Chapter XVIII: Crossing the Bridge
We were back in that entrancing shrubbery from which Omra had previously spirited me away.
In suggesting our return Rael humorously challenged me to observe and discover something of the process by which the transit was accomplished.
“I will—” I was about to say, “I will do my best to do so,” but I had scarcely begun to speak before it was a fait accompli, and Rael, highly amused at my discomfiture, was asking:
“Had you not better report at once, before the memory of the details evades you?”
Omra joined us as Rael was speaking, and was not one whit behind the speaker in his enjoyment of the pleasantry.
“We might have made our return in a far more leisurely way,” Rael proceeded to explain, “only the repetition of the former plan threw the door of opportunity open to my pointing to a matter that will sometime be valuable to you in your ministry.”
“If you can do that I will readily forgive you the advantage you have taken,” I replied.
“That is generous of you, Aphraar; at the same time you must allow me to think that it was too bad of Rael to make capital out of your embarrassment,” Omra facetiously observed.
“If that capital had been for the common weal,” Rael replied with the same quiet badinage, “I rather imagine that even the sedate Omra, had he been there and seen the face of Aphraar, as he cried, ‘What has happened?’ would have ventured to encore the experiment, in the hope of seeing a repetition of the amazement.”
“But surely an encore is always shorn of the initial surprise? However, proceed with the lesson you are anxious to reach.”
“Yes, after the music of the Smile let us seat ourselves again at the feet of Duty. In doing so I wish to carry you back to what I have said in relation to the fourth dimension, because, though it is actually beyond the comprehension of man in the physical state, there is one illustration of it that may be used to great advantage occasionally in your ministry.”
“If so, by all means point it out to me,” I implored him, for, in all things, I would be that which Paul admonished Timothy to be ‘a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.’”
“My reference is to the subject of Prayer—”
“A most important subject,” interjected Omra, “one upon which I have already said something to Aphraar—take your own way, Rael.”
“It is a question upon which there can be no ground of difference between us, so without any reference to what you may have said I will proceed. Nor shall I concern myself with offering a definition of Prayer, nor generally with attempting a reply to the question, ‘Does God answer prayer?’ I want more particularly to direct your attention to a specious pseudo-philosophic objection to prayer which exercises considerable influence on many minds on account of its semblance of a logical basis. The argument may be variously framed according to the speaker and the particular need of the moment; I will state it in my own way: ‘The idea that prayer can become available in contributing to the arrest, change or obviating contemporary affairs is not only fallacious but absolutely impossible. Let us look at a very necessary premise we need to lay down as a basis upon which to work: How far has the petition to travel from the petitioner before it reaches the ear of God? And next: At what rate is the petition despatched upon its errand? We will suppose, for the argument’s sake, that the throne of God is located in one of the nearest fixed stars to earth—Sirius—and that the prayer travels at the inconceivable speed of light—186,000 miles per second. It will require more than eight years for the petition to reach its destination. Under such circumstances how is it possible for prayer to avail in influencing passing events? It is only necessary to state the case to refute it with derision.’
“So it seems. But things are not exactly what they seem to be. ‘Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Hast thou not known—hast thou not heard’ that God ‘taketh the wise in their own craftiness?’ The argument just advanced is from the lips of a philosopher whose knowledge is circumscribed by the limitations of three dimensions known to the physical, while prayer is a spiritual faculty and operates in a region which is neither visible, tangible nor comprehended in the physical. The speed at which light traverses space in comparison to that of prayer is scarcely that of the ancient footman to the modern wireless telegraph. While light is preparing to fashion its first rippling wave, prayer, on the wings of desire, is at its destination, and waits, in eager haste, to bring its answer back. The broken-hearted penitent cries, ‘God, be merciful,’ and turning homeward, while yet the philanthropic Pharisee continues his self-laudatory harangue, finds the answer to his prayer already attests his justification. ‘Go ye and learn what that meaneth’—the spirit knows neither time nor distance when once it standeth in the light of God.”
“Ah! Ah!” cried Omra, you have just finished your discourse in time, for here comes Myhanene with our sister Zisvené.”
“Who is Zisvené?” I asked. “I have not met with her before.”
“Have you not?” was Omra’s astonished reply. “She should be particularly interesting to you.”
“Indeed! In what way?”
“I think Myhanene would tell us that she is actually the first-fruits of your ministry to earth.”
“My ministry to earth! How comes she here, then? Surely you are mistaken,” I exclaimed.
“You will find that I am not mistaken, but Zisvené’s is a most exceptional case, I can assure you. She was an earnest and most indefatigable searcher after truth. Not being able to satisfy herself on theological husks and superficially accepted dogmas, through various vicissitudes she pressed forward assured that the living bread for which her soul hungered was to be found somewhere. She heard your voice as she wandered in the wilderness. It appealed to her. She followed. Your evangel of the possibilities of the sleep-life charmed her. She prayed for guidance, and in response found her way across the frontier, and now she spends almost the whole of her sleep-life in mission work with us. But you must hear the story as she will tell it to you.”
“Omra—you amaze me. It seems to be a thing incredible!”
“Is it not almost time that you abandoned speaking of the incredible?” he enquired with his encouraging smile.
“The whole book of Revelation, which you have but just begun to read, is written to record those things Paul spoke of when he said: ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.’ You may depend upon it that in the womb of the infinite there are revelations gestating, the birth of which will strike the archangels dumb with astonishment. Cease, then, to speak of the incredible. Be prepared at each step to penetrate further into the Evermore, and as your eyes open to each successive vision, worship with reverence and with awe. But, here is Zisvené now.”
So it was that Omra opened yet another door in heaven through which I might gain a still different glimpse into the expanse of infinity. I had no opportunity then to enter into the contemplation of the vision, but as I glanced at it there flashed through my mind the overpowering conviction of the Psalmist: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me. It is high, I cannot attain to it.” Then our friends were upon us—Zisvené stepping forward with greeting as of an old and well-tried friend.
“We need no introduction, Aphraar; your books have already made you well known to me, and with my whole soul I want to thank you for what an untold blessing they have been to me.”
She turned to walk with me as she spoke—Myhanene joined Omra and Rael, who had fallen behind—and so we continued our walk.
“Why should you thank me?” I replied as soon as I could recover from the surprise her warmth of greeting occasioned. “Should not all the thanksgiving be laid at His feet who made such a ministry possible? Is not the honour of being permitted to take part in such a most glorious mission, not only a recompense, but a super-abounding joy, that will not permit the thought of labour in connection with it? Think of the transcending honour of it! Called to be a fellow-worker with God in the salvation of—if so be just a simple soul—one soul, which is so intrinsically valuable to Him that the whole inanimate creation is but an air-bubble in comparison. Again—and more than that—to have the knowledge that I have succeeded in it—and for Him! Think of it! Do you think I have any need of thanks? Ought I not rather with broken-hearted joy to pour out my thanksgiving to Him, through you, for the inestimable honour He has bestowed upon me?”
“I can understand all you say, as well as something of what you feel. The water of a new life which I have been able to drink has been inexpressibly sweet, reviving, life-giving, and I am unspeakably grateful to the source and Giver of the stream from which I have been permitted to drink; still, I cannot be unmindful of the channel by which it has been carried to me. Are you fond of music?”
“Most passionately,” I replied.
“Have you never listened to some great master playing on that King of instruments—the violin—until in the embrace of the soul of music you have been carried away into an elysium of harmony—all, within, without, around, blending into an ocean of melody, and there has been nothing existent but music, in which your soul has found its ideal of heaven in your rapturous dream?”
“Have I not! Oh, how many times have I lent myself to the blissful enchantment!”
“And when the dream was over—when you woke to find yourself on earth again—did you never give a thought to the beauty of the instrument through which the soul of the violinist had so wonderfully influenced you?”
“I don’t think it ever occurred to me to separate the one from the other they were so inter-blended in my mind that to have done so would have been to have wrecked the dream; or that is how I now imagine it would have been.”
“Just so, my dear Aphraar, would it be with me if I tried to dissociate you from the Great Father, in the priceless blessing I have received through your ministry. I have, at length, been able to reach you—a boon many times craved for when pouring out my soul to Him in the sanctuary of prayer—and shall I now be forgetful of the debt I owe? Shall I not send afresh to Him through the channel He has ordained to use to bestow His blessing, another acknowledgment of my gratitude and love?”
“Yes, certainly, we should in all things give God the glory; but after that there is another to whom whatever is left of recognition is due before I can lay the slightest claim to consideration.”
“And who may that be?” she asked alertly.
“Myhanene! If it had not been for the brotherly assistance he gave me, you would never have heard of me.”
“I believe he has been of much assistance to you. It was just what one would expect from his generous soul. Searching around earth’s lumberrooms to see what neglected treasures of the Master were lying there in forgetfulness, he came across, and set himself to reinstate you—he determined to bring the lost favourite back to the heart that was yearning for the restitution of the loved one. That is like Myhanene, and he will receive a due recognition for the discovery; but Myhanene would be the last to take credit for more than that, nor will I forget him in that respect. But after we have given to Myhanene his full meed of recognition for all he has done, you still remain the instrument the Master has chosen to employ in recalling me from my wandering, and wooing my soul into His embrace; why then should you refuse to allow me to tender to you the gratitude I feel?”
Why need I further contend the point when I saw how firmly she was resolved to carry out her purpose? I did not desire even the slightest recognition. When I reviewed my experiences, the vast amount of care and attention that had been bestowed upon me, the exceptional privileges that had been granted me, and then compared them with the meagre and altogether unworthy record I had made—not wilfully, but under the exigencies of my infirmities—I blushed to think of accepting any sort of congratulation. But Zisvené was looking upon my work from another and very different point of view. She was looking with other eyes, hearing with other cars, basing her conclusions upon evidence I could not understand, any more than she could comprehend the shortcoming I was so sensitively conscious of. When the difference in the points of view was recognized and allowed for, was not her conclusion equally well founded with my own? There was no point of principle involved in my yielding to her desire—perhaps my refusal to do so might throw some obstacle in her path, and at such a thought my resistance collapsed.
As I thus reflected, the silence lengthened, during which I caught her eloquent blue-grey eyes stealing furtive but confident glances at my irresolution, until at length, with an attempt at gravity she could ill conceal, she asked:
“Has the defeat been so absolutely crushing as to leave you quite speechless?”
“It is not any sense of defeat, but rather the knowledge of how, personally, I come of being worthy of your commendation that silences me.”
“Well, that is a point we need not begin to argue just now; but will you allow me to be generous and suggest a possible way of taking your revenge?”
“Are you attempting to lay another trap for my unwary feet?”
“Now, look me in the face and tell me if you think I could really do such a thing?”
“Your presence here is sufficient evidence that you would not do so viciously, but there is a gleam of playfulness in your tell-tale eyes which bids me—Beware. Still, I would like to hear your suggestion.”
“I was wondering whether, if we had the opportunity of crossing lances in my waking state, you might not be able to recover yourself. I should be very pleased to test it, if you could prevail upon your Recorder to pay me a visit.”
“That must be reserved for after consideration. Arrangements in that direction are for Myhanene to decide. In the meantime, I should be pleased to speak with you of your sleep-life experiences. Perhaps you might be able to assist me in an endeavour I am hoping to undertake.”
“If at any time there is anything I am able to do in return for the obligation I am under to yourself, you have only to name it. But you must remember that I am only here by favour—”
“Are we not all on an equality in that respect?”
“In a measure that is so. But my own case is most peculiarly—I believe almost uniquely so; therefore you must not expect too much of me. This much I will readily promise you, that, if I am able to assist you in any way, you may always be sure that the service will afford me more pleasure than I can express. Now let me call your attention to the view around us.”
Zisvené had held my interest so closely by her conversation that I had ceased to notice anything but the absorbing fascination of her personality and discourse. When, at length, she did recall me to notice our surroundings, I gave a shout of involuntary surprise—almost dismay—to find myself brought to a stand in the very centre of that awesome bridge, with the Yawning gulf sinking into the bosom of the unfathomable blackness beneath our feet.
I gasped as I looked and realized what a step I had unconsciously taken; but my confidence did not forsake me, for I was not left to encounter the ordeal unattended, except by Zisvené. Around me were gathered, not only Omra, Rael and Myhanene, but Walloo-Malie, Avita, Rhamya, with the rest of the friends I had left in the Court of the Voices, and a great company of others, among whom I recognized many I had known in the lower life, together with others to whom I had been well known in the ministry of guidance and protection.
What a gathering! How could I entertain a fear as to the safety of the structure on which we rested. My eyes wandered over that crowd of faces upon each of which I read an unspoken note of welcome in that sacred, silent anthem, too sweet, too musical for sound, and my soul surged with a joy inexpressible, except in the breathing of “Peace—be still.” With one instinctive impulse every head was bowed to receive the mystic benediction, after which Walloo-Malie spoke to me.
“In that sublimest allegory of a wandering soul and its return to the Father’s house, as told by the Master to those who hung upon His teaching, He gives to verbal expression a very meagre place. Words, at their best, are but crude suggestions of intangible ideals, which people the inner shrine of the soul. If we would understand their real worth, poetry and beauty, we must be able to gain admission to the shrine, and by inter-blending with the soul wherein they were conceived, sink into and lose ourselves in the spirit where they dwell—know them as they really are. This is a boon—a power which only God possesses. Hence in His parable, the Master only introduces speech to give an order, they make no attempt to express the Father’s feelings: ‘Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it: and let us eat, and be merry; for this, my son, was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’
“Following that august example there are really only two words that need to be spoken as we stand here on the boundaries of two worlds – the physical and the spiritual. To You, in the providence of God, the time has come for the glorious—the eternal daybreak, in which every shadow must flee away, and you, consequently, must say Farewell to the yesterday which is passing away in this new birth; to us, who are here as a reply to your oft-repeated enquiry,
Will anyone there, at the beautiful gate,
Be waiting and watching for me?
is granted the great privilege of speaking that second word: ‘Welcome.’
“It is a familiar word—one you often have heard before; sometimes with a deep, clear, sweet vibrant intonation that sounded like Home; at others, with a brazen, harsh and hollow flippancy, that aroused shadows of suspicion in your mind, and your ears were quick to catch the whispered echo—Beware. I have been asked to speak our word of Welcome to you as you step across our threshold, and as I do so, with the baton of my tongue calling the waiting orchestra of heaven to prompt attention, we sound the keynote of an anthem of peace and goodwill that shall reverberate through your soul, in ever-increasing music till God shall cease to be.
“You cannot understand it? No! We do not expect you to do so before your eyes have beheld the glory. You do not yet understand the sounds you hear in the word with which we greet you. This is but your natal hour. You are not yet across the threshold of your new birth. How can you comprehend? But your eyes can see—God has breathed into your soul the breath of a holier life, and in that act has tuned your life to vibrate in harmony with that which is to be. Let your opening eyes look into our faces; let the first sounds that fall upon your ears be melodious with tones that fall with soothing cadences, and woo the sacred confidence of the newly-born love within you. We have no elder brethren here who harbour resentment against the return of the lost one; no cold shoulders; no askant looks; no veiled innuendoes; no drawing aside of robes; no autocracy; no sycophants or goody-goodies; the shadows of these have all passed away even from where we now are standing, and their substances fear to essay the passage of the bridge. Therefore, ‘Come in, thou blessed of the Lord,’ we bid thee ‘Welcome home!’”