I drifted slowly to consciousness. Sounds were the first things to begin penetrating the gentle cloak of slumber. Birds lilted out melodies of joy. Leaves rustled like candywrappers blowing in the wind. Somewhere nearby the sound of water chuckling over rocks joined the chorus.
Light was next - not the bold strokes of a spotlight, but rather the warm reds and yellows seen through closed eyelids. Shadows of burnt sienna danced and played with the sparkling flashes that eyes seem to produce entirely on their own when closed. I noticed that the shadows moved in concert with the leaf-sounds.
I kept my eyes closed a bit longer. I had been dreaming, and very pleasant dreams they were. While I tried to hang on to those fading fancies with a part of me, another part was still inexorably waking to the new day. Saturday! At least, it felt like a Saturday! Remember how Saturday mornings felt when you were a kid? The prospect of a whole day stretched out before you, hours out of school, wondrous possibilities. Now, take each and every one of those Saturday-mornings from your entire childhood, and combine them into one moment - that's how I felt on this fine morning.
A deep breath, eyes still closed, brought wonderful earthy smells into my lungs. Pine-scent, a trace of wood smoke, and.. and.. fur? Feathers? Finally opening my eyes, I was momentarily startled to see myself as no more than a vague shape under what appeared to be a quietly nesting flock of partridges! As I shifted, small heads bobbed up one after another from nesting places between wings, beady eyes looking at me in mock reprimand for disturbing their sleep.
A growl from behind caused me to jump up suddenly. Partridges scattered in all directions at my sudden motion! Looking back down to my former resting place, I saw the source of the sound - a medium-sized brown bear that I had apparently been using as a pillow! Finally awake enough to recover some wit, I remembered just who and where I was.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Judge Kingson. That is, that's my name now. I used to be called something else in a former life, but that's not really important anymore. I have a new name now, and I'm downright pleased to go by it!
Lord, what a morning! Oh, excuse me, I'd better explain - that wasn't just an expression - here I can address the Lord from any time or place because He's always with me, one way or another. But, I see I'm getting ahead of myself.
I've been here... although "here" is not precisely the right word... for something like a month now... although "month" doesn't quite express it either. I can see already that telling you about this may be a bit difficult, but we'll make do with what we have. "Here" is what you might refer to as "heaven". You begin to see my problem. Finding words for place and time that could begin to convey what this is like is sort of like trying to put the Nile in a teacup. Only not quite that easy.
I keep forgetting where I am - I certainly forgot that morning in the woods. Once I regained my composure, I hugged friend bear and tried to calm the partridges who had been kind enough to keep me covered and warm through the night. We all had a good laugh over it, and then sang a morning-hymn to Jesus. What a beautiful morning it was! Sunlight filtered through the leaves and pine needles. I had slept well, very well indeed. Although the ground had been my bed, I was fresh and feeling very spry, with no trace of stiffness anywhere.
Why, I remember the bad old days... "remember"? Here we go again, remember is not quite right... that is, I remember them more in the sense that you might look at a photo album picture of a particularly blustery day while you are sitting in front of a fire, warm and dry. You see the rain and your coat flapping in the wind and you know that you were surely uncomfortable when that picture was taken. But it is hard to completely identify with the picture because you are just oh so comfortable now. That's something like what it is when I "remember" that I used to wake up with "aches" and "pains". Not any more! God has seen to that once and for all.
I gathered up my few belongings. Amazing just how little I need to have with me even though I am in the middle of what you would certainly consider a major expedition! I left home (sigh, wrong word...) with the clothes on my back, a couple of presents, and some odds and ends. I've been traveling for days, having a delightful time, and have not wanted for anything. The Lord will provide. Literally! Every day, everything I need.
I stepped out onto the path and started walking. Around the first bend the forest floor was covered in green and blue. A blueberry breakfast! And what blueberries they were. The size of hothouse blueberries, but with the flavor and sweetness of wild berries. I didn't even have to stop; I just bent over and scooped as I went.
"Today" I expect to reach the next waypoint on my journey - this, the first of what will be a truly endless series of trips, travels, and adventures in the wonderful new universe so graciously provided for me - for all of us - by the matchless generosity of our Lord and King. I am on my way today to Raven's Crag, where I plan to visit an old friend. I hope you'll come along with me and enjoy the visit too.
While walking along the trail to Raven's Crag, my mind went back to the events which led to today. How thankful I am to God for bringing me to this point! It is difficult to describe what has happened. Things we have expected all along, but the expecting and the imagining don't hold a candle to the reality.
I started looking forward to heaven when I was still adrift in the old evil age of the world, perhaps about where or when you are right now. I guess you could say that from early in my life I had anticipated "heaven" - although at that time I had some pretty weird ideas of what heaven might be.
You know what I mean - my earliest ideas began with those silly old cartoon notions of puffy white clouds, white-robed figures sprouting wings, harps, golden gates, and so on. Sunday school lessons helped me to get a little beyond that - after all, scenes of golden streets, pearly gates, and strange rivers and trees were, I guess, something of an improvement.
I was taught that as a Christian, I was part of a "heavenly people" - in contrast to the Jews, who were an "earthly people" - and that forever I would live in a heavenly city sort of floating "out there, somewhere..." over the rainbow? No one seemed willing to be very specific.
As I grew, I began to read and re-read the Bible for myself. At first, things just didn't quite mesh with what I had been taught. But the more I read, the more the truth seemed to clash with the indistinct and half-formed ideas I had had transfused into my thinking. What a wonder! You mean, I'm really a joint heir with Christ, inheritor of all things? Part of the commonwealth of Israel? Fellow-citizen with saints like David, Elijah, Daniel? Incredible!
As I continued studying the Word, my attention was focused on things that the scripture said were soon to happen. I began watching for the "apostasy", or falling away, spoken of by Paul in his letters to the Thessalonians. I knew that the "man of sin" had to be revealed before the Lord would return. But just how would antichrist actually appear?
Churches kept getting stranger and weirder, following after strange doctrines which did not have scriptural origins. In some ways it seemed gradual; in others sudden. I guess it partly depended on just how carefully one was watching. Television preachers started associating strange unexplained events (crop circles, visions) with divine intervention.
First here, then there, church leaders began claiming that Christ Himself was present in their congregations. No, not in the way we have always recognized His presence; rather, in some magical way, able to speak and give orders, able to perform outstanding miracles.
How horrifying! Men whom you would have thought to be unshakeably orthodox were suddenly coming forward and throwing their hats into the ring with this substitute Christ! Sadly, as Paul predicted, many followed after them in their deception, unto their everlasting shame.
Oh, it was subtle! How pious they sounded, how reasonable their explanation for this novel "return" of the Lord. How good their results appeared to be, church after church banding together and bringing about tremendous humanitarian reform in the world. Truly, it looked like the beginning of a new age for the world!
A root on the path to Raven's Crag brought me back to the "present" when I almost tripped over it. A sovereign "wakeup call", I think, for I had not noticed how thirsty I was. Looking around, I saw the brook I had heard that morning while waking. Stepping off the path, I slipped quietly to the waterside and knelt to drink. Water! The very water of life, always near at hand for you and me to drink freely of! Thankfully, I splashed some over my face and returned to the path and to my reverie, quite refreshed.
How sad I was then (although the sorrow has faded now), especially when those I cared for deeply seemed to be carried away by the deceptions of antichrist. At times it seemed that I could talk myself hoarse to no avail. I know now that those who would not listen were, of course, those whose hearts were hardened against the Lord, upon whom God sent "strong delusion so that they would believe the lie", because they refused to come to the knowledge and love of the Truth. It was very difficult to deal with at the time, in fact, it was truly Great Tribulation to watch the demise of the church as it fell under the judgement of God.
Finally, I and others who held fast to the written Word of God had to abandon our attempts to bring about change. We fled the churches one by one, in families, and in small groups. We ran to "the Rock that is higher than I", to "the mountains which surround Jerusalem", to the Lord our strength. We were shunned by those in traditional churches. We were ridiculed for not recognizing the "truth" of the obvious manifestations of God in so many congregations around the world. When we finally left, you should have seen the rejoicing in the churches! They were so glad not to have to put up with us any more!
For our part, we clung to the warnings of our Lord. "If they say onto you, He is in the desert; go not out, or He is in the secret chambers, do not believe them." We held fast to the promise of His glorious appearing. It seemed forever! But, we were certainly not disappointed. Our Blessed Lord had told us "when you see all these things come to pass, lift up your heads, for your redemption draws near."
The path rose sharply ahead of me. Trees were less enclosing now, and views of the surrounding mountains made me catch my breath. I had once had the privilege of walking through the Austrian Alps on old Earth; these mountains made them seem foothills by comparison. As I adapted to the increased effort of the climb, my thoughts returned to the past.
The things we were told of had begun happening. As an amateur astronomer, I kept careful tabs on the stars and planets. I was looking for any change from their normal motions, some harbinger of the end. Finally it began; slowly at first, but then with increasing speed. With no explanation, the moon developed a wobble in its orbit. The sun began to flare up. The general populace reacted to these changes in stark terror, but as believers informed by scripture, we ran to each other with the news; Lift up your heads! The Lord is near!
There was a tremendous shout, accompanied by an electrifying flash. It was truly like lightning - but not like any lightning anyone has ever seen, or could ever expect to see. With a mind- shattering flash, Jesus Himself appeared, all at once, to everyone.
This was not some secret revelation to a chosen few. This was the undeniable, personal presence of the Lord Himself, shining brighter than the sun in all its glory. Of course, along with everyone else, you "were"/"will be" there (it's hard to speak of time from this perspective).
Let me tell you, this was the surprise of a lifetime for a lot of people! I scarcely had time to look around; in just the blink of an eye, the Lord Jesus changed my frail frame into something substantial, something really permanent, using the power He has to bring everything into subjection to Himself. I joined the shouting and singing myself!
When the unbelievers, some of whom had been dead for thousands of years, suddenly found themselves in the very presence of God, they panicked. At that moment they, for perhaps the first time ever, became truly repentant (in a self-serving sort of way). Sadly for them, it was far too late.
I was caught up to join the army of the Lord. All of us, from all time and space, who had been known and loved by the Lord were brought together all at once to that very moment of triumph. Of course, those formerly dead in Christ came with Him. (Grandpa has since told me what a great thing it was when Jesus re- assembled him with his new body. I guess he got kind of used to being without it, and had almost forgotten how great some of the little things can be - a hug, a handshake...).
As I rounded a sharp rocky bend, Raven's Crag came into view far ahead. It wouldn't be long now before I could rest and enjoy the company of friends. Why, I hadn't seen some of them since the last battle!
We kept on coming, holy anger in our eyes, advancing on the newly combined hosts of darkness. All unbelievers from all ages, along with Satan and his fallen angelic minions, were arrayed before us. Did we whup 'em? You bet! What a fantastic battle! But, that's another story.
When it was over, I was a wondering witness to something that defies rational description. Something that in their wildest fantasies, science fiction writers had never been able to imagine, but which God had planned all along. He had, in fact, told us about it more than once, if we had only been listening.
HE was done with the universe; HE set it aside. The whole thing! Just like you or I might take off a sweater and toss it on the sofa. Gone, all gone! The coliseum. The rock of Gibraltar. Mount Everest. The moon. Jupiter, the solar system, the Milky Way, all the other galaxies.
"Behold, I make ALL THINGS NEW" He had said so long ago. But this time when He said it, I heard it with my own new ears - and I marveled. I watched Him start from scratch! Incredible! I know now what it must have been like when He laid the foundation of the world. How wonderful to hear Him speak and watch it all take shape! I want to learn how to do some of that, too, but nothing I ever do will come close to equaling that profoundly powerful act of creation.
When we all (yes, ALL of us) sat at table as a family for the first time, I thought I would die of joy (thankfully, this is no longer possible - death has been destroyed forever). And when Jesus, Lord Himself, came to my place and served me, it was beyond my ability to comprehend how much He loves me and each of us.
My thoughts returned to the path before me as I approached a narrow gate. Beyond the gate lay Raven's Crag, a group of four or five log cabins perched atop a tremendous drop to the valley below. There at the gate was my old friend, waving me along. Once more, I was "home".
"Hello Teller!" I said while we pounded each other on the back. "Let me look at you."
"You look terrific!" said Teller Godwin, holding me at arm's length. "Last time I saw you, seems there was more than a little grey in you hair and beard - now you look better than you did when we were in college. Of course, that's not saying much..." Teller gibed.
"Thanks a lot, guy! How are Lewella and the girls?" I asked.
"They're fine. You know, we're not married any more." Teller informed me. "
"Say, that's right. You know, I always used to worry about that. Then I realized that marriage was just a figure, a picture of our unbreakable bond with the Lord."
"That's true. Now that the perfect has come, figures aren't needed any longer, are they? Hey, come on in out of the wind! There's a fire on the hearth and I think a meal has been prepared in honor of your arrival."
We closed the gate and strode to the nearest cabin. It was a long, low structure oriented so that it's length extended along the cliff face. The cabin was constructed of logs, rustic looking but very inviting after my long hike.
"Come in, come in" Teller repeated when we reached the entrance. I gladly walked into the entryway. A look around revealed a comfortable room with an open-beam ceiling. At the center was a free-standing stone fireplace, host to cheerfully dancing and crackling flames.
I took off and hung my sweater on a peg. We walked to the hearth and sunk into some overstuffed chairs.
"Are you hungry?" Teller asked.
"I did fine on the way up here" I replied. "There were plenty of berries and fruit along the path up here, but those smells coming from the kitchen seem to be stirring my appetite."
At that moment, a small man with Oriental features walked through a doorway from another room. "Dinner is ready when you are" he announced.
"Judge, I'd like you to meet Kai Wang".
"So pleased to meet you" I said, bowing. Kai Wang bowed back. "I am also pleased" he said. "I have prepared a dish my mother taught me to make when I was but a lad, and it is my joy to share it with you".
We all moved to the kitchen and sat around a large table with high-backed wooden chairs. "Thank You, Lord Jesus, for the provision You have made for our joy and sustenance" intoned Teller. We fell to with gusto, and my long hike proved to be a good stimulus to the appetite.
"I am so thankful", I began, "that God has provided us with such a wide variety of gifts in the way of brothers and sisters from all kinds of diverse backgrounds".
Teller looked up from his dinner. "I hadn't thought of it quite that way" he said, "but you're exactly right. Kai Wang and his daughter Dae settled up here at Raven's Crag because the mountains suit them. I settled here because I was tired of living in the flatlands. They have been teaching me to speak Mandarin and I have been helping them with some of the finer points of English and Greek. It has been a wonderful arrangement."
"You still remember the Greek you learned in graduate school?" I asked.
"Much of it", Teller replied, "although helping Kai Wang and Dae in their Greek studies has forced me to brush up on it. I have noticed that since being here, when I learn something, it sticks a lot better than it used to. And learning is a snap!"
"And a joy" Kai Wang added. "Teller is a very able student. There are days when we speak nothing here but Mandarin".
"I won't be staying long enough to learn it" I stated, "but I will come back another time and add Mandarin to the languages I know. Languages have always been an interest of mine. Some things can be said so much better in one language than another. And how fine it is to praise and thank our God by learning to wrap new words around my tongue!"
"Speaking of words" Teller observed, "have you noticed what's been happening to them?"
"What do you mean" I asked.
"Well," Teller began, "as near as I can tell, there are some words that are beginning to drift in their meaning. Others are falling into disuse, and some words get used much more often."
"For example?" I asked.
"'Tired', for one" Teller replied. "How often do you say you are 'tired' any more? Remember what Isaiah promised? They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. Of course, we still understand what 'tired' and words like it mean, but they're no longer quite as personal, are they?"
"You know, you're right" I was quick to agree. "I can add some words to the list right now... sad, worried, hurt..." I laughed out loud. "Funny, I haven't thought of those words for what seems like ages! But I still understand them, at least in an abstract sort of way. They just can't touch me any more", I said, tapping my chest. "Except, of course, with thankfulness to Jesus for saving us from them. But what about the other categories you listed?"
Kai Wang piped up. "When it comes to words that mean more, how about 'always, never, forever'? I used to use those words on old Earth, but they had limits. Now they don't."
"What about 'joy'" said Teller. "Did you ever know the full meaning of joy when there was always sorrow around the corner?"
"My turn" I said. "'Home'. Now there's a word I have always loved. There used to be a saying 'no place like home'. I guess now it would be much better to change that to 'no place BUT home'. Everywhere I've gone, I have felt right at home."
"I guess" Teller added, "that must be because these New Heavens and New Earth are 'the home of righteousness' as God promised us through the Apostle Peter so long ago. I met him, by the way."
"Met who?" I asked.
"The Apostle Peter. Big guy, a little rough around the edges, but my kind of people. Good thing I knew enough Greek to make myself understood."
"Where is he these days?" I asked. "I'd love to run into him."
"Oh, don't worry, you will. That's one of the benefits of having an entire 'Age of Ages', God's gift to us of eternal life; we're sure to meet up with all our brothers and sisters and have plenty of 'time' to get to know and appreciate each one of them."
"I'll never stop being amazed while the implications of these things sink in. I haven't met any notables in person yet (except, of course, for the Lord Jesus Himself - and every time I see Him is more wonderful than the last)."
By this "time", dinner was over. "Thank you so much, brother Kai Wang, for that wonderful dinner. Please visit me sometime and bring the recipe with you."
"You are most welcome" Kai Wang replied.
We retired to the living room and once again sat around the hearth.
"How about a game of chess?" suggested Teller.
"Great!" I replied with enthusiasm. From the time we were in college together, and down through the years of our friendship, we had always played a game or two of chess at the infrequent intervals when we were able to visit each other. "I'm glad you brought it up, because I had almost forgotten about something."
While Teller pulled some chairs and a low table over close to the fireplace, I went over and extracted a small bundle from my rucksack. By the time I seated myself across from him, Teller was nearly done arranging a chessboard and men on the table between us.
"This is for you." I said, handing him the bundle. He sat regarding the small package thoughtfully, as though trying to divine it's content by sheer deduction. "Go on; open it!" I encouraged. Almost reluctantly, he started to peel away the wrapping.
For a few moments, the rustle of tissue paper filled the room. When the object within rested in his hands, Teller sat a moment longer before speaking. "It's beautiful! You made this for me, didn't you?" He held a perfectly formed chess piece, a somewhat abstract representation of a king. "What kind of wood is it?"
"Koa wood" I replied. "It used to grow in tropical latitudes on old Earth. Actually, I had the idea many years ago that I wanted to make you a set. I just never seemed to have the time, with all the other demands of life. Well, now I have the 'time', and you can expect to receive a piece every now and then until the set is complete."
"I don't quite know what to say. Thank you!" He stood, picked up the old king from his side of the board, and tossed it into the fireplace, where it disappeared in a quick flash. After setting the new king in its place, Teller walked over and gave me a bear hug. "I'll treasure your gift forever! Looking forward to the rest of the set will make my days more enjoyable."
"Making the rest of the pieces for you will be a real joy for me" I replied. "The Lord promised us that He would establish the work of our hands. In the old days, I couldn't have started a project like this with any guarantee of finishing it - now, by the grace of God, whatever I set out to do, I can finish!"
We set to in earnest on our game, then. After what seemed like a short time, but was probably hours, the score was oh to two. "You always were a better player" I observed with a yawn. "That sure hasn't changed."
"Yeah, but you gave me a run for the money" he replied.
"I usually do; but somehow I also usually snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Watch out! I'm liable to practice more between times now!"
"If you say so. I saw that yawn, though; if you plan to start with the daybreak we'd better get some sack time. I set out what you'll need in the washroom."
After bathing and preparing for bed, I returned to the hearth area. Teller had laid out a couple of bedrolls. I climbed between the fresh-smelling sheets under a thick down comforter and we said our 'goodnights'.
The light in the room had diminished to a dull glow from the fire. Above, through a skylight in the roof, I could see a glorious array of stars in the night sky. "Teller?" I said, before sleep had a total grip on me.
"Explain something for me, would you?"
"Remember what the Apostle John said in Revelation about heaven? You know, the part about there being 'no night there'?"
"So, how come it's night?"
Teller chuckled softly. "Symbolism. 'Light' and 'day' are metaphors for righteousness, 'darkness' and 'night' for evil. You remember Jesus said that 'men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil'. Well, John wrote about night in Revelation so we would know that there would be no 'darkness' - 'evil' - when we got here. And here we are!"
I yawned again. "That makes sense..." I managed to vocalize just before drifting off into a most pleasant sleep.
The path rose ahead of me rather steeply, but I was cheered to see my immediate objective in sight; a clear notch between two peaks, the pass leading to the downward trail on the other side of the range. I adjusted my pack, took a few deep breaths, and pressed on with renewed energy.
I had taken my leave of Teller and my new friends Kai and Dae after a breakfast which had threatened to overwhelm me. "The Lord be with you, Judge. I'll see you again, and not too long from now I hope."
"You can count on it" I replied. "Partings like this just aren't melancholy anymore, are they?"
"Thank God for that! You'll be back, if I don't come across you somewhere else first."
"I look forward to it! And to seeing you, Dae, and you, Kai. Next time I'll stay long enough to learn some Mandarin."
My thoughts came back to the present as I rounded the top of the path and started through the notch. I turned for a last look back. The path wound down along a sinuous ridge, disappearing over a rise in the middle distance. I could make out the ledge along the cliff face which I had traversed early that morning, and there, near the limits of my vision, I could just make out Teller's place at Raven's Crag. Though he couldn't see me at that distance, I waved a salute to Teller and turned back to the notch.
Only sky and cloud were visible framed in the 'V' at the far end of the pass. A footpath wound around and between some sizable granite boulders perched in odd irregular formations. When I had worked my way nearly to the middle of the notch, I paused to scoop a drink of water from a spring beside the path.
I sputtered a half-mouthful of water in surprise, and looked around to find the source of the voice. All I could see was empty path and rocks.
"Up here." the voice came again. I looked up, and there seated on the edge of a column of rock was a figure in laderhosen and an alpine hat.
"Albert!" I exclaimed. "What in the kosmos are you doing here? You about startled me out of my wits!" With a hearty laugh and wearing a devious grin, Albert dropped 20 feet and landed lightly on his feet by my side. By that time I had regained enough composure to clap my old friend on the shoulders and look him up and down. "You look terrific! The last time I saw you you must have weighed 300 pounds!".
"You don't look half ugly yourself, friend. Heaven suits you! And as to what I'm doing here, a little bird told me you were doing some traveling, so I thought I'd look you up. I've been working on something I want you to see."
"Well, let's see it, now that you've had your fun."
"OK, follow me." Having said that, Al turned and walked straight toward the rock face beside us. It shimmered a little and he walked straight into it, disappearing! I stood there staring, with my jaw hanging down. A moment later, Al's head popped out of the rock. "Are you coming or aren't you?" he asked.
"That's two you owe me now... I'll find some way to get you for this! What is going on, anyway?"
"We're just taking a shortcut to my lab. Come on! Stop dilly- dallying!" I got up my courage and followed him into the stone. What a strange sensation! It was sort of like walking through a curtain of water. I felt no more than a mild pressure to indicate that the stone and I might have been occupying the same space. The next thing I knew I was in a room the size of a small auditorium. I turned back to look, and could see the pass behind me through what appeared to be shimmering heat waves. Albert just laughed. "Welcome to the lab. There's what I wanted to show you." he said, pointing to an object in the center of the room.
From where I was standing, the object Al indicated looked like a large, translucent teardrop lying in the middle of the room. Within this torpedo shape were vague suggestions of structure and some faintly pulsing colored lights. As we got closer, I could make out the outline of a bucket seat inside. The whole thing was about the size of an old-time steamer trunk, only not as boxy looking.
Albert strode right to it, climbed up, and sat on the thing. Almost before I could see what had happened, he sank through the top, like a stone through a soap bubble, and was seated inside. For a moment, the bubble-shaped exterior looked undisturbed; then began an incredible unfolding of the structure into a most improbable set of shapes and projections, almost like watching the inflation of a balloon with ears.
Finally the transformation stopped. Before me was what appeared to be a giant dragonfly! Closer inspection revealed two pair of wings, fore and aft, formed of some sort of shimmering translucent fabric stretched over a sparkling framework of crystalline tubing. Below the wings was slung a torpedo-shaped transparent sheath. Within that canopy Albert sat grinning at me from a padded recumbent seat.
"I got the idea from moths and butterflies" he explained. "You've seen the way they emerge from their cocoons, haven't you? They're all folded up in a small, streamlined package. When they come out, their wing ribs are pumped up and their wings expand and stiffen. I used some of the same basic methods, only I made the process reversible so the whole works could be stowed again when not in use. What do you think?"
"I'm impressed, but - will it ever fly, Orville?" In silent response to my question, Albert moved his hands to controls somewhere out of view. The wings began oscillating, slowly at first, and then with mounting speed. I stepped back just in time for the whole contraption to rise gracefully to the high vaulted ceiling and then to settle gently back to the floor. Albert jumped out with a "pop", at which point the whole thing contracted back to its original form.
"And they shall mount up with wings as eagles" I thought to myself. Aloud I remarked "That is really wonderful. May I try it?"
"I don't see why not. After all, it's yours."
"Mine?" I exclaimed.
"Yes, I remember how much you like to fly, so I thought I'd whip up this prototype for you. Fly it in good health!"
I was speechless. Ever since my first ride in an airplane, I had always thought that travel by air was certainly the most delightful way of moving from point A to point B. I walked all around the package, now lying quietly on the floor.
"Go ahead - pick it up. There's a recessed handle at the top." I reached for the handle and lifted. It was amazingly light, certainly as easy as carrying a suitcase! I walked a few feet with it and then set it down. Finally I recovered my speech.
"I can't imagine a more wonderful gift for me, Albert. Thanks! I can already begin to imagine the fun of soaring in this baby. Is it hard to fly?"
"Not at all. In fact, before you leave I'll give you a direct transfer of the necessary skills so you'll be able to fly like a pro without even thinking about the mechanics of it. I knew you were travelling, so you'll be on your way in no time."
"That reminds me; your... I mean, my new flying machine has kept me so excited that I almost forgot to ask; How did we get here, anyway? Judging by the angle of the sunlight coming in through the windows, we must be at least 1000 miles from the mountain pass where you met me." Albert regarded me with a gleam in his eye.
"Do you remember the account in Matthew where the disciples were out on the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a storm at night? Jesus came walking to them on the water. They thought He was a ghost until He spoke and reassured them. The key story element, though, to answer your question; when He stepped into the boat, they were *immediately* at the opposite shore. Of course, the Lord was able to do that in the old age of the world, but now in the new heavens and new earth, the same ability is available to us as His children."
"I guess I should have known that; but it's interesting to hear you explain it. Tell me more."
"You see, time and space are both good inventions that the Lord came up with back in the beginning when He created the original heavens and earth. When Adam sinned, the whole fabric of space- time was damaged by his action. Jesus, as the Son of Man, or genuine man, has at last straightened the whole mess out permanently. As a result, here we have all the benefits of space and time without any of the inconveniences."
"I think I'm starting to catch on." I answered. "That's why things are still familiar enough that I'm not overcome by strangeness. In most cases there is a place for everything, and everything doesn't happen at once. But if I need to be two places at once, that isn't a problem anymore, is it?"
"Exactly. And now, off with you! I've already got ideas for improving on the wing thing. The sooner you hit the trail again, the sooner I can start tinkering!"
"OK, I'm off. But I'll be back. And when I settle down someplace for a while, I'll expect a visit from you."
"You can count on it!"
I thanked Albert again, profusely, for the delightful gift. Lifting it easily, I turned and walked back toward the shimmering area of the shop wall. An instant later I was back on the mountaintop, headed for the other end of the pass.
As I approached the 'V' shaped opening onto the other side of the mountain range, the view widened and I began to see peaks in the distance, and far below fields and forests. I walked out of the notch onto a small patch of grass, and saw the path leading downward toward the valley below.
I set down my cocooned flying machine, shrugged off my pack, and rummaged around inside it for something Teller had pressed into my hand before I left. There it was, a small flask of mountain strawberry wine! Uncorking it, I poured a small splash onto the bow of the craft and pronounced "I hereby christen you 'Waiting Eagle'!" Before recorking the flask, I downed a small but dazzlingly delightful swig of the spirits. Then I put it back in my pack, jumped tail-first onto the top of the waiting conveyance, and sank down into the bucket seat.
By the time I oriented myself to the controls, the transformation around me was complete and the wings were fairly quivering, as if in anticipation of the coming flight. I took the control lever in my right hand, twisted it slightly, and Waiting Eagle, bearing one very excited passenger, leapt off the hillside into the waiting air.
The first flight in my gift from Albert not only met, but far exceeded my fondest expectations. Within seconds, I felt entirely at home with the machine and in my new environment far above the earth. I found myself swooping back and forth, getting the feel of wind beneath my wings, cavorting in the waves of air moving over the mountains.
I swept back through the notch, zig-zagging slalom fashion around the columns of rock. Laughing, I shot out of the far side. In a matter of minutes, I had retraced the distance it had taken me an entire morning to achieve and was circling over Raven's Crag. Three tiny figures below stepped out of doors, looking up in wonderment. I stuck my head out through the canopy and shouted "Hello!", then dipped my wings in salute and headed back toward the pass laughing.
This time I went over the top, put Waiting Eagle into a tight spiral, and rode a strong thermal up, up, up and far above the mountain range. As I circled, I studied the terrain below. There appeared to be a lush river valley on the far side, just over a lumpy collection of foothills covered with a cloak of mixed forest. When I attained the altitude I wanted, I pointed the nose toward that valley and began a long, (leisurely glide.
Having established a heading, I reached into my pack and removed a small corn-cake and a globe of cheese. For these I lifted my voice in a song of praise and thanks to God, and then began to eat while enjoying the view which passed by outside my small craft. I washed the meal down with some more of the strawberry wine from the flask Teller had given me. Strange, I had thought it would be nearly gone by now, but peering through the neck convinced me that the level inside had barely diminished! I put the cork back in and gave the flask a closer inspection. It didn't look unusual. Then I remembered the card.
Before leaving Teller's place, Kai had given me the sack with provisions in it, but Teller had pressed the flask into my hand, along with a card. I had put them all into my pack. Now I fished out the card with growing interest. Opening it, this is what I read:
Here is a small gift of love from me to you, in fond memory of times past. This is not an ordinary flask; it has a special, permanent connection to my wine cellar here at the Crag. As long as the hills around me bring forth wild strawberries, your flask will remain full.
May it always bring joy to your heart when you drink from it, and good memories of our friendship and of Raven's Crag here in the hills.
Your friend forever,
My mind flashed to the story of the widow and the jar of oil that didn't run out until all the other jars were filled. "As long as the hills bring forth wild strawberries..." why, this was a forever gift! I uncorked it again and celebrated with another long drink.
Now, I know you're already worrying (strange, antique word) about my drinking and flying. You need not give it a second thought! I really wasn't being irresponsible, as no harm can any longer come to me or to anyone else. 'Waiting Eagle' knew quite well where I was headed, and was doing a fine job of flying while I enjoyed lunch.
I packed away what was left, and turned my attention back to my surroundings. By this time, I was nearly over the foothills, and the valley was much more readily visible. I could see a half- dozen or more farms arranged along either side of the river. From my new vantage, I could also see that the valley opened out onto a large plain off in the direction of the river flow.
Directly below me I could now see that the foothills were home to several orchards. Whitewashed cottages nestled here and there among the trees, wood smoke rising from stone chimneys. Cataracts sent spray into the air as water from the mountains rushed downward to the river below.
Surveying the farms in the rapidly approaching valley, I noted that one rather large one had several aircraft parked near the barn. I nudged the Eagle in that direction. I'm not quite sure how, but word of my approach seemed to have preceded me. A small group of people were gathering in the yard, some waving in my direction. I was only moments from landing, so I lined the Eagle up into the wind and fluttered to a gentle landing near the house.
By the time I climbed out, the people had walked over and were almost to me.
"Welcome, friend!" said the first to reach me. She threw her arms around me as though I were a long-lost brother, and gave me a hug and a kiss. Come to think of it, I guess I was! "What's your name?" she asked as the others arrived with their own greetings.
"I'm Judge Kingson. Who are you?"
"I'm Lana, this is my sister Sarah, this is John, say hello to Joseph, Walter, Sandra, and Terry."
"Hello!" I said all around. "I'm really happy to meet you all. I'm on my first tour of some of the places the Lord has prepared for us, and just happened to pass through this way."
"We're so glad you stopped here" said Walter. "You will spend the night, won't you?" he asked.
"I'd love to" I replied.
"Come on in, then. Our home is yours" said Sarah. She took one arm and Lana took the other, and we started toward the house. The whole farm was beautiful, everything sparkling new and well organized. Wonderful smells of fresh-mown hay, clover, good, clean earth followed one on another against background sounds of barnyard animals. I felt like I was coming home!
"You picked a good day to arrive" said Joseph. "There's a corn- husking party tonight."
"I've never been to one" I replied, "but I guess I'm game".
"Good!" said John as we climbed the veranda and walked into the house.
The interior of the farmhouse was furnished sparely but comfortably. A large oaken dining table dominated one end of an oversized living area. A massive stone fireplace occupied nearly a third of the wall opposite the doorway, with much of the rest of the wall sporting great windows looking out on fields of crops leading down to the stately flowing river. The rest of the wall space in the room was covered with packed bookshelves, except for one corner where a spiral staircase led to the second storey. There was not a television in sight.
John headed straight for the stairs. I followed him around and up, and we emerged into a large, well-lighted upper room. My first impression was one of disarray, but closer inspection revealed an underlying sense to things. Large skylights lodged between rough-hewn beams allowed daylight to stream into the room, which was really a large studio. Projects in various states of completion were under way on easels and worktables and pedestals around the floor. One end of the room was cordoned off, and there the floor was strewn with mats, pillows, and blankets.
"How is it that on a farm you have so much time for artwork?" I asked John.
"You're forgetting" he replied, "the curse has been lifted. We no longer have to till the ground by the sweat of our brow. Throw a few seeds on the ground, and, why, it seems like the next thing you know, a bumper crop is coming in! We don't need any irrigation because the Lord provides rain as needed. Of course there are no pests or diseases to reduce the yield either, and the crops all but harvest themselves. That leaves us plenty of time to be creative."
"Then why the corn-husking tonight?"
"Oh, it's kind of traditional, I guess - a good excuse to get the community together for an evening of fun and fellowship. You'll see. Meanwhile, why don't you pick a pallet for tonight and leave your things by it."
I did so, and then we headed back downstairs. On the other side of the table, tantalizing smells of baking were emanating from the archway leading to a spacious kitchen. As we walked in, Walter was just removing a steaming tray of cookies from a large wood-fired oven. Sarah was decorating what looked like a pie.
"Your welcome-home pie is just about finished" she announced, wiping her hands on a lovely embroidered flower apron.
"What kind is it?" I asked.
"Guess" she replied, whisking the pie from the counter over to the kitchen table in front of me. I could see little bits of golden-orange filling oozing out through vent holes in the crust. The fragrant, pungent odor of fresh apricot wafted up to me.
"How did you know apricot was my favorite?" I exclaimed.
"Oh, a little bird told me!" she replied with a twinkle in her eye.
The sounds and smells of breakfast cooking woke me from a pleasant rest. I went on downstairs and joined the rest of the family at the table.
Around mouthfuls of pancakes and fresh strawberries, I enquired about directions to the city.
"The nearest city is downriver just about twenty miles" Walter said.
"I'm taking a barge to market today" said Lana. "Why don't you ride along with me?"
"What about Waiting Eagle?"
"Just leave her here" said Walter. "We'll take good care of her, and send her on to you wherever you might be when you need her".
"Although we'd rather have you come back and retrieve her yourself" said Joseph. "And stay for a while longer next time".
After a moment's consideration I replied "Thanks so much." I was starting to get used to the fact that no one would steal from me, not ever. When I saw Waiting Eagle again, it would be every bit as good as new, whether it be a week from now or a century. Entropy, the enemy of technology, is a fading memory from past ages of the world.
Besides, the prospect of an excuse to come back to the farm and learn watercolor painting from Sarah was more than I could resist.
After breakfast, we dipped our plates in the stream which flowed through the kitchen. They were instantly clean, and we stacked them in the cupboard. I went upstairs to pack (toss my few things in my knapsack) and then went out to the barn to help load the produce.
The barn was large and clean. Smells of fresh hay and saddle- soap vied for attention with vistas of strings of dried onions, bins of potatoes, vine-ripened tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers in greens, reds, and yellows, large cans of milk (refrigeration? nothing spoils here, remember?), butter, eggs, fruit - both fresh and dried, melons, squashes in an incredible range of shapes and colors and textures,... need I go on?
With the six of us working, the wagon was loaded in a matter of minutes. Joseph hitched a large Clydesdale to the wagon. Lana and I said our goodbyes to the others. "The Lord be with you". "And with you, until our roads meet again." We pulled out of the barn and headed for the river.
A pair of wagon tracks, looking like a couple of gently bending streams, flowed down through a sea of growing grain to the water's edge. Several other wagons were already waiting there for the next barge. I recognized several of the folks from the corn-husking the night before. Lana waved and laughed greetings to her neighbors, and introduced me to some I had not yet met. By the time the barge arrived, I had begun to really feel that I was a part of that riverside farming community.
We moved out to the center of the river, where the current pulled us along at a steady four knots. The barge master came by and spoke with the newly boarded passengers, and I took the opportunity to ask about the trip. He told me that even with the remaining stops, he expected us to reach the city before nightfall. Lana and I settled back against some flour bags watching the sky and the river.
"How did you come to be here?" I asked.
"The hard way, like everyone else I guess" she replied. "The Lord had to rescue me from a miserable existence in the old age of the world. I was a courtesan in the days of King Henry the Eighth. I thought that I had life figured out, that I had beaten the system and could escape the penalty for my misdeeds. I was wrong, of course... the plague took me, but not before an old woman came and visited me in the sanitarium. She was poor and plain, a far cry from the kind of person I had come to associate with. But she was a wealthy woman in the things of God, and she told me the story of Jesus. God used His word, brought by that woman, to lead me to repentance. I died soon afterward, never having learned her name. But I expect to meet her one day and thank her for what she did."
We were silent for a while. The sun rose higher in the sky, warming the air most pleasantly. Presently we heard sounds of splashing and laughter. Some of the others were swimming alongside the raft in the heat of the day. The way of it seemed to be to dive off the bow, swim for a bit, climb up as the stern passed by, and then return to the bow and repeat the process.
"Let's join them!" exclaimed Lana.
"OK" I replied.
We doffed our clothes and jumped over the side. (Oh, I forgot - have I embarrassed you? Believe me, this is not a problem at all anymore. We are back to the garden again! No thought, no *possibility* of shame of any kind. True innocence, a lot like when you were too small to know the difference between boys and girls.)
The cool water was bracing and invigorating. With my eyes open, I could make out sand and rocks below, and multicolored fish darting in all directions. I tried to swim to the bottom, but it was deeper than it appeared. I surfaced just in time to catch the stern of the barge, climb up and follow the stream of others to the bow for another dive.
We were having so much fun that we scarcely noticed the wind rising, the sky darkening with heavy clouds. There was a shout from someone on the barge. "Waterspout!" I held to the edge of the barge with one hand and looked upriver. There, approaching on what appeared to be a collision course, was a tall, twisting column of water!
Rather than concern, the appearance of the waterspout was met with shouts of glee. "Wow!" "What a sight!" "Hey, what a great surprise!"
Lana called out to me. "Come on!" she yelled. "Follow me!" And then she struck out swimming directly toward the oncoming apparition. Others were also headed that way, so I followed along, waiting to see what would happen.
Between strokes, I looked up to watch the lead swimmer. He got closer and closer to the spout. When he was a body-length away, he dove under and the next thing I knew he was being sucked right up the center of the column of water, spinning and laughing all the way. Up and up he rose, regulating his rotational speed by alternately extending and retracting his arms and legs. As he rose, the top of the spout bent over the barge. When he reached the top, he doubled over and dove out, making a clean arc and diving into the river in front of the oncoming vessel.
One by one, the other swimmers followed suit. Lana called out again, "Come on, Judge!", and shot forward towards the spout. With growing excitement, I followed after. Lana disappeared beneath the surface, only to reappear a moment later twisting madly and rising through the column of water. I took a deep breath and followed.
Beneath the surface of the river and looking upward, the waterspout reminded me of a vortex in a bathtub. But rather than a twisting strand of air penetrating water, the places of air and water were interchanged. I raised my hands, kicked, and shot straight into its center. Lana was already too far above me to be visible, but through walls of water I could see a colorful blur of river, barge, and countryside whirling madly around me as I rose. I stretched out arms and legs to slow the spinning, and was rewarded with a clearer view of the barge as I sailed above it.
Moments later, a sharp stroke and kick drove me out through the wall of water, and I was dropping back toward the river. As I fell, I caught a glimpse of Lana's laughing, upturned face. I tucked into a ball and entered the river with a cannonball splash. The whole excursion couldn't have taken more than six or seven seconds.
"Wow! Let's do that again!" I cried, sputtering.
"OK" Lana replied, "but we'd better hurry. I don't think this will last much longer."
We swam back to the rising end of the twister. Already, patches of sunlight had begun to show through the clouds. The top of the funnel was growing smaller. "Quickly!" someone shouted. We dove, one by one, and entered the base of the ascending column of water. Once again we were enclosed in the waterspout and rising.
After the last reveller had entered the spout, the base of the funnel broke free from the surface of the river. As the spout shrunk upward toward the clouds, swimmers were exposed in sequence to drop back down to the river, like a stream of expelled watermelon seeds.
The sky was clearing in earnest as we climbed back aboard the barge. We stretched out along the rails to watch the passing scenery and dry off. "That was exhilarating" I sighed, remembering the unique thrill of the waterspout ride.
"Yes, the Lord is always springing some new surprise on us" Lana remarked. "He delights in treating us to new and wonderful experiences from day to day."
I lay back and unexpectedly dozed off. I woke to a slight chill in the air, rose and dressed. The sun was setting over the mountains upriver, streaking the sky with rays of golden orange. As it set, shadows of the peaks raced and overtook the barge, leaving us in sudden evening shadow. A few wagons away, someone had unshipped a dulcimer and was quietly plucking the strings in a soothing harmony. The music blended perfectly with the watery sounds of our passage. From a marsh across the water came the call of a bird.
Turning my gaze downriver, I could see the last rays of the setting sun glinting off of windows of some of the taller buildings of the city we were steadily approaching. The barge master, walking by, saw my attention fixed in that direction.
"Never been to Ddaeleon, eh?" he enquired pleasantly.
"No, this is my first trip" I replied.
"You're going to like her, I have no doubt. When I'm not plying the riverways I spend a lot of time in her myself. Seems as though she's almost a living thing, there's always something going on there."
Multicolored lights were winking on in the city, giving it the appearance of a growing cluster of stars on a turbulent night. I climbed up into the seat of the wagon alongside Lana. "Where in the city are you going?" I asked.
"The market is in a large park near the center." said Lana. "The river flows right through the park, so when we get off the barge we are just about there."
"Where is the spaceport?"
"On the southern edge of the city. If you watch, you can see a launch from time to time."
I strained in that direction for some while, not seeing anything out of the ordinary. "I can't see them" I announced, sounding somewhat disappointed.
"You won't see much" she chuckled. "Look for what seems a disturbance in the atmosphere".
With that clue, I returned to my search. Soon I was rewarded with what appeared to be a rising bubble of air, causing the stars behind it to be distorted as though seen through a lens. The bubble gained speed as it rose, and then suddenly winked from sight, leaving behind some rapidly fading sparks. "I saw one!" I cried out in amazement. "I can hardly wait to climb aboard and ride along!"
By now we were gliding into the outskirts of the city. Buildings of many fantastic shapes and colors were passing by the barge on either side.
I took my leave of Lana during a lull in the market activity. "Take care of yourself, and thank Joseph, Sarah, and the others for me when you get back to the farm".
"I sure will. So long for now Judge. This has been fun. I've really enjoyed your company on this trip to town."
"Thanks a lot, Lana. Say, what's a good way to the spaceport?"
"Oh, just head south. You'll find it. Ask for directions as you need them."
"See you soon."
"Bye! I love you!"
"I love you too, Lana, and the same goes for the others. Bye!"
I turned and struck out across the border of the park toward the towering buildings of the southern part of the city. Fireflies in the treetops made them appear to be decorated with moving, flashing, many-hued lights like Christmas decorations. Unlike parks of old Earth, there was not a scrap of refuse visible anywhere. Couples, children, and small groups strolled and talked among the trees.
Several varieties of fruit hung from trees I was passing. I selected one which looked like a pomegranate, reached out, and plucked it. As soon as it was detached and in my hand, the leathery skin peeled itself back in three sections as though it had been unzipped. Revealed inside were jewel-like clusters of seeds, only somewhat larger than those of a pomegranate, and multi-colored. From the center of the fruit a light shone, illuminating the seeds like a stained glass window! The sections of skin dropped to the lawn and immediately disintegrated to become part of the soil again.
I tasted the seeds, color by color, and was delighted to discover that each color had a flavor all its own. The purple was very grape-like. Orange tasted like a mellow peach-apricot hybrid. Yellow seeds were lemony and red seeds had a distinct cherry flavor. As I finished my feast and exposed more and more of the fruit's center, the light from within diminished. When I was done, I was left holding a faintly glowing spongy material, very convenient for wiping the remaining traces of juice off of my hands and mouth. That task completed, the sponge swiftly evaporated, leaving a pleasant fragrance in its wake.
My hunger satisfied, I arrived at the edge of the park and the beginning of the city proper. Traffic of all kinds moved in all directions. Pedestrians dressed in vivid colors and attractive styles strolled back and forth along the avenue. Vehicles of varied description carried people and goods along routes both horizontal and vertical. All this activity seemed to interleave smoothly and without interference. As I stepped out to cross the avenue, traffic parted effortlessly to let me pass.
A man with a small chestnut cart stood on the corner on the opposite side. "Have some chestnuts, Buddy!" he called out cheerily. I stopped by his cart and accepted a small, steaming sack from him. The warmth of the nuts felt good on my hands.
"Thanks, brother" I replied. I have always been a chestnut fancier, a love handed down to me by my father. Curious, I inquired "Where are you from?"
"Oh, I'm a New Yorker" he said. "Lower east side. I used to sell chestnuts between jobs on the subways. When I got here, I decided that I wanted to stick with the nuts for a while. I always enjoyed that a lot in New York. Got to meet a lotta nice people, and anyways, I always have loved chestnuts."
"Me too! In fact, I've long wanted to grow my own chestnut trees."
When he heard that, his eyes lit up in the delight which can only come from finding another enthusiast. "Joe's my name. Let me tell you something about raising chestnuts." Joe proceeded to go into a detailed account of the proper nurture of a chestnut grove, pausing only to hand a sack of chestnuts to the occasional passerby.
I listened attentively while I worked my way to the bottom of the bag of plump, ripe, roasted and tasty delicacies. What a treat! On old earth, it was impossible to go through a batch of chestnuts without having to discard rotted or worm-eaten nuts. Never again!
When Joe wound down a bit, I told him of my travels in the new heavens and earth, and of plans to grow some chestnuts when I returned to my "home" after my first big trip.
"Which reminds me... I'm on my way to the spaceport. Can you head me in the right direction?"
"Sure. I can do better than that!" Stepping out from behind his cart, Joe took his white cap and began waving it at the passing vehicles. Moments later, a glistening red bubble floated to a stop on the pavement in front of us. "Take my friend to the spaceport, will you?" Joe asked the driver.
"No problem, Joe. Hop in!" I climbed in beside the driver. As I turned to thank Joe for the chestnuts, he ducked behind his cart, calling out "Wait!" as he went. In a moment he was back, taking and pressing something cold and hard into my hand. When I opened my hand, there were three large, beautiful, uncooked chestnuts resting in my palm.
"For starting your new chestnut grove."
My eyes welled up with tears of gratitude, both to Joe and to the Lord for His goodness to me. I squeezed Joe's hand, and he stepped back to his cart and waved as my driver lifted off for the spaceport. "Farewell, Joe!" I called out as we flew away. "Come visit me when you will!"
Turning to my driver, I inquired who he might be. "I have not yet received a name" he replied. "I am simply one of many messengers." With this statement, and upon closer inspection, I realized with surprise that my driver was one of the Lord's myriad angels. My next surprise was to recognize that I was not in a vehicle at all; my entire transport was the angel himself!
"I hope I'm not putting you out." I said, still in wonderment.
While we talked, the angel was skillfully negotiating the city traffic. "Not at all!" he replied. "It is my greatest joy to serve you as well as all your brothers and sisters, heirs of salvation. For this is what our Lord has created me for, and I am sure you know there is no greater pleasure than fulfilling one's purpose."
Now, as a dweller on old earth, I fear you may be getting the wrong impression. Unlike New York, Amsterdam, or Paris, this city is a thing of unmitigated beauty. The buildings which flashed alongside me as we sped to the spaceport all display high imagination in their architecture. Availability of materials of unlimited beauty and strength means complete freedom for the creativity of architects. No trace of soot or pollution coats any surface or fills any crevice.
There is, of course, no "wrong side of the tracks" in this city. Dwellers here enjoy the optimum standard of living in every aspect. There is no crime or poverty to mar the beauty of society. No police department! Just as Lana and I had brought in produce from the farm, so from all directions goods and treasures of every description are brought here and made freely available to all who have the need or desire of them. Wonderful and amazing products created within the borders of this happy burg also flow back to the surrounding countryside to please and delight and sustain the residents there.
I would have regretted speeding by avenue after avenue of wonderful amusements, theaters, and curio shops, were it not for my certain knowledge that I had all of eternity to return and explore them to my soul's content. So for the present, I simply enjoyed the panorama slipping by me on either side, (making a couple of mental notes of particular streets to return to) and carried on some small-talk with the angel.
It seems he had been present at some interesting events in history, including the fall of Jericho. This sparked my interest, so the rest of the trip to the spaceport passed very quickly. How strange that so many people lived so many years of old earth history without at all realizing that there was a spiritual dimension to reality! Nowadays, there is much less of a distinction between the physical and the spiritual. They are in fact integrally connected and co-dependent, and the spiritual is no longer hidden from the view of the physical.
Before I knew it, the angel was descending to let me out at the entrance to the city spaceport. I thanked him sincerely for the ride, turned, and walked through the corridor connecting the city with the port.
The corridor between the city and the spaceport was very long, and very deliberately so. As I walked along it, vistas depicting strange alien surroundings shone out from what appeared to be illuminated posters on the walls. However, whenever one particularly caught my attention to the point where I would approach for a closer look, it was as though the "poster" expanded to become an entire room surrounding me with more information, expanded views, animated sequences, and recorded remarks from other travelers who had been there before. Stepping back again, the entire surroundings would shrink back to poster size once again on the corridor wall.
I continued down the corridor with a renewed appreciation for the wonders around me. A poster of Saturn caught my eye, and I approached for a deeper look at the possibilities of a trip there. Immediately, it seemed as though I was suspended in velvety space with the gas giant slowly spinning below me. By walking, I could stroll along the ring system like a sidewalk, all the while listening to a narrative of the wonders of the planet and the features of the accommodations there for travelers. As each of Saturn's moons came into view, I could turn towards it and find information about waystations and colonies there. I backed away and was once more in the spaceport corridor.
Down the path I went, passing grand views of Jupiter, Mars, Neptune, and many more remote destinations - the Andromeda galaxy, the Whirlpool double galaxy, planetary nebulae, star clusters - wait! was that what it looked like? Yes, there was a poster advertising Omega Centauri!
Omega Centauri, a very large and truly beautiful globular cluster in the southern hemisphere. I thought back to cold nights of wonder on old earth, on a mountainside somewhere with my home- made telescope, shivering with the cold but unable to leave the eyepiece because of the spell of this spectacular part of God's handiwork! A huge ball of many thousands of stars, light-years across, set like a crown jewel along the rim of our spiral galaxy. And here it was, re-created to a state of perfection in which I could see that it was the same cluster, yet perfected, glorified, and beautified almost beyond belief.
I stepped toward the poster, as though drawn by a magnet, and was instantly transported visually to a point in space where the entire cluster is visible to the naked eye. In three-dimensional relief, each star could be distinguished from every other, each having its own brightness and color and special character. As I walked toward the cluster, I seemed to plunge right through and penetrate it, surrounded on all sides by the magnificent brilliance. It became apparent that many of the stars boasted planetary systems. I was becoming more certain that this was the tour I should take. I reached out, as if to take a planet into my hand. Faces and voiced appeared, ready to tell me all about it.
"This planet is shared by two suns in the Omega Centauri cluster" a voice was saying, "orbiting them in a figure eight pattern. It is smaller than earth, having a surface gravity about one-third earth normal. Although thinner than that of earth, its atmosphere is predominantly oxygen so that breathing is easy. The planet has been outfitted so that the adventure traveller may enjoy many exciting and amusing pastimes."
Grasping the "planet", I rotated it and drew it closer. My view zoomed in to reveal water parks and fairy-tale cities and paths for travel. Yes, this was certainly a good destination for my first space travel adventure!
Rather than a traditional countdown, when the appointed time arrived our ship simply began its upward flight with no notice at all. I had already taken a seat near the transparent outer wall, so as not to miss any of the action. Not that it mattered at all, because there was no sensation of motion whatever as we lifted off; the only way to tell we were moving was to look outside and see the ground falling away. Other, perhaps more seasoned, passengers continued to move about and to carry on conversations. My attention, however, was riveted on the view outside.
The spaceport dropped away, revealing the glory of the city lights. I felt as though I was in a glass-encased elevator, rising with ever increasing speed. More and more of the city became visible as we climbed, until the entirety of it was laid out at my feet like a pool of blazing gemstones on a velvet backdrop. I could see the river in the moonlight, winding away back up into the hills whence I had come.
Ever faster we rose, soon imparting a distinct curve to the horizon. Lights from other cities and settlements appeared in outlying areas. In moments, the entire circle of the earth was visible, silhoetted against a background of starry space. The moon at my back grew larger, and then as we turned to avoid it, the sun like a diamond rose over an edge of the earth, momentarily blinding me to all else.
By the time I recovered clarity of vision, we had passed the moon and were rapidly leaving it and earth in our wake. I was in outer space, on my way to another star system!
I rose and took a walking tour of the ship. If you imagine a soap bubble thirty yards across, having its lower two thirds filled with concentric tiers of passenger seats facing outward, you will not be too far wrong. There is not a bad seat in the house! I rose and walked along an aisle toward the center of the vessel. There I found a staircase spiraling up towards the center. Following the staircase up, I came to a portal. I opened it, stepped through, and found myself in the control room with several crew members.
"Excuse me" I said, preparing to leave.
"No excuse necessary" replied one who may have been the captain. "Stay and visit a while, if you will"
"Thank you, I will".
The trip to Omega Centauri was as swift as it was pleasant. That immense star cluster continued to grow in both size and brilliance as we drew ever closer. The colors of individual stars became ever more apparent.
"Please return to your seats for empodment" came a command to all of our ears. I quickly found my way to my seat. No sooner had I sat down than my seat became encased with a thin, transparent, but tough bubble. Looking around, I could see the same thing happening to all my fellow passengers.
The pod touched down on a scene that could have been a set from Star Trek. As soon as it touched the surface, it burst in a shower of cushioning feathers which began to blow away in the breeze. I was in a valley between two steep cliffs. Each cliff face was honeycombed with the entrances to caves.
For the first time in my life, I stood on the surface of another world! I remember as a boy often fantasizing about walking the face of the moon, or Mars, or some more exotic sphere. I used to devour science fiction novels like candy, flying away in the realm of my imagination to wonderful, faraway places. And now, here I was, living the stuff of my dreams!
Shouldering my pack, I strode toward a nearby opening in the cliff face.
Almost home! Such joyous anticipation! Of course, if I've told you once I've told you a dozen times, everywhere I have gone in these travels I've been at home. Yet, there is a sense in which the home I am returning to now is very specially my own.
Our approach to New Earth has been breathtaking. It first appeared as a blue marble in the distance, then grew to the blue and white jewel of startling beauty now hanging before us in space.
I have requested meteoric delivery directly to my homestead. My experience of this form of reentry at Omega Centauri was so enjoyable I wanted to try it again. Besides, this will save me the overland travel from the spaceport back to "Judge's Bit O Heaven". Along with my baggage, I am tucked into my entry pod, enjoying the view and waiting for the release.
A sudden "punch" and I am cut loose, leaving the starship behind and falling toward the earth. It is night in my part of the world. I wonder how many of my family and friends may be outside, and looking upward at this moment? My pod quivers, and trails of colored fire appear as I plunge into the atmosphere. Once again, I am a falling star! Only, this time my destination is my very own home turf.
Perhaps Walter and Sara, Lana and the others on the farm are looking up through the skylights of their upper room even now, watching me streak across the heavens. I wonder if Joe can see me through the bright lights of the city streets? Maybe Teller is out on the mountainside even now, looking up in wonder. Certainly many other brothers and sisters, whom I will yet meet, are witnessing my joyous passage.
My tiny capsule unerringly rides its trail of fire down the sky, constantly slowing, bringing me closer to home. It has been a wonderful trip! And to think, I have not yet visited more than the most minuscule fraction of the kosmos! I have yet to meet and know and love more than just a tiny few of the innumerable company of my fellow-citizens! And those I have met are already my fast friends forever.
I can see dark outlines of the alpine foothills where my earth- sheltered cottage is nestled. Mountain lakes mirror back the glories of the moon and stars, fractured and bent into fantastic shapes by wind-formed wavelets. In a pond directly below, I watch my reflection as the pod slows below flame-speed and the red/green fire winks out. I am almost drifting now, like a soap bubble suspended above the earth.
Warm yellow lights dot the hillsides here and there, indicating that at least some of my good neighbors are yet awake. I strain to catch a glimpse of my homestead. Wait! There it is! The unmistakable outline of the observatory dome in the moonlight, the grove of Hungarian apricot trees on the hill, the bulge of the Hobbit-like entryway to my house.
I am moving very slowly indeed now, settling toward my front lawn like a leaf drifting down from a tree in autumn. At the slightest touch of a blade of grass, my pod bursts with a popping sound, disintegrating into a shower of fragrant rose petals. I pick up my belongings as the petals begin to blow away in the mountain breeze. I am home!
Before entering my house, I rummage about in my knapsack in search of three very particular items; here they are! The three chestnuts given me by Joe back in the city. Finding a spade in my toolshed, I plant the nuts in places of honor: one before the doorway, to shade it in summer, one before my bedroom window, to cheer my heart as I look out in the morning, and one along the road in front, for the pleasure of passers-by. When these three chestnuts bear fruit, it will be time enough to take of their seed and plant a chestnut grove up by the apricots.
I enter the house, and am almost knocked over by a furry form. Sparrow! My sister must have left the pup here to greet me! "How are you, fellow? It's good to see you!" I cry, pausing to drop my things and scratch Sparrow's fuzzy, floppy ears.
An indignant yowl assails me from behind, and I turn to see its source. "Gideon! How are you doing, fellow? I didn't mean to ignore you!" My favorite cat is stretched out across the hall, waiting for me to pet him. His waiting is rewarded as I stroke him in greeting.
I can't forget the time Gideon disappeared back on old earth. I waited and hoped for weeks that he would return. Finally despairing of his safety, I concluded that he must have tried to befriend a coyote up in the hills behind the house.
My days after that were diminished in joy, without friend cat to greet me when I returned home from work. But I cherished the hope that, just as not a single sparrow falls to the ground without the Father's knowledge, even so the Father would remember my friend. And so he has! Here, in this place where the lion reclines with the lamb, my friend Gideon will never again be ill rewarded for his warm and friendly nature.
The greetings of old friends completed, I hang my jacket on a peg in the wall, pull off my shoes, don my slippers, pick up my satchel and turn left from the entryway into the kitchen. As I enter, lights come on to reveal a modest but adequate room dedicated to the preparation of food. In one corner a waterfall cascades through an opening in the wall and down into a basin below. Setting my satchel on the kitchen table, I go to a cupboard, take down a glass, fill it from the falling water and drink deeply. It is good to be home!
Another cupboard yields a piece of cheese and a loaf, which I carry to the table after selecting a paring knife from the block. I use the knife (sharp as the day it was made, of course) to pare off several slabs of cheese and bread, which I eat with thanksgiving and wash down with crystal clear water. As I eat, I go through the mail which has been left for me on the table. The first is a note from my sister.
Welcome home! I thought Sparrow would enjoy your company for a few days (and vise versa) now that you are home from your trip. Here is some mail which arrived for you while you were gone.
See you soon!
How was your trip? Things are grand down here on the farm in the valley. We decided that we want to see you again soon, and that the chances of that would be enhanced if you have transportation, so check your garage in the morning!
Walter, Sarah, Lana, Joseph
Welcome back from your first big tour! I know this is something you've wanted to do for many years, and I'm sure it was every bit as wonderful and more so than you ever imagined possible.
The boys are fine, both of them working doing things they always dreamed of doing, but never imagined they would be able to do. I am doing very well, better than ever now. I have really found a niche here in the city, and I love my work. It is so good to have all of our troubles and sorrows behind us forever!
Can we plan on a family reunion sometime soon? Say when, and I'll arrange to come with the boys and stay with you for a while. We'll have some more good times for old times sake.
Your loving ex-wif,
I finish my cheese and bread, and sweep the crumbs to the floor for Sparrow and Gideon to battle over. I want to visit my workshop again. I rise and walk out of the kitchen and a little further down the hall. Turning left, I enter one of the happiest rooms I have ever known.
The lights come up to disclose an cavernous room of unusual shape and many levels. This is my workshop, carefully designed and constructed to accommodate the wide variety of projects I work on from day to day and week to week. One wall is covered with hand tools of all shapes, sizes, and descriptions. As absent-minded as I am, I could never keep them all straight if it weren't that the Lord has assigned me a special messenger (just a tiny fellow, not much larger than a humming bird) to help me find things and to put them back in place when I have laid them aside and not used them for a while. He also chats with me and keeps me company when I don't have any visitors in the shop.
I drifted slowly to consciousness. Sounds were the first things to begin penetrating the gentle cloak of slumber. Birds sang out praise to the Father. Leaves scuffed like tissue paper on Christmas morning. Somewhere nearby the pleasant gurgle of running water chimed in.
Light was next - not the brazen glare of a headlight, but rather the soft amber and mellow vermilion that fill the scene when your eyes are closed. Shadows of burnt sienna danced and played with the sparkling flashes that eyes seem to produce entirely on their own when closed.
I kept my eyes closed a bit longer. I had been dreaming again, and very pleasant dreams they were. While I tried to hang on to those fading fancies with a part of me, another part was crying out to get on with the day!
The first day of summer vacation! That's what this must be! The whole summer stretched out before me, no onerous chores to weigh down the mind and heart, no dull classes to attend, no more homework....
A feeling of deep, unshakable contentment filled me, working its way from the center of my being outward along my limbs to every last extremity. I opened my eyes to find myself snuggled in my own bed, in my own cottage on my own land in my own place in heaven.