Chapter XIX: In the Garden at the Gate
It would require not only one, but a series of volumes to record all that took place in that memorable gathering on the Bridge. Old friendships renewed and new ones established; sweet, and bitter memories of struggles, conquests and defeats in the past, recalled; tracing the development of the stream of hopes and fears until we saw the wondrous expansion in the ocean of a Divine love and purpose; review of the varied paths by which pilgrim feet had been led through many vicissitudes to the rendezvous we had reached; the comparison of experiences encountered between recent arrivals and the pioneers who had toiled homeward across the unbroken stretches of the earlier centuries—these, and a thousand-and-one engrossing themes of interest, might be enumerated and discussed to helpful purpose, each of which would serve to throw its special ray of useful light on the path of some who are following after us.
Nor is it that I would shun the task of compiling the record, but I have to remember the limitations by which those who come after me are circumscribed—a bondage from which now I am happily set free—therefore I must content myself with scattering fragments, not volumes, to mark the path I am taking, in the hope that—in the future gatherings in the Father’s house, in which we all shall take part—all the details of earth’s chequered pilgrimage will be filled in and comprehended in an illumination of Divinest love and mercy.
While all this was going on, I had several times lost sight of Zisvené. I was not disturbed as I noticed it—I knew that I could reach her again by the help of Myhanene—but I wished, without unnecessary delay, to speak with her relating to her experiences in the sleep-life, having a hope that she might assist me in a project I had in mind.
Presently someone laid a sympathetic hand upon my shoulder, and, turning, I saw her behind me.
“Don’t you feel as if it were almost impossible to tear yourself away?” she enquired.
“Indeed, I do,” I returned, emphatically.
“Yours is not an isolated experience. I am told it is so with every soul that is brought into the influence of these surroundings. To me it is very much like an enchanted land, and yet we must move, for in the garden before us the banquet of your welcome is awaiting us.”
When Zisvené thus made her presence known to me I must have been for some time absorbingly interested in the unfolding of a most trivial matter I had quite forgotten until it was mentioned to me by the stranger who told me the astounding sequel. I would like to tell the story, but marvellous as it turned out to be, it is one of the omissions I am compelled to make. It must suffice to say that I became so engrossed in the narration as to be oblivious of the fact that our friends had been gradually withdrawing in the direction indicated, until Myhanene and some half-dozen of his particular companions were all that were left to await me.
I shall not court disaster by attempting an impossible description of the expanse of garden which lay before me, outlined by the crescent-shaped open colonnade of what on nearer inspection appeared a kind of pinkish alabaster, over which crept the diaphanous screen of a magnificent floral creeper. In the centre of the arc rose the delicately artistic and regal towers supporting a bridge of aerial beauty corresponding to the architectural theme of the colonnade, and beneath the bridge swung the opalescent gates, the gem and crown of the matchless scene.
Within the vast area thus defined, lay a kaleidoscopic picture of angel-land defying the most perfect dream of idealization to reproduce. And here, attuned to perfect harmony of minutest detail in form, colour, perfume and sound, were dainty stands of angel food, or fountains of sweet refreshment played. that while we moved about in the shadowless communion we might take, eat, drink and thus live in the actual paradise of God.
Our little group was leisurely approaching the foot of the bridge, while my eyes wandered hither and thither in contemplation of the restful and inspiring scene. Presently Myhanene’s arm stole across my shoulder in his familiar fraternal embrace, and he asked:
“Do you remember the record of Jacob’s home-coming, Aphraar?”
“To which particular home-coming do you refer?” I enquired.
“The time when he wrestled with the angel by the side of the Jabbok,” he answered.
“Who could possibly forget that? And that reminds me. Myhanene, I have often wondered who that angel was. Do you think it was the Saviour, as some have supposed it to be?” I eagerly questioned, hoping to have one of my old uncertainties set at rest.
“Perhaps Walloo-Malie might be able to say more about that than myself,” he replied. “He has been here much longer than I have. But it is not so much who the angel was, as something he did that interests me just now.”
“What? The shrinking of the sinew on Jacob’s thigh?”
“No; nor that even. What else did he do?” And he turned on me that peculiar tip-tilt of his playful eyes which all who know him love to see upon the face of Myhanene.
“I am afraid I shall not be of much service to you in your enquiry,” I answered. “Perhaps my memory is at fault. which may be pardonable under the circumstances, and I never was an adept at thought-reading. Won’t you tell me what he did?”
There was another gleam of amusement flashed upon me.
“Did he not ask the patriarch his name?”
“Certainly he did—however could I have been so stupid as to forget it? But why should he do so when he knew it already?”
“To give emphasis to that which was to follow,” he replied. “Scriptural names were not often bestowed or assumed apart from expressing some characteristic reference to their possessor, and when a man changed either his position or his character it was not unusual for him to also change his name. Jacob had passed a crisis in his career during that night of wrestling. His contest with an angel had made another man of him. Henceforth the name Jacob – supplanter—would be a misnomer, and he must cross the river into the homeland under the new name: Israel, ‘for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.’ Aphraar”—and as Myhanene spoke the name in his tenderest, most fervent tone, he came to a halt,; another step and bridge would be left behind—“you, too, have now passed the one great crisis in your career; just one more step and you will stand upon the homeland – the homeland from which the Master speaking to His beloved John has promised to bestow on all who overcome a new name on their arrival at the self-same place. This is a necessary part of the welcome we rejoice to give you. Aphraar—the seeker—is no longer applicable, for your quest has been rewarded. Now, as Astroel—a star of God—we bid you enter into the rest that remaineth,” and as he spoke drew me forward and I set my feet upon the Fatherland. “Go forward, from strength to strength, from glory to glory, until your feet shall tread the sacred streets of the City of our God.”
Such was my reception and entrance into the Garden of the Gate.
I had a desire, as I moved among that concourse of people—where everyone sought an opportunity to speak, if only a single word of recognition, congratulation, welcome or commendation—to assure myself as to whether anywhere or at any time, from my first meeting with Helen to my arrival here, I had once felt conscious of being a stranger. In the sense of not being familiar with my surroundings, I had naturally felt it; but as being out of place, or an intruder, the idea had never crossed my mind before, so far as I was able to remember, and such a sensation is one not likely to be forgotten. And as I searched my memory, two or three words that fell from the lips of Walloo-Malie recurred to me, “the shadows flee away.”
“Yes,” I continued, “I begin to realize what that means, even the least indication of strangeness, and mere acquaintance, is banished from this abode of love. There is a soul of welcome, of rest, of desire to remain, in the atmosphere, which caresses and woos me to remain—that appeals to me as a part of myself I have never known or discovered until now. Is it some memory of an elusive dream that has come back? Have I returned to the suburbs of that City of Compensation to which Cushna introduced me long ago?”
I withdrew myself, and walked in a quiet part of the colonnade while I meditated; then my mind wandered back into the old life, and I saw myself stealing away from the family circle that I might be alone in my longing for something I did not understand—a vague something I could not touch. I was living over again the scene I sketched in The Life Elysian (p. 21)—reading again the magazine I had taken up from the library table; I re-read again the poem that had so stirred me; again I lingered over the final stanza:
How I pray while my heart-strings are breaking,
How I count all the days as they come!
I watch in my sleep for my Mother,
In my dreams I sigh for her Home:
Two words, oh, how sweet! Earth, earth! let me go!
In their music is heaven—all the heaven I can know!
That key opened the door to a vision of the mystery that had led me to seek isolation and reflect. When Myhanene drew me to take that step from the bridge he said: “One step and you will stand upon the Homeland”; but the words had no particular significance to me as I heard them, since I had never known what the blissful sacredness of the Home-life was. The veil had been lifted at last! As Myhanene spoke those words I had felt the mystic thrill there is in a brother’s—a sister’s hand; my ears had been opened to respond to the music of the word Home; my eyes had caught the true expression of a fraternal smile – above, beneath, around, a flood of revelation was breaking upon me, sweeter, holier, and more ravishing than any I had hitherto gazed upon! Oh Jacob! In the heavenly glory of this new daybreak, I can read a deeper meaning in your wrestling than ever I had dreamed of before! No wonder that you would not let the Angel go! Had I held him, and in the daybreak caught one ray of the glory that now I see, I would have continued to hold him—even though a thousand sinews had shrank—until the sun had risen into the full glory of the heavens and my whole soul was flooded with the heavenly light.
At length—even so long after the chapter of my physical life had been closed—my ears had been permitted to hear the full volume of the music, my eyes had beheld the radiance of the glory, my mind had been able to conceive the ideal, my soul had expanded wide enough to embrace and appropriate something of what God has wrapped up for mankind in that resonant monotone—Home. It is the keynote to the grand triumphant anthem—Heaven.
In the enjoyment of my meditation I had wandered into the companionship of solitude. Such solitude is only to be found in such Alpine heights of Heaven, where the soul finds meat to eat which cannot be found in the valley below. Lonely? No! One is always at the very heart of life—the metropolis of being—when he is with God! Alone in the midst of a multitude of revelations, while the seals were breaking. Who would not, like John, revel in such loneliness? Who would be impatient to be away?
Walloo-Malie, Rael, Omra, Myhanene and Zisvené were not with me. I had been called apart for awhile by Another—an even sweeter Voice; and, for the time, I had forgotten the existence of all others.
Dracine was the first of my known friends to meet me on re-entering the garden from my temporary seclusion.
“Come, Astroel, and tell me,” was her cheery greeting, do you not find it good to be here?”
“Good? My dear sister; I feel as if I should like to meet Myhanene now.”
“Do you wish to scold him?” she enquired archly.
“Now—do you think it likely that I should?”
“I simply asked the question,” she replied, modestly.
“Far from that; but I would like to ask him if we were not now beyond the limit of his favourite asseveration that ‘It is better on before’?”
My companion laughed with a genuine ripple of girlish merriment.
“I can tell you how he would answer you,” she said.
“Tell me—then, when I have seen him, I will tell you whether you answered me correctly.”
“Well,” she began with a very solemn tone, “he will place himself in front of you, so,” suiting the action to the word; “take hold of you so,” gripping my robe with either hand on each side of my breast; “look you straight in the eye with his calmly steady gaze; slowly shake his head and say: ‘No, my brother, because there are no limits to that asseveration. It is one of the infinities.’” And when she had so delivered herself, she blithely enquired: “Now, don’t you think I make a fairly good proxy for the wise young ruler?”
“Excellent, in tone and manner,” I answered, “but I am not quite so sure about the substance.”
“Of course—that you have to discover,” she responded airily.
“I wonder whether I could find Zisvené?” I next hazarded.
“That is doubtful,” she said you see, Zisvené is a bird of frequent passage to and fro—only present with us while the body sleeps. She is a rara avis in that respect in fact, so far as I know, she is unique. Yes; it is as I thought—she has been recalled.”
“It is respecting those sleep experiences I wish to speak with her. I have heard something about it, but there is much more I want to know.”
“I am not surprised to hear you say so. It is not only a most interesting subject, but one of the most important, in many respects, from what I know of it. Zisvené, of course, will be able to tell you of her personal experiences, but if you want to understand its purpose, working, scope and possibilities, I should recommend you to consult, say, Cushna, Myhanene or Rhamya.”
“Both Cushna and Myhanene have already given me a good introduction to the subject, and I am anxious to watch it in the working, in the hope that a practical observation will enable me to understand its theory better. In addition to this I am most deeply interested in one particular case I would like to secure assistance for, as a thanksgiving memorial of my arrival here.”
“Under those circumstances,” she replied, “I would see Myhanene at once—or, it may even better serve your purpose to see Walloo-Malie, who I see is yet with us,” having evidently caught sight of the latter as she was speaking.
“Ah!” I exclaimed, delighted at the idea, “Walloo-Malie knows the case I speak of, and it would be a capital plan to get his assistance.”
And at once we sought my illustrious friend.