Up Through the Clouds (Part One)

David woke with a start. The bedside clock, directly in his eye-line, read 17:15. The room lay in darkness.

He sat up, rubbing his eyes, and looked across toward the window. Rainfall sprayed across the glass, driven by an angry wind. He could just make out the trees in the garden: their branches were thrashing about.

David climbed off the bed and drew the curtains. He was amazed how fast the weather had changed. When he lay down at three o’clock it had been a fine clear autumn day. He switched on the light and jumped as the sound that had awoken him came again – a dull, ominous thump from somewhere over his head. Somewhere in the attic.

His heart beat a little faster as he opened the bedroom door and stepped on to the landing. Rain crashed against the big stained-glass window above the stairs. The wind moaned around the big old house. David switched on more lights and hurried around upstairs, closing curtains against the storm and the night.

Another thud came from above as David stood on the landing, about to descend the stairs. He looked up and saw the entrance to the attic right above his head: a dusty old trapdoor set in the ceiling. A piece of rope dangled from the handle, well out of his reach.

Unnerved, David ran downstairs, turned on every light he could find and switched on the gas fire in the living room. The house felt safer for light and heat. He closed the curtains on the ground floor too. Ordinarily home felt safe and cosy when the weather turned bad, and it was nice to be inside listening to the elements try to do their worst. Nothing could get past the robust old house, fully two centuries old. But tonight the increasingly frequent thuds from the draughty old attic prevented that happy feeling.

What is that noise? he wondered. It sounded very much like a door slamming – but there were no doors up there, and no windows either. He shivered suddenly, despite the warmth of the fire. Why did the storm have to come when both his parents were out?

SLAM! It seemed to be getting louder – as if demanding his attention, David thought unhappily. He considered turning on the TV to block out the noise. But he knew that was no way to solve the problem. What if rain was getting in? It could do all sorts of damage…

“Hello, you’ve reached Peter Henderson. I’m not available to take your call right now, but if you leave a message I’ll get back to you.”

“Dad, there’s a loud banging noise coming from the attic! I don’t know what it is, but I think something is wrong up there! Uh – okay, ‘bye!”

He hung up the phone, deliberated for a few moments and rang his Mum’s mobile. David stood in the hall, close to the bottom of the stairs, listening to it ring. His Mum’s phone rang for almost a minute before he gave up.

SLAM!

David sat by the fire for about twenty minutes, hoping one of his parents would call him back. He started timing the slamming noises. They came at a rate of one a minute.

At six o’clock, he decided that sitting around wasn’t the answer and that since he had been left in charge of the house, it was up to him to take action. He went back upstairs and studied the piece of rope hanging from the attic door. It was about a metre above his head and if he jumped high enough, he could just touch it but not grasp it.

SLAM! David’s heart beat quickly as he carried a stool from the spare bedroom and set it down beneath the trapdoor. He stood on it, reached up and gripped the rope easily. Taking a deep breath, he tugged it and the trapdoor fell open, narrowly missing striking his head! A gust of sour air blew down, smelling of damp and dust. David promptly sneezed.

An aluminium ladder, attached to the door by a spring, had swung down also. David extended it all the way to the ground. He climbed up and poked his head through the entrance. It was much colder in the attic and pitch black. He felt around for the lightswitch and a single bulb came on nearby. It cast a little pool of light close to the entrance, and threw long, deep shadows across the floorboards. David climbed into the attic and stood beside the opening, peering into the darkness. The attic was full of old furniture, discarded toys, yellowing books – piles of them, mostly his Mum’s – and general junk. His Dad often referred to the attic as ‘the junkyard’ – with good reason.

The wind whistled around the eaves; the rain hammered on the roof. David walked cautiously across the boards, trying to see further ahead. Dustsheets covered various items and loomed up, eerie and ghostlike. Beyond the pool of light it was difficult to see anything at all. The confines of the attic stretched out in front for a considerable distance, all high pointed roof, overhead beams, dusty artefacts and deep, deep shadows.

David reckoned he was about halfway through the attic, the little bright entrance receding behind him, when a further SLAM! made him jump violently and cry out in shock. It came from close by, behind a huge jumbled pile of broken chairs. His breathing ragged and shaky, David took a series of nervous steps around the obstruction. Although the solitary light bulb was by now far behind him, there seemed to be a new source of light just ahead…

On the far side of the pile of furniture, David discovered a door that he knew did not exist. He had played in the attic and explored its mysteries enough to know that there was only one way in and out, and that was via the ladder that his Dad usually let down for him. This new door was fully two metres high, set in a section of brick wall beside one of the chimneys. It was made of solid wood and it was swinging open and slamming shut in the wind. It flung itself open again as David approached and he stared through in astonishment. Beyond, he saw swirling rain cloud and drenching water, and in the middle of that an exceptionally bright light, as if there was a lighthouse shining and pointing the way to safety through the storm.

David stood in the doorway, the dark dusty attic behind him and the storm and the light ahead. His thoughts raced as fast as his heart and he felt dizzy and disorientated. He gripped the doorframe and tried to understand what he was seeing, as rain sluiced down his face. Suddenly a particularly strong gust of wind sneaked behind him and pushed him through the door. He lost his footing entirely and fell headlong into the storm, and the door slammed shut.

Instead of tumbling to the ground or on to the roof, David found himself literally floating in space, surrounded by the grey clouds. Although the wind continued to swirl about, it no longer touched him and although the rain still fell from above, David was completely dry. Suddenly he felt quite calm as he drifted toward the light. As he came closer, he felt warmth and heat pouring from the bright centre, comforting and soothing. What a strange storm this is, he thought, that has light at its heart! And indeed his own heart felt strangely light too. The brilliant illumination came closer and closer, until it was all he could see or experience, and the clouds were blotted out. He reached out a hand to touch it, and in the instant that he did so, everything changed again. Now the whole world went white and there was nothing except a vast bright emptiness and himself at the heart of it. But he was not alone, for a woman stood close by in a beautiful white dress. Her hair was blonde and her eyes blue and sparkling.

 

She smiled and said:

“If you would dwell in the radiant light

You must surrender mortal fight!

You must abandon thoughts of night!

Suffer your Soul to wing and flight!”

 

“I – I don’t understand,” David stammered.

The woman laughed. It was a gentle and graceful sound. “Do not fear, for not understanding is as good a place as any to start.” she said. “Admit you know nothing and if you are fortunate you may swiftly learn everything.” She paused. “And we are all of us fortunate in the end, dearest David.”

David looked around at the strange white nothingness.

“You and I stand between worlds,” his companion continued. “Behind you, through the impossible door, is all you hold familiar, safe and dear. But ahead, should you find yourself worthy, lies all that is hidden, secret, wild and arcane. There, too, is ardour, beauty and Love.” She held her hand. “Will you travel with me, child, on the wings of knowledge to the fantastic place?”

David swallowed hard. “What is it called, this place?” he asked. “And if you are my guide, what is your name?”

The woman closed her eyes for a moment. “There are many worlds beyond the world,” she said softly. “But if you must take security from a name, let us call our destination the Lighted Lands.” She paused. “My own name is not the least important in the grand scheme, but you may call me Angelyne.”

David hesitated. Part of him wished only to return to the attic, close the door, scurry back down the ladder and wait beside the fire for his parents’ return. But he knew also that he was being offered a unique and special opportunity, one that might not come again.

“I will go,” he said.

The moment he spoke, everything went black as surely as previously all had been white. The temperature dropped and a low wind blew. For a second David thought that he had, after all, returned to the storm. But as his eyes adjusted he realised that he was in truth far from home. He stood on a blackened hillside on a narrow, winding road. There seemed to be ash everywhere, as if a very great fire had swept through this land and consumed it. Fields and meadows of soot and ash extended as far as he could see. Beyond, he glimpsed a range of towering, craggy mountains rising like giant savage teeth into the heavy grey clouds that loomed oppressively above. Closer by, he observed a forest of dead trees. The air smelled of burning.

“This is Abhoria,” Angelyne said. “The Nighted Place, the Burning Land.” She raised her right hand and a sphere of light materialised above it. It threw a bright yet ghostlike illumination all about them. “For ours is a journey from darkness to light, David, from lower to higher, from ignorance to knowledge, from fear to joy. We travel in due course from night unto light.”

David looked down the narrow road and realised that it led into the trees not far ahead.

“That is the Dead Forest,” Angelyne said. “Our destination lies within. Are you with me?”

David nodded reluctantly.

“Then accompany me,” the guide instructed. David stayed by her side and together they started walking along the stone road between the fields of ash. The Dead Forest loomed steadily nearer. David looked to his right and saw, in shock, a number of strange bent figures, clad in rags, working in one of the fields. They used shovels and hoes like farmers. He glanced questioningly at Angelyne. Her face filled with mercy and compassion.

“They are the Nighted Ones,” she said quietly. “Fated to work with naught but grime and dirt, until they recognise the futility.”

David shuddered, looking back as they moved on along the road. A low cloud of blackened mist blew across the field and covered the toiling figures.

They came in time to a low bridge that spanned a narrow river. David peered down and gasped as he realised that the water was jet black!

“The Black River,” Angelyne said. “Not water, but a current of darkness. It flows from an evil spring in the mountains all the way to the Sea of Night. None may swim in there – yet still there are those who have tried, and perished.”

“Why would anyone want to try?” David asked.

“All who come here must eventually learn that there is no value in darkness,” the guide said. “Alas, some never see the light.”

She and David crossed the bridge and soon the trees were very near. David realised that the Dead Forest was much bigger than it had first appeared. It looked very dark inside.

“Have no fear,” Angelyne said, “for my light will guide us true. But stay on the road, David, and within the circumference of the light. For the darkness in the forest hides many secrets – and secrets are dangerous things.”

They soon entered the trees and walked slowly along the path. There seemed to be nothing but dead trees amid a sea of ash.

“What is this place?” David said, finally.

“I told you – its name is Abhoria,” Angelyne said. Her voice seemed loud in the empty silence. She paused. “Always are we seeking balance, and there could be no beautiful realms beyond, were there not also the dark and dismal places. Yet that does not mean we should be grateful they exist, nor linger here any longer than necessary.”

Shortly afterwards, the road bent to the left and passed by a large, crooked gate made of metal. Angelyne halted beside it and David stopped also. She lifted her hand and the sphere of light grew brighter. David stared through the gate and his heart sank as he beheld a vast cemetery rising from the perpetual ash, and clouds of fume drifting amid countless headstones.

“Listen to me now child,” Angelyne said. “We have come this far, guided and protected by this light I possess. But you cannot always rely on the sanctuary of others. Somewhere in there, in the Cemetery of the Nighted Land, is your light, beautiful one, and now you must go and discover it.”

“In there?” David recoiled in dismay. “Why in such a horrible place?”

“Sometimes,” his companion answered, “the brightest of lights are to be found in the lowest and darkest of places. That is the way of things.”

As she spoke, the gate swung open.

“You can do it, David,” Angelyne smiled. “I have faith in you.”

David advanced warily into the cemetery, his heart thumping. In just a few short paces, he was already among the headstones. The inscriptions upon them were written in a strange language that he could not understand. He wandered a little further and glanced back over his shoulder. But already Angelyne and her guiding light were lost to sight. And as he realised this, a covering of a deeper darkness seemed to descend upon the world, until he could see barely two metres ahead.

“Who is that?” a croaking voice spoke up. “Who is that, trespassing in my graveyard?”

“M-my name is David,” David stammered.

A tall but rather crooked figure loomed up from the darkness. David tried to make it out clearly but the gloom prevented it.

“Another seeker, I presume,” the voice grated, “chasing after light.” It laughed harshly and humourlessly. “There is no light in the Cemetery of the Nighted Land, foolish boy!”

It reached out a long, talon-like hand, and David turned and ran in the opposite direction. He dodged amid numerous headstones until he found a small stone building that he imagined to be a crypt and ducked behind it, trying to catch his breath. The silence was intense and claustrophobic. David realised as he did so that he had lost all sense of direction.

He leaned back against the wall of the crypt and suddenly the wall disappeared behind him and he fell down a flight of steps, landed awkwardly and heavily and cried out in pain. Now he lay in utter darkness. David managed to sit up, clutching a sprained wrist, and groped around for the bottom step. But he could not find it. He seemed to be trapped in a small, confined space with a floor of ash and walls of stone.

David began to panic at the prospect of remaining trapped deep underground. But a wiser part of him knew that this would prove disastrous. He remembered Angelyne’s words: the brightest of lights are to be found in the lowest and darkest of places…As he thought this, a strange feeling of heat built up in his wrist, moved into his hand and quickly increased until it was almost searing. It passed, and a moment later a ball of light no less bright than Angelyne’s hovered just above his palm.

David gasped in relief. He looked round the tiny space and discovered the bottom of the stairs nearby. He hurried up them. As soon as he reached the surface, the ball of light left his hand and floated ahead of him and David chased after it through the cemetery. Its cheerful glow led him swiftly back to the gate where Angelyne waited.

“There,” she said. “You have made your discovery! It is time for us to move on! Take my hand, wondrous one.”

As the gate swung shut, David grasped her hand and together they began to rise up from the ground of ash, out of the Dead Forest and up toward the glowering clouds. David stared down, taking a last look at the Nighted Land.

“As one world ends,” Angelyne declared, “so another begins.”

 

 

 … continued in Part Two

 

 

Wise Companions – Part Two

He rose to his feet and I did the same, and we crossed to the window. The Wise Companion brought the candle with him. He held it aloft and together we gazed into the night. At first I saw only darkness. But as I watched, the tiny flame began to grow brighter until it was incandescent. As the light intensified I saw the night retreat before it, shrinking gradually away, and as it did so a new landscape revealed itself. No longer the meadows and valleys as before…I perceived with my physical eyes a remote and mountainous country, a land of ice and snow, and as the dark fell back and the light advanced I flew suddenly with it. In an impossible moment I found myself in a tiny village that clung to the side of a tremendous pass in some immense mountain range. A bitter wind blew past me, yet it did not touch me. The cold could not reach my skin. The Wise Companion stood beside me, still holding the candle. The tiny flame was likewise unaffected by the blast. He gestured for me to follow him and we crossed the narrow street and passed through a low door, entering into a vast hall that surely could not have existed within such a small building. A raging fire leapt and crackled in the centre hearth place. A number of people clad in white robes sat around the room, studying manuscripts or talking quietly among themselves.

A woman with intense blue eyes came forward. She held out her hands and took my own, briefly. Thereafter she released her grip and motioned for me to step closer to the fire. The Wise Man remained where he stood, watching silently. We seated ourselves on a wooden bench close to the flames, where the heat was welcome yet did not overcome.

“You came a vast distance to be here just now,” she said, touching my hand gently. “Yet the real distances, the true gulfs to be breached, lie not in the world but in the self. The true chasms and accompanying tests of courage lie within us.” She paused. “Remember to look up indeed, as you have so recently been advised. Yet too must you gaze down into the fearful abyss that is self. When you do, beloved, you will ultimately discover not nightmares or devils but light at the very bottom. Do you suffer tension? It is because light is blocked! It is pent up by emotion – by rage and envy, jealousy and grief. Yet ever the Undying Light seeks expression! Would you be so arrogant or presumptuous as to seek to inhibit a star? Would you try to throw bonds around it and trap it, tie it down even?” She laughed. “You cannot bind a star to captivity nor stifle the fury of its process. Yet,” she continued, a trace of sadness entering her voice, “this is what everyone on Earth is trying to do. Is it therefore any wonder that there is pain everywhere? Consider,” she said, closing her eyes, “a star shining in front of you! Greater by far than the size of the Earth, or even mighty Jupiter. A star greater than the Earth’s own Sun, which is as you know modest in comparison with many. Would you cast ropes around it to hold it down as if it were a balloon? Or tie wrappings…”

“No,” I interrupted. “I wouldn’t.”

“Then seek not to imprison what lies within you,” she replied swiftly. “It will break free, it will tear loose, it will shine out! Your self may be in prison but you cannot imprison the Self! You have heard it said many times that death is inevitable, yet I tell you it is liberation that is the only true certainty when all is said and done! For death is but transition. The Light is Everlasting. You can put a million pairs of hands over your eyes and like a child pretend not to see, yet see it you shall! For I tell you truly there is nothing else to see.”

“Think, child,” she went on, “of emotion. You may weep, you may grieve, you may silently seethe and harbour loathing and great bitterness; you may resent everyone you meet and even detest your fellow man.”

I listened silently, aware of the Wise Man watching close by.

“You may constantly wrestle with emotional turmoil and find no peace; you may dread intimacy even as you seek out embrace; do you rake over the past pursuing relief from your pain; do you wear a smile day and night even as you stand guard over a thousand unresolved grievances? The list goes on seemingly forever, does it not?” She paused and took my hand once more. My heart filled with tears at her touch. “In reality, young one, it is the Light and only this that goes ever on. Your fear or perception that the emotional life is irredeemable or insurmountable is but one more dance before the face of Certainty. Tempestuousness is but a scarf of the finest silk, drifting across the face of a star. It may be glamour, yet is it scarcely a glimmer before the Fire consumes it. You have heard so much about transcending the emotional life that this in itself becomes an obstacle. Focus on Light, do you see?” She let go of my hand and held both of her hands out in front of her, palms up. Immediately, a globe of white light appeared, resting in either one.

“Light is formidable,” she went on. “Immutable, inevitable. The source of all power and healing, such is its nature. You may seek to ask me what is Light – but what is not Light? I advised you just now to gaze down into self, thereby to discover Light. Do not discover Light by seeing it, however, but rather by being it. If you yet regard the discovery of Light as a matter of vision of any kind, you are yet deluded. It is not physical vision, nor yet cosmic or spiritual – it is question of embodying Light, of becoming it by the act of realising that this is what you are: Perfect Divine Light.”

The globes in her hands grew brighter.

“You witness here Light under apparent limitation, constraint or even duress,” the woman said quietly. “Two tiny globes that I hold in my hands. Yet look truly! You must come to understand that Light is limitless; that what I hold here yet fills the universe concurrently. There is no limit; there are no bonds; there is no constraint; there is only this One Expression. I hold Infinity in my hand, Eternity in my grasp, all Power below my thumb.” She raised her right hand slightly and the ball of light rose a short distance and began to revolve slowly. “Yet I do not work with it,” she added, “rather, I play. I do not grasp it firmly; I hold it lightly as if it were the most fragile flower.” She looked intently at me. “Finish working with Light, and only then will you be ready to play, beloved one.” She paused. The fire crackled behind us. The woman lowered her hands and the globes dissolved and disappeared.

“So, emotion and Divine Light,” she mused. “What then is the connection between the two?”

I hesitated. “Light is everywhere, all pervading,” I suggested. “So emotions are Light too, I suppose.”

She nodded and smiled. “Emotion is but one form of Light. As you learn to reveal and demonstrate the One Light, so do you purify all your lights, so that ultimately all are raised toward incandescence. Therefore cease your brooding and shine as brightly as you can! Admit your glamour and it shall disperse! Laugh, I tell you truly, at the notion that anything can dispute the force of a star! You are so serious, so troubled, so burdened – oh! There is such a long way to the Light, I shall never get there; I am such a beleaguered disciple, so heavy is the toil! Maybe in a few more millennia I will be allowed my first glimpse of the goal!” she smiled broadly. “Such thinking is for children. Wrestling with your problems only begets more problems. What problems are there when a glamour or a block is but a rag burning up in the light of a star?”

“You have heard it said that we enter now into the Age of Light, an epoch long foretold, an era like never before. So must it be. We have spoken much about Light today. Indeed,” she continued, “so should it be every day. Yet do not forsake your awareness of darkness. For very truly we have undergone a very long night and the night yet lingers. Do not merely adopt a glad smile and gaze fondly into the Sun! Do not believe that all will be well, merely by believing that all will be well.” She touched my hand gently but her gaze was strong. “The darkness yet lingers, young one, in every corner of the Earth. In every blind eye turned, in every callous heart, in every greedy desire, in every hateful thought. The darkness lingers – it cowers, but it has not yet dispersed. It will take time. The love of power yet contests the power of love. The selfish impulse yet drives so many. So many take so much, so few give without demand or expectation. Grasp those few precious years! Take all you can for yourself! Compete and conquer! Show no mercy!” Her eyes filled with sadness and compassion. “Even as humanity struggles, the Earth would seem filled with naught but greedy children who fly aghast from the prospect of real maturity. Some hearts are as black as ever a night can be! Even as the tender tendrils of Light seek them out, so they cling to the Lightless wastes of selfish dreams and sour longings. Acknowledge the Light of their Souls, yet do not overlook the discord! Do not fall prey to the belief that all is yet well, that everyone reaches for Light! For some despise the prospect of sunrise on Earth, knowing in their hearts that it must finally banish the shadow.” She leaned closer. “Some,” she whispered, “love the shadow, treasure the darkness and yet cultivate a hatred of every living thing. They wallow in sin. When they cross your path, acknowledge them – pray for them – do your utmost to forgive! But do not embrace them and believe all is well. For this would be yet more ignorance – and I tell you the time for ignorance is over.”

“Likewise,” she continued, “do not look too long into the Sun and forget to gaze within yourself. I too pray that you be blinded by Light – yet not to such an extent that you neglect those shadows of your own. For you, like all, cast a long shadow and it must be purified under Law. You would tremble and quail, in truth, if I revealed its full extent to you in this moment. Yet, as we aspire to Grace, so must our own dark be burned up behind us…our rages and fume, furies and longings, our judgements and shame and eventually our little secret selfish self in totality.” She smiled. “You are a long way from this, as are all who climb the secret stair. So often do they misjudge and overrate their progress, like naive children. Yet your aim is high; your sight is true; your conviction is strong. But know that the spiritual way is not merely a secret path but a towering one. How else may you reach a very high place? You are not climbing a tree – you are climbing out of the very world itself! Oh! – the way is long!”

“From this moment on,” she told me, “know that the path forward lies not merely in simple aspiration to Light but in full confession of darkness.” She smiled again, warmly. “You have not the greed in you that I see in so many, and your desire for harmlessness serves you well. Many have prospered by your company and long have you carried good intention. But from hereon I advise you that the weight and the gravity of Heaven will begin to bear upon you with increased force. It will demand much, yet too will it speed you through the fires of advancement. It will test you in every way, to prove your power, to measure your strength and remake you time and again so you will stand ready for realisation. Try not to complain, seek not to protest. Shoulder the burden, child, and help carry the weight. For I do not refer to earthly gravity, but to the Demands of Heaven!”

She passed her hand across my brow and suddenly a small candle materialised in my right hand. It burned with a modest but steady flame.

“Now, we have spoken much of darkness,” she said, “but such talk must inevitably return us to Light. I give you this Eternal Candle as a symbol of the flame that burns within you, and the Light that you give. Study well! It does not burn down or diminish in any way! There is no wind in the world capable of extinguishing it, not the cold chill of autumn, the blasts of winter, neither the tempest nor even the hurricane. You are correct in your assessment: it is a modest flame.” She paused. “Yet can any flame be called modest that cannot be put out by any force in the world? I could stand this little candle in the valley of shadow, yet still could I see it, and it would guide me home. Therefore its modesty is its greatness, for one small radiant light that calls no attention to itself may stand in seemingly impenetrable night and call the lost and weary to safety. Concern yourself less with your own advancement and more with the fate of others. For those who are greedy and ambitious to progress fall by the wayside. You cannot lay claim to anything that is spiritual and call it your own. You cannot climb to the top of this mountain and say ‘Now it is mine!’ There is no personal success on this road. There must be selflessness and consideration for others and no more thought of ‘where am I up to, what is my standing, am I more or less advanced than so-and-so?’ It is irrelevant. How is your brother – is he well? That should be your first and only thought.”

“On the question of power,” she continued, “much of the testing you shall undergo shall be in preparation for its coming. There is so often the temptation for its misuse as the little self relishes what it is inclined to view as its newfound status and importance. Harm is the chief result. Consequently you will not be given Force until you are ready, until you are meek and mild enough to wield it with Grace. We would have you be a beacon, not a lightning bolt. We would have you electrify, not electrocute. You must teach without lecturing, shine without condescension, illuminate without blinding, reveal shadow without judgement, impel but never compel, see truly but always with all the compassion at your disposal. Remember kindness, for this is more vital than all these former things. Better to have kindness than all the knowledge, insight and wisdom on Earth.” She raised her voice slightly. “But remember! – kindness alone is not enough. Would that it were! No, you must raise your voice as I raise mine – you must speak out; your words and instruction must carry conviction; your actions must carry force! And Light must stand behind all of this! Learn not merely to see Light or even to become it, but to discharge it! Give Light and give again! Think not therefore of power – think instead of abnegating your throne so as to invite and summon Grace! For Grace is power, and Grace is enough! Grace – Perfect Love – lifts mountains, irrigates deserts, abates the flood and calms the inferno. Yet more, Perfect Love halts the tide of darkness and terrifies evil. Let us all then be filled with Grace, that we may build the New Earth on foundations of Love, Power and Beauty.”

The power with which she spoke shook me and once more I shivered.

“I pray that you,” the woman continued, “become naught but consciousness – pure consciousness of Light – and that from such consciousness may come perfect Conscience.” She turned to gaze into the fire. “This is a strong prayer,” she warned, “but may all your vehicles be made ready for the entry of the Soul and use thereby, and may you have the Grace, Wisdom, Power and Humility to accept all your trials merely as preparation for that Sacred Flame.”

She continued to study the fire. “I am always burning,” she said. “I burn for the redemption of the Earth. May you learn to burn with the same eagerness. Consume your intentions, devour your will, incinerate your selfish wishes, part with your long train of yesterdays, cease plotting to reincarnate and reincarnate. You have been told many times to get Wisdom, but I say – get Grace: the Grace to abandon selfish cares and turn to care instead for the world. Only then are you likely to taste the Holy Fires of the Universe! Only then will the illusion of space diminish.” She paused. “You may go,” she announced suddenly. “We are finished here.”

I pulled back, feeling suddenly rejected, and as I did so the hand of the Wise Man fell on my shoulder. We were back in my castle room, seated beside the table.

“You are much too hard on yourself,” my companion said, quietly. “You over-emphasise your faults and perceived lacks. You recognise the importance of recognising them – but you seldom apply the same compassion to yourself that you do so often with others. Hence do you punish and even lacerate yourself. Accept your faults and address them but remember too your virtues. Above all, do not condemn yourself. It holds you back.”

I held out my hand to reveal the modest candle. The Wise Man reached out and removed the other candle from the table. It promptly vanished and he gestured for me to replace it with my own. Together we studied it.

“It is a steady flame,” my companion observed. “A flame to be trusted. It will not gutter in the wind.”

“I hope not,” I said.

“We have been to the mountains today,” he remarked, “but now we are back on the level ground. There is Light in high places – oh yes, there is Light! – yet as you know it is in the here and now that it is most needed.” He paused. “You have heard much of Cosmic Fire, of universal principles, and high ideas. This is good. But you must take your little candle and go out on the windy plain and deal in the daily life. This is where Light is called for, modest as you may feel yours to be. I do not consider it modest to carry Light in this world.” He paused and smiled. “No – that, I think, is power of the best and greatest kind.”

I listened carefully.

“So often,” he said, “wisdom is not dispensed in great lectures or emotive speeches, but with a quiet word, a reassuring phrase. Healing is not always transmitted via hands of light, but with a smile or some small act of kindness. A life may be saved by a loving glance or even by merely sparing a thought. The world is awash in drama, but the greatest good is often to be found in quietness and simplicity. Some imagine that in order to come by Grace, one’s life must first be characterised by great and astonishing achievement – save the world and thereby save yourself. But this is seldom the case. In small daily achievements – and many of them – the goal often lies. You cannot move a mountain,” he observed, “but you can move a million tiny rocks, one at a time. Therefore do not judge this candle when you see it fails to outshine the Sun. Appreciate its steadfastness, its steadiness, its ceaseless glow, its refusal to even flicker. It is more than enough to see by – and others, perhaps many, will come to find the same.”

“How will I know when I finally get Wisdom?” I asked.

He laughed. “It could be said that the process of becoming wise,” he said, pronouncing the word with some reluctance, “is really the process of becoming wise to how little wisdom one truly possesses.”

“I certainly don’t think I possess very much,” I remarked.

“And I am not about to brand you wise for saying so,” he commented. “Wisdom is got from experience, but experience does not guarantee wisdom. So even if we could measure the breadth of our experience, which is our time on Earth, who is to say it is a fair reflection of our learning? No, concern yourself not so much with the acquisition of Wisdom – then you will not risk growing wise in your own eyes. Just do your best to help and keep doing your best. That is my advice,” he nodded, smiling wryly. “Curl a hand about your candle if you feel you must protect it from the wind, but ensure that you do not obscure it in so doing. May it join with the many others who now look bravely toward the dawn.”

 

 

Wise Companions – Part One

I sat for a long time beside the window as night settled slowly upon the landscape. I hadn’t been here long and I was still accustoming myself to the beautiful view. The air was filled with the scents of summer.

At length I felt a draft as the door opened and closed behind me. Wavering candlelight threw shadows across the floor. The man crossed the room and set his candle upon the nearby table. He stood beside me, staring silently at the darkening meadows that surrounded the castle.

“When you gaze far into the distance,” he began at length, “do you also look deep into yourself?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know,” I said. “I’d have to think about it.”

“You are about to reach the point where it is impossible to do one without the other,” the man observed. “For you must soon learn that there is neither distance nor self when all is said and done. Do you not know that the further you travel or the higher you climb, the more you despair or the deeper you plunge, the more you think and act, so are you inexorably bound to yourself, until sight teaches inner sight and inner sight guides you to Light?” He smiled. “Out there,” he said gesturing through the window, “and in here,” he continued, tapping my chest, “is one place, one space, one time and finally no time.”

“I’m frightened of my heart,” I confessed.

He laughed. “Humans are so frightened of heart attacks, they bring them on themselves. They should be more concerned with love.” He paused. “It is love you fear – the very reality of it, the consequences. I do not refer to little love but real love, that rises like a tide to swamp the self and drown it so it may be stripped bare like a valley in flood and made ready for higher ground.” His grey eyes grew intense. “Are you ready for higher ground?” he demanded. “Greater altitudes and views that go all around? Or are you a-feared that the winds will strip your bones?” I hesitated, fearful as ever. “You are neither your bones nor your skin nor any part of that,” he said. “Soon no wind will touch you, or else blow right through you, for you,” he said, “will be finer than air.”

He raised the candle and glanced round the room. “Should we fill this place with books?” he pondered. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? You could ponder and pontificate for a thousand years.”

It was true.

“I know a great many men and women who right now are enslaved to pontificating,” the man intoned gravely. “They are wasting time. Very well! Let them squander time, and let us hope that they eventually come to realise that there is, very truly, no time – no time at all. But you,” he emphasised, “I hope you and others like you will savour these bare walls of stone, for they encourage inner sight, inner light and the reading of a different kind of wisdom – your own. For every reality you have experienced, every truth you have realised and every due lesson learned is writ within you. Therefore learn that which you have already learned, and save your eyes the trouble of a million more words.” He closed his eyes momentarily. “I pray that you be blinded by light and given in time every insight.”

“Thank you,” I said.

He gestured round the little room. “If there were books here and you could select but one for discussion, which would it be?”

I drew breath, starting to consider, but he already knew the answer. “It would be fear,” he said.

I nodded reluctantly. “Fear is like a brother to me,” I muttered.

“You cling to fear like an infant to its mother,” he went on, “and cherish every moment. It has become like a precious elixir, something you cannot do without. Or so, I suppose, you imagine.” He drew the candle nearer and together we gazed into the flame. I looked past it into my companion’s eyes, and in them I glimpsed worlds beyond any world I knew.

“Again, entire libraries have no doubt been filled with tomes dedicated to the pursuit and worship of terror,” he said. “And a still larger number dedicated to its eradication and banishment. Yes, the world rolls with fear like a ship rolls on a tempestuous tide. Yet,” he persevered, “a single flame, given nourishment and due care, can grow to light the world, do you see? Cultivate your fire, beloved one; warm your hands at its heat; raise your flame aloft for all to see. Be not a creaking ship, lurching in the world’s flood; be a fire – become your Mighty Self!” He paused. “One candle for all to see by.”

“I know I am physically young,” I volunteered. “But I have always felt so old – like I’ve been around forever.”

He laughed again. “And so you have,” he said, pausing for a second. “So have so many. Your life – your One Life – has seen as many years, I am sure, as a year itself contains seconds. Each year like a heartbeat, containing so much experience, so much emotion, and ultimately – finally – so much learning, so much understanding. Someone once said that life must be lived forwards only to be understood backwards, but it seems to me that it is best viewed neither backwards nor forwards but from above.” He smiled. “Of course, only experience can bring you to such a seat of vision.”

He rose and crossed to the window. “The world is increasingly filled with children who are now ready to mature into so much more than mere adults, do you follow? They may be weary children, tired and forlorn; yet in their hearts they carry the very seeds of Eternity. Through countless pairs of eyes have they witnessed the long ages of the Earth – they have built civilisations and destroyed them; they have loved and lost in eternally equal measure; they have abandoned themselves to reason and come thereby to madness; they have tasted grief beyond imagining and wept for their innocence; yes very truly they have seen everything, and lived so well that they threaten now to need to live no more. For their eyes and their hearts are fixed upon Heaven. Therefore do not complain about feeling old – instead relish your age and cherish your understanding, for they are your guiding lights, your abiding stars!” He came closer and spoke urgently. “Yet never lay claim to wisdom, my son. No one should ever indulge such a fancy.”

“But I struggle so much with my emotions,” I complained. “Sometimes they even make me physically ill.”

“Yet look not to your belly,” the man said, seating himself once again. “Think instead of the stars. You can see them appearing now in that small section of sky visible from your little window. Yet if you focus, can you not sense them all – those few stars you can see and the countless you cannot?” He closed his eyes. “Feel their mighty pull…let the magnetism of the Almighty pull at your head…let God draw the poisons from you and suck the toxins into infinity.”

I shut my eyes too and trembled at his words.

“Someone else once commented that when you gaze into the abyss, it gazes into you,” the wise man continued. “But – the same is true of Eternity. Therefore, remember also to look up! Let Cosmic Fire burn away your dross! Let the bountiful Ardour of the Radiant Light dry your tears! May vision come…open your eyes to the One True Light; open your mind to Joy and let Cosmos flow into your heart! Then,” he stated emphatically, “there will be no more mortal tears; no more little whims, for you will be too astonished to do all but gape at the true nature of things. Have feelings, yes – God knows I have feelings. But what power has emotion when you are filled with Eternity? And you will be filled with it – for this joy I have foreseen.”

“I get tired of hearing about energy,” I grumbled. “It seems so clinical. Is everything really just energy?”

“Consider again this candle,” he mused. “Outside night has fallen on Earth and people run home to their beds. In here, all would be dark too but for this one flame. One flame, mark you, to hold back the darkness. Look now – the melting wax, the burning wick; the tiny flame; the oxygen that feeds the flame; the discharging light and heat. A chemical process! Yet consider too – and consider well…so much darkness, so much absence of light…just this one courageous flame to hold back all of that. Yet does the flame fear the night? It burns fiercely, merrily…all it knows is that it burns…do you see? Each of us is a flame holding back the dark, and although – unlike the candle – we must acknowledge that darkness fully in all due consciousness, yet what matters is that we too abandon ourselves to burning and consequently shine as brightly as we are able. Each of us is fire and flame; even more so, each of us is light, part of the One Light that shines forever. Light is energy as energy is light; eternity is energy as energy is eternity.”

“It seems so difficult,” I protested. “As you grow spiritually and open to the subtle planes, so you long more and more for those planes and wish to be free and no longer to reincarnate. It is so painful, coming back time and again into physical life.”

“But such is the way of things,” my wise friend said. “Would you rather wander in darkness for a further Age, lost in ignorance? Be glad you have reached for Heaven – and be glad Heaven has responded! The pain of physicality, as you may term it, is nothing compared with the suffering of the unenlightened. Not that you are enlightened,” he interjected hastily, “far from it. But you at least wander in the vale close to morning, and not the abyss of the darkest night. It is just that the sunrise dazzles your eyes – that is all. Do not expect life to get easier as your advance into the dawn.” He paused. “Do you see how you protest and whine and berate your lot? If you could truly see the goal, even for a moment, you would case your whining and rush gladly onward! Yet it would not be safe for you to do so. You only know that somewhere up ahead is everything, and that getting there is hard. Harder still by far however, is not knowing, not trying.”

“You may choose to believe,” the Wise Companion said, “that you are forced into incarnation, but this is not true. The only person who brings you into the world is yourself. Until you are wholly finished with desire you will return, make no mistake. It is your own whim that causes the babe to be delivered; similarly it will be your fierce conviction that will bring true deliverance. Do not protest to me that you do not wish to be here. Of course you wish! – desire has drawn you back! You may indeed ‘long for the subtle realms’ – yet too must you lust after life and seize it gladly, to live and live and live again. No, you may lay claim to weariness, my son, but you are not yet so world-weary that you are done with the mortal life. Still it holds magnetism for you; still you lust after it! Think – if this were your last life on Earth, what experience would you indulge and savour again and again before it was too late? What whim would consume you; what fulfilment would your heart crave most desperately?” He paused and I shuddered involuntarily. “This is what draws you back; these wishes, I tell you, are the bars that keep you caged! They are the shackles that imprison you on the seabed even as another part of you bravely seeks the surface and the good air! No, you are yet tied to experience – still you hunger for the jewels of the Earth. Your hands yet grasp, even as your lungs fill with water.”

He held one hand close to the candle flame. “Do not rail at the gods when you suffer. Each is responsible for his own pain. In truth, you can walk away at any time.” He stood sharply and his chair scraped on the floor. Suddenly the Wise Man seemed ten feet tall. “Awaken from this terrible dream!” he shouted. “The Cosmos is all around you; Infinity and Eternity walk as friends beside you! You crouch down, grasping and clutching at tiny things, refusing to acknowledge the grand vista that is yours! Do you want earthly power? It is nothing! Choose divine love instead! Do you want glamorous wealth? It will surely crumble; you will grow old and die and reincarnate and then what? Chase it again and again, the same pitiful recurring nightmare, while the Jewels of the Heavens sparkle all around you! Do you want earthly joy? – it is fleeting, for everything is fleeting. Nothing lasts – except Ardour; except Love! For these are not of the Earth; you must bring them to Earth. Stop taking!” He shouted this last sentence so loudly that the candle flame flickered and tears sprang into my eyes. “Stop taking,” he repeated more gently. “Start bringing: bring the Light of Heaven through your hands, through your eyes, through your very smile. Reverse the process. The Earth is exhausted; it has little more to give. Blessed are the ones who reach up and bring down, not those who reach down and grasp. Bring more into the world, in true recognition that you take nothing out! Give and give and give again – and you will swiftly find that you have no more need to be here.”

“Forget desire – cultivate passion,” he continued. “Passion for Eternity; passion for universal vistas; passion for the Heart of the Universe! Gravitate from Earth towards the central point – the Eye of God, the Heart of all things! Look there!” He pointed into space and I saw nothing. “Watch the foggy mists and veils draw back; journey now closer and closer to the Grand Centre where I tell you there is naught but Light. Do you not understand,” he cried, “do you not yet see that there is only Light, this and nothing more? Ever seek Light and travel faster and faster, on beyond the billion suns into the Heart of the Galaxy, burning and purging, as only the Soul knows how! Gravitate to the Heart of the Almighty! Do you feel the heat?” he whispered. “Do you feel the pull, the draw?” He fell silent for some moments, still gazing into ineffable distance. “Humanity is so easily swayed by earthly passion,” he concluded. “Yet what influence has it when compared with such forces?”

I pondered for a time. The man sat quietly and I felt that he was hearing or somehow reading my thoughts.

“What about love and intimacy?” I asked. “It doesn’t get any easier, does it?”

“Would you wish it so?” he responded. He paused and a wry smile played on his face. “Yes, you would,” he observed. “Oh to lie in the boat and let the vessel drift along with the current, while the sunshine warms your face, to recite poetry and linger long in love!”

I winced.

“As life and love get harder,” he continued, “they yet grow more rewarding. Life is not a game; love is not a game. The people you meet on this road are not meant for idle play! The experiences you undergo and the consequences of your choices are yet preparing you for great things. Life is hard; love is hard. Yet when love comes it offers you oars to speed you on your way – following not some lazy brook but the spiritual current. You may suffer in love, yet too are you purged and made lighter. You may experience heartbreak, yet find light within the wound; you may come even to hate, yet swear as consequence never to hate again! Those with whom you share the journey are climbing with you; they have not come to bring joy in any fleeting and transient sense but to urge you to a greater joy in the ultimate sense – a joy reliant on naught save itself. So,” he continued, “work with love, even if you do not love the work! It is not all pain and suffering is not inevitable.” He tapped my chest again. “You have great love – of course this is so or we would not be here as we are. Relationship does not come finally to reveal your flaws, failings and glamours but to seek out the diamond in the chest – the Jewel in the Heart. It may seem covered over – you may doubt its true measure, yet I promise you this revelation is the true purpose of the loves you encounter on the upward-curving way! Reflect well on this. Love comes not to expose you as a failure but finally to speed your success. And there is but one true success, and that is the revelation of Light. Let your heart then be brought to Light – let Divine Light be your blood.”

“I myself know it is hard,” he went on. “But know that even in the throes of despair, when two seem to bring each other only sadness and even loathing, yet are they climbing God’s hillside, hands entwined, moving ever closer to the Sun. Not the Sun that briefly warms the lovers in the boat; I refer to the One Sun, the True Sun, the Light of all Lights.”

“But how do I learn to cope when all comes to sorrow?” I persisted.

“Everything is fleeting as we have learned,” he answered. “Sorrow does not last. Loss does not last. Something or someone else replaces it in time, and that does not last either. Love is fleeting; loss is transitory; grief itself is ephemeral. Therefore let all cycles bring you to the realisation of what is permanent and true. Let the endless waves of experience bring you to the shore of peace; let the waves wash over you until they are still.”

He continued: “Every one must learn in time that there is no hiding place, that there is a Light of Infinite Magnitude shining upon them like an all-seeing eye. A Light so powerful that it penetrates everything. It will break through the roof; it will seek out every shadow, every secret, every thought – it will come down through the house, through the bedroom into the kitchen and even into the dark, dank cellar. The Infinite Light, lens of the Absolute, will ensure the transmutation of shadow, the banishment of darkness. You will be exposed, mark you – there will be nowhere to hide! Love is just one method by which Light will find you. There are in truth many methods. You may have heard that the forces of darkness have many agents, but greater in numbers by far are the Agents of Light.” His eyes twinkled in sudden amusement. “There are spies everywhere, peeking into all you would seek to deny, hide away and despise within yourself.” He paused, glancing up in reverence. “Do you feel it – the power, the certainty? The Light will find you out, first to expose the shadow, then to transform it. In love, in matters of earthly love, lies one of the quickest methods of dealing with the shadow that clings to night and fears the morning. So far as you are able you should embrace pain and investigate it! It is not without end – always are you chipping away at the stone that is the shadow! Ultimately the effigy you have made of yourself will crack and fall, and you will stand in the Light in full honesty as God made you and nothing more.”

“Many who pursue the spiritual life are called dreamers,” the Wise Man observed. “And those who term them such would perceive themselves to be the sensible and awake ones. Yet the ‘dreamers’ are of course the ones who are truly awake – or at least awakening. They sense – no matter how dimly – that wakefulness is not so very far away. It is as though there is just one thin current of air blowing above your head, a current both invisible to the eye and yet dense enough to fool the unwary into believing that it separates worlds. One stream of air is all that would separate the every day world from the glory of the higher worlds beyond! Dare to perceive it. Dare to fix your eyes upon it and cut through in an instant. Reach up and push your arm through the veil that binds you to the mortal coil, draw aside the fog and suddenly! – there it is: the vista you are seeking. It was only an arm’s length away all this time – throughout all of time! Mountains so glorious and high that they touch the Cosmos! Oceans of calm countless fathoms deep, undisturbed by harsh winds and changing tides! Fields of peace where the workers harvest bountiful crops of their own making and the children run free without fear of harm. And the sky…the sky is as high as forever and bids you aspire to higher worlds and greater existences.”

The man smiled. “Let me take you to a place not far from here where peace is ever-present, to meet people Who live forever, to Whom all knowledge and understanding is given. For whom Compassion is a force and Love the power. In Whose grasp the world is eternally safe.” He paused. “Close your eyes and be transported. Better still,” he said, “come with me to the window.”

 

 

“Sunrise on the Mountain” – Part Two

My heart raced and my throat was dry as Michelle and I trod across the moor toward the foot of the steps. A thousand questions lit up my mind. I voiced none of them. It was as if all we could do was make our way toward the rocky staircase, to prove to ourselves it was real. We hurried across the sodden ground for what felt like an age, the mountain growing ever larger before us, until finally the bottom of the ladder drew near at hand. The light-figures continued their slow ascent; others now converged from the far corners of the moor. We stared fascinated, scarcely believing, at these translucent glowing wraiths – for wraiths they seemed. They were far from flesh and blood and some at least were evidently weightless for they floated above the grass. It was impossible to tell if they were men or women; they were lights – that was all I was sure of. We watched them tread silently toward the foot of the mountain. Here, a stone archway marked the beginning of the path of ascent and the lighted figures filed silently beneath it.

“Are they – dead?” Michelle whispered. “Are we dead?”

“They might be,” I murmured. “I am very much alive.”

We halted just outside the gate for a short time, hanging back while the solemn procession continued to file beneath the arch. I glanced back in the direction of the rocks. There was no longer any sign of a fire on the top. ‘chelle clutched my hand tightly and together we craned our necks, studying the towering stair. It rose to the immense height, undoubtedly many thousands of steps, way up to where the lofty summit stood framed against the night sky. A few sparks of light were just visible near the very crown.

I looked at Michelle. Her eyes were wide with myriad emotions. “Come on,” I said.

She nodded and we joined the procession, passing beneath the plain stone arch. Thereafter we found ourselves traversing the uneven granite that lay immediately prior to the beginning of the stair. The ground rose in a series of shelves and the bottom step was cut into the highest of these. Michelle and I drew near and as I gazed upward it occurred to me that the chances of our making it even halfway to the top were extremely remote. The staircase was so high as to appear virtually limitless. Even an athlete or equally physically fit person would surely have baulked at the prospect.

Nevertheless even as I thought this the ascent was upon us and our feet hit the lowest stair as one. A great rush of wind immediately seized us and our eyes were full of cloud and sky…blue sky. I felt as if I was rolling and tumbling through the air like a twig caught up and swept along by a swollen and tumultuous current. This sensation lasted for an unguessable time and it made me fill nauseous and giddy – but throughout the experience Michelle’s hand remained tightly clasped in my own. Then I was back on my feet on solid ground, gasping for breath as if I had indeed been submerged but was now free of the angry river. The wheeling heavens stabilised and I found myself up on a high mountainside, gazing out across an immense vista; many different landscapes, if not entire countries, lay prostrate below.

Michelle was likewise heaving for breath beside me. I put my arms around her, still trying to recover myself. Far down below, I saw mountains, forests, deserts, towns, cities and high seas. I saw them all at once, in one huge impossible moment.

“Michelle and Steven,” a commanding voice spoke up. “You would aspire to greet the very roof of the world, this I know, but this is as high as you may rise for the present.”

We both turned to our left. We stood on a narrow rocky ledge far above the world and all the lands below. I realised that the mountain stairway continued on upward at the far end of the ledge – glancing up, I saw thousands of further steps leading toward the highest peak. I looked down again and tried to estimate how far up the mountain we had come. It was difficult to judge.

A man approached us along the ledge, clad in white robes that seemed curiously unaffected by the keening wind. He carried a length of scroll in his hands and he was studying it as he approached. The sun was rising far off to the east and the brilliant rays cast warmth across us.

We stood and stared at him. My mind felt fragmented and it was hard to think.

“The disorientation will pass,” he declared calmly. “Embrace it and it will dissolve all the quicker.” He smiled pleasantly. “Think of it as a kind of altitude sickness,” he added, apparently considering this some sort of private joke.

Michelle and I glanced at each other. I was glad we did; I never forgot that moment. The reality of that eye contact grounded the entire incredible experience.

“Just now, you were the twig tumbling in the river,” the man continued. “Life is indeed like the river, forever rushing on, seldom ceasing, never giving us time to catch our breath. Up here, in this lofty place, you may – for a moment – catch your breath. But you may not stay here long, beloved ones, for every moment you linger here is an experience denied on the battleground below. For on the plains of living far down there are hewn the precious steps that lead far up here. Remember truly – it is by living in the canyon and learning on the plain that the mountain is conquered in time. Think not so much of planting your flag in the blessed snow at the summit of the holy mountain! Think instead of managing your little earthly life one step at a time, always realising that it is yet one tiny part of your greater sphere.”

He gestured across the panorama below. “I speak from bitter yet hallowed experience when I tell you that on the lesser mountains of the world, in the deep forests and deserts, cities, meadows, villages and streets are sown the seeds of your immortal life.”

We continued to survey the multitude of lands far below, both of us entirely speechless. Our companion stood side by side with us.

“Consider the sky,” he said. “Your mind is like the sky – vast, infinite, seemingly beyond reach. You cloud its purity with your little whims, fancies and imaginings and thus do you obscure its immensity. Always is the infinite mind accessible, if you would just tend to your thoughts and drive them away, even as the western wind drives away the storms and sweeps the heavens clear. Clear your mind of imperfection and you will meet your One True Self, who resides in the ethereal reaches of your mind.”

“Think of the clouds,” he continued. “You love to watch them do you not – be it the drama of the storm or the peaceful haze of sunset, be they high and aspiring or low and stormy-brooding. You would make shapes from their form and enter into happy reverie. Yet reverie this is, not true contemplation. A cloud is a little passing thing – always the clouds are passing; always the heavens are enduring. It matters not whether they be the blue heavens of morning or the dark starry evening: the heavens endure. Yet be not satisfied with the sky! Look beyond the visible firmament to the heaven beyond! For there is Ardour; there is Love, Eternal and Watchful, compassionate beyond measure, all and silent-knowing. Every feature of your little earthly life is known to Us, yet ever we pray that you will join us and awaken to your heavenly being, which is measureless, fathomless, All-Knowing and All-Seeing. Confine yourselves not to the form and the ground!”

“You must learn not only to see,” he continued, “but to be on two levels. There is firstly your insubstantial yet vital life on terra firma, away down there somewhere, pinpointed in some land or other, some little fragment of passing space and time, swept up in the effervescence of the mortal charade! Yet too must you see yourself astride the Holy Mountain, away up here in this rarefied space, firm-footed, deep-rooted, filled with knowledge and understanding, wisdom and peace, observing yet not reacting, cognisant of all that transpires below, moved yet not moved, remaining as still as a mountain indeed even as the world whirls around the Sun!” He closed his eyes and seemed to summon some great force to himself. “May you come in time to not only stand on this mountain, but perceive that you are the mountain, as old as the Earth and older still, made before time and space began, beyond time, beyond space, beyond air, higher than the roof of the world, brighter than the Sun! May God speed you toward recognition of your brilliant Holy Being!”

 

MOUNTAINS

“Consider the mountains of the world,” he continued. “Mighty majestic peaks rising to meet the firmament. These are but a reflection, a reminder of the one true mountain, the holy hill on which we stand! The mountain that rises to reach the crest of forever, from where it is but a short step to Eternity and all that lies beyond. Allow your contemplation and understanding of the earthly mountain to instil in you the aspiration to conquer in time the Eternal Hill, an ascent born of the will of the spirit, whereby as the man ascends his soul rises to greet him until the two stand face to face on the threshold of tomorrow. Look back! Look back on all your yesterdays, uncounted lifetimes of joy and sorrow, love and despair, knowledge and forgiveness; witness the tableau etched beneath you – every loss, every battle, every love, every insight, every experience you ever had in a million years of freedom! Throughout this time, although you knew it not, you were marching on the holy mountain. Yet ever did it recede before you, until at last you renounced yourself and came to stand at the bottom of the Divine Stair. Then did you learn to listen! Then did you learn to forgive! The and only then did you learn the Other Way: Violent Compassion, that tears the heart in two and points the way!”

He glanced fiercely at us. “Do you have compassion,” he said, “and thus prove yourselves fit for the Grand Journey? Seeking solace in each other’s arms, have you truly seen each other, heard each other, known each other truly and shared each other’s sorrows and anguish? Have you truly heard and understood? Or have you only briefly assuaged your personal sorrow through the embrace of the other, and looked no further? Only by bearing the load of the other will you come to the Forbidden Stair. Only by carrying the other’s cares in your own heart will you cast your gaze up to that sweet summit. Know the other as yourself and carry a lantern in your heart – this is the way off the nighted battlefield, across the fields of peace towards this holy place.”

He paused. “Your love for each other may prove only a dim reflection of the Love of God. Yet a reflection bears promise, even if it is only an imitation. For it is not mere imitation but, I tell you truly, aspiration, without which no ascent is ever made.”

 

THE LAMP OF THE SOUL

“You have heard it said that it is a wicked world. It is assuredly a dark world, until such time as the spark of love flares in the heart. Once that flare is lit, it cannot be extinguished by any power on Earth. Learn to see not only through your physical eyes, but through your heart too, not the physical muscle but the lamp of the soul. Allow love to be your illumination and carry it before you: it will dispel all illusion, all darkness, every shadow and whim! Let no secret place stand before the Divine Glow – reveal all, defiantly, confidently. Teach others to do the same, through demonstration, through every confident step and action, through ‘I love’ and never ‘I fear’. Though the clamour and clash of violence may disturb you both day and night, you will in time raise your light. Renounce the sword and affirm the lantern, and make your way accordingly from the field of battle. You will not be a Saint – but be not a warrior either, until such time as you are both: a Saint and a Warrior of Love.”

 

HUMILITY

“Do not get ideas above your station! Succumb not to pride as you set foot on the Stairway of Light! You may think you already glimpse the summit, but you do not. You may, perhaps, glimpse a little way ahead but you are apt to mistake a crag or mere outcrop for the highest pinnacle. You have as yet no idea; you have not the vision to guess at the nature of the mountaintop. It lies beyond the reach of your mortal arms. Relish your ignorance; embrace humility. Affirm ‘I know not’ and you will climb faster than the one who proclaims, ‘Behold! I am enlightened!’ You are not enlightened. You are, perhaps, lightened only. You see flashes above your head.” His voice became grave. “Be aware that the stair climbs higher than you would either dream or fear, far above the world, far up through the clouds into heavenly morning, higher and higher again, from peak to higher peak, test upon test, initiation upon initiation, through trial and sorrow, setback and quandary, ever on seemingly without end. Therefore think not of the destination. Look instead to the step you navigate now, which is your present circumstance and situation. This is the way to climb the mountain! Then, some day – some great, astonishing day – you will reach the summit.”

 

GUILT AND INNOCENCE

The guide came closer and embraced us. He smiled for the first time, warmly. “You are but like children in the eyes of the gods. Do not allow yourselves to fall victim to guilt when you consider the errors of your ways and your many flawed choices on the road to the mountain. When your own children commit error, do you berate them, judge and condemn? Or do you cherish them for their innocence and limited understanding? They will grow; they will learn, and one day become as you – wise and full of knowledge. That is how the gods see humanity; they are patient and wise. Forgive yourselves your foolish steps as the Great Ones forgive you.” He paused. “This is not to say that it matters not when wrong is done. It matters greatly. All must do their utmost to purge themselves and aspire to a greater Light. It is just that self-condemnation and guilt contribute to the problems of the world. At this time, as you set foot out of the valley of shadow, you yet carry the stain of the former state with you. It must be washed clean in the purifying current of the mountain river.”

As he spoke, a gentle rain fell upon us. It was cool and soothing. We gazed up in surprise.

“Humanity has learned too much of guilt,” the guide said softly. “It has much to learn now of innocence.”

“When you look on another,” he continued, “the greatest gift you may give them is to look beyond their form and all their earthly cares and concerns to the light of their soul. Then you will see and acknowledge them truly. In your work, consider others to be as they truly are – a great light, surrounded for the present by the mists and veils, smoke and fume of illusion. Say to them ‘I see you as you are, shining brightly, so that together we may dispel all that would seem to hinder and obscure!’ Make no mistake, the Soul is a light of pure incandescence, bright enough to light the world, from the deepest trench and mire to beyond the highest point, from the home and the hearth fire and far across the sea! In truth, beloved ones, there is no force on earth that can obscure that light! Let nothing fool you into thinking otherwise. Reveal your Light and it will outshine the dawn! It will eclipse the stars and warm the skies! There is no fog, no blanket, no shroud or wall that may hold it back!”

 

ASTROLOGY

He pointed ahead and out in front of us two great glowing circles appeared. Other circles appeared within them, subdivided and filled with lines and symbols.

“These are your natal charts,” he continued, “containing the details of the planetary positions at the moment of your respective births.”

As we watched, the two diagrams came together, one overlaid on the other.

“Witness the configuration of the celestial forms,” he went on, “and observe the harmony of some, the discord of others.” We stared in fascination. “Yet this too, while holding undeniable basis in earthly fact, is but more unreality in the end. Consider, could the form and content of the planets truly conspire to influence the Soul, that illumination that knows no bonds, no bounds, no constraint of any kind? Could even the Sun itself outshine a Light of Infinite Radiance – and therefore dictate in any way its manifestation or expression?” He paused. “Therefore study astrology and learn it well, respecting its form while understanding that it too is merely a tool for guidance until such time as you are ready and willing to embrace your Light in totality.”

 

IDENTITY

“Your self as you know it in your waking life on earth is in essence a dream. In the lives below, you are not awake. Here in this lofty place is true wakefulness.” He smiled. “Remember, beloved, you are unable as yet to stand on the plain in full wakefulness. Your earthly selves must go on in the fields of experience, until experience has taught you all that it may, even as your spirit climbs this holy hill one step at a time. Strive to regard your earthly self, therefore, not as an aberration or something to be done away with, but instead as a tool or a vessel for your use. The personality, like the body, is a vessel for your experience, essential for growth. Therefore cherish it, but do not identify with it. It is the tool in your hand with which you may hew the rock.”

 

WORK

“Visualise a spark of light above your head, and allow it to flow down your arm and through your hand into your work – be it the labour of the pen, the brush or the spanner. Make your work the work of Light, even if it seems but a flicker to you – for all contributes to the growing pool that will shortly transform the world.” He put an arm round each of us. “I know you feel powerless in the face of a seemingly insurmountable task: nothing less than the establishment of peace on earth. You would say to me, ‘You say my Light outshines even the stars, yet I see it not! How can I change the world?’ But I do see your light and the truth of your intention. I see incandescence; you may barely witness as yet a flicker of the reality of your being. Take that flicker and give it form, and if all would but do the same, there will be more than enough. Each must play his or her part, in modesty, in humility, in sincerity and truth in the coming transformation. I tell you truly – light calls to light; it attracts the same. Always has the struggle between light and dark endured, age upon age, parry for parry, confrontation, and conflagration. Now the pool of light must grow and expand from its tiny nucleus, until it encompasses all things and there are no more opposites nor opposition.”

 

THE WORK TOGETHER

“Peace on Earth,” he instructed, “begins with peace in the heart of every man and woman. It is everyone’s responsibility to establish this. As partners you are blessed, for you may each help the other in this quest. When you take sides, when you adopt diametrically opposing positions, you enter into the work of resolving polarities in pursuit of harmony. Harmony, you do not need me to tell you, is the way forward and in essence the goal. I do not give you free licence to quarrel, but instead urge you to investigate and understand your differences, and thereby seek reconciliation. Reconciliation leads to redemption. Find peace as lovers; find peace as individual man and woman. Extend it to the world in as many ways as you can. Tear down the curtain of division and discover the light beyond!”

He gestured once more across the world below, splashed in sunlight as the dawn proceeded. “When you find yourselves in sorrow and strife, when existence seems nothing but toil, try not to curse your life, nor berate your time on Earth. It only calls forth further misery. Always you are under the guidance and care of those mountaineers who went before you – who look down now from their vantage point with all compassion and knowledge. Free they may be, but they know the nighted vale as well as you, having struggled there longer, and well do they comprehend humanity’s lot.” He paused. “You stand closer to us and we to you than you realise, and daily now the fissure narrows. Go back now, Michelle and Steven, and may your steps down from here be neither weary nor lonely but light and sure. I will put a fever in your hearts and fire in your hands, that you may pursue your path. And I tell you truly, the Holy Sun is rising all across the beautiful land.”

He lifted his hands from our shoulders and we turned to face him.

He said, “You have waited so long for the world, dearest ones, but you will surely find that the world is now waiting for you.”

We were bursting with questions but already he was moving away, back along the ledge some distance from us. We watched him retreat in silence. Then we looked out once more across the immense vista, all illuminated now by the warmth of the Sun.

“We will never stand here again; we shall never see this again,” Michelle sobbed suddenly. “I just know it.”

“I’m not no sure,” I said, and I put my arms around her. Nearby, the figures of light continued on their way up the Eternal Stair. “But we must go back now.” I was seized by impulse. “We need to write all this down!”

I had barely spoken when a rush of wind came out of nowhere and our feet lifted from the ground. We whirled through space, sky and landscape blurring around us, and again we spun head over heels in dizzying motion for some considerable while until finally we were back on terra firma. We gasped in unison, and found ourselves some way out on the open moor, feeling very small beneath the vast starry heavens. In the near-distance mountains climbed from the moor – but not the Holy Mountain. Of this, there was nothing to be seen.

Not too far away, we saw the rocky outcrop where the man had lit his fire. It stood in darkness now, pointing the way home. I could make out rain clouds gathering in the west.

“Sunrise on the mountain,” I said. “Storms down here.”

Michelle wiped her eyes and put her arm round me. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s get inside.”

We started walking back toward the village through the cold dark night. I had a feeling like fire in my heart.

 

 

“Sunrise on the Mountain” – Part One

Michelle drove and I dozed in the passenger seat as the little car climbed steadily through increasingly mountainous countryside. ‘chelle was far from a patient driver and she wasn’t about to let the fact that we were approaching dangerous terrain deter her. I listened to the engine protesting and Michelle tutting every time she was forced to slow down, and several times I jolted awake as we veered sharply round a bend. For a time I drifted off into a hazy and chaotic dream in which our wedding – long-planned but still unrealised – was invaded by ninjas. Finally I awoke to find the car stationary.

“I think we’re lost,” Michelle observed.

We were parked in a narrow passing place on a steep incline. The thin strip of road that ‘chelle had been navigating wound its way ever higher into the hills just ahead. I looked out of the passenger window and my heart trembled at the sight of a vertiginous drop not three feet from the car. It plunged several thousand feet down to the sunlit lowlands from where we had set out that morning. Evening had fallen and sunlight reflected off a river far below.

“I’ve been driving for hours,” Michelle said. “We should’ve been in Hampton at least ninety minutes ago. There’s no sign of the place – and this road just goes up and up, see?”

I barely had time to register the fact that the lane did indeed climb to still greater altitude up ahead, disappearing between high rocky peaks into cloud-covered territory. Michelle opened up the map and spread it across the entirety of the dashboard and windscreen. She scrutinised it and her frown soon intensified into a scowl.

I’m not much good with maps but it didn’t take me long to discern that either the map was vastly outdated or alternatively we were nowhere near where we were supposed to be. I traced my finger back to Middlehurst, where we had stayed the night before.

“West from Middlehurst along the B253,” I muttered, “all the way to Lower Densley…”

“We had lunch there,” Michelle said.

“Then you drove,” I remarked.

“And it all went downhill from there,” she shrugged.

“Bad choice of metaphor,” I replied. “We carried on all the way to Lexley…here’s the crossroads at Walton Well…” I hesitated. “Then where did we go?”

“You mean where did I go?” Michelle peered at herself in the mirror and scowled some more. She tapped the map defensively. “Right at the crossroads and straight on to here. I didn’t even see any turnings after that, actually.”

I studied carefully. “Well it doesn’t look like more than thirty miles to Hampton, so we really should have arrived…”

“At least an hour and a half ago like I said.” Michelle opened the driver’s door and swung round in her seat to stretch her legs.

I lowered the map and looked around. To my left the land fell away to reveal some fifty miles of valleys and meadows on the way back to civilisation. To the right, a sizeable stretch of austere moorland vanished into the distance.

Without making comment, I ran my eye back to the crossroads at Walton Well and studied the other two directions Michelle could have mistakenly taken. Straight on would have skirted the hills and led ultimately to Burnwater Lake, a vast body of water that you couldn’t miss if you tried. Left would have actually returned us to Middlehurst via a roundabout route. Right should have brought us to our destination, a picturesque town in the foothills of the Whyte Mountains popular with tourists.

Michelle was clearly tired and exasperated and her mouth had set in a familiar expression that usually suggested she had run out of patience.

“We can either drive back to the crossroads,” I said, “and at least look for a sign…”

“There aren’t any,” ‘chelle interjected.

“…or carry on and see where we end up, and I’ll drive.”

I turned the radio on low as Michelle settled in the passenger seat and drove on up the road. I was relieved when she dozed off. A beautiful summer’s evening was unfolding behind us, and golden light splashed across the road from the west. But we were heading into the north, climbing rapidly, and I could see it wouldn’t be long before the clouds would swallow us up.

The brief sleep I had snatched earlier had refreshed me considerably, which was fortunate because the subsequent drive up into the mountains demanded all my concentration. I drove for many miles, sandwiched between frequent flashes of abyss to the left and a deep ditch to the right. The road narrowed until it was scarcely wide enough for one car, let alone two – fortunately I encountered no other vehicles. Finally the road swung away from the cliffs and on into the heart of the hills, and the clouds enveloped us. Thereafter I kept the speed at a steady thirty, the headlights cutting a short path through the mists. Rock and shingle crowded the roadside but there was no longer any immediate danger of us falling off the cliff. I kept an eye on the odometer. By eight o’clock I had brought myself and my bride-to-be forty miles into a land of crags and fog. So much for our sunny summer getaway.

Michelle slept on and I was content to let her do so. She had pretty much exhausted herself tying up the loose ends at work before finishing for the holiday. Plus she remained blissfully unaware that, firstly, the petrol gauge was dropping slowly but surely toward the red and, secondly, there was absolutely no signal on either of our phones. The little car kept climbing inexorably until my ears repeatedly popped from the pressure change and I began to wonder how much longer it might be before the avalanche warnings appeared.

Finally, just as the gauge touched red – which I generally reckoned left about forty miles in the tank – the car crested a rise and a sea of lights sparkled in a valley just below. I swore in relief and Michelle woke up.

“Salvation is at hand,” I said. “I was beginning to wonder.”

It made for a welcoming if nonetheless eerie sight: myriad lights hovering in the fog as if attached to nothing and merely set adrift. As I let the car coast downhill, a few rooftops became visible here and there, until we passed a sign indicating that we were entering LOCALLE, with the customary request that we PLEASE DRIVE CAREFULLY THROUGH OUR VILLAGE.

‘chelle grabbed the map and pored over it, even taking the trouble to check the index.

“Absolutely no reference to it,” she shrugged.

The road led us straight into the heart of the village. We passed a number of small stone cottages and the lights in the windows, plus intermittent streetlamps, served to diffuse some of the cloud. We drove past a tiny filling station – I noted that with great relief – and on past other outlying cottages into a more populated and modern-looking area of houses and shops. The road widened and converged with others; there were cars in evidence – not many – and people on the pavements.

“Back in the land of the living…thank God!” Michelle blurted out. “Find a pub, will you? I need a drink!”

“Can’t argue with that,” I said.

We drove down what appeared to be the high street, passing a succession of pubs: The Golden Lion; The Eagle; The Traveller’s Rest. The last of these advertised a car park and B+B. I pulled off the road. Driving around back, we discovered a car park scarcely bigger than the average back yard. I pulled up in a corner and gratefully switched off the engine. We both sat in silence for a few moments, and suddenly I felt exhausted. ‘chelle looked at me and the sparkle in her eyes indicated that her spirits had lifted.

“Well driven, soldier,” she said.

“Hope you were taking notes,” I said, “because tomorrow you’re on driving duty.”

I got out and stretched and the chill struck me right away. I turned to see Michelle reaching for her cardigan. The air was damp. The sun had long since set and night was all but upon us.

“Strange kind of place,” Michelle said. “Wherever it is.”

She sounded uneasy and I realised that I felt much the same. I took her hand and together we walked round the building. We found a side entrance that led into a narrow passageway lined with black and white photographs of the village. This in turn gave access to carpeted reception area. The place seemed to be completely deserted. There was a bell, however, sitting invitingly on the reception desk and when I rang it a tall, thin man emerged from a nearby office. He seemed surprised to see us and Michelle glanced at me uncertainly.

“Good evening,” the man said. His geniality somehow failed to convince me. “Can I help?”

“We got ourselves well and truly lost in the mountains and I reckon we need a room for the night,” I told him.

“No problem,” the man said. He suddenly seemed brighter and more convivial. “Where have you come from?”

“We’ve actually driven up from Staffordshire,” Michelle answered. “We’re on our way to Hampton…at least, that was the idea.”

“Long way from here,” said the man.

“We think we must have missed our turning somewhere around Walton Well,” I added.

“I can get you back on track,” the man remarked. “But it’s a good sixty or seventy miles to Hampton and unlit roads the whole way…”

I glanced at Michelle. She looked less than enthusiastic. “I think enough is enough for one day,” I replied. “Are you serving food?”

“Yes, absolutely. But let me find you a room,” our host replied. He flicked through a modest ledger. “Shouldn’t be hard,” he added.

He found us a small, comfortable room up at the top of what proved to be a thoroughly pleasant and cosy establishment. It was clearly a very old building constructed from stone and modernised throughout. Climbing the stairs, I got a reassuring sense of the solidity of the place, built to keep out the mountain elements.

We unpacked a few things and Michelle got into the shower. I lay on the bed for a few minutes, trying to unwind. I was keyed up from the drive. The silence really struck me: apart from the sound of water running in the bathroom, the room was filled with a deep and somehow earthy quiet that possessed a presence of its own. It brought solace following the stress and strain of the last few hours.

Michelle emerged from the bathroom. “Ready to eat?” she enquired.

We ate a hearty meal downstairs in the dining room beside an open fire that roared and crackled. We shared the room with an elderly couple that ignored us completely and each other as well.

“Hope that’s not us in fifty years,” ‘chelle muttered.

“More like thirty years,” I said. She looked momentarily appalled and I winked. “All right, thirty five,” I conceded. “Haven’t you heard the song – It’s Later Than You Think?”

“Shut up, Steven,” she said.

The remainder of the evening went by quickly. We were already tired and went up to bed around ten, a pair of proper wild youngsters. I drew the heavy curtains against the thick fog that now blotted out all but the closest lights.

“Is it fog or cloud at this altitude?” I wondered.

“Who cares?” Michelle groaned. “Come to bed.”

I did so and fell asleep almost immediately. But I woke some time after, already feeling that I’d been asleep for some considerable time. I glanced at my phone – there was still no signal – and found it to be ten past one. I lay on my back and stared into the darkened room. It struck me again that the deep silence possessed a life of its own – but there was something more than that. I tensed involuntarily. Suddenly I felt certain that we were no longer alone. It began to occur to me that there was a tall, silhouetted figure standing in the deep shadows a few feet beyond the foot of the bed. The more I strained to see, the more certain I became. Michelle slept silently beside me. I sat up slowly, peering ahead. My heart rate was escalating steadily and I realised that I was holding my breath. I let it go with a shaky sigh.

There was a light switch above the headboard and I was a moment away from reaching up to flick it when light flared in the room unbidden. I gasped in astonishment as the outline of a man lit up at the bottom of the bed, electricity arcing all around him. A pale white corona extended beyond that to fill the room. It became swiftly dazzling, and I was forced to shade my eyes. A tall, imposing male figure clad all in white glared across the room at me. I stared in disbelief and shouted for Michelle to wake up. True to form, she didn’t. I reached across and started shaking her violently. In the meantime, the man pointed towards the curtains with his right arm and an expression of some urgency on his face. The curtains suddenly snatched apart as if flung violently back.

“Michelle, wake up!” I shouted.

“What’s up?” she muttered. “It’s the middle of the night.”

The unearthly apparition continued to point towards the window for a few further seconds and we stared into each other’s eyes. For a moment my mind’s eye was filled with light. Then the man lowered his arm, smiled for a fraction of a second and vanished. The light and electric arcs vanished too and the room fell back into darkness. I was shaking and my breath was ragged and out of control. At this point Michelle finally woke up.

“Whatever is it?” she gasped.

“There was a man in the room!” I practically shouted.

“Don’t shout!” she protested.

Unable to contain myself I jumped from bed and went to the window, and saw at once that the fog had lifted. I stared wildly through the glass, searching for God-knew-what.

“Steve, what is it?” ‘chelle demanded. “Did you have a nightmare?”

I couldn’t speak. My attention was drawn across the rooftops and beyond the lights of the village.

An immensely bright blue diamond floated in the night about a mile distant, out on the moor.

“Come to the window,” I whispered.

I heard the bed creak and a moment later Michelle stood beside me. I didn’t have to point. Together we gazed into the distance.

The diamond slowly changed colour, morphing into amber and red, fading almost to black before returning to the original blue. It shimmered occasionally like a mirage, but was otherwise steady.

“Is it a UFO?” ‘chelle murmured.

“No,” I said, my breath finally stabilising. I knew it instinctively.

Ten minutes later we were dressed and rushing through the streets in the general direction of the blue diamond. It drifted in and out of view as buildings got in the way, but it always appeared again, bright and steady over the moor.

I had finally given Michelle the measure of the visitation. Like me, she was both frightened and exhilarated.

In the absence of fog, visibility was exceptionally clear. We came quickly to the outskirts of Localle and paused trembling on the edge of the moor. The sky was extraordinarily clear and alive with stars. Yet we hardly noticed. Our attention was drawn away from terra firma, away even from the enormous hovering diamond to an enormous mountain that stood shockingly close by, so vast and impressive and clear to the eye that I felt I could have reached out and touched it. It loomed far, far higher than the surrounding mountains and hills, which were dwarfed by its bulk and majesty. Michelle and I turned to gaze wide-eyed at each other, before staring again. My head was reeling from this latest shock. Could it really have been there this entire time, obscured in the fog?

Ahead, the luminous diamond began to drift slowly but steadily closer to the ground. Its tip touched the summit of a rocky outcrop and it promptly disintegrated into a thousand stars. In its place, the figure of a man was distinctly visible some few hundred metres away. I watched him kneel down and moments later flames could be seen rising from the ground.

As I watched, frankly dumbfounded, the man straightened up, faced in our direction and gestured toward us.

“I think he’s beckoning…” Michelle muttered. I swallowed hard. “Come on, let’s go see what he wants,” she continued.

I looked down at her in surprise. There was a strange light in her eyes. It was almost zealous. My head was still reeling as we advanced across the wet grass towards the rocks. The mountain towered hugely, impossibly close by. On the top of the outcrop, the man was indeed beckoning repeatedly, even urgently. My heart trembled as we drew near and began to clamber up the rocky incline. When we got near the top, I looked up and saw him kneeling beside the fire – a fire that burned of its own accord, without wood or any other kind of fuel, on top of the hill.

We reached the summit and stood gasping for breath. The beckoning man wore a plain white robe that contrasted strongly with his flowing black hair. He leaned close to the impossible fire and studied the flames intently. Michelle and I took several uncertain steps forward and the stranger glanced up, his dark eyes wide and confident.

“You have come here for blessing,” he announced, “prior to your ascent.”

We stared at him. The heat from the fire was intense. For a moment I thought I was going to crack up and burst into nervous laughter. The man beside the fire looked at us both and I felt his gaze go all the way through me and out the other side.

“So, you would enter into marriage,” the man mused. His voice grew louder and he stood up, holding out his hands. “Thus would you learn of the nature of love.”

We remained silent, holding hands. “May you discover that love is a sacred fire,” the man continued, “and may you learn to wield that fire, through the words that you speak and through the very flesh of your hands.” He came closer. “May you both gain access to the Forbidden Stair, that leads beyond this Earth and even the stars themselves to the Radiant Heart and the Blessed Ground.”

Michelle suddenly stifled a sob. The man appeared mildly amused. “Tears?” he remarked more gently. “Be neither sad nor fearful in the presence of the mountain. You may go now and leave me to my reverie,” he said.

He turned and knelt once again, contemplating his fire. I dutifully turned to go, but stopped in mid-movement. The mountain to which he undoubtedly referred stood dead ahead. Michelle turned also and gasped. A wide series of steps was clearly visible even at this distance, hewn into the mountainside. It climbed from ground level all the way to the summit, narrowing to a barely discernable streak and eventually becoming invisible to the eye as it ascended. Figures of light could clearly be seen climbing, glowing with some kind of supernatural radiance. There were several hundred if not more at various stages of the climb, from near-ground up to many thousands of feet where they appeared as nothing more than tiny sparks.

I stared speechless, disbelieving.

“Dear God,” Michelle said.

 

 

“Joanna Beyond The Veil” – Newly Released Children’s Novel

WHEN ELEVEN YEAR-OLD JOANNA GILCHRIST FINDS A MYSTERIOUS BOOK CALLED BEYOND THE VEIL, SHE EMBARKS ON AN ASTONISHING AND MAGICAL ADVENTURE. GUIDED BY FRIENDS FROM INVISIBLE REALMS, SHE LEARNS HOW TO COOK HERBAL REMEDIES AND READ THE SECRETS OF STRANGERS’ HEARTS IN ORDER TO HELP AND HEAL. BUT THIS IS ONLY THE BEGINNING OF HER JOURNEY TO TINNICANARA, A MOUNTAIN THAT ONLY SHE CAN SEE, WHERE A MIRACULOUS GIFT AWAITS HER…A GIFT MADE OF PERFECT LIGHT.

We are very fortunate to be able to share with our Inspirational Storytellers community, Chapter 1 of Julian Middleton’s newly released children’s novel “Joanna Beyond the Veil”.   It is a spiritual adventure story for children ages nine to twelve and everyone of an imaginative disposition!

Click here to find out more and to ORDER YOUR COPY today

 

CHAPTER ONE

DIANA JENNINGS

Joanna Gilchrist didn’t know anything about the pothole until her foot went into it. She missed her step, lost her footing, stumbled to one side and fell over in a clumsy heap.

 

She was alone on Acacia Avenue on a warm sunny afternoon. The stunning blue sky looked on uninterestedly as she clutched her ankle. A gentle wind stirred the bushes in the nearby gardens, but left her alone.

 

“Stupid hole,” she grimaced.

 

She was half a kilometre from home, on her way back from the shop. To her left, Acacia Avenue continued on down the hill. Nearby, a number of big old houses sat well back from the road. They had long curving driveways and most had trees lining the front of the gardens for privacy.

 

“Stupid, stupid hole,” Joanna muttered. She tested her ankle and pain flared in her leg. She sat down again. The ankle had obviously twisted quite badly. It was very tender to the touch and already swelling. She looked up to see a rather tall and imposing figure approaching down a nearby driveway. It was a woman in a light blue skirt and plain white shirt, with a florid orange headscarf tied round a great quantity of flowing black hair. There was an expression of concern on her face, which Joanna instantly thought both beautiful and a little scary on account of her strong, piercing gaze.

 

The woman hurried across the pavement and knelt beside her. “I’ve been trying to get the authorities to fix this hole for six months,” she said. “And now look what has happened – a child has been hurt.”

 

“It’s just sprained,” groaned Joanna. “I’ll be okay in a minute.”

 

The woman laughed. “I admire your courage, but I’m not so sure! Let’s have a look, shall we?”

 

Joanna allowed the newcomer to examine her ankle. The swelling was quite noticeable now.

 

“Can you stand up?” the woman asked. “You can come inside and sit down for a while, if you like.”

 

Joanna looked into her face, which was strong yet kindly. There was something fierce about the woman, she thought, but only in a good way. Joanna wasn’t sure about going up to the house, though. As her rescuer helped her to stand, however, a memory floated up into her thoughts. A couple of years before, her Dad had been ill with some kind of fever. Doctor Harper had prescribed some tablets, but these hadn’t worked and he seemed to be getting worse. One afternoon Joanna had entered the kitchen to find the back door open. Her Mum was talking to someone on the doorstep. It had been this same woman who was helping her now! The visitor gave her Mum some kind of herbal remedy that cured her Dad in twenty-four hours.

 

“You came to my house once,” Joanna said.

 

The woman nodded. “I heard about your Dad through a neighbour, Mrs Beeton. I had just what he needed. You coming?”

 

Joanna looked at her again and instinct told her that it was safe. Limping on the sprain, she followed the woman slowly up the drive. It was a winding gravel driveway that twisted and turned through trees and shrubbery for some distance before the house suddenly came into view. This was a very large place with a great many windows it seemed, protected from the harsh sunlight by towering sycamore trees. Joanna glimpsed a long lawn sloping away to the rear. It was obviously a very old house and the fact that it lay in shadow made it both inviting and mysterious.

 

The woman looked down at her and smiled again. “I’m Diana by the way,” she said. “Diana Jennings.”

 

“I’m Joanna,” Joanna answered, feeling a little shy. At that moment, her mobile started ringing. It was home calling – her Mum sounded a little alarmed.

 

“Joanna, are you all right?” Her voice was tinny and squawking. “I suddenly had the strangest feeling about you.”

 

“I’m okay,” she replied. “I fell down and hurt my ankle, but Mrs Jennings rescued me.”

 

“You’re at Diana’s? Do you want me to come and get you?”

 

“I’m all right, Mum. I’m just going to sit down for a minute and then I’ll come home. But there wasn’t any bread at the shop.”

 

“I’ll come and fetch you,” her Mum insisted. “I’ll be there in two minutes.”

 

“I’m going to talk to Mrs Jennings first,” Joanna said. She was surprised to hear herself saying it – the words just popped right out of her mouth. “Can you come in about fifteen minutes?”

 

“Okay,” her Mum said. “See you both then.”

 

“How’s that foot?” Diana enquired.

 

Joanna was still limping heavily. “Quite sore actually,” she said.

 

“Come inside and sit down.”

 

 

The interior of Diana Jennings’ house was cool and shadowy following the glare of the afternoon sun. A long hallway lined with wooden panelling led through into a spacious modern kitchen. Joanna stared through the window into the garden. It was simply enormous – practically a meadow!

 

“This house has been in my family for two hundred years,” said Diana. “Come through here.” She led Joanna through a doorway into a smaller room off to one side. There was a peculiar orange glow in the room. Joanna realised that it came from a semi-transparent sheet of plastic that had been taped across the window.

 

“It protects the books,” said Diana. “Sunlight damages them. See?” She waved her hand, gesturing around the room. Joanna gasped. The walls were lined with books from floor to ceiling! There were a great many shelves on each wall, and all were crammed with titles.

 

“How many are there?” Joanna wondered aloud.

 

“Five thousand,” answered Diana promptly. She glanced at Joanna and Joanna detected a certain intensity in her eye. “Would you like to take a closer look?”

 

Joanna nodded and wandered closer. Most of the books were clearly very old – musty, dusty, ancient volumes. The biggest stood on the floor at her feet. Some were so big that Joanna thought they could almost have been little doors! Many of them were centimetres thick.

 

Joanna tilted her head, her troublesome ankle temporarily forgotten, and read some titles at random: Magic, Mystery and Mankind; Forgotten Doorways; The Many Dimensions of Reality; Suffering and the Soul of Man; Divine Messengers; Darkness and Light.

 

“What are they all about?” Joanna mused.

 

“You might call them doorways,” replied Diana. “It’s just a question of knowing which door to knock at really.”

 

“I wouldn’t know where to begin,” said Joanna.

 

“I can help you there,” Diana said. “But you’ll have to trust me.”

 

“I trust you,” Joanna said.

 

“Okay.” Diana left the room for a few moments and returned carrying a thin strip of cloth. It was bright blue, with flashes of yellow interwoven at irregular intervals. Joanna studied it nervously.

 

“Yes,” Diana chuckled, “it’s a blindfold. But don’t worry, I’m not going to lead you astray.” She came closer. “Quite the opposite, in fact.” She handed it to Joanna who pressed the soft, velvety material between her fingers. It felt warm and comforting. It was the kind of material you might want your bedding made of, she thought. And perhaps your pyjamas, too!

 

Diana took back the blindfold with a smile. Joanna shrugged and stood patiently while Diana tied it round her head and fastened it at the back. She adjusted it so that it completely covered Joanna’s eyes.

 

“See anything?”

 

“No,” Joanna said.

 

“Okay.” Joanna felt Diana place her hands lightly on her shoulders and steer her forwards. “Now,” she continued, “the shelves are just in front of you. All I want you to do is reach out and run your hands along the books. If you want to go to the other walls, just keep moving right or left, whichever you prefer. As I say there are five thousand to choose from. See which one likes the look of you!”

 

Joanna thought this a strange turn of phrase, but nevertheless she stretched out her arms and felt her fingertips brush the spines of the books just ahead. She pulled back for a moment as she felt – or thought she felt – a faint buzzing-like vibration, as if machinery was humming within.

 

“Go ahead,” Diana said from somewhere behind her. “Don’t be nervous.”

 

“It – it feels like they’re alive!” said Joanna.

 

“I should hope so,” replied Diana.

 

Joanna reached out again and touched the books. This time there was no buzzing.

 

“Now,” murmured Diana softly, “concentrate…”

 

Joanna wrinkled up her forehead as she felt along the rows of books. Some stuck out a little way…others were further back. Many were exactly the same size and formed long smooth sections that her fingers slipped across comfortably. She came to the end of the shelf and reached up higher, this time moving from right to left.

 

“Calm your thoughts, Joanna,” whispered Diana. “Quiet your mind…”

 

Joanna frowned some more as her fingers continued tracing the spines. She had just begun to wonder exactly what she was doing groping along a bookcase in a stranger’s house when she felt her mind fall utterly still. At the same time, her fingers brushed against a particularly large volume and simply stuck to it.

 

“This one!” she declared in excitement.

 

“Excellent!” cried Diana. “You’ve a friend for life there!” She whisked away the blindfold. Joanna pulled the book down off the shelf – it was very heavy – and studied it. It was a big, dusty old volume with a faded blue cover. The title was stamped in gold lettering across it:

 

BEYOND THE VEIL

Toulouse Trelee

 

“Toulouse Trelee,” murmured Diana wistfully. “Fabulous woman. She practically invented the wishing well, you know. Not to mention the Inverted Telescope.”

 

Joanna looked up. “The what?”

 

“An indispensable aid to self-understanding,” said Diana. “It resembles a normal telescope except that when you look into it, you peer into your own thoughts. Wonderful!” She sighed deeply and her gaze fell upon the book in Joanna’s hands. “A wise choice,” she remarked, and Joanna wasn’t sure whether she was addressing her or the book.

 

 

Diana made some fresh orange juice and Joanna followed her out into the beautiful back garden. They sat at a small wooden table in the shadow of a tall weeping willow. Joanna looked up into the deep blue heavens. The sky was enormous today. A few wisps of white cloud drifted across its depths.

 

Diana poured two glasses of orange juice. Joanna set the book down on the table, careful to keep it clear of the drinks, and opened the front cover. The inside page was mottled with age, but the next was perfectly white. The first thing Joanna encountered was a list of Toulouse Trelee’s other works.

 

A History of Time and Space,” she read aloud. “The Undiscovered Country of the Mind. Why Far Away is Closer Than You Think. What the River Said.” She turned two more pages and came to the contents list. She blinked in surprise. It was just a list of numbers, one to ten, with nothing written after them. Joanna flicked through several more pages to chapter one. Chapter One was all it said. She glanced quizzically at Diana.

 

“Don’t be perturbed,” said Diana. “What you have there is Toulouse’s finest work. It was so good, she couldn’t find the words to write it.”

 

“Right,” said Joanna. “Maybe I should try again, eh?”

 

“Oh no, not at all,” Diana protested. “You’ve got the cream of the crop there. The cherry on the icing on the cake! The prize jewel of my collection.”

 

“I do?”

 

Diana paused and exhaled dramatically. “Joanna, Beyond The Veil is not a book to be read. It is an experience to be savoured.” She clapped her hands and Joanna looked around, half expecting something magical to happen. “I shall say no more. See how you get on with chapter one.”

 

At that moment, car wheels crunched in the driveway. Joanna’s Mum had come to collect her.

 

 

“The Man on the Hill”

“Hush now, Hannah,” Hannah’s Mother soothed. “Your Grandmother is very tired.”
 

Hannah stood tremulous at the bedside, gazing down at the frail form tucked away beneath the heavy covers. The curtains were drawn and in the dim light only the slightest rise and fall of the blankets revealed any sign of life at all.
 

“…Is she going to be all right?” Hannah asked.
 

Her Mother’s face was difficult to read. Hannah saw many emotions and expressions pass quickly across it. “Let’s just go downstairs for now and let her sleep,” her Mother suggested.
 

On the way through the door, Hannah said, “You didn’t answer my question, Mum.”
 

Her Mum looked down at her, and Hannah’s heart pounded suddenly. “Some questions,” her Mother replied, “have no answer.”
 

That evening, Hannah sat beside her open bedroom window, staring out into a humid summer evening. It had grown dark only an hour or so earlier, and since that time a sense of atmospheric pressure had built steadily. It carried with it a definite sense of impending storm. A sullen silence hung over the meadow behind the house; it felt like the world was waiting for something big to happen. Finally, around nine o’clock, Hannah heard a distant rumble of thunder and moments later a tremendous downpour began. Hannah held her hand out through the window and discovered that the water had a semi-tropical warmth about it. Meanwhile thunder continued to boom, but somewhere quite far off. Perhaps the storm will pass overheard, she thought. Maybe there will just be rainfall in this part of the world.
 

This thought had hardly occurred to her when a much louder crash of thunder resounded close at hand. It made her jump. At the same time, a great fork of lightning split the sky in two and lit up the landscape for miles around. Seconds later a second lightning strike hit the summit of Winding Hill, a mile beyond the meadow. Thunder cracked overhead as if the very sky threatened to tumble. It echoed and fell silent. The night was still.
 

It was strange weather, Hannah thought. What kind of storm came and went so quickly? Now even the torrent of rain was coming to an end, and as it did so the sense of pressure abated and a great quiet descended.
 

She continued to gaze from her window. Was she imagining it, or was there some kind of light on Winding Hill? As if someone were waving a torch about? As she strained her eyes to look, however, Hannah became aware of an unfamiliar sound from close by, somewhere within the house. She came away from the window and crossed to the door. She opened it a crack and looked out, and was dismayed to discover her Mother weeping outside the room where Hannah’s Grandmother lay close to death.
 

Hannah hesitated in the doorway, unsure of herself. She wanted to go out on to the landing and console her Mum, unsure at the same time whether she really knew how. She found herself looking simultaneously back across the room and out of the window toward Winding Hill, where there was indeed a strange light clearly visible at the summit. No longer waving like a torch beam, it had become still and steady like a light bulb. But Hannah could tell that this was no ordinary electric light. It shone out, a tiny point of concentrated glare.
 

Instinct told her to wait. She closed the door quietly and lingered by the window, watching the light. It seemed to call to her. A few minutes went by before she checked the landing again and found it clear. Hannah wasted no time scurrying downstairs and, finding the hallway also empty, put on coat and boots and slipped from the house.
 

The back lawn was sodden of course, as was the meadow beyond. But the rain had entirely ceased and she made quick progress through the long grass. The lights of the houses receded behind her; the strange glow on the hill drew nearer. Before very long, she was at the foot of the hill and starting up the winding path. All the while, part of her was thinking ‘I should be at home helping Mum’, and another part was saying ‘But I am helping Mum.’
 

About halfway up the hill, Hannah squinted ahead into the darkness and saw a very tall man descending the path toward her. Suddenly the clouds parted and the light from a clear moon bathed the hill. Hannah halted, feeling uncertain, but as the stranger approached his face broke into a beautiful and disarming smile and she relaxed.
 

“Welcome, Hannah!” he said, and his voice was quite loud and full of humour. “As you are climbing, I am descending, and that is how things are.”
 

“I saw a light,” Hannah said.
 

“You must grow accustomed to seeing light,” he said, “in many different ways and on many different levels. How else may we dispel night on earth?”
 

Hannah said nothing. She studied the man closely. He was well over six feet tall; he had a strong, commanding face and intense grey eyes. His hair was long and swept back from his forehead and he was dressed from head to foot in black.
 

“Did you arrive in the storm?” she asked.
 

The man did not reply. Instead he glanced up into the heavens, where the rain clouds were rapidly rolling away. A great scattering of stars had revealed itself. The visitor reached out and placed a hand on Hannah’s shoulder. She felt a gentle reassurance pass through her.
 

“Think not of the storm, nor its cloud of fury,” he said, “but look instead to the stars. For a storm is but a passing thing.”
 

Hannah’s heart trembled as if something deep inside was unlocking itself.
 

“The heavens are eternal,” he continued.
 

As Hannah watched, he lifted his hand from her shoulder up into the sky, and plucked a particularly bright star from the night. He held out his palm for Hannah to see. The star lay there, burning brightly, a tiny, impossible thing. The man stepped off the path toward the side of the hill and gestured. Below, Winding Lake lay calmly in the moonlight. He cast the star from his hand and it fell quickly from the hill into the water far below. Hannah watched a great ripple of silver light pass through the lake from end to end.
 

“Take my hand, child,” the visitor said. “There is nothing to fear.”
 

Hannah put out her hand and it fit neatly into the stranger’s own. A heartbeat later, they both stood close to the lakeshore, and Winding Hill loomed above them, a great shadow in the night.
 

The man produced a small, plain glass jar from an inside pocket and knelt by the water’s edge. He filled the jar to the top, placed a lid over it and held it up to the moonlight. Hannah studied it closely. The water glowed with effervescent light against the backdrop of the moon and stars. Her companion handed the jar to her, and she held it gingerly.
 

“This does not come with a list of instructions,” the man remarked. “Except, I suppose; use wisely.”
 

Hannah nodded. “Is this for my Grandmother?” she asked.
 

“Only you may be the judge of that, dear one,” he said. He glanced up at the hill. “Now, I must climb…and you must go home.”
 

The man smiled and Hannah once again felt reassured. She watched as he turned and walked toward the hill, vanishing almost immediately into the dark.
 

Hannah’s head was brimming with questions, but her heart knew a single purpose. Keeping a firm grip on the jar full of sparkling water, she headed home across the meadow. She noted the clouds steadily covering the sky once more, as if they had been given permission to continue with their business. Reaching the front door, she hurried inside, kicked off her wet boots and rushed up the stairs. She found the bedroom door half open and her Mother sitting on the bed holding her own Mother’s hand. Her face however, was, turned to the wall.
 

“Mum,” Hannah began, entering the room, “I’ve…”
 

But her Mother turned to face her, downcast and solemn. “Hannah, I’m afraid it’s too late,” she said quietly.
 

Hannah halted and looked at her Grandmother, all but concealed beneath the blankets. Her face was calm and peaceful.
 

The blankets no longer moved up and down.
 

Her Mother watched, her face full of sorrow and mercy, and Hannah slowly approached the bedside and looked down at the still form. Without really thinking too closely, she gently removed the lid from the jar and dipped her fingers into the water.
 

“What have you got there?” her Mum whispered.
 

Hannah did not reply. She took her fingers out of the jar and cautiously dripped some water droplets on to her Grandmother’s forehead. Her Mum said, “Hannah!” quite sharply and at the same time the door slammed shut with a resounding bang. Both Hannah and her Mother jumped. Hannah hastily replaced the lid on the jar and set it down on the bedside table. When she looked up, she saw her Grandmother standing just inside the door, semi-transparent, wearing an unearthly white dress that shimmered and shone. She walked slowly across the room toward the bed. There was a beautiful bouquet of flowers in her right hand. Hannah stared in amazement as her Grandmother came right up to her and held out the flowers.
 

“These are for you,” she said. “A gift from beyond the hill.”
 

She pressed the flowers into Hannah’s fingers and Hannah accepted them. Her Grandmother disappeared and a moment later sat up in the bed with a choking gasp. Hannah’s Mother screamed and put a hand to her chest.
 

“I’ve got work to do!” the old woman cried. She held out her hands and they glowed with light, much like the lake water in the jar. “The healing has begun!”