by John J. Boyer
Copyright 2006 | godtouches Digital Ministry, Inc. | www.godtouches.org | All rights reserved
Table of Contents
Preface: A Prayer Answered
1. The Light of Life
2. The Valley of Decision
3. Unto The mountain
5. The Forest of Desolation
Writing this story fulfilled a lifelong dream. Just before I began it, my desire to write for the Lord grew very strong, but something, as it always had, held me back from being a writer. So I composed the following prayer, which I sang many times per day.
Make me a writer, Lord,
And set my spirit free.
Grant me a pen, and not a sword,
And I shall sing of Thee.
I was more than halfway through writing the story before I realized that this prayer was being granted. My motivation for the story is still somewhat mysterious. It is a narrative meditation on death, the judgment by
God which follows, purgatory, and seeing Him face-to-face in what is called the beatific vision because it makes the person completely happy and fulfilled.
I am both deaf and blind, but I have used visual and auditory metaphors in almost every sentence. In doing so, I am merely using my heritage of language. I hope they produce the intended effect.
I have tried to follow the example of the Gospels in using simple, everyday illustrations. The story contains a good deal of autobiography. Except for the obviously autobiographical characters and the Lord Himself, all persons in this narrative are purely imaginary. I wish to emphasize that the objects and scenery are symbolic, again with obvious exceptions. Whether the story is a parable, an allegory or something else, i I will let others decide. May the Lord bless you as much in reading this story as he has me in writing it.
I was dying. After a long life of work and sorrow - and gladness - the Lord was calling me home. I was happy.
My eyes turned frequently to the photograph on the hospital table over my bed. It was a picture of my wife Hazel and our son Bob, both of whom had preceded me. Memories flooded my mind. Our two large dogs wrestling in the middle of the living room. Bob practicing his cello, later teaching music, playing in a symphony orchestra. Hazel struggling to express her love in her last days, despite failing strength. Most of all I remembered the months after her death, when I had felt her still close to me, radiating love and joy, eager for me to share the new reality she was experiencing. It had been the turning point in my life.
Then the voices of those gathered around the bed would bring my mind back to the present. One of my younger sisters was leading them in the Rosary. She was holding my hand, and she gave it a little squeeze whenever she said, "now and at the hour of our death." The prayer seemed to be consoling others in the room also. Earlier there had been tears, but now they were joining in the responses quietly.
I thought back on those earlier scenes. We had all been able to talk over old times, and I had been able to assure myself that they would not be utterly devastated. The tears had done them good.
Then I would look at the family and friends who were gathered around the bed. Most of my younger sisters were there, gray-haired like me. The little brother with whom I had built electronics equipment when I was a young man and he a child stood near the bed. Young people were there too, mostly college students whom I had hired to help with my business.
Now a priest arrived. I listened contentedly to the prayers of the Anointing of the Sick. He rubbed oil on my hands and forehead, then offered me the Host, the Viaticum. I tried to raise my hands to accept it, but my arms were too weak, so he placed it in my mouth. As always, I held it on my tongue until it broke into small particles and began to taste sweet. The usual paraphrase of a couple of lines from the Psalms ran through my mind "Come and taste the sweetness of the Lord. How sweet to my taste is your Word." I swallowed, and it occurred to me that because digestion would soon be suspended, Jesus would remain within me longer than usual.
The priest then recited the prayers for the dying, The others joining in the responses. I was too weak to speak, but I began to pray silently for the people in the room. I felt sorry for them, since they would have to wait a while until the Lord called them in their turn.
Lines from St. Francis' Canticle to Brother Sun ran through my mind. "Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death, from whom no-one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they she finds doing Your Will. No second death can do them harm." I prayed wordlessly that the last words would be true for me and for all present.
For a while I dozed, but suddenly I was wide awake. The familiar figures around the bed were like mist. A faint voice said, "No vital signs." But there were other figures, much more solid, and other voices, much more distinct.
Someone said to me, "So you think you are going to see God. I tell you, it's all an illusion.
Whatever you may seem to experience in the next few minutes is just because your brain is being deprived of oxygen and the neurons are running wild.
Anyway, it'll all be over soon, and then, nothing."
The speaker was a dignified man who looked like he might be a doctor, though I did not recognize him.
Another voice cut in, "You're a fine one to talk like that to a dying person!"
This was a woman who looked like a nurse, but not one of those I had seen before.
"You are just as deluded as he is!" the "doctor" retorted.
"So why shouldn't he suppose you are one of the illusions and not believe anything you say," said the "nurse."
This exchange made me wonder. What I was experiencing wasn't like any of the near-death experiences that I had read about. Perhaps that meant it was the real thing. I didn't seem to be floating. Rather I seemed to be standing beside the bed with a group of people, but not the ones who had surrounded me when I said my last prayer. My body appeared as a faintly luminous outline on the bed.
I felt the same presence that I had experienced after Hazel's death, but this time it was stronger. A hand grasped mine and a familiar voice said. "I'm here. Believe me. That doctor is an impostor."
The speaker was clothed in white, like the "nurse," but her face was Hazel's face and the hand Hazel's hand, a hand that had often comforted me and that I had held in return.
She continued, "Once when we were very happy together you asked me if I was real. I assured you that I was no dream. Remember too how, after I had passed on, I was allowed to return to reassure you that I was still real. Now I have been sent again to testify to the Supreme Reality."
The "doctor" sneered, "One man's reality is another man's illusion."
The "nurse" rounded on him and said "You've hanged yourself with your own rope. No-one here is an illusion. But you are the closest, because you refuse to face God, the Supreme Reality."
Now that Hazel's presence had alerted me, I could sense a similar loving concern in the "nurse, but her love was fiercer and more protective. The "doctor", on the other hand, seemed vindictive.
In reply to the "nurse", he snarled, "Who can face God and not be a slave!"
"A slave, as you call it, to Love," said the "nurse," "not imprrisoned by your own exaggerated opinion of yourself. I know you and your gang. The leaders are even bigger egotists than you are, and they'll crush you if you make a misstep."
"Hah!" said the "doctor." "This guy is a pretty big egotist himself. He won't like facing God either."
This altercation hardly seemed fitting for a deathbed, so I looked at a priest in the group. He was wearing his vestments, but he was not the one who had anointed me and given me the Host. Seeing me looking at him, he addressed me directly.
"You have made your Confession. Piffle! You didn't tell half of it! You can't even remember all your sins, but God does. He is too holy to look on anything unclean and will simply spurn you. Even if he doesn't, you will have to undergo penances that will make anything you have received up till now look like child's play. Do you think you can climb the mountain of the Lord? Your heart has often not been pure, nor your hands clean of wrongdoing. You have sought to lord it over others, in express disobedience to His desires. You have used dishonest means to attain your ends. You have worshipped idols of flesh and blood, spurning the Creator for the creature. If he spurns you in his turn you will get no more than you deserve."
My heart quailed before this onslaught, but Hazel would have none of it.
"Then what am I doing here?" she exclaimed. "I wasn't even sure there was a
God when I died, but He didn't kick me out of His presence. He gave me a glimse of His Love, and I believed. He is nothing if not merciful."
The priest looked angry. In fact, he became so angry that he blushed. Then his face seemed to actually glow with red light. Soon it shone like an arc lamp. His vestments disappeared, and his clothing became an oif-white.
Looking directly at me he said, "All right. It's time to drop pretenses. I know you don't trust this doctor, and you're right." The doctor stepped back but made no protest. The priest continued, "I know he's a demon, but so are these two women. They're trying to make you believe that things will be easy. I know you are repentant, but I'm warning you that they'll be tough. I'm here to tell you how it really is. You don't have much chance of escaping Hell, but if you come with me I'll do my best."
I hesitated, glancing from one of the four creatures to the other. Which were angels and which were demons? How could I tell? Of course. I prayed silently. Hazel and the nurse smiled. The doctor stepped even further back. The priest's arc light became even more intense. Before he could say anything, it ignited his clothing. He burst into flame. Stifling fumes of sulfur filled the room.
"So," I said to the two men, "You can't `stand even a little prayer. I think that settles the matter."
Their faces contorted with rage and hatred. They moved to seize me, but Hazel and the "nurse" interposed themselves. The two demons shrank from touching them, but tried to move around them. They moved in turn. For a few moments the four pirouetted around me in a dance that I could not help but find amusing, despite the danger. Then a new phenomenon put a stop to it.
My body, lying apparently inert on the bed, burst into a blaze of light like a small sun. The faces of the "doctor" and the "priest" became livid with dread. They bolted from the room. Hazel and the "nurse" fell to their knees and indicated that I should do likewise. To my look of inquiry the "nurse" explained:
"It is Jesus the Lord! You received Him in the Host just before you were born to this new life. Your body has now become completely inanimate. Its mere matter can no longer impede the spiritual light of the Body of Christ within it."
Her garments had become dazzlingly white, and her face reflected brilliantly the light of the Real Presence of Christ before her.
Hazel smiled and said to me, "Go with her. She will be your guide. I go to await you. This light makes me confident that I shall see you again."
The "nurse" took my hand. We left the room.
A terrible stench assaulted my nostrils. Looking down, I realized that I was the culprit, for my clothes were covered with filth. Around me stood a crowd of people, all with clothing more or less filthy. But beside each of us stood a bright being in white robes. The smell was overpowering, but the bright creatures did not flinch.
To make matters worse, the sun beat down on us with tropical intensity, raising waves of almost palpable stench from the crowd. Before us towered a high mountain. The sun was almost directly over its peak, which scintillated with all the colors of the rainbow.
Mopping my brow with my hand, I looked around for some shade. There was no sign of the hospital. Behind us was a hill of black rock, so that we were in a kind of valley. Closer inspection showed the mouth of a cave, which was protected from the sun by an overhang. It looked like it might be cool inside. I took a step toward it, but my companion laid a hand on my arm and said "I don't think you want to go in there."
"Well," I said, "I'll accept you as my guide, as Hazel advised, but could you tell me a bit about who you are and where we are?"
"I am the one who has guarded you throughout life. Though you could not see me, I was always with you, for the Lord had assigned me to you. I have brought you here now that your life on the earth is over, for you must face him and give an accounting of how you have used it. He will be here as Judge in a few minutes."
This discourse rendered me speechless for some time. The filth on my clothing I now recognized as the misdeeds of my life, which I could now perceive clearly for the first time. I surveyed myself again and my thoughts turned longingly to the laundries and baths of earth. But of course they would be futile. Nothing material could remove spiritual filth.
I decided to make use of the wait to try to deepen my understanding. This had been my habit all through life. Perhaps it would stand me in good stead here also. I asked my companion, "What does all this mean, especially that hot Sun?"
"The things you see are mostly symbols. So are the other sensations you have. I see that you've already figured out the dirt and the stink. You are beginning to perceive as God perceives. Of all the symbols the Sun is the greatest. Remember the lines in St. Francis' Canticle of Brother Sun which go,
'Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun, Who is the day through whom You give us light. And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour, Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.'
It seems hot to you because you are dirty."
Somewhat satisfied with this answer, I decided to scrutinize the crowd more closely. The people were a cross section of humanity. They were of all ages, builds, hues and heights. The clothing of the adults varied greatly in filthiness, but many of the small children seemed almost clean. Their companions all stood watchfully, urging them to be patient.
These companions were of varying appearance, but their garments were all so white that it hurt my eyes. My own guide was gazing speculatively at the mountain, as though expecting to climb it.
After a time her face lit up and she exclaimed, pointing to the peaak, "look there!" A small cloud had formed on the top of the mountain. Yet it did not lessen the blinding light of the sun. Rather, it seemed to focus it. The cloud descended slowly toward the open space in front of us, and as it did so a human figure seated on it became apparent.
Remembering the passages in Scripture which imply that Jesus will return on the clouds, I said, "So has the world has ended as well as my Life?"
"No," said my guide, "This is the 'final test' of which you have read. You and the others gathered here are being given the chance to make your final choices between eternal life and eternal death. The great judgment, when all things are to be revealed, is yet to come."
The cloud came to rest on the open space in front of us. Seated on it was a young man. He raised his hand for quiet, though the gesture looked more like a blessing.
I could clearly see a ragged scar, as though something had pierced the hand and torn the flesh. When the crowd had fallen silent, he said:
"For those of you who do not recognize me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, usually known as Jesus Christ. I am the alpha and the omega, the Lamb who was slaughtered yet lives, the image of the invisible God, through whom God wishes all human beings to be saved. There are people here from every nation and every tongue, but you will all understand me, because we now speak the universal language of the Spirit. Many of you on earth did not know me. Many of you knew me but rejected me. But by the will of my Father mine is the only name by which humanity can be saved.
"I have come to give you the knowledge which you will need to make your decisions whether to chose eternal Love or to reject it. These decisions will be final.
"Many of you are uncomfortable in this intense sunlight, and your dirty clothing makes your discomfort all the greater. You can chose to get rid of the filth by undertaking the penance of climbing this mountain or you can chose not to bother with the filth or the penance but simply to enter the cave you see behind you.
"If you chose the mountain, you will find that the sunlight grows ever more intense and you will win every step of the ascent in toil and sweat. But you will also find that as you ascend the filth will fall off your clothing, and the sunlight will become not just comfortable but enjoyable.
"When you reach the top, you will be so clean and transparent that you will be able to enter into the Sun itself and dwell there in perpetual joy.
"The cave looks cool, and it may appear easier. But once you turn toward it the sunlight will become intolerable.
"To accept the penance of climbing this mountain is to cleanse yourselves and to take the path of love of Love Himself. To enter that cave behind you is to reject love. It will not be simply cool, but colder than anything you have experienced. Yet for those who reject love it will be better than the light of Love, which is otherwise inescapable.
"When I was on earth, I spoke often of hell under the image of fire. Now I liken it to coldness. But under either image it is better than the light for those who cannot stand light. It is better for those who have spent their lives rejecting love than to live eternally with Love Himself.
"I have placed before you this day life and death. Chose life, but if you would have death, you need only turn around and enter that cave behind you."
As He spoke I became vividly aware of the light which surrouded him. It seemed to emanate from his own person quite as much as from the Sun. In fact, it resembled the light I had seen shining through my former body before coming here. I could not conceive giving up that light for the darkness of the cave.
As he finished speaking I was rudely jerked out of my reverie. A number of people in the crowd had turned their backs on him and on the sun. Now they were filling the air with ear-splitting screams and curses. They had become so dark that I could hardly see them, except for their shadows. The intense sunlight was obviously causing them great discomfort, for they were attempting frantically to strip off their clothing, and rivulets of sweat ran down their bodies. Then several of them made a rush for the cave. So fierce did the stampede become that they began to jam in the opening. But then it seemed like they were being pulled inside, and I realized that there must be a "welcoming committee." The last of the dark creatures disappeared. From the cave came a yell of derision, followed by a blast of cold air, which made me shiver even in that hot sun.
The angels who had been their companions gathered in a group at the front of the crowd and stood looking disconsolately at the Judge, who returned their gaze with obvious symlathy. Then He ordered:
"Bring me the one who has shown the greatest love."
An angel came forward leading an elderly woman, who hung back timidly. She was dressed in the habit of a nun, and on her clothing were only a few bits of dirt. The Judge said to her, adjusting the familiar Scripture to her circumstances:
"You have spent your life ministering to the least of my brothers and thus to me.
"I was starving, and you gave me food. I had no home but the streets, and you took me in. I was abandoned as an infant, and you raised me. I was dying in filth, and you eased my last hours."
He descended from the cloud and brushed the few specks of dirt from her clothing. Her garments were now as dazzlingly white as her companion's. The
Judge took her by the hand, led her onto the cloud, and seated her beside him.
Her erstwhile companion approached the group of dejected spirits and spoke to them softly. In a few minutes, their faces lighted up.
The Judge ordered, "Bring the littlest children to me."
Angels came forward carrying babies clothed in sparkling white. The Judge took one, and the nun took another. The newly arrived angels handed some of the infants to their fellows who had lost their companions. The latter accepted them with grateful smiles.
The cloud now rose, bearing the two figures, and the group of spirits followed in its wake, like a trail of bright snowflakes.
When my attention returned to the crowd, I saw that the sunlight seemed to be particularly troubling to some who were left. Sweat poured off them and they were panting heavily. Yet they stood steadfast, facing the sun.
Their companions were handing them parasols and leading them aside to where there were rows of benches. Here they sat down, sighing with relief and gripping their parasols.
"Who are these?" I asked my guide.
"These, in their lives on earth, did not believe in Jesus or perhaps not even in God himself. But they determinedly sought truth as they understood it, despite any inconvenience the quest might cause them. Now their understanding has been expanded, but they need time to take it all in. When they have rested, they will join us in ascending this mountain."
"What about those babies?" I asked.
"They were baptized, but they died before they could commit any sin. So
Jesus escorted them directly to the heavenly City."
"And that woman whom Jesus also took with him?"
"She spent her life in great works of charity, and she overcame great obstacles and temptations by the grace of God. Thus Jesus was pleased to carry out the words which He speaks in the book of revelation: 'He who overcomes shall sit down with me on my throne, just as I have overcome and have sat down on the throne of my father.'"
"So she was rewarded for 'heroic virture', but the rest of us common sinners still have a great deal of work to do."
"Yes. You and the others still standing here must climb this mountain. You will experience many hardships. You can think of them as like the penances you were given in Confession, but they will be much more severe --"
"But," I interrupted, voicing a thought that had been growing in my mind for some time, "I was told that I could aviod time in Purgatory by earning indulgences. Moreover, if the priest chose to give me the Apostilic Pardon at the time of my death all time in Purgatory would be cancelled."
"That is ture," replied my guide, "but by a prompoting from God the priest did not give you the Apostolic Pardon. The Lord wished you to grow and to learn by your experiences on this mountain, so that you could attain even greater unity with him. He likes strong people, spiritually strong, that is. That is why he did not intervene in many of your trials on earth. The chief things you will learn here are trust and obedience.
"You will not find the ascent drudgery. As you go, and as you overcome the hardships, the dirt will fall off you. As it does, your love for God will increase, and as your love increases, so will your desire to Know Him as you are known. Near the top the longing for fulfillment will be the greatest penance. Your love now is only sufficient for you to face the sunlight. But see, just because you have endured standing in the sun, the dirt is already beginning to dry. Brush your hand over your clothing. Some may come off."
I did so, and a few flakes did fall.
The angel continued, "I will stay with you and will help you reach the top. The prayers you have said for indulgences will give you strength and the prayers of your friends on earth will also help you. Because you have already decided for God, your own prayers can be of great help to them. Few things please God more than intercession for others. Prayer for others is your first lesson in obedience. When we reach the peak, where the city of God is, you will be so clean and so transparent to the light of eternal Love that you will be able to enter with me into the Sun itself."
As we moved forward I asked, "What is your name?"
"You may call me Belicia."
"Are you really a woman?"
"My appearance is symbolic as are most other things that you seem to sense here. I have taken such a form so that you will be more comfortable with me as your guide and interpreter. Remember the young girl who befriended you when you were both teenagers and gave you your first lesson in the true meaning of love. Remember too how your wife Hazel was allowed to return spiritually to you for a while to tell you of the Reality which she had found and how your friend and coworker then helped you comprehend that Reality. At that time you were nearly an atheist. Without the guidance of these two women you might have been one of those running away from the sun."
I halted and scrutinized her.
She looked like a female Olympic champion, yet with an enchanting feminine beauty. Soft blond hair fell in ringlets to her shoulders. Her eyes were of a deep, clear blue. When she smiled her teeth were like the young lambs mentioned in the Song of Songs. Yet I could see the muscles under her smooth creamy skin, and this gave me confidence for the hard work of mountaineering that lay ahead. She wore a white jumpsuit. On her feet were climbing boots, also white.
Moreover, now that we had moved away from the crowd, I noticed that she exuded a delicate fragrance which reminded me of an apple tree in bloom or lilacs in the spring. Heavenly was the word for it, I thought, smiling at the triteness of the expression.
The mountain now loomed before us. There seemed to be various ascending paths, all more or less steep.
Surveying them, I asked, "Are you sure that I have the strength to get to the top?"
"Of course you don't," said Belicia, "but you have already made your choice for the Sun, and from it you will draw strength."
Now that I was more alert to her, I noticed that her voice was soft and melodious, but with an unmistakable tone of authority.
Still doubtful, I said, "But suppose I turn away?"
With a glint in her eye Belicia said, "Step into the shadow of this rock."
I did so. Immediately a chill shot through me, and I had difficulty breathing. Quickly I stepped back into the sunlight.
Belicia continued, "So you see what hapfens. There are places on the path which we shall take where you must pass through shadows, but they will make the sunlight ever dearer to you."
But I was still not satisfied. I asked, "Those who did turn away, what happened to them?"
"They rejected Love," Belicia replied, "and so could not endure the light.
There are passages from that cave up inside the mountain to openings on its slopes, which are all in shadow. When we pass through those shadows the creatures of darkness may appear and attempt to hinder us. You may safely ignore them. Other than that, I do not know their fate, for it does not interest me. But come, let us begin the ascent."
She started up one of the paths, and I followed her. Around us other pairs were taking various paths. Of those on our own, the ones farthest ahead were already beginning to scale a cliff, using handholds and footholds in the rock.
I said, "Well, I've never been a fan of mountain-climbing, but that doesn't look too hard."
"Wait until you try it," said Belicia.
As we came to the foot of the cliff, Belicia moved her finger upward, tracing out the path. "Just keep to that path," she said, "And I'll follow you."
"Don't you lead?" I asked, surprised.
"I am where I am most needed. You are unused to these paths, and at this point a fall would delay for long ages your ascent and your presentation before God."
Slowly I began to climb. In a few steps I was gassping for breath. My arms and legs began to shake from fatigue. Inevitably, my feet slipped, and I was left dangling precariously by my fingers. As I looked down, terrified, my feet were firmly placed back in the footholds and Belicia said:
"Set your heart on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father."
Somehow, I managed to continue. Finally I pulled myself over the top and lay there exhausted. Belicia climbed up beside me and waited for me to recover my breath.
When I stood up, I saw that we were on a gentle slope. Benches were scattered about, on which sat people resting. Others walked slowly forward with their companions.
Turning to look from whence we had come, I saw another crowd gathering at the foot of the mountain. Behind them the hill of black rock, with an even darker shadow on its slope, loomed ominously, and beyond that the plain stretched away to the horizon.
Suddenly, two forms rose from the crowd. They were like eagles, but brilliantly white. As they passed overhead the first sang:
"Blessed in the sight of the Lord
Is the death of his faithful ones."
To which the other replied:
"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His mercy endures forever!"
I watched as they continued their flight, still singing, until they were lost in the brightness of the peak.
Belicia had stood silent, watching them with me. Now she said, "Yet another has laid down his life for his brothers."
"The one you saw escorted directly to heaven was killed for the sake of his belief in Jesus after a life of living and spreading that belief. His death for the sake of the Name wiped away what sins remained, and therefore the
Lord called him to ascend directly."
"Remarkable!" I exclaimed.
"Truly so," said Belicia "but unfortunately not rare. You shall see many such sights."
We walked forward with the rest, but after a while Belicia turned into a path that led past an overhanging cliff.
Curious, I asked, "How do you know which path to take?"
"I know you. The things you are about to experience will teach you and purify you, so that you can stand before God sooner."
As we entered the shadow of the cliff, I shivered, but then I noticed a strange phenomenon. Small objects that looked like burst balloons were drifting out of the mouth of a cave. Intrigued, I caught one of them, but immediately let it go, for it burned my fingers. Rubbing my hands, I realized that my fingers were almost frozen.
"What's this?" I said "dry ice?"
"no," said Belicia, "it is someone who rejected Love and who has come to oppose us."
"But why do they look like burst balloons, and why are they so cold?"
"All creatures, including me, are empty vessels until filled with God's grace. These have chosen to be not merely empty but broken. They are at home only in the dark, and so they are cold. Some of them you may have seen entering that other cave. But let us hurry through this shadow, for I see that you are turning blue."
As we emerged again into the sunlight I took a deep breath and asked:
"Doesn't the shadow bother you also?"
"Yes, but the sun shines always in my heart, so the shadow can do me no real harm."
We walked on for a while, revelling in the warm sunlight. Then the path turned and entered a deeper shadow. The smell of death struck me like a blow as we rounded the bend. The bloated carcass of some huge beast blocked the path. Belicia stopped so suddenly that I almost bumled into her I gazed at the obstacle with mingled revulsion and fascination. It burst, showering me with liquid so foul that I vomited instantly. Belicia stepped forward, gave a mighty heave, and toppled it over the cliff. When the sunlight struck it, it burst into flame. With a scream that sounded oddly familiar, it became a black vulture, which darted into another shadow, off the path.
"Phew!" I said. "Now I'm filthier than when we started!"
"That is easily remedied," said Belicia. "You need only stand in the sun. You too will burst into flame. The pain will be great, but it will help prepare you to stand before God, and you will be cleaner than before."
She herself had remained perfectly clean throughout the encounter.
When we came to the sunlight again, I stepped forward gingerly. Flames enveloped me as though I had been drenched in gasoline and torched. The pain was excruciating. I staggered backwards.
"Courage!" said Belicia. "Think of the love of the one who awaits you."
Gritting my teeth, I again stepped into the sunlight. The flames started immediately. Even at the foot of the mountain I would not have had the strength to endure such agony. But in a short while it was over, and the sunlight became more comforting than before.
"Great!" said Belicia. "Now you even smell better."
"What was that thing?" I asked.
"An angel who chose to go his own way instead of following the Way of Love.
They are basically troublemakers for those who seek God, but for those who lose sight of God they are false guides, will-o-the-wisps who lead travellers astray."
"You know," I said, "when that thing screamed it reminded me of the voice of that phony priest."
"yes," said Belicia, "It was the same dark angel. He will harass you until you are out of his reach."
We walked on for a few minutes. Then a thought struck me. So I said:
"You remarked just now that I even smell better. How could you stand the stink when we were with the crowd? For that matter, I don't suppose I smell particularly good even now."
"I hate the stink but not the stinker," said Belicia, with a laugh like the opening bars of an aria.
She continued, "We have quite a long walk. On earth you were deeply interested in religion, science and philosophy. I will answer your questions, but I may have to tell you that you will not understand some of the answers until you have come face to face with God. Moreover, there are some things which no creature understands."
I was still thinking about the recent encounters, so I said:
"I hope my curiosity isn't impertinent, but why would an angel turn against
"That is almost as incomprehensible to me as it is to you. But, then, I've made my choice, so you could say I am biased. Basically, angels too are created in the image of God, so they have free will. But they do not have all of God's goodness until they have given themselves wholly to Him. Then they receive a degree of participation in the Divine Nature itself, and they can no more turn away or even desire anything evil than you will when you have been presented to God. ..."
I broke in, "But how could anyone refuse having a share in God's own nature?"
"Well, their chief wasn't content with that. He wanted to be God. From our point of view, that is silly, because it is impossible. But he is not only the father of lies but also the father of self-deception."
"I understand that angels cannot change their minds because they have all necessary information when they make a decision. He must have deceived himself willingly, knowing all the consequences?"
"Yes, and he refuses to accept Reality and God's forgiveness. So he has set himself against everything that God wants. He would destroy himself because God continues to hold him in existence. But that is impossible. So he and his followers are bent on destroying others by depriving them of eternal life. They have no pity and no scruples, and they are adept at trickery. You have seen that they can disguise themselves as angels of light, but here they cannot hide their evil odor."
I breathed deeply of Belicia's fragrance and remarked, "Well, you aren't one of them, then."
Belicia laughed melodiously and said, "And I keep in the sunlight as much as possible. They are creatures of the dark, and so are the human beings whom they have lured away from God. The light causes them extreme discomfort, but they are so bent on destroying others that they may try to work their trickery from relative shade, despite the pain that even dim light causes them."
"That seems to happen a lot on earth, such as when members of churches turn against one another."
"It does, and it happens here too."
"But aren't the people here already committed to god?"
"Yes. But they are not pure, and so they are vulnerable to the attempts of those others to cause them as much suffering and to delay them as much as possible."
A suspicion had begun to form in my mind. I said:
"you aren't telling me abl this just to satisfy my curiosity, are you?"
"Right. I have ulterior motives." said Belicia, smiling. "You aren't out of their reach yet."
As we talked, we had gradually rounded a spur of the mountain. Before us now stood a house with numerous wings, as though someone had added to it over the years as new needs arose.
Belicia said, "This is the edifice of your life as you tried to build it and as God wished it to be built. You have seen the malice of the evil ones. Now I want to show you how God's love has been with you throughout your earthly pilgrimage, even when the way seemed hard and you thought you were walking alone. We will enter and in each room you will see a different scene of your life. You will learn how appropriate the Bible verse which you chose as your favorite when you were a teenager was:
'These things happened to him that the works of God might be manifest in his life.' Let us enter"
She proceeded to a very narrow door, which was the only one I could see, though there were plenty of windows. We squeezed through it into what appeared to be an underwater world. The light was reddish and a strange quasi-human creature floated before us. It was tethered to the wall by what must have been a lifeline, though it had no breathing gear. It intrigued me, since it looked like it might be an interesting biological specimen. It had a more or less normal torso, but short stumpy limbs and a head out of all proportion to the rest of its body. When I examined its face, I saw that something seemed to be wrong with its eyes. They were even less developed than the rest of it would have indicated.
"Quite interesting," I said, "am I right in supposing that this is a human fetus?"
"Yes," said Belicia. You are seeing yourself a few months before birth. Already God has begun to work out his plan for you. You will be born blind, but this so-called handicap will lead you to benefit many others. You will battle the limitations that it imposes upon you, but it will motivate you to help others, and in the end you will realize that God is not limited. Moreover, you will be given the gift of words, so that you can describe what you have never seen - even what nobody has seen."
We stood watching the creature as it grew and became more humanlike. At times it was restless and paddled about, bumping into the walls and ceiling.
Just as I was becoming bored I heard a muffled explosion. The water drained away. The walls of the place began to collapse. no - they were squeezing down on the baby. The door by which we had entered had disappeared, but now another one opened, through which normal light shown. The child was fropelled headfirst into this opening. I could hear the moans of the mother. Fortunately, the process did not last long. The child emerged, and we with it.
Coldness enveloped me. I felt a pressure on my ankles. Then I was hanging upside down. Salty water gushed from my mouth and nose. Something struck me on the back. I felt as though I were about to suffocate and gasped for breath. A loud cry, presumably my own, reached my ears. Now that I could breathe, I noticed voices around me and could feel touching on various parts of my body. Something soft and warm wrapped itself around me.
And then I became aware of the biggest change - the light had disappeared. It did not become dark. Rather, it was as though light had never been. Surprised and dismayed, I called out "Belicia?", but only an inarticulate cry emerged from my lips.
Nevertheless, she answered, "Do not be afraid. Your sensations and emotions are now those of the body in which you experienced your salvation. As you relive your earthly pilgrimage you will find it more realistic than any play. Yet you will retain the knowledge of God which you already have, and you will be able to build on it through what you will experience. I will stay with you and guide you as before."
She appeared briefly, standing in a shaft of sunlight, then the not-light-not-darkness returned.
Now I felt a sharp pain somewhere about my middle, where I had seen the lifeline attached in the womb. Then I was held up against something soft and smelling of food. My body searched for the source, pressed its lips to it, and began to suck. Warm sweet fluid trickled down my throat. I heard a familiar voice speaking softly and rhythmically. Another rhythemic sound accompanied it, a steady thumping. These, I realized, were my mother's voice and heartbeat. Lulled by their familiarity, I soon fell asleep.
I was floating. Warmth surrounded me. I stretched, feeling utterly content. But then the floating was replaced by something hard pressing on my body. I was cold and wet. I cried. Something took away the cold and wetness. I was dry again and was again held up to drink from my mother's nourishing breasts. I had had my first dream and had awakened.
We left the house with much to talk about, but my thoughts turned more and more to my guide. A gentle breeze enveloped me in her fragrance. Her every move was harmonious. Though her beauty had been charming before, now it was ravishing, enhanced as it was by her intelligence, wit and goodness. Her voice, pleasant before, was enchanting now. Her laugh was like soft music.
I could think of no one I had ever known who was more desirable.
Abruptly I changed the subject.
"Can you read my mind?"
"To some extent. I can know what you want me to know. And like anyone else
I can guess your thoughts by your words and actions."
If she knew the turmoil she was causing within me she gave no sign.
Anxious to enjoy the sound of her voice, I said:
"Do the others have the same powers?"
"no. Their perceptions have been dulled because they have rejected the union with God which is natural to every spiritual being, including the souls of human beings. Moreover, they cannot look into the heart of God, who sees everything, when they are puzzled. Nevertheless, if you think intensely about something and are not careful, they can pick up your thoughts."
Meanwhile, I was vainly trying to reason with myself. Here was a woman who had all the intellectual and spiritual qualities I had sought throughout my life. She would be a great companion. Most likely she could give me emotional companionship also. Feasting my eyes on her, I persuaded myself that even physical intimacy was possible. My heart began to beat rapidly, but before I could do anything the path ended.
Before us was a cliff bathed in sunlight. At the top I could see trees, which seemed to form a thick forest. The cliff itself was smooth, but it did have handholds and footholds like the first.
"Up!" said Belicia.
I began to climb with alacrity. Belicia climbed beside me, helping me when I slipped. Each touch of her hands sent a thrill through my entire frame.
At the top I tried not to show my exhaustion, and indeed I was less exhausted than after the first climb, so exhilarated was I by Belicia's presence.
"Belicia!" I said, "you are the most beautiful and capable creature I have ever seen!"
"That may be," she replied, "but it is nothing compared to the Creator."
Overcome with longing, I burst out, "Do you know that I love you!?"
"You love my appearance," said Belicia. "Often on earth you have been in similar situations. You were so taken with a woman that you could think only of satisfying your own desires for intimacy. You worship this appearance as an idol. That is why I have brought you here and why I must now leave you for a time. But I shall return in the same form when you have learned not to idolize it."
"But does not God wish that I should come to him quickly? And do you not wish it also?"
"Most definitely I do."
"Then if you permit me to love you I will reach God all the faster. You saw how much better I climbed this last cliff."
Belicia looked at me sadly and said, "It's the same old story. You are so overcome with passion that you twist even logic without knowing it. I must go."
I glanced down the cliff we had just ascended, and a daring thought crossed my mind.
"No," said Belicia, divining my thought. "Don't do that! You would be tempting God and would receive the punishment for disobedience. I would not bear you up. You would dash not just your foot against a stone but your whole body, and you would lie, bruised and broken, at the base of the cliff, till God in His mercy enabled you to climb again. Not even I know when that would be."
She began to walk away. Rushing toward her, I tried to embrace her, but there was nothing.
Disconsolate, I sat on a log, cursing my stupidity.
From beneath me a voice said, "That's the first sensible thing you've said since you got here."
"What? Who are you?"
"You're sitting on me."
"A talking log! I've seen stranger things here, but at least you don't stink."
"Not as much as you, anyway, and I've learned not to blather the way you were just doing."
I got up and gave the thing a kick.
"Do you call love talk blathering?"
"Silly talk. You're so besotted that you can't see how ridiculous you are.
Trying to woo an angel, indeed!"
I stalked off, muttering about blockheads.
How long I wandered in that forest I do not know. There was no night, nor did the sun ever move, so I had no way to mark time. At times a singing pair would pass overhead. sometimes there were even groups, and once the sky seemed to be filled with them. But though there were so many they did not block the sun. Rather they broke up the light into a multitude of iridescent colors, like an ever-changing rainbow.
As I wandered, I tried to remember everything that Belicia had ever said to me and her every gesture.
Time passed, and I became aware that the talking log was not unique. When I leaned against trees, they often spoke to me. Even rocks were not always silent. From all sides came murmurings, weepings and prayers.
When I moved into deep shade I found toadstools in grotesque forms. If I approached closely I could smell death, and if I tried to pick one up to have a better lok at it, my fingers were first burned and then frozen, as they had been at the cave of the balloons.
In the deep shade I also encountered pretty young women who invited me to consort with them. But my mind was still fixed on Belicia, so I paid them no heed.
At times I met other wanderers, and we would talk for a while. From them I learned that most of the seemingly inanimate objects around us were spirits who had been assigned various penances. The most severe penances were reserved for those who had disobeyed their first assignment. I told them about the talking log and remarked that this must be the case with him.
Probably, they agreed.
All this time my longing for Belicia increased. I imagined what life would be like with her, how we would spend long hours in conversation and how we would support each other when distressed.
Then, when my imagination was particularly wrought up and I was particularly longing for her return, I did see her. she was standing under a tree near the edge of a clearing. she said:
"Yes, I have returned. I've been thinking about our time together too, and
I couldn't bear being away from you any longer. You can do with me whatever you wish."
I moved towards the alluring creature. Suddenly a lion sprang from the undergrowth, knocked her down, and began tearing her to shreds. Horrified by this attack on my beloved, I rushed forward unthinkingly and began to pound the great beast with my fists. It paid no attention to me, not even growling. In a few minutes the carnage was over. The lion charged back into the forest, leaving behind a whiff of familiar fragrance which sent a word reverberating through my mind, Belicia!
But I had no time to think about this, for I was almost bowled over by a horrible stench that made my eyes water and my throat burn. The pile of mangled flesh had become a pool of slime.
Slowly it formed itself into a huge snake, which crawled away.
Coughing and retching, I fled. Rays of sunlight, filtering between the interstices of the leaves, struck me like lashes. Shivering, I remembered the beast which Belicia and I had encountered earlier. What would have happened if I had actually touched this second evil thing? Could it be the same one? The shivering increased. Intense cold seemed to be paralyzing my limbs. I was freezing. I had to get warm. But there was only one source of warmth. The sun!
Fighting the torpor that was engulfing me, I finally reached the nearby clearing. Flames replaced the cold, but I remembered again that previous experience and waited for them to subside. To myself I repeated one of the favorite prayers of my earthly life:
Take my heart, contrite and humbled,
And make it His, who never stumbled.
I thanked Belicia for once again rescuing me, as she must have done often in my earthly life, though I could not perceive it then. God would let her know, wherever she might be.
I recited a prayer I had often used on earth to seek her intercession:
Guardian angel, seek the grace
Of Him you worship face to face,
For this your ward who struggles still to understand and do his will.
Feeling a strong need to ask God's forgiveness and to make amends to Belicia,
I began to listen attentively to the prayers around me and to join them.
One that particularly impressed me was drawn from the psalms and went:
As the deer longs for running water,
So my soul longs for the Lord.
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God when shall I come and stand before God?
I had been chasing an illusion instead of seeking the supreme Reality. It was the same situation I had encountered on earth, only magnified, as things here were. Belicia had been right, I had often been so preoccupied by my own desires that I could think of neither the needs of the other person nor of the God we should both have been seeking.
I made my way back to the place where I had entered the forest and looked over the cliff. Shuddering, I pictured myself lying at the base, a heap of shattered bones and crushed flesh. My punishment for disobedience would indeed have been severe.
Sitting down on the log I said, "I'm sorry I kicked you. You were right, of course."
"Ho, ho," chortled the log. "Be glad you didn't kick any harder. I'm a blockbody as well as a blockhead, as you called me. You would have been hobbling through the forest instead of wandering."
"You don't seem like such a bad guy. How did you become a log?"
"I was too impatient to continue. My angel told me that I would be a tree, so that I could soak up the sunlight until I had more strength.
Unfortunately, I had strength enough to tear my own roots out of the ground in my desire to continue. So I fell and quite naturally became a log."
"How long have you been here?"
"I don't know, but I've not always been in the same place. A few minutes before you came up the cliff that angel of yours rolled me here where you would find me. Others have rolled me all over the forest because they wanted me to help their charges."
"no, she was with me all the time."
"You are still thinking in materialist terms. Angels can be in many places at once. Besides, it wasn't a she. It was a big strong guy."
"How did you know it was Belicia?"
"She-he told me and asked me to help you. In particular she said to remind you of the three signs she gave you to recognize her - she would return in the same form in which she left, she would smell good, not stink like those renegades who skulk around here, and she would be in the sunlight, not avoiding it, as they do."
I thought of asking him why he had not told me these things in the beginning, but then I realized that I would not have listened. So I said:
"I did see something that looked like her, but it was standing under a tree. Now that I think of it, it didn't talk like her either. It said it had changed its mind and wanted to be with me. It even propositioned me!"
"You weren't thinking clearly. You know that angels don't change their minds. They have all the information they need when they make a decision,
So there is no room for reconsideration."
"All right, I won't argue. Anyway, just as I approached the thing a lion came and tore it to bits. The lion did leave a trace of her fragrance."
"One good sign. Now look for all three."
"I wish she would return right now! I think I'm ready to continue."
"Patience. Remember what happened to me. Only God knows when you are ready to continue, and then He will send her."
At this moment an old man with a long white beard approached. He had a pleasant piney smell. His hands looked like they were accustomed to hard work. Sitting down on the log, he tapped it and said:
"henry, YOU are ready to continue. You have lain here long enough to learn wisdom, and you have helped many travellers. God is pleased with your care for others."
To me he said, "Stand up and let him rise."
We both stood. Slowly the log rose on end and assumed a human form. Henry was a middle-aged man dressed in a clown custom. A smile seemed glued to his face. He shook my hand and said, "I guess you were the proverbial last straw. Accept your penance as a wanderer. It's the quickest way to be ready to continue towards God."
I said to the angel:
"When will I be ready to continue? When will Belicia return?"
"I do not know. Henry has already told you that only God knows when you are ready to continue. Spend your time in seeking His forgiveness and praising
Him for his mercy. Follow Henry's example and try to help others. Do not follow us. That would be disobedience."
They walked off, and I continued my wanderings.
I now spent my time in prayer, not just for myself, but for those still on earth and for the others around me. Slowly my love for them grew, and with it my love for God and my longing to be fully with him.
After a long interval I wandered into a clearing, and saw Belicia, standing in full sunlight. She called to me:
"It's the real me. You are ready to continue."
Warily I said, "How do I know you are really Belicia?"
"Well, I'm not standing downwind of you, as that other was. And what am I doing standing in the sun?"
"I do smell what seems to be your fragrance, but after that encounter I would feel more comfortable if you showed yourself as that lion."
"All right." said Belicia. "I'll put on my lion suit." She shimmered and in a moment a magnificent maned lion stood in her place, purring softly.
"That's the one!" I said. "May I call you Leandro, and may I touch you?"
"Sure," said the lion. "But not with your fists this time."
I tried to embrace the great cat, but my arms were not long enough. Burying my face in his mane, I breathed in a new fragrance which soothed and refreshed my spirit.
"I hope you don't mind," I said, "but you do smell good!"
"That is not my odor," said Leandro, "It is the 'odor of sanctity' about which you have heard, God's fragrance. It comes from within my heart, where we gaze on each other face to face."
His voice was a deep musical bass, like the low notes on an organ.
As we strolled through the forest I said, somewhat reproachfully:
"Where have you been all this time?"
"Lurking in the undergrowth," said Leandro, with a louder purr which must have been a chuckle.
"No, seriously," I said, "Were you here but invisible?"
"It is hard for me to conceal myself from eyes such as you now have, so I spent the time in that City towards which we are bound, adoring God and petitioning Him for you."
"I owe you an eternal debt of gratitude."
Leandro let out a roar that made me jump, but then I realized that it was laughter - laughter like a bass arpeggio. He said, "What a cliche! We all owe God more gratitude than we could ever repay. He really doesn't need any of us. But the Son wanted to create us so that we could share in his own enjoyment of his Father."
"But has God forgiven me - and have you?"
"As for me, I'm like a mother with a child who hit her in a fit of petty anger. Remember, I've been with you since before you were born. You can be sure that God has forgiven you, since he sent me back to you. You can be glad too that this happened to you here. On earth it could have meant eternal death. You have been close to that many times, and I have often been deeply worried about you."
"oh, I'm sorry to have caused you so much concern!"
"It's over," said Leandro. "We have won with the grace of God!" His purring rose in volume until it was like a roll of drums.
We walked without speaking for a time. Leandro purred softly again, and I placed my hand on his back. Finally we came to another cliff. This I climbed with some difficulty. Leandro floated up beside me, occasionally stretching out a huge paw to steady me. At the top we walked along deep in conversation.
I wanted to talk about the evil creatures I had encountered in the forest, but Leandro said:
"We're done with them. They can't come up this high."
"You mean that the light would be too much for them?"
"More than that. They are completely opaque. The light here is so strong that it actually pushes them away."
"Still, all this has set me to thinking, and I would like to ask a few questions."
"Sure. Go ahead, but remember what I told you earlier. You may not be able to understand all the answers. I see that one of the questions you want to ask is what it is like to worship God face to face. I can't tell you that.
It's one of those experiences that you can't understand until you have it.
Lecture over. What's your first question?"
"The creatures of darkness caused me a lot of trouble on this mountain, but their efforts only helped me draw closer to God. I'm not even sure they delayed me very much. So it seems to me that they are doing His will in spite of themselves."
"Correct. All creatures must do the will of God. It is a law of being. For those who have free will this means that they cannot avoid using their free will, even if they want to."
"Well, I can see that that's the case here, but on earth they do lead many people astray into their own destruction. How is this in accordance with
"They cannot lead people astray without making use of their desire to be free. But they convince them that slavery to them is freedom, while giving oneself to God is slavery. Actually, they believe it themselves. Remember that fake doctor?"
"So where is YOUR freedom? Didn't you tell me that you cannot even desire anything evil?"
"Well, that's even more true of God Himself. Can He desire anything evil?
When I committed myself to him I was allowed to participate as far as I could in his own divinity. My freedom is a spark of His freedom. I told you earlier that the Son wanted to create us so that we could share His enjoyment of His Father. Not just enjoy, but also love. Not even God can think of any joy greater than love. But love cannot be forced. If it were, it would be a fake, and God hates fakes. So He created creatures with free will, even though He knew that some would misuse it. Finally, remember that
God's power is so great that He brings greater good even out of the greatest evil. You know what He did with the murder of His Incarnate Son."
Somewhat dazed by this long philosophical discourse, I fell silent. Leandro resumed purring, and I again placed my hand on his back for reassurance while I digested what he had told me.
After a time we came to a clear mountain lake. Glancing at my reflection in the water, I saw that much of the dirt had fallen off my clothing.
Seeing me looking at the reflection, Leandro said, "Try to brush more of it off."
Vigorously brushing myself, I was rewarded with a shower of black flakes.
My clothing now looked almost clean.
Leandro said, "This is the result of accepting your sufferings for the Love of
God. Your efforts on this mountain counted too, but you must give thanks to
God for both the will and the strength to make them. Now you can even look at the Sun."
"No, It will burn my eyes."
"Give it a try."
I did, and to my surprise I could look directly at that incomprehensibly fiery orb.
Leandro continued, "Your shadow has become much lighter. We are nearly there."
Then for the first time I noticed that Leandro cast no shadow at all, though he was resplendent with refracted sunlight, like a huge diamond.
As we went past the lake I noticed an enormo*s cliff towering over us. It appeared to be thousands of feet high.
Craning my neck, I asked, "Am I supposed to climb THAT?"
"Yes. The effort will strengthen you to stand before God, and all the dirt remaining on your clothing will be gone when you reach the top."
So I climbed. Now it was not difficult, but the mere height of the cliff exhausted me. Again Leandro floated up beside me, steadying me and encouraging me. When I thought my strength would fail, he told me to rest and supported me, his great paws almost like a cradle. Finally, we reached the top, and I took a moment to catch my breath before looking around.
We stood on an open square. Before us was a magnificent city, reached by a majestic flight of marble steps.
As I stood gazing at the city Leandro said, "You do not need me any longer. you can climb these stairs alone."
I began to climb the marble staircase and asked Leandro, "Who is that figure standing at the top of the steps, apparently waiting for us?"
"She is waiting for you only. That is the one who was allowed to come to you and tell you of this Reality and who assured you that she would see you again before we left the hospital."
As I bounded up the steps, Leandro called, "Goodbye. I shall see you again at the throne of God." I glanced back to return his farewell, but he was not there.
At the top of the steps Hazel embraced me and I threw my arms around her.
She said, "I have seen your long travail upon the earth and your loneliness. Such knowledge was one of my burdens upon the mountain. But now
I am permitted to relieve you of the last hurt of earth. You may hold me for a hundred years."
How long we stood there I do not know. I was dimly aware of people passing us and others gathering around us.
When I raised my head, Hazel's son Bob was the first to come forward. He too embraced me, with tears of joy in his eyes. Others followed, some embracing me, some kissing me on the cheek, and some shaking hands gravely.
When the greetings were over, Hazel said: "Now you must be presented to
God. There's always a big festival in the central square where He receives new arrivals. I'll take you there."
We proceeded along a broad boulevard. On either side were magnificient buildings and lovely parks. I commented on how interesting it looked, and
Hazel assured me that I would have plenty of time to explore after I had been presented to god.
"In fact, she added, "Only after God has given you his crowning grace will you be able to understand what you see and enjoy it. Things here are beyond the comprehension of anyone who is not completely united with their
Sounds of rejoicing grew gradually louder. Even the light seemed to grow brighter, if that were possible.
When we entered the square it was filled with a great crowd, all dressed as for a summer festival. In the center was something so brilliant that I could not make out the details. It seemed as though the sun itself had come to rest there. The people were singing hymns and psalms. Some were seated at picnic tables. I asked Hazel:
"What's on the menu?"
"The Bread of Life and the wine of eternal bliss."
"Here comes the kicker!" shouted a familiar voice. Henry. He was seated at a table from which had been coming gales of laughter. He was saying, "Come and join us. Taste the sweetness of the Lord."
"No, no," said Hazel. "He hasn't been presented to God yet. After that we might join you."
"Oh," said Henry, "Just continue on to the center of the square. There are plenty of people to help."
We wove our way through the crowd. From all sides came encouragements, songs and laughter. Finally, we came face to face with a group of heavily armed military officers. Thinking they were guards, I tried to step back, but Hazel laughed and pushed me forward.
One of the soldiers approached me and said, "May I have the honor of presenting you before God?"
"Well," I replied difidently, "If that's what you want."
The officer smiled. "You don't recognize me." He reached out a hand, which became the paw of the lion I had gotten to know so well.
"Leandro-Belicia," I cried, "I thought you were a guard. You are so heavily armed."
"There is no need of guards, for nothing unclean can enter here. The radiance of God's presence keeps all evil far away. I was indeed a guard for you, and I am armed for the next mission on which the Lord shall send me. Come, follow me now for the last time."
We moved forward into the intense light. Strangely, I could now make out more detail. On a lofty throne sat a kindly old man. Sitting beside him, on his right, was the young man whom I had first seen at the foot of the mountain. Around these two flashed continuous lightning, which somehow seemed to have a face as well. At the feet of the young man sat a motherly woman, smiling encouragingly at all who approached. Many beings surrounded the throne. Some were obviously angels. Others were people I had seen on the mountain or while passing through the crowd. they were all singing about their love for the Enthroned Ones and for all creation. Other new arrivals were also there, waiting to be presented by their companions. Leandro waited for an opening in the crowd. Then he bowed deeply and said to the young man:
"May I present to you one of your redeemed?"
The young man said, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You are already in the joy of your master, and you have brought your ward through numberless trials. Name your reward."
Leandro said, "Only this. Send me to bring yet another to you."
"you have asked rightly, and you have received what you asked. Go cultivate still another vine in my Father's vineyard."
Leandro stepped away, and the Lord said to me:
"Welcome, you whom my soul loves. I have waited long for you. Turn now so that My Father may greet you also."
I turned, but kept my eyes downcast. The kindly older man spoke:
"Why so diffident, my child? Raise your eyes. Look into mine."
I obeyed. Our glances locked. The lightning surrounding the throne flashed out and touched me also, first my lips and then my heart. My entire being became radiant, and the eyes of my heart fastened upon the heart of God. There they have remained fixed through all eternity.