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Chapter III: A Prismatic Landscape
I am not – or was not in the other life – an enthusiast. No person, however imaginative they might have been, would have used such a word in the delineation of my character. Cold, dull, unimpassioned, prosaic, phlegmatic, even stupid, would have been considered appropriate epithets by many; but enthusiastic – never! Such a spirit is born of lively imagination and appreciation, but I had not the one, and was constantly assured I knew nothing of the other; how, then, could I be enthusiastic? This was undoubtedly true of the old life, but does that justify me in saying it is equally so in this? Is the change in character and temperament so slight; are we so much of our old selves, merely translated into new fields and surroundings, that everything which was true in the past is equally true of the present? These were questions which instinctively rose to my mind, but I had not the power or knowledge to answer them. That some changes had taken place I was fully conscious, though whether they were permanent or otherwise I had no means of ascertaining for the present; further experience might show they were prompted for the moment by the strange circumstances crowding upon me. For instance, I was by no means inquisitive in the past, but since I had found myself here I had done nothing but ask: how? when? whence? or why? from myself and the only two friends I had had the opportunity to speak to.
This undertone of speculation was running through my mind, while my more active senses were delighting in the magnificence of the view I beheld on reaching the summit of the slope. Being quite happy in my original position, and having still a multitude of questions to ask, I was not in the least degree desirous of moving, even though I had been told of the greater beauties of the country I could so easily reach. When Helen made the suggestion, if the choice had been left to me I should have deferred our departure, or, what is more probable moved in the other direction, towards the mists. She seemed perfectly to understand my desire, and said:
“It is quite natural you should wish to go that way, but it would not be well for you at present.”
“Why?” I asked.
“The influences being somewhat unpleasant just now,” she replied, “you would find it difficult to return; when the attraction is broken there will be no objection to your going to watch the new arrivals.”
“What attraction?” I asked.
“The attraction of your body. When the dissolution takes place so suddenly, as in your case, the magnetic link is not completely severed for a short time, and the soul feels an almost irresistible desire to go back towards the body. The same experience is common to friends still in the body –
Full many a time they say – Good-bye!
Yet still they linger at the door,
And when they tear themselves apart
Love cries – Come back one moment more!
It was to break this influence and set you free that I asked you at first to come home with me; it was too strong upon you then, but now you can accomplish it, so we will go.”
“Do all these who are lying here feel that attraction?” I asked.
“Yes; but they are induced to leave as soon as possible.”
“I see some are not detained at all.”
“No. They have grown weary of the body, and readily part with it, so have nothing to hinder their going to their homes at once.”
“How long does the attraction usually last?”
“It varies considerably, as frequently circumstances over which the soul has no control, are exercised to prevent the desired freedom; for instance, many are held in restraint by grief of friends long after the influence of the body has been overcome.”
“How can that be?”
“I have told you that love is the greatest power we know; of this the soul is conscious so soon as it leaves the body, and the perturbation of friends has therefore a sympathetic attraction, too strong for its resistance; it forms an anchor which binds the spirit to the earth. Sometimes we have much difficulty in counteracting the pernicious influences of grief, which love would certainly prompt the bereaved ones to restrain if they could but once be made to witness the effect it produces.”
“But is not the spirit compelled to come away?”
“No! We use no force in this life under any circumstances. Every person retains the use of his free will, the exercise of which invariably produces its own reward or punishment.”
“Well! The old life has not many attractions for me, and I have no desire to renew it upon the same terms, so we will do as you desire – go forward.”
We reached the summit of the slope, and I stood entranced by the scene which lay before me. From the foot of a gentle declivity, clothed in grass of the richest, softest green I had ever beheld, a landscape stretched away on every side dressed in more, shades of colour than I had power to estimate. I had gazed, upon the skies of Italy. beautiful and calm, but the cloudless grandeur of their star-illumined glories was like the cold placidity of death-bound sleep, in contrast with the infinite and vaulted dome of eternal energy beneath which I stood, involuntarily bowing before the baptism of life with which it bathed me. I had seen the magnificence of some Oriental landscapes, with the radiance of a legion colours thrown in rich mosaics all around, but it were profanation to compare such hues and shades and tints with these before my eyes. Pulsations of visible vitality throbbed and trembled in stone and tree and flower, each of which poured forth its rhythmic quota to the harmonic proclamation which sounded from every side that death is swallowed up in victory, and over the threshold of the future – reaching to the horizon of either pole – the legend ran – ‘Life, life, eternal life.’
But why attempt the impossible? Words never yet were able to convey an adequate idea of many scenes on earth, how then can they be used to tell the greater glories which the language of the soul has not the power to paint, but leaves the entranced beholder to understand by silent comprehension. Oh, hearts! the milestones of whose pilgrimage are lettered alternately with battle, defeat, and failure; ye outcast wayfarers, ostracised from all that once was dear; ye who are hungering for a look of sympathy, thirsting for a kindly word, groping for one ray of hope; ye crushed and mangled, maimed and tortured on the rack of social propriety; ye banned and banished from a soulless church, because your weary feet have stumbled by the way; ye martyrs to the greed for wealth, and fame, and power; ye, weary of life’s struggle, all, yea, whosoever will sink down to sleep, and in the wild delirium of your dreams, give rein to all your fantasies; let your imagination conjure before you all you wish for or would dare to crave; picture to yourselves all you think of heaven; revel among the anticipations of what you there would find; then multiply the product yet a thousand times, and grasp the concept. if you can. But even though you reach the height of this desire, you will not have caught more than a faint reflection of the provision made for the enjoyment of the righteous when their bloodstained feet have reached the goal of heaven.
From the foot of the hill on which I stood, a hundred paths diverged to every part of the landscape, not the monotonous prosaic roads to which earth is so accustomed, but every one had, not a name, but a distinctive colour corresponding with the city or district to which it led. They were arranged so that the darker shades curved themselves on either hand in the foreground, each having, a greater or less depression according to its tone until I lost them as they sank beneath my feet; the lighter tints appeared to have a corresponding elevation, until in the centre of the prospect lay one straight line of faultless white leading to an arc of brilliant purity in the far distance.
Helen left me for a time that I might gaze on. the sight undisturbed, and when she returned was accompanied by several friends more or less intimately known to me. We sat down and talked over the events of our past lives, and speculated upon our future prospects with a feeling of restful satisfaction and enjoyment to which I had hitherto been a stranger. Each individual seemed in some inexplicable manner to add to my sense of gladness, and even now when I know so much more of the life then new to me, I look back upon that reunion as one of the sweetest recollections of spirit experience.
“You can begin to understand the significance of the coloured dresses now.” Helen said, during a pause in our conversation.
“Yes! I perceive that each person takes the road corresponding in colour to the dress he wears. But who are those in parti-colored robes – a combination of pink with electric blue?”
“They are messengers or teachers; it was Eusemos, one of their number, who attended you at the time of your accident, and brought you to the place where I found you. See, that is he, coming to take you away and teach you more than I am able to!”
He was a Greek, and beautiful as an Apollo. Though I had no consciousness of having seen him before, his smile of welcome and recognition forbade the idea that we were strangers. As I rose he caught me in a brother’s embrace, and held me closely to him, without one word to break the hallowed silence of his greeting.
“Are you rested now?” he asked at length.
“Yes,” I answered; “but so bewildered.”
“That is by no means an uncommon experience; the revelations that await the soul on arrival here are calculated to overpower until you have been taught the simple key by which everything is solved.”
“Who will teach me this grand art of solution?” I asked.
“I will, if you desire to know it.”
“Now if you wish.”
“Who would not wish to learn so great a secret? My soul is hungering for such knowledge. What is the mighty power?”
“Love!” he replied. “This life in all its phases, its multiform developments, its heights and depths, is but a grand commentary on that one word. Love is the only study we pursue, the food we eat, the life we live; and it is to participate in joys of this inexhaustible knowledge that you are now invited, and Myhanene asks me to introduce you to such features of it as I am capable of.”
“Who is Myhanene?” I asked.
“One of the messengers or teachers between this and the next stage of life, who acts as ruler of several cities or circles in this state.”
“But is not God the ruler?”
“He is the Supreme, King of kings, and Lord of lords; but under Him are many subordinates – cherubim, seraphim, archangel, ruling over the different dominions and divisions of this life, and Myhanene is one of the lowest authorities.”
“That is another piece of surprising information,” I said.
“So I anticipated,” he replied, “though it ought not to be for the fact has been clearly revealed to man; but ‘darkness has covered the earth, and gross darkness the people,’ who in their ignorance have wandered from the way and are lost in the wilderness of doubt, confusion and error.”
“And where does the root of this error lie, as seen from this life?”
“In the doctrine that the soul has to make its eternal and final choice on earth, rather than that being the elementary stage of its unending development. The legitimate duty of earth is to ground the soul in the practical principles of love, in order to fit it for its entrance upon the higher duties of this estate. Abstract speculations in theology are not the studies man is called upon to undertake, especially when his teachers work upon indefinite theories, and have no absolute knowledge. Even here we are not competent to speak upon many matters our brethren in the flesh have settled to their own satisfaction; but we must wait until we reach those conditions in which the necessary faculties will be developed to understand the present mysteries. Advanced instruction in science is not given by pupil teachers to the scholars in an infant class; and our Father knows the requirements and capacities of His children better than to have so designed the course of their spiritual education.”
“I notice how you appeal to reason in all your illustrations,” I said, being anxious to hear his opinion about it.
“Undoubtedly,” he replied. “All laws have their root and centre in God, and are therefore capable of being reasoned upon so far as we can comprehend them. The so-called natural laws are spiritual laws translated into requisite expressions for physical existence, and, if rightly understood, would serve as an index to spiritual progress. The struggle for supremacy of creed and influence has, unfortunately, resulted in exalting the letter of the law, while the spirit of its revelation has been ignored; hence the rise of error and misconception. Take for instance the present orthodox idea of heaven. Suppose at the mists a harp was thrust into every unskilled hand, while every unmusical voice commenced an unending shout of ‘Glory, glory, glory’; well, it might be their ideal of heaven, but what would be the opinion of such as Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, and the thousands of others who understand the laws of harmony? One moment’s serious thought would make it impossible for such an idea to remain as true.”
“Perhaps so. But I am unable to see how it would be possible for them to form an accurate conception of this life; it is so different from what I expected to find it, and I was no friend of orthodoxy.”
“Why is it so different? Not because it is unreal; but that you have formed an unnatural opinion of it. The change from mortality to immortality is but a stage in the development of the soul, similar to that which changes the blossom to the fruit. The natural law in not broken and destroyed in either case; it is but carried forward another stage towards the object to be achieved. You never find the blossom of the sloe to be the progenitor of a peach, or the bud of a daisy to expand into a rose. So in the translation from the lower life to this, precisely the same law is in operation; this being the complement and continuation of that. But it becomes such an occasion of bewilderment from the fact that man is erroneously taught to believe that, by a simple act of faith, exercised even in the hour of dissolution, he has the power to accomplish such an impossibility in the case of his soul which, you say, would be insane to suggest in relation to the fruit or the flower.”
“Not that man has the power,” I suggested, “but that God is able to accomplish it in the exercise of His omnipotence. I never heard of any sect who claimed to have the power; that is universally ascribed to God alone.”
“In precept you are right,” he answered, “but in practice man is supposed to have all the power, and God nothing whatever to do with it.”
“It may be my ignorance,” I replied, “but still I fail to see where you are right.”
“Let me use a by no means uncommon illustration. God is represented as having made certain provisions for man’s salvation, subject to his repentance; this repentance to be exercised, or not, as the individual may determine, and it is as the arbiter of his own fate that he is pleaded with.”
“And is it not so?” I enquired.
“In the sense that he cannot be forgiven before repentance, yes; but the teaching I repudiate is that the exercise of repentance in man is able to work an impossible change in the nature of the individual the moment he consents. Hear my case, and tell me if I am not right. A man whose life is weighted with outrage, cruelty and murder, stands face to face with dissolution, shrinking from the step about to be forced upon him. In the prison cell, while the execution bell is tolling, and the hangman depriving him of all power to help or avert his fate, the minister is pleading with him to repent, assuring him all may yet be well; God is ready to forgive, Jesus is willing to receive, and angels are waiting to carry his blood-washed spirit home. His moments are but few, and an eternal destiny is hanging in the balance of his own decision. Where, I ask, is any power left in the hands of God in such doctrine? and yet you know that what I say is true. Such a man is assured that nothing but himself stands in the way of immediate and absolute forgiveness, no matter what his life has been.”
“But even repentance is the gift of God,” I replied.
“I know it; and do not wish to undervalue such an act, but only to protest against the power attributed to it. A man, by neglecting the caution of his friends, may sustain the fracture of a limb, or bring himself into difficulties, after which he repents of his foolhardiness; but does that repentance save him from the consequences of his rash conduct? Of course not; and the same law obtains in relation to the soul.”
“In the light of your present experience and knowledge, how would you proclaim the law of God to man?” I asked.
“No one can make a simpler or more perfect declaration of it than Jesus, when he said ‘One is your father, even God, and all ye are brethren.’ In the exercise of His paternal duties, God is not a respecter of persons. From every child obedient love is expected, and after that, brotherly affection towards every member of the family without exception. This is the whole law of God, and rigorous observance of it is enforced, with a commensurate punishment for each violation. ‘Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.’”
These words revived the intense desire to get back again to earth, which before possessed me and prompted my prayer upon the slope; they seemed to strengthen the hope that in some way my yearning might possibly be gratified, and I asked:
“If the family relationship is so closely observed, and the transition only a development, not a severance, is it not possible that some provision exists whereby we may still reach the earth and help to correct these grievous errors?”
“Yes! such naturally exists, and all the testimonies of earth bear evidence to the fact; but, seeing a ministry like this would be fatal to all creeds and sects, as it would break down the profession of the priest, it has therefore been anathematised and pronounced to be of hell.”
“But surely we have power to conquer such opposition and proclaim a truth which will appeal to reason and common sense.”
“That is by no means so easy to be accomplished as you anticipate. It has been taught for ages that the Bible, as the Word of God, needs a critical and scholarly interpretation that its teachings may be rightly understood – this is the basis of all creeds – and establishes the necessity of trained men to read it in accordance with the sectarian spirit they are engaged to foster.”
“Then you consider all the error is to be found in the formation and division of the sects?”
“Part of it, but the origin is in making the book to be an infallible dictator, and claiming that it contains the whole and final message of God, to man. It makes no such pretension for itself, neither is it in consonance with the methods of God’s procedure that it should be so. He gives the sunlight day by day; sends the rain as occasion requires, and makes each year to produce its own harvest. This is the law throughout the whole scope of creation, and is it reasonable to suppose He would vary or abrogate it in His personal intercourse with His children, by speaking once, and leaving the interpretation of His message to the mercy of whoever chose to make a profession of expounding it? Even the rivalry of the creeds forbids such an assumption; and to suppose that God can lightly regard such false pretensions, very seriously impugns the character of His love towards His children.”
“Your words are tinged with a glorious hope for the future of the race,” I said, “in swinging the doors of mercy upon the hinges of infinite love; but tell me something of the condition those take in this life who have followed these teachings.”
“In this life every man is held responsible for his own deliberate acts and motives, but all consequent punishment is remedial, not vindictive. The noblest gift with which he is endowed is the power to reason; this being so, he is expected to consult and use it in everything he does. If then he possesses this gift only next in inferiority to Divinity itself, is it consistent to suppose it is only adapted to the minor details of life, while it becomes a dangerous counsellor in the weightier matters of the soul? Such an idea is a false statement about a person’s character upon the Giver. But here comes a difficulty – the natural consequence of the free use of reason on earth would mean destruction to the narrow limits of creed and dogma, hence its loud denunciation by the Church. On the other hand, if a man being so endowed, is content to accept the dictates of his fellow, rather than stand upon the solid foundation of the consistency of the eternal God, he must not be surprised if he is called upon to take the inevitable consequences of his preference of man’s speculation to God’s revelation.”
“I fail to see how he is to know,” I replied, “if you take the Bible away from him.”
“I am not by any means doing so,” he said. “The record of God’s methods of dealing with His children under various circumstances are invaluable guides to men; He being forever the same, the annals of the past form useful indications, not necessarily arbitrary laws, for the future. The men who wrote those books were men who walked and talked with God, and their communings are recounted for the comparison and encouragement of others, not to supersede or prevent such companionship in the future. By no means would we take the book away; but to say that our Father has ceased to speak to men is to charge Him with being a respecter of persons in the narrowest sense of the term, for why should He have spoken to Abraham, to Socrates, or to Buddha and not to the toiler of the present time? His light shineth on every land, He maketh the rain fall on the fields of the evil and the good, men may fail, but God is the same forever. When mankind, therefore, learn to use the Bible, not abuse it, when they reason over it and seek its spiritual, not its creedal interpretation, when they search for truth instead of priestly sanction, when they recognise the messengers of love as angels from heaven, not emissaries from hell; then will they hear our voices behind them, saying in the language of the still future revelation – this is the way, walk ye in it, and our Father’s kingdom will be established on earth on the same basis as we see it here. When this time comes, then our world will cease to be so full of surprises to the multitude of pilgrims who are continually joining us”
“What would the old world be like,” I asked, “under such a system of government?”
“Come and see.”