Without further need for prompt or invitation, we each took the crook of the others’ arm and made our way down the hillside and strolled amongst the throng of souls in various degrees of earnest conversation and/or embrace. As we strolled in grip of our agog, it was Isaiah who stopped suddenly in observation of someone standing alone and separate from others. The stretch of his silver cord evident reaching back over the mists, and his stunned bewilderment to his surroundings most evident.
‘Brother, Brother Isaac,’ cried Isaiah as the startled visitor recognised the voice of attraction.
Isaac seemed so surprised at first that he could barely fall to his knees before his old friend without toppling over. ‘Bishop, I, I …’ he stammered as he was lifted to his feet and embraced heartily by Isaiah. Turning to look at Cassiel, I could tell from her finger poised to her lips that she desired that I stay mute and in awe of the unfolding events.
‘It is so good to see you, your Grace. You have been sorely missed by those that have mourned your passing. But how, I mean, where am I? I have not passed over myself, have I? I mean, I am not … dead? And what are these robes you wear? They are beautiful …’
Isaiah, through his kind look of compassion, was able to at least calm somewhat his friend’s anxiety.
‘No, my friend, you are not dead. It is not yet your time. Look! Do you see the beautiful silver cord attached to your heart that stretches back over the mists? You merely sleep but come seeking answers to some dilemma you face in your earthly abode. It is for us to determine what that problem is.’ As he spoke, Isaiah cast a hastened glance towards us as we watched in observation. It was a glance that at once told us that he was sure to his purpose but would call upon us if the need arose to a point of his impasse.
Isaac’s frown did much to describe his inner turmoil as he at first struggled to articulate his conundrum. Then it was as if a dam broke open and the words came tumbling forth without restraint.
‘Oh, my Bishop, my heart is sorely troubled. I can no longer hold to the rigid doctrines of our church and the expression of its sanctity. I have heard much in the thralls of confession that has so troubled my faith that I no longer know whether God’s grace resides in my ability to minister His word. My lips have been sealed by the confessional, but my heart is rendered by holding its misdeeds within. In short, Bishop, I think I am losing my faith …’.
Isaiah took firm hold of Isaac’s shoulders and led him to repose under the welcome of a nearby elm that seemed to offer solace and support to the occasion.
‘Isaac,’ he said as he sat next to his charge, ‘know that I am no longer your bishop, rather, that here, in heaven, I am known as Isaiah. I have been de-robed by the wonders I have both observed and experienced here within heaven’s realm.’
‘But, by the grace of God, you were our bishop. How is that possible?’
‘Fear not, my friend, the experiences by which I will now assist you have been sown by His divine hand. My eyes have been opened to the wonder of His laws of love and which guide my voice to assist your suffering.’
At once Isaac looked down at his chest and it was evident that his time at heaven’s gate was shortening, for his silver cord became more vibrant and was tugging softly at his chest.
‘Our time is short, my brother. Your human form reclaims its’ spirit’s presence. Know therefore what is most important before you leave.’ Isaiah inhaled deeply before continuing and seemed to offer a silent prayer to He that held his hand. ‘Lose not your faith in God, my friend. The consequences to be borne by those that give scant regard to those precious souls under their care are destined for harsh judgement in the halls of heaven. I know, I have been there. Follow the love in your heart. Treat all His children under the guidance of your care as if the children were your own. Protect and serve those that come to you for spiritual nourishment and NOT the bastions of the church that demand only fealty to its doctrines. I have seen much anguish here in heaven as caused by conformity to misguided orthodoxy and self-righteous obeisance.’
At once, Isaac could withstand the calling no longer. The urge from his awakening body was much stronger in its beckoning.
‘May I come again, my …, I mean, Isaiah? Your words have been as a balm to my wounded spirit. Yet, I think there is much more I must learn.’
Standing and waving farewell, Isaiah, spoke truly, ‘By the grace of God, I will be here for you whenever you need me. I stand to no other law but the law of love. My heart will tell me when it is time for us to meet again. Go with God, my friend.’
He watched with a gentle smile as Isaac felt the pull of the silver cord in beckoning to his return.
‘Oh, oh, and one more thing,’ implored Isaiah as his friend started to drift away. ‘Never confuse chastity with purity. It is only the pure in heart who can see God.’ He watched as Isaac waved acknowledgement with a smile just as he was moving across the mists. Isaiah prayed it was enough.
Upon Isaac’s departure, we moved together with smiles of gratitude and wonder, before again seeking answers from Cassiel. Questions that had started to form as a huge logjam in my burgeoning bag of unknowns. We strolled for a time, our silence filled with the surrounding chatter of conversations of the many souls and their companions, some in earnest, some in tears. But this time it was I who stopped suddenly in my tracks only to have the others turn in surprise at my reticence.
‘Cassiel is it….? Would it be …? Could I …?’
‘Speak your heart, dear Athar, and if it is within my power, I will surely open my heart to your inquiry.’
‘My mother … Could I …,’ I managed to mumble further. ‘We were much estranged in my previous life. This is a burden I have carried for too long. Could I, I mean, is it possible for me to have visitation. To express now my, ah, forgiveness for that which has passed between us.’
Cassiel thought deeply upon my request for a moment. It was a moment that seemed to evoke a flash of light transmitted to another sphere or a higher realm. Yet, in a moment, her answer was upon her lips.
‘Yes, my dear friend, such a reunion is indeed possible. Yet, be aware that sometimes forgiveness is not readily received in the same spirit which it is given. Sometimes the denial of responsibility is a stronger elixir than truth.’
I looked at her with an understanding that transcended my anxiety and nodded my confirmation which she acknowledged with her eyes.
‘Walk, then, over the hillside yonder,’ she said pointing in the direction. ‘It will be seen what your heart yearns to unfold.’
Walking in the direction of her finger, my steps started to falter the closer I came to the crest over which I could not see. It was as if my heart was fixed strongly to its purpose, but my mind found falter the closer it came to its realisation. That’s when I saw her. I knew it was her even though her back was turned to my presence. She could neither see nor hear my approach, but I knew it was her. The slant and slope of her taut shoulders and hands fixed firmly to her hips was something I recognised from many years of her overbearing.
‘M, moth, mother’ I croaked over vocals that did not wish to function without rasping over burning coals. ‘It is I.’
‘What, who, leave me alone,’ she said without turning and with venom dripping from her tongue. ‘I don’t know where I am, I have no wish to be here, and I certainly do not wish to speak with anyone. I want to return home. Leave me be.’
Despite my ill-at-ease, I took a further few paces forward in persistence.
‘Mother, it is I, your son …’
Her quick turn to face me made me stop fixedly in my tracks. Her face, full of the fire of malice, made her already stern visage even more difficult to admire in recollection. There were so few precious moments.
‘I am glad you are here,’ I said holding my hands forward to bridge the gulf between us. They were hands that remained empty of touch for she could only look at them as if they were foreign objects from an alien being.
‘I just wanted to say, I mean, I sought this meeting to tell you that I forgive you. To tell you that despite the harshness of my life, the many trials that I endured by your neglect, I am happy. Here, now, in heaven, I am at peace with who I am. I came to thank you. For without you, I would not be in the exalted place in which I now abide. If it had not been for your self-centred intent, I would not be where I am today. I could not have risen so high in God’s holy order.’
In the eternal moments after I had finished speaking and before she could utter a reply, I could but wonder where and why all those words just tumbled forward in presentation. My heart lay open in expectation of their gift of giving but quavered in fear as to what may be her reaction. I could not say that I was surprised, but I confess to a sense of disappointment in her response.
‘Forgiveness? What are you forgiving me for? I did nothing wrong. I did what I thought best for you. I was your mother, you were my child - you were meant to obey me. That’s how it works, isn’t it! I stand no sense of regret for what I have done. My only disappointment is that I did not send you to that boarding school sooner. That way, I could have realised my true calling - without being hamstrung by the apron all that time. I mean, your father was never there, was he? Why don’t you go to him with your forgiveness?’
I could barely keep my knees from buckling and struggled hard to hold fast to the truth about myself I had recently discovered. Yet somehow, I found the way to speak my heart before she was called back by the glare of her silver cord. ‘Go with God, Mother. He will be forever a light in your darkness. I stand steadfast in His glory but see that your eyes are closed to His brightness. I wish you could see what I see, but I fear your eternity will be a long one.’
The urge from her silver cord was now one she could not refuse, and it was only her scowl that remained to pierce the darkness she had left behind after she flew back over the mists.
After she had gone and as I strode back over the hill and across the vale with leaden feet, I was never so pleased to see my two friends awaiting my return with arms open.