Chapter I: An Awakening
Again I am asking my Recorder to take up his pen in order that I may once more speak to my brethren in the flesh out of the fulness of my soul’s desire.
In his instant response, he calls my notice to a mass of correspondence containing questions to which I am asked to reply; but, for the present I must confine my attention to one point which particularly presses upon me, in the consideration of which I shall, incidentally, be enabled to deal with many of the problems raised, while I shall try to unfold one of the deep mysteries of spiritual experience as I have encountered it which gives it a greater significance and places it in a new light to that in which theology has, certainly in these later days, been in the habit of regarding it.
I am speaking of that cryptic utterance of the Christ to Nicodemus where He said: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The master in Israel failed to understand Him; the schoolmen of the intervening ages have been little, if indeed any, more successful, and, blind leading the blind, both prophet and people have stumbled into the ditch of doubt, because the light that was in them was darkness.
Once I was blind—blind as anyone whose foot slipped over the line dividing the mortal from the immortal, but by the grace of God a guiding hand has led me into the light by which I see, and, standing in that light, my soul yearns more than ever to tell what has been revealed to me. I want others to see and to learn the unspeakable beauties of the light of truth. I want every soul that crosses the stage of earth to know, as I have come to know, something of the irresistible fascination of the heavenly music sounding in that declaration of the Master: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John iii, 16).
That is why I cannot linger to answer all these queries now. Whatever comes in the direct path I have to tread will be fully dealt with, but all else must stand aside as being of secondary importance to the one great problem. “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John iii, 4).
There is, however, one of these enquiries to which I must refer briefly, before I proceed: “Do the records made show the full course of instruction to which a soul akin to Aphraar is subjected on entering the other life, or are they just outline indications of some more elaborate plan?”
They are indicative jottings, without any reference to consecutive arrangement, of incidents spread over an experience of nearly thirty years’ extent. I make this calculation of the period covered, in the hope of its being helpfully suggestive. Further, in the treatment of an individual soul, there is no technical hard and fast curriculum, or mechanical procedure, in God’s great university. Each soul enters, having its own special features, needs, environment, and requirements. Every contributory cause to its present condition is taken into analytical account.
Sins which are due to the father are carried to the father’s account, and receive a corresponding consideration in relation to the child. Not a stain or taint is found upon the soul but is scrupulously traced back to its source, in fulfilment of the law that “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap,” and when the righteous result is ascertained, then the soul is dealt with, with a view to securing its ultimate atonement with God.
It is in such an adaptive arrangement as this that the Psalmist discovers that “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul” (Ps. xix, 7). We who are not yet perfected, are not in a position to know all that this implies; but this I do know—this one thing I have seen and spoken of more than once already, and I earnestly commend it to the notice of every soul who reads these records: In the judgment passed on the soul as it steps into the immortal the righteousness of God stands prominent as a surprising leniency, we discover Justice to be a compassionate divinity, and not an avenging fury.
If there is one fact more deeply engraved on my consciousness than another by the revelations of this higher life, it is this: that God has in His mind but one purpose concerning the whole family of man—to love him with an everlasting love, and with loving-kindness to draw him back again to the inheritance he has forsaken through the machinations of sin. Can there be a more pathetic and yearning declaration of this, than is heard in the invitation of the Christ, who speaks as the voice of the Father: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!” (Matt. xi, 28).
From what a babel of confusion the world would escape, what a clearer conception of God would dawn, if, setting aside we theological dogmas and unauthorized interpretations, the wandering soul would accept the simple invitation of the God-appointed mediator, and learning of Him who is meek and lowly in heart, find the needed rest! “The wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein” (Isa. xxxv, 8).
I know whereof I speak when I make this suggestion. How often have I yearned for the opportunity to draw aside, that I might meditate upon the ever increasing surprises I encounter, as I watch this law of God in working operation around me here. I have, at length, reached this one goal of my desire—have tasted of the sweet waters I may draw from the well of meditation—have opened my eyes to behold the vistas of revelation which lie unrolled before me, while He affords me the promised rest; have found therein a door of opportunity opening into an unsuspected ministry I had not dreamed of—a service I might render to the Master, which He has been pleased to call me to; a service of sowing, for which I had not long to wait before I reaped a rich harvest of more than a hundred-fold increase.
I had repaired to a hallowed spot, sacred by the memory of previous meditations, and had again lost myself in the azure realm, when a tender hand rested on my shoulder. Vaone stood behind me.
“Aphraar, I hope I have not disturbed you, but I so wish you would answer me one question,” she said apologetically.
“Not one, but a hundred, dear, if you wish to ask so many. What is it you desire to know?”
“Have you found heaven to be all that you expected?”
There was a suspicion of anxious indecision in her nervous enquiry, and the nature of it seemed so extraordinary, coming upon me so suddenly at such a time, that, for the moment, I hesitated what or how to reply.
“Heaven—all I expected?” I repeated. “What do you mean?”
“Forgive me, if I have expressed myself vaguely,” she replied, as she took a seat beside me; “but the idea has only just crossed my mind how very different this life is from what we were taught it would be. And as I realized the contrast, I saw you, and came to ask if you also had found it to be so?”
The confusion the question occasioned in my mind was not so much to do with its form, as the discovery that Vaone had been sufficiently aroused as to institute a comparison. I had not known her in the flesh, but I knew that her record was one of loyal and unquestioned orthodoxy. My experience of discarnate influences had shown me that they had a tendency towards a fixity of ideas rather than otherwise; and I had found Vaone almost indolently inclined, so far, to be content to accept everything as she found it. Now she had actually felt the spur of a new idea, and under its unwonted stimulus was asking for information.
For the moment I was at a loss how best to answer her. How I wished that I was gifted with Myhanene’s tact and skill in dealing with such a case. I could feel how much hung upon the issue, and for the first time I realized what a tremendous responsibility rests upon the shoulders of any man who attempts to fill the role of teacher, but when that office is held in connection with spiritual things the added responsibility is, or should be seen to be, so much greater as to make one seriously pause before assuming it.
“Behold, a sower went forth to sow.” That is the sketch Christ made of a teacher going to his work. “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” After many days. “Some thirty, some sixty, and some a hundredfold,” whether it be of wheat or tares. What would the harvest be if I ventured to answer Vaone’s enquiry without Myhanene, or one of the others being present to correct any errors I might make?
It was at this juncture that I first saw the wisdom of Myhanene not allowing me to make use of my Recorder except in the presence of some responsible member of his band.
How we fret and worry ourselves as we impatiently wait for the coming of some desired opportunity, but should it present itself dressed in an unsuspected guise, we fail to recognize it, and allow it to pass unnoticed. I am speaking from experience now. How often had I yearned to be able to tell all the good things my teachers had made known to me? I am almost afraid that at such times I had been too much enamoured of the position of the teacher to realize the weight of responsibility attaching to it. When the latter was revealed to me I shrank and called for Myhanene to come and reply to Vaone.
“This is your opportunity,” he replied. “Tell her, in your own way, what you have seen and heard.”
There was no escape. It was my first real call to duty. Vaone was waiting—wondering at my delay.
Just at that juncture a strange and curious experience befell me. A ray of illumination darted across my consciousness, vivid and brief as a lightning flash, but in its passing it distinctly left behind three differently disconnected revelations: the heartless system of domination—social and spiritual—under which Vaone had passed her earth life; the real nature of the enfranchisement secured by the ministry of the Magnetic Chorale; but by far the most impressive was the discovery of some new faculty in myself, which seemed to break down all limitations by which I had hitherto been bound, and impart a power of comprehension under the influence of which I boldly faced the duty to which I was called.
“Yes, it is different—strangely, incomparably different from anything everything I had conceived it would be,” I answered, wondering where my newly-found inspiration would lead me. “But the difference, as I see it, appears to lie in the opposite direction to that which you have discovered. If I understand aright the tone in which you make your enquiry, this life comes short of your anticipations; to me it taxes every power I have at my command to express by how far it exceeds my greatest expectations. Let me explain, as best I am able, wherein this difference lies.”
“Yes, help me, Aphraar.”
“Of course I will help you, though I am afraid I shall be but a poor and uncertain support for you to lean upon. But I will do my best, according to what I myself have learned.”
“I will trust you,” she replied, perhaps with more confidence than my authority warranted.
“Then I must begin by explaining something I am surprised that you have not known before.”
“And that is—?”
“That neither you nor I are in a position to express any opinion respecting heaven at present.”
“What do you mean? Why are we not able to speak of heaven? Do you wish me to think that this life in which so much of our soul’s desires have been granted to us is nothing better than a long drawn-out dream, from which we shall presently awake; I to take up again the cross of my slavery to the tyranny of another, and you to resume the heartache from which this sacred sleep has temporarily relieved you? Is it true you would have me anticipate the revelation you are so frequently saying is yet to be made to us? May God preserve me from such a blasphemy of death!”
Vaone had sprung to her feet under the first impulse of her protestation. The resentment it aroused was so opposed to her usually complaisant disposition as to, astonish herself even. I, no less astonished at the unexpected ebullition, was at first inclined to smile, but seeing how deeply the idea had moved her, I at once set myself to reassure her.
“No! You may at once dismiss any such a possibility from your mind. However much we might, under given circumstances, desire it, sleep is powerless to carry us back again into the yesterday of life; it always bears us forward into the to-morrow. We cannot wake again into the limitations and servitude of the flesh; the sleep of death has no power nor alternative but to carry us forward into the daybreak of the spirit. There is no occasion for any alarm. Had I taken more time to consider my reply to your enquiry I should have framed it less abruptly, and so avoided the misconception I created. Let me try to put what I mean in another form.”
“Do you mean that we have not yet reached heaven, but are in an intermediate state?”
“That is exactly what I wish to say.”
“But I don’t believe…”
“My dear Vaone, the altitude of our belief by no means affects the validity of a fact. The wise men, of the ancients asserted that the earth was flat, with four corners, but all the beliefs of philosophers, scientists, and churchmen in that respect were wrong. Beliefs are always subject to revision on the discovery of facts, and we are now standing face to face with a fact which proves to us, that modern ecclesiastics are not more infallible than their predecessors. The difficulty confronting you is not that the life upon which you have now entered is wrong, but rather that the conception you formed of it—under the direction of those who knew no more of its realities than yourself—is wrong. But you yourself have lost nothing in the discovery. If you have not entered into the immediate rewards they foretold and promised in return for your belief, neither have you been visited by the punishments with which they threatened unbelief. Apart from this, is there any other disappointment this life has occasioned you?”
She hesitated before venturing her reply.
“N-no—perhaps not. But suppose they had been right and I had not believed them?”
“That just represents the position I occupied. I honestly could not accept the pretensions the church made, and accepting the standard of the golden rule as the law of my life, I made an endeavour—a very imperfect one, but still an effort of a kind—to follow it. What is the result? Do I find myself in any way penalized in comparison with yourself? Is it not you rather that come to me expressing a disappointment, while I am constrained to admit that, so far, this life is a more glorious revelation of the loving-kindness and tender mercy of God than ever entered into my mind to conceive? Of course, we do miss the theatrical accessories the Church so wonderfully employs to render its stage temptingly ornate.
“We find no ‘Heigh! presto, change!’ transformations, by means of which a leprous soul is transferred to the front rank of saints by the receiving of a so-called ‘extreme unction’; or a prayer that is scarcely finished before the flesh is discarded. On the other hand, we do find law, order, beauty, forethought and an adapted ministry suitable to every possible demand which the ravages of sin and rebellion have created. In all the wide realm of possibility no bane can be found for the correction of which an antidote has not been provided here, beyond the reach and influence of the enemy; but each and all of these blessed provisions of God operate in accordance with established law, and never in response to any erratic command.
“This being so, do you not see—especially with the great advantage we now possess of having the circumstantial evidence of the higher life to guide us in our conclusions—that it is exactly as impossible for any soul to pass at a single step from the state of sin to righteousness, as it would be for an infant to reach manhood’s estate by a similar process. Between infancy and manhood lie the intermediate stages of childhood and youth which are absolutely necessary to secure physical and mental vigour, and by parity of reasoning it is equally essential for a similar interval of transformation to be allowed for the conversion of a sinner into a saint.
“If anything further were needed to prove the necessity of an intermediate state, I could easily furnish it by asking whether you ever thought of holding a reception without providing a cloak-room for the convenience of your visitors. To suggest that such a contretemps should ever come within the region of possibility is almost unpardonable, but if this is so in ordinary social life, why should it be considered such an outrage to assert that a corresponding provision exists, where travelstained pilgrims may make a suitable preparation for being ushered into the presence of the King of Kings?”
“Therefore there is no reason for you to feel discouraged or disappointed, any more than I have cause to be overjoyed at the position in which we find ourselves at present. You have not yet reached the height of your great ideal, while I, in many respects, have transcended my most sanguine expectations; but we are not yet in heaven.
“Our eyes have not yet beheld the vision of the pearly gate and the golden street which was granted to John in Patmos; but we have cast off the burden of the flesh, and in the vestibule of heaven we are resting our wearied feet, taking refreshment, and being instructed in reference to what will be required when we may be called into the holy of holies. The unexpected existence of this—what we may call a robing room adjoining the audience chamber, need occasion no alarm. It is simply the result of relying on unauthorised directions and promises, it does not jeopardize, but only temporarily delays realization, so far as you are concerned—for myself, I have been far more than satisfied to find what I have already attained to, and am hopefully looking forward, as I would advise you to do, to that which has yet to be revealed.”
Vaone listened with a nervously intent patience to all I had to say, the smile of hope and the shade of doubt alternating visibly on her face. Presently I discovered a suspicion of animation gaining an ascendancy over her usual composure, and I wondered at the success I could see my ministry was achieving. And yet it was not I. It was something beyond outside myself. Something that had been left behind and evolved from that mysterious ray of illumination I received at the outset of her enquiry—a guiding impulse that had carried me forward, furnishing me with all I said, and using me to speak of things I had never considered nor dreamed of before, with an assurance as foreign to myself as was the role of teacher I had been constrained to assume.
“Have you quite finished?” she asked, after a moment’s pause.
“I think I have said all that is necessary for the time, unless there is anything more you would like to ask me,” I replied.
“I am just beginning to feel how much there is that I do not know, and the sense of it confuses me. I feel it, but have no knowledge how to give expression to it. When I came to you it hung in front of me, like a restless uncertainty I could only speak of as a sense of disappointment that contravened all my ideas of heaven. That is why I came. While you were speaking, it all seemed to change—the disappointment changed into mystery which fills everywhere—everything. Past, present, future – all is mystery, and I want you to go on talking about it. Tell me what it is.”
“I can tell you that in a single word,” I replied, more thankful at her confession than I can express, since it opened my eyes clearly to what was really taking place in her. “It is your own awakening to Life. Life is mystery—a mystery so deep, so profound, so vast, so glorious, that it is a problem whether any eye, save that of Deity, will ever be capable of penetrating it. For ourselves we have to await its revelation. Its brilliant dawning beam is just beginning to touch your soul, Vaone. You must feel it, see it, know it for yourself. No one can tell you what it is, whence it proceeds, or wither it goes, save God. Rouse yourself to know Him. With all your heart, soul, mind, and strength reach out after and finding, follow Him who alone is able to lead you into the true light of Life.”
She did not answer me again, but turned and walked away, as I had more than once turned from Myhanene when he had brought me face to face with one of his great revelations.
I made no attempt to follow her. I knew that all was well, and just then I had enough to do in making acquaintance with my newly-found self.