Chapter XI: A Lesson in Creation
Let me hope the foregoing experiences with the lessons I have attempted to draw therefrom will show that I have anything but a loose conception of sin and its consequences.
Turning now to other scenes, I would here relate an incident serving to show how Paradise is adapted to undertake, where necessity arises, the whole of the educational work connected with a soul which earth is supposed to perform.
I have more than a passing pleasure in doing this, because I am sure that a glance at the great work of educating children on our side will be of genuine interest to my readers; and second because I would combat an erroneous idea gaining ground in the minds of some that an almost endless series of re-births on earth is demanded to explain ‘some of life’s most puzzling problems.’
It will be altogether impossible to deal exhaustively with the question of reincarnation at this time, but let me briefly say that it is a subject for which in my earth life I felt much sympathy and have made wide inquiries concerning it since crossing the boundary, with this result: among the souls who are still subjected to earth conditions—from whom all experiences have to be received with caution, and not acted upon until they are confirmed from more reliable sources—there are many who honestly think reincarnation to be a fact, and teach it to be so; among those who have passed away from these conditions and learned to accept truth for its own sake, who know and study, tracing origins and sequences many of them through unsuspected ages beyond the rise of history, I have been unable to meet with one holding the theory of rebirth to be true. The origin of the idea is to be found in savage superstition. Without a definite knowledge of immortality and equally certain that there is more in man than simply body, it has always been a problem to the untutored mind as to what happens when the body ceases to breathe and begins to grow offensive from decomposition. The philosophy of ignorance is always expeditious, and the savage solved the problem by allowing a new-born child to inhale the breath of a dying man, and the departing life was thus provided with another body, in which to continue its existence. From this crude beginning the idea of transmigration of souls has been worked over and over in various ways with much philosophical reasoning and speculation, but it stands still where we found it—a baseless superstition, alike at variance with the law, love and purpose of God.
I am not at all unconscious of the fascination of the subject, and would, for this reason, willingly continue the discussion of it were it reasonably within the scope of my present purpose. But it not being so, I must resist the temptation for the present, with the hope that I may return to it at some future time. I might, however, here call attention to the unstudied side-light which is necessarily thrown upon the question by the record of my general experiences, the which I think will show with some degree of reasonable clearness that God has made provision to meet every just requirement that can possibly arise by far more expeditious and less cumbrous means than such a circuitous and hypothetical system.
It must always be borne in mind that all the requirements of God from men are based upon justice. To expect perfection to be produced by imperfect conditions would be to expect the impossible, hence the attainment to Nirvana in the flesh would be a condition as unrealizable as stepping, in the mortal body, from earth on to the surface of the sun. Let us begin to be reasonable and appreciate the fact that evolution from the human to the Divine must proceed in the future according to the law which has governed the past. We have still to climb from step to step, and as we go, must perforce be continually dropping the lower until by imperceptible gradations we ascend to the goal. In this process it must needs be that this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this ‘mortal must put on immortality’ before we reach the zenith, and the eye bear the sight of that uncreated beam. From this handicapping limitation of the flesh the incarnated soul cannot free itself. It is a house of bondage from the influence of which one can only be free by breaking away, and ten thousand births would furnish no increase of advantage, especially where the memory of all that has gone before is not available for guidance.
Like all man-made systems, the speculation of re-birth is a weariness and confusion to the mind, without a place of rest in its ceaseless struggle to escape a spiritual Scylla on the one hand and Charybdis on the other.
God has provided a better way than this, to one phase of which I would now invite your attention.
There was a world of meaning, of promise, of hope, in that command of Christ to His disciples after the five thousand had eaten and were filled from ‘five barley loaves and two small fishes.’ ‘Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.’ This is the eternal principle working through all creation. Men have now learned as a scientific fact that only the form of existence can be changed, nothing can be destroyed. If this is so in the material, which is the instrument, how much more must it be so in the spiritual, which is the operative agent working through the material!
With this principle still working through the life of Paradise the same watchful care over the fragments is manifested. Nothing must be lost. In the smallest of all particles is hidden divine potentialities. Gather these up, for each must be sent to its own place to be tended, developed and assisted to fulfil its appointed sphere.
It is to one of the nursery-homes of these spiritual fragments I would now conduct you, where we may watch and learn to understand how Paradise deals with the first unfoldment of mind and intellect. I use the term ‘spiritual fragments’ advisedly in this connection, since we shall meet not only with souls who passed away in the process of nativity, but others who in the halftime of gestation were able to make no more than one feeble independent movement and then expire. Surely these are fragments of humanity truly, yet they survive, and are carefully assisted forward into a full and strong maturity.
So beautifully and considerably does the sphere of the spiritual overlap the physical that most adequate provision is made to reach and protect all such little ones, of whom earth never takes cognizance. Unknown, with an existence unsuspected, still they live. Nothing must be lost. God’s plans are laid for saving even to the uttermost, and the nurseryhome over which our now well-known friend Cushna presides is one of the numerous establishments appointed for such work in connection with children.
There is ample accommodation here—and when I say ample I do not mean simply that each child is allowed so many cubic feet of breathing room by measurement, but I refer to the generous overflowing provision so characteristic of all God does—for about two thousand souls ranging from the boundary-stranded infant I have referred to, to those who may have known an earth existence of several months, the limit being determined not so much by age as other circumstances we need not here discuss. They are drawn from every nationality of earth and brought up together, one of the very first efforts being to prevent any approach to racial differences and establish the unity of the human family. When the preliminary course has furnished ability to proceed, the child goes forward from strength to strength through the advancing and ascending schools of eternity.
Longfellow struck a chord of true spiritual music when he sang of one who had passed into the courts of Paradise:
Not as a child shall we again behold her;
But when, with rapture wild,
We to our hearts again enfold her
She will not be a child.
Childhood and youth are imperfections, and no more represent true manhood and womanhood than daybreak is synonymous with noon. Heaven, when we reach it, will be found to be a perfect home for a perfect people, and all must attain the qualification to receive admission. Paradise will consummate in this respect what earth has no power to achieve. It is the legitimate function for which God has called it into existence. Childhood has to be carried forward to the full beauty of manhood and womanhood, and age brought back to the strength and vigour it has lost. Cushna, himself, is a striking illustration of this latter effect. I have already spoken of it, but the fascination it exerts seems to increase every time I come in contact with the benevolent Egyptian, upon whose shoulders rests the mystic mantle of evasive age so indescribably and beautifully blending with the exuberant sprightliness of early manhood. The consciousness of this, it will be remembered, was the first impression I received when I met him at the Home of Rest, but the fullness of it was more forcibly brought home to me when I found him so actively engaged in the education of children in this scene of more than fairy enchantment, which I was assured was the better place for learning to know him as he is.
I know not whether the man had produced the home or the home the man, but whichever it may be the two are certainly related to each other as heat to fire, or light to the sun. The place was unmistakably designed for the encouragement of life’s first unfoldments, but in the arrangement of it had not aeons of antiquity been laid under heavy contribution, and their wisdom tempered, softened, mellowed into an adaptability youth had no strength to furnish? Methods of treatment had been skilfully drawn from the best vintages of experience: adaptations had been critically made with a view to naturally meeting every possible requirement. Strength with growth, intrinsic character with interest, sweetness of disposition with progressive determination, humility with competence, love with power, and reverence with success. All these had to be accomplished, and were adequately provided for, together with a systematic but careful extraction of every hereditary proneness to the ignoble and impure. The correction of these latter tendencies is one of the chief features to which special and ever watchful care has, to be directed.
The home comprises a surprising number of palatial buildings, each of which is placed at a good distance from its neighbour and located in a retreat perfectly adapted to the particular use of its department. Among them I saw the Nursery where pre-natal children are specially cared for; dormitories—all young children requiring a certain amount of sleep—a gymnasium, museum, theatre, laboratory and other places answering to every possible demand which may arise. But the most striking adaptations were to be found in the open air, where a system of landscape gardening had been adopted, which I can only describe as the interrogative. Everything, everywhere, appeared to be designed to prompt questions, and so effectively was this carried out that I fell into the trap myself, and was asking for information at every turn of my head.
The existence of such institutions in Paradise equipped with every possible educational appliance beyond the powers of an earthly mind to understand, will be regarded by many—especially such as have been taught to think that an instant after death the soul of an infant explosively acquires all knowledge—as miserably materialistic and blasphemously untrue. I should pass such conclusion of superstitious ignorance in the silence it merits, were it not for the obstacle it throws in the path of honest inquirers who refuse to pass any objection unnoticed.
If we try to grasp intelligently an idea of what it is we are aspiring to perfection and nearness to God—and the almost infinite distance by which our present imperfections separate us from that goal, then cast our eyes backwards to measure the comparatively short way we have as yet travelled on the journey since the pilgrimage of evolution first began, I think there will be little difficulty in recognizing that these preparatory stages of Paradise are an absolutely necessary provision if we are to succeed. Commercial and diplomatic positions on earth are safeguarded by interim examinations and qualifications tested by service and fidelity. Is it to be thought credible that while men make such exactions in temporal matters God will be less careful in respect to the eternal? The approbation of Christ—“Well done”—is the reward bestowed at the end of loyal, faithful and honourable service, when the tried and trusted steward hands in his audited accounts. For this service, earth under most advantageous circumstances can do no more than pass us through a preliminary examination with honours. The intermediate, advanced and final stages remain for Paradise to prepare us for. If this is found to be so under the most favourable conditions of long life and easy circumstances, how much more will such corrective assistance be needed for the unfortunate, and those whose lives are cut short in infancy, since innocence is not righteousness, nor is nonintelligence holiness. Hence the raison d’être for the homes I am speaking of.
How I regret my inability to paint either in language or colours the scene as it first presented itself to my astonished eyes! But if I could find the language, earth would misinterpret the meaning; if I could procure the colours, my critics would say they were unreal, unnatural, and the result a miserable attempt to introduce an impossible novelty into the Arabian Nights’ Entertainment. I had better not attempt it, but leave such detail of my experiences until you, my gentle reader, are able for yourself to see it as it is, with eyes adapted to a wider view, and your powers of vision able to clearly trace a longer spectrum.
Still one may legitimately exclaim, “Happy children to be thus cared for and protected! Glorious gospel abounding in such provision! overflowing compensation for all that has been sacrificed on earth!” Where is the man or woman who would not envy them? But hush; stand still, or we shall trespass here. No man or child liveth or dieth to himself. “Our times are in His hand”; and it is better so. For the present it may be you see through a glass darkly, but presently you too will understand; then you will find God’s leading was right, after all. Great as is the compensation of the child, you may—if you will, by doing your duty nobly—find an even greater reward awaiting yourselves.
Let us be patient; earth’s severe afflictions
Not from the ground arise,
But oftentimes celestial benedictions
Assume a dark disguise.
I have no intention of making a tour of the departments of this institution. The chief features of life and its activities here are not to be found indoors, and Cushna’s home is no exception to the general rule.
I would repeat that the first object of every such institution is to foster inquiry in the minds of the children. No instruction is forced upon an unwilling or unready child, but ingenious devices are employed to arrest attention and prompt a question as to the nature or utility of the thousand objects most temptingly located in every part of the fairylike domain. The principle here observed is acted upon in every stage of the life beyond:—When interest is sufficiently aroused to prompt inquiry, the mind is in a favourable condition to receive instruction, and ministers are always at hand to suitably impart it.
Cushna very kindly invited me to join one of the many groups of children who were so pleasantly and enjoyably studying first lessons in the school of Paradise, that I might become acquainted with the system of education he has adopted.
A moment later, without attracting more than the slightest attention from the thoughtfully interested children, we had taken our place near a group of some twenty students who were listening to a lady explaining the nature and beauty of a blade of grass which by its attractive form and colour had aroused the curiosity of one of the little ones.
From the commencement of her lecture the speaker carried myself, as well as her Lilliputian audience, into a romantic fairyland of botany in her description of the life, habits and antecedents of her subject. Then, by an apparently magical process I was altogether unprepared for, she held within her hands a variety of other grasses from which she drew comparison and contrasts: the coarsest and meanest of which she called attention to as a representative specimen of grasses to be found on earth, the others were from different stages of the higher life. Every inquiry from the children was answered by a simple and forcible parable setting forth the truth she wished to fix upon the memory, and she lingered with almost too leisurely patience that her lesson might be clearly comprehended.
When all this was over I was further astonished to hear her announce that if there were no more questions as to that part of the lesson she would proceed to the practical consideration of it.
Then followed a perfectly entrancing discourse upon the chemistry of that blade of grass and the process by which the constituents of the atmosphere are selected, attracted and utilized to produce the blade in the natural course. Nature was set forth as being a most beautiful but invisible machine designed by God to prepare all that was necessary for the protection and sustenance of man, until such time as he should be able to understand how to use the great available forces in producing all the requirements by a much better and quicker process. This led to a beautiful description of the difference between a man and other agencies of creation by setting forth the nature and potentialities of the soul, which possesses latent powers to accomplish all that nature achieves, by a more expeditious process under conditions she set forth and enforced by many illustrations.
It seems almost incredible that such infant minds could be interested in subjects so profound. But God has His own methods by means of which He can reveal unto babes mysteries He withholds from the wise and prudent, and in the experience before me I was watching the process by which this seeming impossibility was actually but gradually accomplished. In these homes of the children we are brought very near to the purity of God, accommodated to the minds over which it broods, and passes across thresholds where the shadow of sin has never fallen. Sown in this virgin soil of innocence, how can we, who have been contaminated with pullution of sin, estimate the power and possibilities of omnipotent love?
But to return to the lesson.
After the explanation came the demonstration. The teacher laid the grasses aside, and bidding the children watch her empty and extended hand, we saw, with equal interest and surprise, a blade of grass, the exact counterpart of the one upon which her discourse had been based, slowly form before our eyes. When the experiment was complete the original was laid side by side with the created specimen for our careful examination, when the one was found to be equally perfect with the other.
The session was not yet over. It was now the duty of each child to make what effort it could to duplicate that of its tutor, and this, to me, was not the least interesting part of the experience. One by one they were called in turn to the side of their instructor, who encouraged and exclaimed as necessary, then watched the result of those first attempts at creation. Many were total failures, others produced something—enough to astonish and encourage further efforts, and one made a very creditable success as to form, but in colour and detail much was left to be desired.
Congratulations and commendations now followed, causes of failure were pointed out as only to be expected, certainty of speedy success was generously promised, and the teacher went on to explain that perfection is only to be reached by study and the acquisition of knowledge, and the lesson ended by an arrangement to carry the subject farther on the next occasion, at the prospect of which the children were highly delighted, and I almost wished I could continue my studies with them through the whole course which had just opened so happily.
Such is a very meagre glimpse at one of the homes for children in Paradise. Happy homes and happy those who are received therein.