld the world, he saw only good. Now, when Adam beheld the world, he saw only himself, naked and exposed.
When my granddaughter Alex was about two, she had a bedtime ritual called “naked time.” Like any self-respecting toddler, Alex hated having to go to bed, but she loved running around her family’s apartment in Brooklyn with no clothes on. So when bedtime rolled around, her mom or dad would announce it was naked time. Alex would pull off her clothes and happily scamper to and fro until her parents told her it was time for her bath, which she also liked, splashing about in the tub with a small flotilla of rubber duckies. From there it was into her jammies and off to bed.
Even as a two-year-old, Alex had to be cautioned that naked time was only for when she was in the apartment, not at the playground or around strangers. For what might seem cute when you are a toddler will all too quickly come to be regarded as indecent exposure when you are older and will get you arrested. The world we live in is not the Garden of Eden. The irony, of course, is that what got Adam and Eve evicted was not running around with no clothes on but trying to cover up when they realized they were naked.
Already by age two a child does not really have to be told she is naked, even if she needs to be reminded when it is appropriate to run around with no clothes on. She has become self-aware, which is really the condition that renders us unfit to remain in paradise. The fall of humankind, as Christians conceive it, is really a fall into selfhood. Once this happens, there is no going back. In the biblical creation story, the way back is guarded by an angel with a flaming sword. The way forward, whether we realize it or not, is always guided by a deep striving to regain what has been lost. But no amount of effort or intention will do the trick. Transcendence, salvation, enlightenment – whatever we choose to call it – always depends on grace, and the initiative is never ours. In the end, we must abandon all striving and also abandon the self, which may amount to the same thing. We fear this will leave us naked and exposed, but it is really something altogether different. We become transparent.