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Traces of Contact


Created by A. Conan Doyle, British/Scottish physician and writer, the fictional character Sherlock Homes delighted readers of his day. Along with the less well known character John Evelyn Thorndyke, created by R. Austen Freeman, Holmes was ahead of his time when it came to CSI (Crime Scene Investigation). Two of the founding fathers of CSI, Edmond Locard (French), and Hans Gross (Austrian) acknowledged their debt to Holmes and Thorndyke during their illustrious careers.

How advanced and prescient Holmes was in his meticulous, observational and deductive approach to crime solution is open to conjecture, but commentators estimate he may have been ahead of his time by as much as a century or more.

The value of Holmes’ contributions have been deemed incalculable to CSI in solving crime, which presents a bipartite challenge: identifying the perpetrator and avoiding miscarriage of justice by exonerating innocent suspects (which brings to mind this line from H.M.S. Pinafore: “Things aren’t always as they seem; skim milk masquerades as cream.”).

Holmes emphasized one guiding principle: when two things come into contact with each other, they leave a mutual trace. As when a finger touches on table, not only is a fingerprint left on the table surface, but minute particles of the table also adhere to the digit in question.

So what is the trace left by a believer’s (or perhaps also unbeliever’s) contact with divinity, the One who is so beyond us that, even now, I struggle for an appropriate name (God, the Almighty, I AM, Yahweh, Allah, Jehovah, Lord, Father, Jesus, Christ, etc.)? 

By Christ’s parables, including those of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the Prodigal Son, we are given to understand that there is joy in heaven when we respond to the prompting of the still small voice/Comforter/Holy Spirit and seek the only true satisfaction for our God-shaped void.

And the imprint on us of that encounter between humanity and divinity, while no less profound, is tangible, discernible and one that bears witness: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another”  (John 13:35). Others took notice of the disciples, “That they had been with Jesus.”

Life recapitulated art in the life of A. Conan Doyle in that, after he had stopped writing about Sherlock Holmes, he was called upon to become a real life sleuth similar to his literary creation. I suspect it brought him no little satisfaction to be able to help exonerate, in separate cases, two men wrongly convicted of heinous crimes, George Edalji and Oscar Slater.

How much more grateful should we be for the mutual traces left by our encounters with the Infinite, and the implication of those encounters for us in matters of ultimate concern.


In author S. M. Chen’s words: I live in CA near my daughter and her family, including a pre-school grandson, who reminds me of the little children for whom Christ had an affinity. I work part-time as a hospital-based healthcare professional, play piano for cradle roll, and enjoy tennis and biking to the beach.

Image: Detail of Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam,” c. 1512


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