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Chapter XVII: A Poetess at Home
It was evident, however, that no one of all these cities was to be our present destination. On and on we sped; every instant unfolding some new beauty, calling forth some deeper note of admiration or bathing us in the more profound depths of silent wonder, until we reached a range of hills which seemed to be clothed with all the fragrance and the glory of hope’s ideal fruition.
Here we paused. Beneath our feet, upon the gentle declivity near the foot of the mountain, stood a single house, not large compared with many I had lately seen, but perfect in the possession of every feature an artistic soul could desire. It was like a realised dream in which some weary painter, musician or poet had sought – and found – rest. Nature herself had been the gardener of the landscape lying before us. I do not mean the unkempt, entangled and disordered nymph which earth calls Nature scattering weeds, briers and thistles in wild confusion all around: but the beauteous angel, who, timid at the result of man’s disobedience, withdrew with all her kindred host to heaven, where she could perfect her handicraft in unmolested freedom, and work out in veritable fact and amplified minutiae the sketchy dreams and ideals which should be born within the expanding souls of men. Here Colour had wooed, won, and lived in sweet fidelity with Music. Before me lay the natal bowers of Beauty, Enchantment, Harmony, Grace, and Rhythm, each of whom held court in one or other of the hundred odorous halls of grove, or hill, or mountain pass. Echo and Song chanted their roundelay upon the heights for which the lake rippled its approbation in silvern tones; birds of dreamlike plumage warbled their anthems in trees of evergreen luxuriance, through which the breezes breathed the fragrant perfume of the flowers; while over all, the heavens unrolled their canopy of atmospheric tones and tints which have no names or counterparts on earth.
Several friends came to meet us as we approached the house, among whom I recognised a lady who frequently visited ‘The College’ and was a great favourite with the children. Jack no sooner saw her than he bounded forward with every demonstration of affection. There was no shyness or vulgarity in his demeanour – this child of the gutter – for had not the sleep part of his life been given to educating and preparing him for the duties and pleasures of this home, and though the alternate circumstances of his waking state had compelled him to assume a low disguise, his royal antecedents had been discovered, and his right was undisputed now. He was the son of a king brought home from exile, there were no enquiries as to where he had wandered and what his associates and position had been, enough that he was found, and though his visits could be but transient for a brief space, all knew that his absence could never again be for long.
Congratulations and rejoicings occupied the interval between our arrival and Jack’s departure, for the morning on earth soon recalled him to the sale of matches, and the tearing cough was rapidly snapping the cords of life. Oh, what a contrast in the two conditions! How ignored on earth, how rejoiced over and welcomed in heaven! But some will ask me why no knowledge – no recollection of the fact, if fact it is! I answer, because you have been schooled to think and still foster the idea that all dreams are the vagaries of the brain, and that the sleep life is a myth and fantasy. God gave to Solomon the promise of his wisdom in a dream, and used the same means to bid Joseph to take the child Jesus into Egypt, and if He changes not He uses the same vehicle now, but ye despise them, then charge your folly upon God. That is my answer to your why?
When the time came for Jack’s departure Arvez accompanied him as far as the boundary, but I remained in order to gratify a desire I had long entertained for a talk with our hostess. Arvez was quite right when he told me that she was not unknown to me. Personally I had met her on many occasions as she ministered to the habitués of ‘The College’ – but there was a deeper sense than this in which I knew her; had not her poems been almost my only companions in the solitude of my earth life? She had seemed to understand life, as I knew it, with its deep soullongings and unalleviated heartaches, like an almost kindred soul, but she had conquered and found a calm for which I vainly searched. I had learned from the memorials given to the world after her decease that she had been born in the lap of the church, but her father, who was a clergyman, cherished his creed as though it was a Divinely silken thread for the purpose of leading pilgrims to their home, not as a barbed or iron fence that would tear and mangle the unwary.
Her education had been in the ministry of love, as being the centre and circumference of all true religion, and under its ever-broadening and deepening influence she had been carried out as upon the bosom of a majectic river into the infinite ocean of her God. Yes, she drifted out, but as she glided heavenward she sang – told all her deep experiences, reflected back again the sunlight which fell upon her soul, thus her voice came with wonderfully soothing influence upon the storms and troubles which encompassed me. She seemed to know the heights and depths, the lengths and breadths of the wondrous love which strung her heart, and when the storms swept over her she would sing of the calm, and so deftly interweave the two as to leave no room for doubt as to our safety. When the night of trial was black and no friendly gleam shone out to guide her feet, she possessed those wings of faith by which she could mount up, and far above the gloom, look ahead to where the Sun of Righteousness was rising with glorious promises of the day. From such Alpine heights her song would come with no uncertain sound, a guiding voice leading more benighted souls to follow her as she had followed Christ.
I had followed her, and now I stood beside her for the first time upon her own level. Was there any wonder I should wish to stay behind and pour out my soul in gratitude for all she had done for me.
We watched Arvez and his charge until they disappeared over the crest of the hills, then, turning, she grasped my hand and said:
“Now we can talk, and I may welcome you.”
“And I may thank you for all you have done for me, by your pen,” I answered.
“But those thanks are not due to me, my brother, they are God’s; He filled my cup so full of mercies that it must needs overflow; and whatever music sounded in my verses was not of the cup but in the falling blessings with which the goblet filled.”
“I know it,” I replied, “and my soul does magnify His name; but I cannot be unmindful of the fact that the form of the receptacle has much to do with the sweetness of the music.”
“Yes, that is so,” she answered, with a far-away look in her eyes and a softened tone which was scarcely audible, “but even then the thanks are doubly His, for did He not form the cup as well? Come into the garden,” she added, as if not wishing to pursue the subject further, “where we may talk among the flowers. Is it not compensation for all earth’s toil to be recompensed with such a home as this?”
“It is indeed, but yet this is scarcely your ideal of heaven.”
“No, not my old ideal; but I can see where I, in common with all mankind, made a great mistake. We are not afraid to recognise facts or admit a doubt here for fear of exposing some weakness in our teachings, so I can face the difficulty which would sometimes rise like the shadow of a fear, as I contemplated the sudden transference of a soul from earth into the presence of the King. Then it was a constant struggle for faith to gain anything like a clear conception of heaven. If you tried to listen to its music there was always a kind of dread that one might hear a discord from some inharmonious voice which had not yet had time to learn the song; you could never look steadily upon its citizens without the tremor of a fear lest one should be found upon whose raiment the semblance of a stain remained. The death-bed, especially in some cases, seemed too near the throne to be quite safe.”
“And now?” I queried.
“Now, I can best compare the earth idea of heaven to the experience of a mountaineer, who, at daybreak, starting from the inn, takes a longing look at the peak he desires to reach. Faith takes one mighty leap, and stands like a monarch upon the towering height, laughing at the toilers who are climbing, resting, and anon, slipping, so far behind. But faith is not the tourist, and in its gigantic leap has carried forward nothing but its own imagination; he who exercised it is still among his fellow travellers, and, spite of it, will be compelled to climb the steep ascent with careful tread, or he will never reach his goal. Yet faith is good; for it gives, by its confidence of success, buoyancy to the step, and conquers the thousand doubts which others will suffer owing to the difficulties of the way.”
“If then, it were possible for you to write again, you would sing these later experiences?”
“Possible to write!” she exclaimed, with some slight amazement. “Why may I not write now, as well as others sing? Genius of every kind in the mortal state can only experience its birth – the growth, expansion, and fruition remain for us. One note of music was once breathed below by angel lips, but earth has never heard the fulness of her song; childlike fingers twang the strings, but the harp cannot be tuned in the conflict of worldly discords; how then, can flesh pronounce judgment on the anthem of the worlds? Thank God, I can and do still write. I learned on earth the letters; I am now trying to spell the words with which I shall write in the by and by my songs in heaven; and since you have heard my first, let me sing you one of my present sonnets.”
She turned and ran into the house as she said this, but almost instantly returned carrying a book, from which she read the following, which I append by her permission:
Waiting now upon the threshold,
Just within the porch of life;
Safe from all the storms and tempests, –
Hushed the discord and the strife;
Stilled the heart with its wild beatings,
Calmed the hot and fevered brain
Waiting now, and resting sweetly,
Till the Master comes again.
Waiting, where the rippling wavelets
Of life’s river lave my feet;
Washing off the stains of travel,
Ere the Master I may greet;
Till the voice is full and mellow,
And I learn the sweet, new song;
Till the discord is forgotten,
That disturbed my peace so long.
Waiting, till the wedding garment,
And the bridal wreath is here;
Till our Father’s feast is ready,
And the bridegroom shall appear
Till the seeds of life have blossomed,
And the harvest-home we sing.
Gathering up my life’s long labours
for my bridal offering.
Oh! ’tis not as men would teach us –
just one step from earth to God;
Passing through the death-vale to Him,
In the garb that earth we trod;
Called to praise Him while aweary,
Or to sing, while yet the voice
With love’s farewell sob is broken,
Could we, fitly, thus rejoice?
No! we wait to learn the music,
Wait, to rest our weary feet;
Wait to learn to sweep the harp-strings
Ere the Master we shall meet;
Wait to tune our new-found voices
To the sweet seraphic song;
Wait to learn the time and measure,
But the time will not be long.
Wait to understand the glory
That will shortly be revealed
Till our eyes can bear the brightness
When the book shall be unsealed.
Oh! the vision would o’er power us,
If it suddenly were given
So we wait in preparation,
In the vestibule of heaven.
As she read, or, rather, breathed forth the lines of her poem, we were walking down the hillside, but she gradually drew me away into her condition of oblivion to external surroundings, which at their best were but the inanimate properties of heaven – calm tributaries to the soul of heaven itself; but in her voice which thrilled me with its fervent pathos – in those eyes, which looked away in patient yearning down the vistas of hope – I seemed to catch a glimpse of heaven itself, and it absorbed me. Her recital was a calm confession of trust in God, and though the inflections of her voice sounded as if she was far away, yea, even in the near presence of her Master, she lingered over each recurring ‘waiting’ as if she drew from its deep spring the full sweetness of the assurance that ‘they too serve who only stand and wait,’ and was reluctant to turn away from the refreshing draught. She had forgotten me – everything save her God, with whom again she was holding such sweet communion, and the continued utterance of her lips was like the spontaneous ebullition of overflowing music generated in her soul. Someone has said ‘a somnambule like an angel seems, in the unconscious grace with which she moves,’ but I was looking direct upon an angel, entranced by an ecstatic vision of a heaven brighter than she had ever seen before. I dared not speak, not even when she ceased to read, but hanging on the inspiration which enveloped her I walked beside.
How long this reverie continued I shall never know, but when, at length, she drew the deep breath which roused her to the consciousness of my presence, I was surprised to see how far we had wandered. She did not speak, but raised her beaming eyes, as if to watch the homeward flight of her reflections, and I was by no means anxious to break the sacred silence on which they floated.
“Do you not think,” she presently asked, “that those are sweeter thoughts than the mistaken ideas we held on earth?”
“Indeed they are; but if at present you have only reached the vestibule, what will the glory of the inner sanctuary be?”
“I cannot say; neither am I in a position to understand if any of our friends were to try and explain it to me. It is impossible to clearly comprehend that which we have not seen, and the attempt to do so only fosters incorrect conceptions. I cannot see, and so I am content to wait until my eyes can bear the brightness of the revelation; in the meantime I have much to learn, and many sweet enjoyments to gather on my way to holiness.”
“Then you think there are still other preparatory stages before you reach the final home?”
“Oh, yes! There are others, how many I have no idea. The question which sometimes occurs to me is: Shall we ever reach the last? Is there a final? Since God is infinite, is it possible for us to arrive at any limit? Think how far we were from holiness when we commenced our pilgrimage on earth, and what a trifling distance we have yet travelled, then you will understand that there must yet be innumerable such stages before we can hope to stand in the undimmed splendour of His presence. With the new powers and greater knowledge which my new life has given me, unfolding a wider conception of His purity and my own unworthiness, I sometimes think it will be almost necessary for the remembrance of our earth life to pass away before we can bear to look upon His face.”
“But you do not think our identity will be lost?”
“No! We can never lose that; that would be to annihilate ourselves. But when I think of the searching power of those eyes which are too pure to behold iniquity, if the consciousness of what I have been is not lost before I am called upon to bear it, that sacred beam will call to my memory reflections of my once sinful self sufficiently intense to stain my purity and turn that gaze away.
“What shall we do then?”
“I know not. That is one of the problems to be solved in the higher light; for the present we have to wait; it is enough for me to know that ‘God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.’ ”
“When you think of such a consummation, do you not wish for the intervening, stages to hasten by that you may obtain it?”
“Yes; and yet, no!” she answered slowly. “That is the absolute ideal of every true soul, which, in common with them, I am anxious to reach. But at present I have not the capacity to appreciate and enjoy it, so the gift would be too overpowering, and would only crush, instead of elevate me. You must remember that one who has been successfully operated on for blindness can only, be initiated into the light by degrees. We have all been blind, and God’s light will only come as we are able to bear it. He is too wise to allow any possibility of disaster. So the climax of anticipation can only be attained when the soul has, by process of natural growth, reached its full stature, and that is certainly not yet. As for waiting – well, I am something like a child who recognises his inferiority to a man, but the consciousness thereof by no means lessens his present joy. The longing for autumn fruit never mars the brightness or spoils the perfume of summer showers. Neither does my great desire to meet my Father face to face diminish my pleasure here.
“On the other hand, every step I take towards Him becomes another messenger to me, bearing some fresh revelation of His love, every halting-place becomes another unfoldment, and every message quietly expands my soul into a closer likeness of Himself. I am happy, always more happy – my cup is full to running over. It is ever enlarging, so that it holds, and I comprehend the more. I am even now in heaven, as far as I can understand it, from the fact that if greater pleasure were here, I could not possibly appreciate it. Yea, there is more now than I can anyway understand – my cup runneth over, but how much I know not. Therefore I am content, because every power and capacity I have is satisfied; but there are other powers and possibilities which I shall grow into by and by, then they will also be as fully provided for. With this knowledge I look forward, like the boy, to that which lies before, and like him, perhaps I build my castles in the air of what I shall then do; but, in the meantime, I thank the Father for His wondrous love in the past and present, and am content to wait His future revelation.”
“In what light do you look upon your earth life, with your present knowledge?”
“If I had to write my own epitaph from my present point of view, I am afraid I should be compelled to write ‘of the earth, earthy; very earthy.’ I did think I sang of spiritual emancipation, but now I find I was but a slave myself, without a dream of liberty until I breathed its freedom upon these delightful hills.”
“Of course, you know it is still possible to reach the earth, and correct our false ideas of the past.”
“Yes; by the kind assistance of some of our friends I have already broken the silence of my sleep and given to earth several such thoughts as those I have read to you. But we have many difficulties to remove before we can make much progress in that direction.”
“I can see that, since several of these have already been explained to me. But they are obstacles which present themselves to minds who have left the earth a long time; I would like to know what is the first obstacle as you see it.”
“Your conversance with my writings,” she replied, “will make you somewhat surprised when I mention one of the first difficulties I discovered, but it will serve to show how very different things appear from this side. One of the first lessons we have to teach on our return is, that the word of God can never be a printed book. God is, and His word is like Himself, an ever-present, ever-living, moving power; what is written can never be more than an historic record of what was the word of God to Moses, Samuel, David, Isaiah, or Paul. The seasons, the flowers, the harvests, and the sunshine were not given long ages ago, once and for all; God continually renews each in its own appointed time; so it is with His word. It is like a well of water, continually bubbling up, not a stagnant pool, that for two thousand years has maintained a dead, unvarying level. Men have to learn that He speaks to-day, if they will but listen, as much as ever He did. A printed book only traces the course of the stream in the past, it cannot show the broadening revelation of the present, and only faintly indicates the idea of future boundless love. This our brethern on earth have yet to learn, and with it they will recognise that the ordination of the ministry of angels is the everlasting channel through which the word of God must flow. This is the gospel of Christ, the gospel of Redeeming Love.”
“Still love!” I exclaimed; “how naturally everything here appears to resolve itself into that one word.”
“It is the whisper of every tree in heaven,” she replied, “the breath of every flower; yon rippling waters sing it to the banks which drink their kisses, the dew bears it to every blade of grass, the zephyrs chant it as they pass; yon craggy peaks declare it all the day, and in the vaulted dome above its echoes find eternal habitation; it is the architect of every home, the motive power of every act, the subject of every prayer. Love unaided designed the plains of heaven, fitted every bower, and spread each couch upon which the pilgrim soul might rest. Flower, tree, and shrub; hill, dale, and stream, and all that clothes this happy state in which we dwell, are evolutions from herself. She is our Mother, our Father’s bride – how can we do other than magnify her name?”
“Love, then, will be your theme in future ministry to earth?”
“Yes! That was the one gospel of Christ, and following Him it is the only theme that can fall from heaven. I would sing of love waiting to crown the victor when the fight is done; I would breathe it into the ear of him who feared the issue of the battle, and tell it to inspire the nobility of youth; its bread should feed the hungry, its waters cool the fevered tongue of the roué, its balm should be employed to heal the broken heart; I would use it as the key of hope to release the prisoner of fear, build it up as a tower of refuge for the tempted make it the one consolation for the bereaved; it should become the anchor of the merchant, the restraining power of the spend-thrift, the curb for avarice, and the fetter by which I would hold the brute. I would gather the nations together that they might hear the requiem its cataracts would sing as they buried war’s alarm; I would marshal earth’s battalions side by side and march them through its perfumed spray, to wash the curse of caste and colour from each soul and leave them brothers all. Fear, punishment and retribution I would hold in long restraint, while I tried to charm each wanderer homeward, as I sang the legitimate music his Father composed to win him back from sin and misery to his rightful home and heritage.”
At this point our conversation was broken off by a ray of light flashing across our path, like a clear sunbeam, shining above the soft glow to which I have before referred. My companion raised her head and exclaimed joyfully:
“Ah! here is Myhanene!”
“Where?” I asked eagerly, for as yet he was not visible, to me at least, and I hoped I might be able to see his coming with that instantaneous flight that Cushna had told me of.
“He will be here directly,” she replied; “that ray announced him.”
“Who is he,” I asked,”that his coming always seems to make everyone so glad?”
“You have seen him then?”
“Yes; I have seen him twice, but as yet I know very little about him.”
“The more you get to know him, the more you will love him,” she answered. “He is one of those pure and consecrated spirits who make heaven wherever they go. His presence adds lustre to brightness just as that flash illuminated our path, and the atmosphere around him is fragrant with the presence of Jesus. He came away from earth as a child, and the innocent simplicity of the child remains upon him still. In him we can see what sin has robbed us of, and the type of soul which would be found but for our disobedience. By the purity of this childlike nature he has been able to approach so near to the Master as to fit him to become a messenger between the next condition of life and this; a link is thus formed that holds the two in close communion.”
“Do you wish me to infer that there are difficulties of communication between this and the higher states, many ways analogous to those which exist between this and earth?”
“No, not exactly that. The word difficulty conveys an erroneous impression to your mind, and yet it is perhaps the best I can employ. Words derive shades of meaning from the localities, surroundings, and circumstances in which they are used, and the different condition of the two persons using the same word frequently causes misunderstanding and confusion, especially when one employs the word to denote or describe a something of which the other is entirely unacquainted. My failure to convey to you just what I desire is the very illustration I need to explain what I mean by Myhanene’s forming a link between the two states of our life.
“The expansion and purification of the soul naturally elevates it, and with that elevation comes an enlargement of powers and capabilities which need to be gratified; clearer conceptions of God, deeper insight into His workings, with the solution of mysteries, and capacity to discern how the complex present is working out the perfect future. These new powers and developments have to be educated so that each stage of life forms, as it were, another class in the school of eternity, and as each study absorbs the whole soul of the student you will understand what I mean by links or intermediaries like Myhanene who hold us each to each. They stand between the two, minstering to both, without being quite absorbed in either.”
“But is he not a ruler of some places in the lower condition?”
“Yes, you may rightly designate him as such, but he would not wish you to give him such a title, for though he does rule, his sceptre is one of affection, and he prefers to be considered as friend, counsellor, or tutor at the most. His office is one which naturally pertains to his condition of life.”
“From my brief experience of him I can readily understand you. His method of performing an official function has already been a revelation to me.”
“And every time you see him you will receive an additional revelation,” she answered. “He is a living exposition of the Master’s injunction – ‘He that would be the greatest amongst you, the same shall be servant of all.’ But here he is.”