Chapter II: The Family in Paradise
In that first embrace I was ever conscious of, I tasted something of the sweetness to be found in the compensation Heaven bestows upon those whose happiness has been deferred by the untoward circumstances of earth. If it is possible, do not murmur at thy lot, poor, unloved, benighted, and lonely one – I am speaking after having passed through. the ordeal, after bearing the burden, after refusing to be comforted, and I tell you you will be the envied one by and by. Thousands who have revelled in love of the type recognized on earth will presently regret that your lot has not been their own. As the buttercup is to the rose and the daisy to the lily so is the love of earth in its holiest, sweetest form – to the ravishing dream which descends from Heaven and lingers undisturbed by time in Paradise. It passeth understanding, defies expression in its entrancement, is voided by everything base and ignoble, pure as Heaven can keep it, strong to the healing of every wound, without a shade of estrangement free from limitation, and opens a career of sacred evolution which confidently leads to God.
How long we lingered in the silence of that divine ecstasy I do not know – never shall know. Time limits for us are now measurements of the past, and the only standards we are subject to are those of fullness – complete, pressed down and running over. We have waited long, what if our greeting was long? Heaven is generous, and ordains that every soul shall be satisfied.
Dismissing then all question of the duration and nature of our greeting, let me at once pass to the first question of closer interest which will rise in the mind of every reader as to whether I knew my mother when we met.
The subject of the recognition of friends in the after-life is one of never waning interest; preacher, poet, teacher, parent, child and friend are ever speculating in hope, doubt and fear respecting it. Shall we meet again – and if so, shall we be able to recognize each other after so long a separation? Such, and a thousand other questions are asked with breaking heart over the silent corpse from which no answer is expected. In this hopelessly regarded quest the heart is far more loyal to God and truth than is the intellect – the one lingers on and on around the inquiry hoping against hope if only for a suggestion of some response, while the other with cold unsympathetic harshness declares the thing impossible, and bids affection to accept fate’s stern decree. But even in the minds of those who refuse to accept the conclusion of reason there is an equally cheerless uncertainty as to the condition in which those who have gone before will be restored. Will the beautiful prediction of Longfellow be upheld?
Not as a child shall we again behold her;
For when with raptures wild
In our embraces we again enfold her,
She will not be a child.
But a fair maiden in her Father’s mansion,
Clothed with celestial grace;
And beautiful with all the soul’s expansion
Shall we behold her face.
Or will the desire of the mother who breathed the following pathetic response to his poetic dream be realized?
Oh say not so! how shall I know my darling
If changed her form and veiled with shining hair?
If, since her flight, has grown my starling,
How shall I know her there?
On memory’s page by viewless fingers painted,
I see the features of my angel child;
She passed away ere vice her life had tainted –
Pass’d to the undefiled.
Oh, say not so! for I would clasp her, even
As when below she lay upon my breast;
I would dream of her as a bud in heaven
Amid the blossoms blest.
My little one she was a folded lily,
Sweeter than any on the azure wave:
But night came down, a starless night and chilly,
Alas! we could not save.
Yes, as a child, serene and noble poet –
Oh, heaven were dark were children wanting there;
I hope to clasp my bud, as when I wore it,
A dimpled baby fair.
Though years have flown, toward my blue-eyed daughter
My heart yearns ofttimes with a mother’s love;
Its never-dying tendrils now enfold her,
E’en as a child above.
E’en as a babe my little dove-eyed daughter,
Nestle and coo upon my heart again;
Wait for thy mother by the river water,
It shall not be in vain.
Wait as a child. How shall I know my darling
If changed her form, and veil’d with shining hair;
If since her flight has grown my little starling,
How shall I know her there?
It would be easy for me to continue the enumeration of nebulous ideas that exist with luxuriant uncertainty in the minds of men and women upon this point of recognition in Paradise, if such were the purpose of my writing. But it is not so. My aim is, so far as possible, to set these doubts at rest, by recording my own experience as an illustration of what God has mercifully provided as an answer to this universal prayer of affection.
I may be wrong – everyone naturally regards his own case as the best suited for the purpose – but I am disposed to think that my experience is one singularly designed to throw light upon this deeply pathetic inquiry, and for that reason I am willing to dwell upon the incident longer than I should otherwise elect, hoping that by doing so I may be able to relieve some burden of doubt.
Did I, then, know my mother when I first looked upon her face after a lapse of nearly forty years? Yes – perfectly. Not only so, but I was certain it would be so even before I saw her, while yet the curtain falling between us had not been drawn aside. How this was so I cannot explain, whether by a reciprocated out-reach and embrace of mutual affection or by some new power of recognition flashing into existence as our spiritual spheres blended with each other, I do not know; but I knew that I should know her as certainly as she would know me, and when the veil was thrown aside I threw my arms around and pressed her to my heart before my eyes had caught a glimpse of her dear face. It was not until the heart was satisfied that any claim for sight was recognized.
Then I raised her head with both my hands to take a first look into her love-lit eyes. A first look, did I say? So I thought. But as our eyes met the fountain of my memory opened and one of the most beneficent tender mercies of God flashed upon me.
“Vaone!” – I gasped.
“Aphraar,” she murmured, and the head fell back again upon my breast, while I drank of a deeper, sweeter cup than before.
Fear not, poor timid anxious soul, lest the child of your affection may be changed when to your embraces you again enfold her. What if she has become a fair maiden, beautiful with all the soul’s expansion, when at length your feet shall cross the threshold of immortality. In her development she will not be unknown – will not be estranged. In that first flash of my mother’s eyes I remembered – the memory came back to me – that during all the days of my sorrowing for her absence the great majority of the hours of sleep had been spent in her company in that scarcely known boundary land between the physical and spiritual worlds, which God has mercifully located for the solace of sorrowing souls, and the new name with which I greeted her was the familiar one by which she had been known to me in my sleep-life all along.
Long, long ago God promised through the mouth of Hosea (Xiii. I4) a consolation to mankind of which this almost unrecognized possibility may well be considered a fulfilment:- ‘I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plague; O grave, I will be thy destruction.’ Why has earth not learned to rejoice in these richly-provided ministrations? Where are the God – appointed teachers of men that these things have not yet been proclaimed from the mountain tops, that their healing virtues have not been applied to broken hearts?
The pioneers of physical science have long since discovered and affirmed that matter is indestructible; where are the prophets and seers of spiritual science who have so far failed even to understand the significant inference established by materialistic inquirers, that if the instrument is indestructible, the artist behind, who has power to control the same, must, at least, be equally eternal? Life is more than dust, and mind superior to chemical constituents. Matter may change its form and life its envelope and sphere of operation, but just as the one cannot be destroyed the other cannot die. The noon never can become midnight; it may by gradual progress give place, but when the midnight comes upon us, the noon is still in as active opposition as ever, performing its appointed vocation though in another sphere. So life is always death’s antithesis. It cannot die – for life there is no death – ‘God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live unto Him.’ That which has lived still lives – must live – since life is God and must live in Him.
If this is so – and who is able to deny it? – how beautiful and full of hope is the living parable of the plant buried in a dismal dungeon but struggling, climbing and reaching out to send its shoots into the sunshine. Is the plant more true in its affection than the loved ones for whom earth mourns? If the plant will find its way through all opposition, if the seed sown deep in its grave of earth will conquer and triumph over its tomb, will not the love of the absent ones be equally true? Have plant and seed more of power and individuality, more of continuity and strength of affection for the sun than mother for her child, or friend for friend? ‘O ye of little faith!’
The soul has possession of mighty and all-important secrets it would whisper to mankind if the gates of memory were only wide enough to let them through – secrets that would leave few of our cherished conceptions of God, religion and futurity unshaken.
But these truths are wide, high, deep, requiring portals through which earth might pass with the freedom of a child’s marble through a city’s gate, and the midget systems of men would vanish in their presence like the shadowy foundations of a dream. So for the system’s sake the Needle’s Eye remains in spite of inconvenience, agony, and unfaithfulness to God. Men built the gates; if God made the truth too large to pass through, what is to be done – is it not better to reduce the truth rather than remodel the architecture? So the architects argue, and the contention still proceeds.
But the tree of life is sending its shoots through the crannies of the obstructing wall; already serious fissures are discernible running in every direction, and the growth still goes on. Love must and will find a way back to earth in order to make known the truth concerning the beyond; God sanctions the return, sleep is a daily disembodiment of every soul, and in the sleep vestibule of Heaven the parted meet again and exult in the triumph of life over the impotence of death. Once grasp this great truth, then turn your face hopefully towards the remembrance of it, and the shadow of the tomb will soon be swallowed up in victory.
I can understand some of my critics turning upon me with the inquiry – “How is it, if this is as you say, that the truth of such a provision has not been demonstrated to the world before?”
I reply that it has been declared by the teaching and resurrection of Jesus, but the interests of an ecclesiastical theology have demanded that the former should be ignored and the latter treated as an exception rather than the exposition of an abiding law. The inconsistencies and contradictions which arise and perplex mankind by the decision are not for me to consider or explain. I point them out and pass on, remarking that human ignorance respecting a natural law is no argument against its truth: wireless telegraphy and telepathy – not to mention a dozen other recent discoveries – were accessible possibilities centuries ago, had man been in a position to enter into their possession. All the great gifts of God – the yet undreamed-of discoveries of science – lie accessible along the path of development for whosoever will go forward and seek them. God does not throw His richest treasures into the lap of indolence – they that seek find. Conceited ignorance is never a trustworthy steward, but the secrets of the Lord are with those who wait to do His will and daily fear Him. It is not always safe to judge the value of a man by the coat he wears, nor estimate truth by the tinsel lavished upon its wrappers. Things are not invariably what they seem. The matrix of a gem is seldom of prepossessing appearance. Some flowers bloom late, but they are not always least beautiful. So if this truth I now declare has been neglected and opposed so long, it is still redolent with its original virtue, priestly intolerance notwithstanding.
Where every step in our journey, however, will be thus fruitful of inquiry, lesson, surprise and unsuspected development, it will be impossible for us to tarry indefinitely. We are treading the path of life in which the studies of eternity are strewn around. What wonder if we should find it necessary to return again and again, to find where we are standing to-day the roots of subjects that will first attract our interest in some distant futurity. We shall never exhaust the inexhaustible; let us therefore gather such thoughts as may be helpful in the present and leave the rest until some more convenient season.
Another point of some importance for the moment here forces itself upon my attention, to which I must now turn my mind. It arises from the names with which we greeted each other when I raised my mother’s head –
“Vaone – Aphraar!”
I have already pointed out how certain events act like springs which, being touched, release a host of memories hitherto unsuspected. The lifting of that dear head so acted upon another point of recollection for me that I remembered the names so long familiar to us in our sleepcommunion – those new names we all expect to receive as one of the gifts of immortality. But more than this was made known to me in that recovered memory: I had for the last time called her “Mother!” With all the other earth distinctions and differentiations that sweetest and most cherished of all epithets had now been cast aside. There is no such relationship as mother and child recognized in immortality.
Such an assertion may at first appear as a startling absurdity; but let us consider what it means before we hastily come to a conclusion, then we shall find that if a cherished superstition has to be unwillingly relinquished, in the truth by which it will be replaced we shall receive something far better and more greatly to be prized.
Truth and sentiment are not always inseparably united, nor is the stamp of antiquity any guarantee of genuineness; hence it behoves men to make sure whether their opinions rest upon the certain basis of ascertained law or merely upon the superstitions of atmospheric unreliability. Paul, following the teaching of the Christ, has once for all declared the law that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, and if so, surely the peculiar limitations of the flesh are also excluded from the region of the spirit, that wide and diviner forces may be set in harmonious operation.
Still the anticipation of a reunited family has been such a cherished belief through all the ages as to demand reverent and sympathetic consideration, and I would so deal with it in the inquiry truth demands me to make.
Now, on earth this supposed ideal of an exclusive and unbroken family circle is far more of a poetic fancy than a practical reality. It is an impossible conception no sane man or woman would attempt to realize. Do we resent the enlargement of the family circle to admit the successive arrivals by which it is increased? When the lads are growing up how often is it necessary to send one away to a distant city or even a foreign land, to remove him from the influence of companions or temptation. The exigencies of education, business and success make further inroads. Financial and other troubles or some golden opportunity make it desirable that a daughter shall go away; or again, the inevitable lover comes along for whom the girl is willing to leave father, mother and home. In all these and many other circumstances tending to the breaking up of the family circle is the cherished ideal put forward a demand for respect? NO! Not for one moment after the necessity of the situation is recognized. There is a sigh – frequently a tear – then the admission that such is only natural, sometimes desirable, and at once the whole family begin to assist in bringing about the consummation.
Marriage carries one away, and to form the new circle two already existing ones have to be broken, never to be reunited without shattering the third, which fact at once brings us face to face with the problem as to how it is possible for any one family to be complete in Heaven. It could only be partially realized by each individual group being left parentless, which two members would be necessarily separated to complete the circles from which they had each been drawn. Would this be an ideal realization of a reunited family?
Outside these physically disintegrating forces we have others of a far greater separating character lying in the domain of taste, morals, intellect, art, science, and every other department of civilized life. In all these departments circles of interests are formed which frequently exert a stronger influence for weal or woe upon the individual than that of blood relationship. Yet the necessity for the existence of many of them is recognized and defended even though the effect is seen in an ever-widening division from other members of the family. The idea of a united circle never suggests itself where such a restriction would wreck a promising career.
Thus where natural law would be violated or intellectual evolution hindered by the continuance of the circle unbroken, man is always ready to sacrifice the latter that the former may be served.
But we have another and even higher stage to consider. The spiritual relationship of soul to soul is far above that attainable by flesh and blood. We are no longer in the region of limitation when we ascend to where eternal affinities are found. In this existence God is the universal Father, and all nations of men are equally sons and daughters, so that the ‘whole family of earth and Heaven are one.’ In comparison with this Fatherhood no other parental claim can stand. The accident of a moment cannot urge a weightier claim than the eternal laws; nor can the deputed authority for an hour in and for the service of God take precedence in the soul’s divine fidelity. There can only be one family in Heaven in which all humanity, of every clime, colour, tongue and nation, will rank as brethren, and God the Father of all.
Blood relationships, with every other earthly distinction and limitation, are left far behind in custody of the customs-house of the tomb; but every spiritual kinship will be preserved, and every fraction of memory as to the relationship which bound us together, not as mother and child – such a recognition would keep us too far apart – but in the more holy union of soul with soul, which bond can never be broken since the blessing of God binds all true love that naught can put it asunder.
When, therefore, we reasonably consider this sentimental idea of a united family, even in its earthly aspects, we at once discover how impractical and impossible it is, but when we carry it farther and try to imagine it under the vastly changed conditions of a purely spiritual life, one can only wonder how the question was ever allowed to be seriously accepted. The idea of an undivided family is ever subordinated to individual interests. This is a fundamental working axiom which is recognized on earth and will never be disturbed; hence nothing that will tend to well-being will ever be lost. It is when men postulate the continuance of physical limitations as the rule and law of spiritual conditions that incongruities arise, and it is from this error our family misconception comes in. Parental love has a necessary function to perform on earth, which from being vital in the outset gradually shades away until the child learns to act for himself – even to the resisting and defiance of parental authority – and then himself assumes the parental role. In the spiritual realm, when the child is born he becomes a son of God and Fatherhood is assumed by the Eternal in whose great human family circles of nearer or more distant unions will be formed until the whole race becomes one in Him.
We lose nothing in this but an artificial bond which is seldom more than superficial and often both inconvenient and irksome; but we gain much. The bond between Vaone and myself is closer much than that of mother and son. We shall never forget all we have been to each other, but the physical barrier has disappeared. As the love we know is greater, sweeter, stronger than I had hitherto conceived, so is my cup larger and more satisfying than I had earned a mother’s love could be. So if Paradise has taken away – or rather if I have found one cherished illusion has faded – I have also been rewarded by the discovery that the anticipation I formed was altogether unworthy of the reality ‘which God has prepared for those who love Him.’
These two lessons I learned and understood in the joy of reunion with her for whom I had sorrowed and sought so long.