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Chapter XI: The Home of the Assyrian
My friend’s remarks threw a shade of depression over my newly-born enthusiasm, and started a review of probabilities in my mind which rendered me indifferent, for the moment, to his attempt to change their theme. But his second endeavour roused me to a consciousness of the panorama which lay before me, and succeeded, for the present at least, in putting an end to any feeling of gloom.
I have said that my first impression of Marie’s home was that it offered every facility, by its ever-varying employments, for weaning a heart from sorrow; but the idea was only an abstract one, as neither those surroundings nor yet the more beautiful grounds in which I had met Cushna, at the Home of Rest, had, consciously, brought before my mind the question of manual labour in this new life. But the time for this had now come; and a fresh surprise carried my mind and enquiries away in another direction.
We were standing upon the crest of a mountain – one of a chain curving itself around a valley sufficiently picturesque to inspire a poet or artist with a dream of Eden. From between the hills, at the farther end, a silver stream fell in a series of lofty cascades into the plain, which, thus divided into almost equal portions, was enhanced in beauty by the crystal presence of the majestic river. One feature here presented particularly attracted my attention, and led me to enquire whether art had not been called to the assistance of Nature to produce the pleasing result. Near the centre of the valley the course of the river was suddenly diverted to the right and left for the purpose of forming an island, perhaps about a mile in extent, which made a splendid platform or foundation for the extensive palace or mansion which was the principal object of attraction.
“You are quite right,” said Cushna, in answer to my enquiries. “The stream has been at some time turned aside for the purpose of forming the island.”
“But you don’t mean to tell me there is such a thing as manual labour in heaven – is it not a perfect place as far as such things are concerned?”
“To answer your last question first,” he said, “heaven is not, at present, a perfect place. I know such is the earth idea, but it is unscriptural, and has not a shadow of justification in the teaching of Jesus, who told his disciples – ‘I go to prepare a place for you,’ which very truth implies imperfection, because unprepared. On the other hand, this life is one in which ‘every power finds full employ’; the poet is capable of receiving higher inspirations, but of what avail if he may not write them? Did the talents of Raphael, Fra Angelico or Turner only unfold for the momentary span of earth’s uncongenial day? Do you think that the dreams of beauty and grace which are here begat of the genius of Phidias or Michael Angelo are to be condemned to lie imprisoned in the sanctuary of their own conception?
“Where are the mighty architects who built Thebes and Babylon, Jerusalem, Athens and Rome – have such minds no inspirations when they behold the sites, the capabilities and the resources of immortality? Are Handel, Mozart and Beethoven tired of harmony, or have they drained the fount of music dry? One recoils from the thought of what heaven would be without the active employment of such great minds as these.
“Let me ask you also, has not the gardener some ideal to consummate, and shall he be deterred from giving scope to his genius where it may be displayed free from the unpropitious influences against which he had to contend on earth? Music and painting, sculpture and architecture, have had their plodders and toilers, who have lived and died unsuccessful and unappreciated, quite as much as the labourers of the pick and shovel. They loved their art, and heaven’s compensation is to be found in the realisation of their hopes. Yes, my friend, there is room for work here; but what makes all the difference, there is no toil or labour. Our only incentive to work is love, not to earn an existence, but to produce an outward semblance of that which is born within and which prompts and forms the mainspring of our activity.”
I was silent, but my mind grew heavy with the thoughts it carried.
The one object that attracted my attention more than any other was the palace or mansion occupying the island, and which I was informed was the home of the Assyrian, an announcement causing me some amusement at first, as the idea of its being a residence of any kind would have been the last to enter my mind.
My first and instinctive conception of it was a vast floral pyramid built and arranged as a central and finishing effect in a charming valley. The base of the building was, perhaps, more than a quarter of a mile in extent, but the gradual elevation of the ground from the water’s edge gave it the appearance, from the point at which I first beheld it, of its being of considerably greater proportions than it was in reality. It was not until we had crossed one of the picturesque bridges which formed the approach, that I could entirely divest my mind of my original idea, for the presence of the number of people who were visible was quite as consistent with the one explanation as the other. But when ascending from the river my eye began to penetrate the foliage. I could then discern the architectural arrangement by which the pleasing and novel effect was produced. Each storey, of which there were ten, was so constructed as to leave a terrace some thirty feet in width around the whole building; the outer edges being planted with beds of flowers, then shrubs, and finally palms and other trees, whose branches made a stately promenade.
My undivided attention, however, could not be given to the building, for Cushna had already communicated our approach to Siamedes, who came to meet and welcome us as we crossed the bridge We were also objects of curiosity to numbers of others, who, I was informed, were anxious to learn who the newcomer might be, and whether it might be possible I was the bearer of news from friends still on earth. I found that this was one of a number of homes where the souls of those who are wearied in well-doing, and have fought and come off ‘more than conquerors’ might rest awhile, and be ministered to, in order that they might enter upon the joys of heaven with all their energies revived and strengthened, so as to be able to fully appreciate those glories which further awaited them. Here they grew strong, while the vibrations of the conflict pass away; experience the peace of the eternal hush after the storm, enjoy the relief of throwing off the armour, and enter upon the liberty of repose, never again to be broken. I was told that the condition of individuals varies considerably at such times, but that, generally, they are limited in their knowledge of what transpires on earth, and for this reason, watch new arrivals for information.
Siamedes was not attired as I saw him at the Chorale, but had assumed a loosely flowing robe of electric grey, over which alternate blushes of pink and blue seemed to beat like pulse throbs, but he was not the less regal in appearance. The first time I met him he was arrayed in robes of state; now, he was the monarch at home. But oh! what a conception of royalty I formed, as I watched this subsidiary ruler of the King of kings! The diadem he wore was one of service, while the sceptre he swayed radiated an influence, in the presence of which revolt and treachery would have been annihilated; the gems with which it was set excited no greed or avarice, while it was wielded not with a mandate of destruction, but a command to live. The hand of the tyrant or oppressor could not grasp it, neither could the stain of blood ever touch it, for that emblem of rule Divine has come from the hands of God, who had Himself engraved upon it the name of – Love.
As I looked upon him I was involuntarily drawn towards him, when he threw his arms tenderly around me, and we walked forward – I, at least, being perfectly happy and contented. How could I be otherwise? I was beginning to grow accustomed to the great advantages I had inherited in this new life, which was void of any time limit; and as page after page was turned over, I could see how occupations were provided to engage my soul through the long eternities which lay before me. The old visionary and inane heaven had passed away, and in its place had been discovered a rest which would be an employment, a worship which was an unfoldment, an apotheosis only to be reached by the expansion of the divinity, which although unknown had always lain buried within myself.
We sauntered along. Why not? I stood on the shores of the eternal sea, and every step had its myriad of grains, each with its special revelation to make. Every person we met had a different life story to tell, and I had nothing to do but learn. Now, we spoke to one who had but just awoke to understand the change that had taken place, and I could study the same bewilderment in another which I experienced under somewhat similar circumstances. Anon, we watched one, whose probationary rest being over, was looking away in the direction from which the friends were expected, who would escort her to the ‘place prepared’ for her. Every incident had its own peculiar interest and charm, as it discovered the methods of God in dealing with the sons of men on earth, in leading the blind by a way they know not.
“Our conversation with these friends,” I at length remarked to Siamedes, “gives me the impression that you do not hold Chorales here. Is that correct?”
“Yes! My visitors are the opposite of those you saw at the home of rest, and need very different ministrations. They were victims who succumbed, against their better nature, to creedal intolerance; they were overpowered while struggling to get free. These are conquerors who, following the teachings and example of Jesus, have worked out their own salvation in spite of creed.”
“Then perhaps you can answer me a question which puzzled me many times in the old life?”
“I will, if possible,” he replied kindly.
“Which of all the denominations, or religions if you will, contribute the highest percentage of the redeemed?”
“We recognise but one religion here, that is – Love; and all its disciples have but one denomination – lovers of mankind. No one of all the man-made religions holds a monopoly of this attribute. But earnest and conscientious followers of it may be found in all. Its worship is service to humanity; its litany, noble deeds, its prayers, tears of sympathy; its sermons, simple lives, known and read of all men; its songs are lullabies to soothe the brokenhearted; its faith the immolation of self; and its hope – Heaven. This is the only religion which can write the passports of heaven for the pilgrims of earth. Systems of theology have no more charm for us here than they had on earth; but in every heart there is a latent ideal towards which all mankind is blindly reaching out, a vague and undefined hope to which all the nations are ignorantly aspiring, a settlement of political problems that is only just beyond the reach of statesmen, a method of international arbitration by which peace shall reign on earth; these are all generating in the womb of futurity. And oh! how near that future is; how soon might all be accomplished, if only systematic theology could be cleared away and simple-minded souls could raise the true standard of the cross that all the world might see and recognise that every difficulty would be overcome, every problem solved, and every ideal attained in – Jesus.”
We were by this time passing through a magnificent vestibule leading evidently to the courtyard or garden, which I could see in the distance. From either side of us ran corridors, out of which apparently innumerable apartments opened; and here, I had a splendid opportunity for noticing the self-luminous atmosphere to which I have before alluded. In the very centre of so vast a vestibule one would naturally expect to find an almost midnight gloom; yet neither here, nor in the corridors adjacent, could there be detected the slightest indication of a shadow. Stair-cases of stately proportions rose at intervals to the terraces above, on all of which, wherever facility offered, were found trees, plants, and flowers, in more than oriental luxuriance, interspersed with statuary and tapestries which baffle all attempts at description.
On reaching the courtyard I at once discovered the reason of its being selected as the starting-point of my inspection of the palace. In the centre stood, or played – I hardly know how to describe it – an unique aqua-botanical marvel which was at once both tree and fountain. From a coral-tinted basin it rose in a huge body of water, some four or five feet in diameter, as if passing through a transparent conduit. At the height of fifteen feet, its branches began to reach out in every direction, each of which was luxuriant with its triple burden of ever-changing leaf, and flower and fruit. I say ever-changing, because no sooner had leaf, or flower or fruit reached full development than by some mysterious power it was severed from the tree, as though gathered by unseen hands, and carried into one or other of the multitude of apartments which completely surrounded us. It was an object lesson in the process of nature, the mighty forces of which were visibly operating before my eyes. I gazed upon the sight in amazement, almost awe, and at the same time marvelled to what use the products of this wonderful tree were applied.
As if to answer me, Siamedes stooped and gathered two or three of the leaves which had fallen at our feet; in colour they were of a pale, bright, almost emerald green, while to the touch they were soft and velvety. When I had thoroughly examined them, my companion closed his hand upon them, and as they were pressed I was conscious of a very soft and delicate odour, producing a marked and exhilarating effect upon me. Then he opened his hand, upon which there was left just a trace of moisture but no sign of the leaves remained. A smile passed across his features as he beheld my astonishment, and he proceeded to explain this singular phenomenon.
“This,” said he, “is the tree, and also the water of life, so necessary to restore the weary and recuperate the exhaustion of those who come here to rest. It forms a method of re-invigoration which is the equivalent of the Chorale. The stream which supplies and energises this tree, as also many other in similar homes, is the strongest and richest of which we have any idea; we are told it takes its rise in the vicinity of the throne of God, for it never varies in the constancy of its flow. To us who know it best and watch its workings, the most marvellous quality it possesses is its remarkable adaptation to the particular requirements of every case to which it ministers. It leaves nothing for us to do but watch and wait while it works a complete restoration. When its cooling spray falls into the eyes, the foundations of the fountain of tears are completely wiped away; it lingers upon the care-worn brow until every furrow has disappeared; it drops its seed within the broken heart, then laves it with melody until the song of victory has bloomed. But come and see some of the friends who are lying beneath the benediction of its waters till they recover from the effects of earth’s ‘fitful fever.’”
I shall not attempt to describe the apartments in which these weary children of earth were sleeping the shadows away. If words would serve me for the purpose, no mind imprisoned in the limitations of mortality has power to grasp it. Let it suffice to say that love had contributed the handiwork of its devotion; affection had lavished its choicest treasures; the gems of ease from every land had been improved upon; sympathy and skill had exhausted their store-houses, until the Great Designer of the heavens had made that resting-place for His children touch the standard of His own desire, and then pronounced it good.
On reaching the second terrace Siamedes stopped as we neared the entrance to one apartment, in order to explain to me the circumstances of the case. Here was lying a mother whose awakening was being watched for by three of her children. She was the daughter of an ignorant but extremely orthodox tradesman, who had inherited his religion as a kind of heirloom. She married a man who had been set apart by his family for the pulpit, but he himself was too conscientious to preach what to him was but half the truth, and in spite of the urgent persuasions of both sides, persisted in following his trade as a printer. With the advent of family responsibilities his newly-born parental feelings still further widened the gulf between himself and orthodoxy, and he gave up the last idea of becoming a preacher. His wife was fearful, but her love was real. Whispers of his state of mind began to be heard in the church, and for the sake of others he was requested to resign. His wife went with him. Then the man’s disappointed parents, seeing their hopes fast drifting into oblivion, laid their heads together to try and restore the wandering sheep, and after much prayer they came to the conclusion that God had ordained a little trial as a means of securing the backslider’s return. They thereupon visited his employer, and by a few slanderous suggestions secured his dismissal. Nine months of gradually increasing privation followed, in which the three children were augmented by a fourth, but the righteous parents dare not help them to resist the chastisements of God by affording any relief. But the wife never allowed the fire of her love to go down; no murmur was ever breathed from her lips; no anxious inquiry if he had succeeded, when his weary footsteps sounded on her ears like music at night, lest her asking should increase his disappointment.
One by one she parted with every little treasure, which from her girlhood she had learned to prize, that she might contrive to find something for those still more precious treasures God had entrusted to her training. Still they withstood the entreaties of the church for they failed to see that their misfortune was the will of God, and half-suspected it had more to do with the will of a much less generous parent. It was a heavy battle they had to fight for years; at most the husband’s success secured but a bare existence, and the children continued to come until thirteen had called her mother. Bravely she bore her part, putting forth almost superhuman endeavours to make both ends meet. ‘God knew what was best, and in the end all would come right if she did but do her duty.’ So it was that the midnight hours saw her mending, patching, darning; morning found her weary, planning, hoping.
In the lonely hours of the day, when the children were at school and her husband at his work, she was weeping, praying, and longing for the rest which never came. One by one three graves had been opened before her, and heaven received three darlings over whom her mother’s heart yearned with an everstrengthening love. Yet for the world she had her smiles, and few people ever dreamed of the struggle with which she had to contend. She was not conscious of how she was over-taxing herself; she only knew how much more was needed than she had time or strength to accomplish. But rest comes at length. The fierceness of the battle, the ceaseless turmoil, the unending strife, the hope deferred grew too heavy for her shoulders, and while yet comparatively young she sank beneath the load.
As he finished his recital, he approached and drew aside the rich hangings which fell across the entrance, and we stood within the apartment where this heroine from life’s battle slept, watched over most lovingly – can I say, patiently – by those three who had a right to call her by that sweetest name a woman knows. The eldest was a youth just short of manhood, the next a girl not much his junior, and the third a lad just entering on his teens. In their robes of almost untinted whiteness, they looked like angels waiting there, not bright and brilliant in their persons, but with a soft and subdued halo breaking from them, enough to show they were no denizens of earth. Two other friends were there besides, but Siamedes made me to know that these were ministers whom Myhanene had left in attendance, when he received her from the body and brought her there.
The only sounds which broke the silence were the soft kisses the children pressed upon her lips, and cheeks, and forehead, as though they were impatient for that sleep to end that they might hear her voice again. Ever and anon I saw the flush of excitement rise on each eager face as she turned or moved upon her couch, and I discerned that I had been brought here to see her wake. Presently she breathed a sigh, stretched, turned, then stretched again. The attendants gently drew the children away; Siamedes left me, and took his place beside the couch. Slowly he waved his hand over the sleeper’s face, which now I could not see, but from the movements of her body I thought her sleep was nearly, if not quite, at an end.
Another stretch, a quiet moment, then a long-drawn sigh, followed by: “O-h de-ar; why – where am I?”
“Mother!” cried all the children in chorus, as they bounded forward to embrace her.
But I was outside. That meeting was too sacred for me to stand and gaze upon.
Shortly afterwards the curtains were again drawn aside, and she was led forth to take her first glimpse of – shall I say, heaven? What else could it have seemed to her? Whatever it had previously been, it was undoubtedly heaven now to the children who clung so closely around her.
How beautiful she looked in her newly-found strength and peace, which clothed her like a robe of sweet repose, and the consciousness breaking upon her that she could never know weariness and weakness again!
As they stood upon the edge of the terrace among the flowers, for her to take a survey of the surroundings, I was surprised to find that Myhanene was at her side. In the concentration of my attention upon her, I had not noticed that it was he who led her from the room. Where and how had he come? When I hurried out he was not there – he had not entered since from the terrace – how had he come? Siamedes joined me at this moment, and I referred my query to him.
“Myhanene brought her from earth,” he replied; “and therefore it was for him to be the first, after her children, to welcome her.”
“I had no idea that he was here.”
“He was not. When I saw her waking I sent for him.”
“Does he live near, then?”
“Near and distant only exists spiritually here,” he replied. “But I see you are not yet acquainted with our methods of communication and travel.”
“You remember,” he continued, “when you were at the Chorale, Myhanene projected a flash of light when he wished to speak to you?”
“You did not understand that, but your friend read the message it conveyed and gave the interpretation. Those flashes fly with the rapidity of thought, and find their destination instantly, and when occasion demands, we have the power to travel with equal celerity; so you see, prayer is answered while we are yet speaking, and the idea of time and space annihilated in spiritual ministration.”
“Then you do not always walk or ride?”
“By no means! Why, in the visits you have been making, your passage has been through the air frequently, only it comes so natural here that you have not noticed it.”
Any further conversation was interrupted by Myhanene calling us to congratulate our sister, after which the children made a long explanation as to who Siamedes was, and all he had done for them while they were waiting; then gently drawing her towards the edge of the terrace, Myhanene threw his arm around her and in one happy group they commenced their aerial journey towards that rest which was the legitimate compensation of that once oppressed soul.
Several other visits were paid and the stories of their lives recounted for my instruction, but I must content myself with recording the last, which at once arrested my attention by the presence of a number of bright purple hair-lines which, emanating from the body of the sleeper, passed across and out of the room, I knew not whither. My friend informed me that these were love-cords which existed by reason of the uncontrollable grief of the friends left behind. Great difficulty, he explained, is frequently experienced in dealing with these earth attractions, and if friends could only know how their unrestrained grief finds a response in those they mourn – disturbing and breaking their rest – it would do much to remedy the wrong they are thus unintentionally the cause of. Should the sleeper awake before the force of these cords can be weakened, which not unfrequently happens, the soul is drawn back again to earth, and naturally participates in the agony of its friends, which is also increased by the discovery that it is both powerless to make its presence known, or in any way minister to the relief of the mourner.
In the case before us, messengers had been continually dispatched, and every available influence employed to try and stem the torrent of these sorrowing friends. Now she was waking, and Siamedes could see that the inevitable must come. This reminded me of my conversation with Cushna about crossing the mists. But he was away, having left me as soon as we passed the bridge on our arrival. I mentioned the matter to Siamedes and dared to venture the hope, that if she was drawn back, and anyone followed her, I might be allowed to bear them company.
“I will send for Cushna,” he answered; “perhaps he will undertake the mission, and take you with him.”
I saw the message of light fly upon its errand, then its response, and almost immediately Cushna himself was beside us.
I was now to witness a second awakening, which might have been as beautiful and peaceful as the other; but, oh, how different!
My reader, think of these experiences of mine as you may – class them in the category of fiction if you choose – but for mercy’s sake hear me as I plead for self-restraint when you mourn the absence of a loved one called away. God knows the cry of a broken heart is bitter, but remember, if the first duty of a follower of Christ is love, the second is self-abnegation. Your loss is their gain, then I ask you rather to rejoice, for great is their reward. If you really love them, calm your grief, for the discarding of the body has not disturbed the seat of love and your agony vibrates on its chords as much as ever, and reaching them where they are, it disturbs their rest and postpones their happiness. Remember while here their joy corresponded to your participation therein; do you think they are so immediately changed that they could gaze in rapture upon the Saviour’s face, perfectly conscious of, yet indifferent to, your agony? If you grieve for love’s sake, calm yourself; if you weep for sentiment and fashion, you may continue – that will never reach them where they are. Love, pure, unselfish love has this power, and it is to this I now appeal. You would not weep if you could stand for one brief moment where I have stood, and see the things which I have seen ; you would then be content to let the loved ones rest in peace upon the bosom of their God; and therefore I appeal to you, dry up your tears and let them rest until your morning breaks, and your shadows have flown away.
By this time there was not the slightest doubt about the sleep being at an end, and I could see that with every fresh sign of consciousness the lines exerted an increased influence upon her. In her half-sleep she murmured several names as though she was being called but was too weary to rouse up at present; then she reluctantly woke into a dazed, half-petulant state; next a hazy recollection seemed to seize her. Shuddering, she turned in the direction in which the lines were running, at the same time vacantly responding – “I’m coming, dear.” Then she rose from the couch, the cords momentarily increasing their power over her; slowly she moved at first, but every step augmented her strength and speed; anxious marks began to show upon her face as she drew the hangings aside and stepped upon the terrace. Her excitement now grew intense, she hurried forward, and I would have interposed to save her from throwing herself over, but Cushna held me back. Mistaken love was carrying her to such an agony as I little dreamed of then; and no one had any right to use force to restrain her. All we could do was to follow and save. She reached the edge of the terrace but did not hesitate or waver. She threw herself over and was gone.
Cushna grasped my hand, and bade me come across the mists upon a mission of salvation.