IN THE COTTAGE
It was a long time before any of us spoke. We walked through the winding pathways of the wood, inhaling the fragrance of the flowers, listening to the music of the birds’ song. For a long way a glossy blackbird had been riding on my arm, pecking at me inquisitively and then looking up with his head on one side. Janet was carrying a dove on her shoulder, answering its cooing with little noises she made with her lips. As usual, our angel walked slowly with his graceful stride, his ruby gown flowing around him, a smile curving his mouth.
I was thinking of all that we had been taught, and rejoicing that at last I was beginning to understand. The further prospect of meeting our beloved King in one of His many body-cloaks filled my heart with a sweet rapture. There was something so satisfying about this woodland walk that even now my mind returns to it. I think my dawning knowledge made me see all things new. I was reminded of the nursery hymn, ‘all things bright and beautiful.’ Truly, all things seemed ever brighter and more beautiful than before, and, looking at my ‘bird-passenger’ and all the glories of nature around me, I delighted to think that ‘the Lord God made them all.’
“Let us sing it!” Janet cried, receiving my thought in the dear way of Heaven’s realm. So we sang the familiar hymn, our angel joining with us. Not to be outdone, the birds flew down to perch, on the lower branches, leaning down to us and singing their own version as though their little throats would burst!
Presently we followed our angel into another pathway which turned off to the left. Here the trees soon began to be spaced out, and there were several clearings or glades which caused me to pause expectantly. However, our guide continued his way, and now we came to lawns with ponds and trees, and to a broad path fringed with massed flower-borders. A little way along the path was a small opening cut into a hedge with an archway of the hedging about it. I half expected to see a gate, and then I remembered that a gate would suggest keeping people out, which could not be in this country of universal charity.
“This opening is to invite people to come in,” said our angel, answering my thought, ” People who pass through the wood always turn off to the left at the point we did, and come to this opening before proceeding on their way. It is because there is a special welcome for them here.”
“How do they know?” Janet asked. Is it because there is somebody sending out thought invitations?”
“No, it is because the Lord of Love comes here so frequently. The atmosphere is charged with His divine joy so that it draws people. Few can resist divine joy, you know.”
“We cannot, anyway,” I commented, stealing a glance at Janet. She met my eyes with a joyful look as though to say, ‘What glorious adventure is in store for us now?’
Strangely enough, as we paused in the opening, I had a fleeting mind-glimpse of earth. I suddenly recalled that people were going about their streets, houses and businesses, utterly unaware of the glory of Heaven’s joy, of the constant adventure that awaited them here. Most of them even dreaded death, imagining themselves, instead of their outermost body-cloak, lying under the soil! They spoke of dying with bated breath, or refused to mention it at all and all the time this Home of Love awaited them, with the company of friends, the enjoyment of music, walking, gardening, and the constantly changing delights of Heaven’s realm! It seemed so ludicrous that Janet and I laughed together. Then turning, we followed our angel up the garden path.
It was a flagged path, with moss just showing between the stones, and it led between brilliant flower-borders to a little door. I do not really know whether the door was small or not, but it was so set about with blossoming bushes, beds of flowers and slender, drooping trees that it appeared so. It was set wide, revealing the cool shadow of a room within. As we approached, a woman appeared in the doorway. She stood to one side, her robe splashing the brown door with crimson beauty. With a smiling gesture, she invited us within.
“I am Carol,” she said, bowing to our angel. He quickly introduced us, and then she asked us to be seated. It was the simplest and most attractive room I had ever seen, long and low, yet abundantly lit, for one wall was entirely taken up with a window, whose casement stood wide. Through this window could be seen the splendour of the tiny garden which was radiant, it seemed, with every colour that had ever glowed.
The last rays of the sun slid softly in, flying straight to meet some burnished dishes like welcoming hands touching each other after a day’s parting.
“And so they do,” Carol said in the midst of my thought. When at the end of the day, the sun’s rays touch those dishes once again, I know that soon my guest will come.”
No-one asked who Carol’s Guest could be. By now, such wonders did not surprise us, but they lifted our hearts with joy.
In silent content, we leaned back in our lounge-chairs. The floor was yielding, like the floor of our little house in the Plane Between. (How far away it seemed, yet still it awaited our coming, and we knew that our willed thought would take us swiftly, when we desired.) In the centre of the room was a table, its polished surface reflecting the sunset glow which now spread over the sky beyond the trees. A whisper of wind crept in, bearing its first message of the coming night.
No ornament of any kind adorned the walls, but three long shelves held the burnished dishes and plates. In the centre of the lowest shelf was a great bowl of fruit and a tall jug of fruit-juice.
“What does your Guest eat?” Janet asked at last, “or does He, perhaps, only bless the food? “He comes to share my meal each evening,” Carol said softly.
You see, when I was on earth I used to have a favourite Bible story-the walk to Emmaus. Over and over again, after reading it, I would say to myself; ‘They knew Him in the breaking of bread.’ Gradually, this came to be for me, my idea of Heaven, so that, after my reparation was done I came to this place… and He came too. Once He said to me, whilst He sat at that table and I questioned Him in wonder because of His gracious condescension: ‘To each, I am all.’
“Why, He said that to us, too” Janet cried, turning a glowing face. to Carol’s. They smiled, and then Carol continued:
“My Guest eats the fruit that I gather from my garden. Some of the grapes I crush and fill the jug with their juice. Then I pick some bread-stems. They grow in abundance just beyond the garden path.” “No fish or meat?” I asked.
“Oh no!” Carol looked surprised. “Are they not the Lesser Brethren?”
“Yes, I understand. The reason I asked was because He ate and prepared fish while on earth.”
“He came to attack sin, not the established customs of the people,” Carol said slowly. “He spoke of it once, reminding me that He had said on earth, ‘ I come not to destroy the law, but to fulfil.’ It was the same with customs.”
“Then it is not a custom to eat fish or flesh or fowl here?” Janet put in. “Not anywhere in Heaven’s realm I mean.”
“No,” said Carol, looking quite shocked at the idea. “You see, even on earth Our Lord said that we must do to others what we would like them to do to us. How much more so here?”
“Do you mean that that teaching refers to animals too?” I asked.
“Partly, but there is more in it than that. Think how few people there would be who would eat flesh if they had to do the killing themselves. A young lamb gambolling on the hillside beside its mother. Who would willingly plunge a knife into its throat? Who would approach the cattle grazing in the field, and one by one see them, fall lifeless beside their fellows? Even the hogs would wordlessly appeal against the knife raised to bring them death. Again, who has not seen the wild ducks in their headlong flight, falter and fall to the ground, or has seen a fish plunging madly in an effort to escape the cruel hooks, without a pang of pity? No, the average man or woman would not do the killing themselves-but they employ somebody else to do it for them.”
“But if they do not mind?” Janet whispered. “Or even call it sport?
“They do mind-the first time,” Carol said firmly. “After the continuous repetition of an act, it loses its horror. Can you imagine what would be the feelings of parents if a child, on being asked what he had decided to be in the world, said: ‘ I want to be a slaughterer of animals’? Yet these same people would employ others to do the killing, so they do not do to those others what they would like done to themselves, or to their child.”