I have no idea how long it was before I finally became aware of my furry friend nuzzling me. I felt wiped out but so much better than after my ignominious first exit from the Palace, heaven or whatever it was.|
Those last words got me distracted again. If it were heaven, where was God? Where was the throne? Where were the redeemed? Shouldn’t there be some seraphim and cherubim somewhere? Was it just a meeting place for angels?
Hungry mosquitos were less annoying than all the unanswered questions buzzing around in my head. If only I could shoo them away and focus on more important things. But what things are more important? Oh no! More questions.
The cute creature kept acting as if he wanted me to follow him again. I heaved myself up.
Showing off his gorgeous tail, the little critter set off, and I followed.
After a while he picked up the pace. Strength was returning to me and I began to run to keep him in sight, wondering why I was even bothering. I broke into a slight sweat. Suddenly, what looked rather like a swarm of pestering flies encircled my head. I was about to shoo them away when I noticed that their wings were fanning me in a most refreshing manner. I decided to put up with the flies until they started annoying me by landing on me. That never happened. I cooled and they flew off as suddenly as they had arrived.
I told myself it was merely coincidental that they arrived the instant I had the slightest need for cooling and left the moment I no longer needed it. Nevertheless, in a spurt of madness, I felt like royalty – as if all of nature existed to serve me, tending to my every need like worker bees treat their queen. The thought humbled me, but I hastily pulled myself together. I was an alien in what might still turn out to be a dangerous environment. This was no time for delusion. And yet, despite the protests of my intellect, I strode on with a new dignity and oozed a still-deeper tenderness towards every plant and creature I saw; as if they were my precious, loving subjects to be cherished and protected.
A strange but beautiful sensation enveloped me. I have no name for it. Goaded by my longing to make this priceless encounter as real to you as it was to me, I have reheated the leftovers of the memory and, like a connoisseur savoring the finest cuisine, tried to discern the ingredients. An element or two might have eluded me, but there was no mistaking the strong presence of holy awe. Masterfully blended with this, however, were other ingredients, transforming this sacred awakening into something truly incomparable. Ecstasy was one ingredient. Humility was another. And it was sprinkled with a deliciously warm coating of cozy security.
I still mourn my failure to adequately convey the experience. Here’s my final, quite different attempt: describing it would have to include words like rapturous, ethereal, exquisite, beatific, wondrous, heavenly, matchless . . .
As alien as this place was, it seemed like, for the first time ever, I were where I truly belonged. I felt as if I were so much the focus of loving attention that even the plants were happy to see me. It was quite ridiculous, of course. Through the ‘water’ and the spider bite, I had taken into my system an unknown cocktail of chemicals. That, I rationalized, had to be the real explanation for this flight beyond reality. Nevertheless, it was a delightful fantasy.
The air, the light, a leaf – everything here magnified my appreciation of its Creator, and intensified my longing for him. Here, creation seemed served up fresh from the Maker’s hands, like bread hot from the baker’s oven. Earth’s freshest sunrise, most exquisite rosebud, most delightful baby, now seemed like stale crusts that had been trampled under humanity’s feet. Prior to leaving earth, I had no conception of the extent to which everything on that dark planet is tainted with an imperfection that is utterly contrary to the nature of God. Everything on earth is in decay.
I knew not whether earth is the only place subject to such corruption. I had often puzzled over Scripture saying that even the stars are not pure in God’s sight. Nevertheless, experiencing earthly things is like trying to discern the artistry in a vandalized, sun-bleached, storm-battered watercolor.
Have you ever bought a car and then started seeing many more cars like it than you have ever seen before? Traffic had not changed, but because that model car now meant more to you, you saw traffic differently. Since visiting other worlds I keep seeing in earthly things the Maker’s fingerprint like never before, because the Maker means much more to me now. And, like finding the key to a puzzle, I find his faded fingerprint more discernible in the despoiled things of earth because I now have a clearer notion of what to look for. I don’t think I could ever again see so much as a snail, a raindrop, or a grain of sand, through the same eyes.
I presumed the place I was visiting was so exquisite because it was somehow quarantined from sin’s corruption. If so, that raised a most disturbing thought: what if I ruined Paradise? What if I had killed that spider? Or would I have been struck dead before being allowed to take a life? If I had left that rock out of place would this Paradise be then less than perfect for the first time ever – all because of me? Could my every step be upsetting some delicate balance? “God help me!” I prayed, chiding myself that even in this place God was too rarely in my thoughts.
When philosophically discussing environmental matters, one of my favorite sayings was that humanity is out of harmony with creation because humanity is out of harmony with its Creator. This I believed, but I still ran roughshod over the environment. It was on par with my certainty that through committing my daily life and spiritual destiny into Jesus’ hands, God viewed me as having the moral perfection of Christ. That allowed the Holy One to take up residence within me. It meant I would end up perfect in the life to come and in everyday life this perfection was being worked out in me such that I was gradually breaking sin’s strongholds in my life. But I was certainly not perfect yet. Now that I was trampling through this paradisiacal place, could my imperfections have disastrous consequences for me or for this world?
I suddenly froze. In the middle of the path was a swarm of ants. In their midst was a pile of cherry-like objects. I had just moments before discovered I was feeling a little hungry and the thought of cherries now heightened my hunger. Without moving my feet, lest I injure an ant, I squatted down to inspect the scene. Teams of ants were carrying individual ‘cherries’ and adding them to the pile. Then one team brought a ‘cherry’ right up to my feet and gently rocked it back and forth as though they were offering it to me. I took it, then peered underneath, expecting to see ants dangling from it. That’s strange! Each of them must have let go the instant I took it. It certainly looked like fruit. Using my fingernail as a makeshift blade, I tore it apart. It was juicy and fleshy with no stone or obvious seeds. Was it edible?
I recalled once being advised that if faced with starvation and I found some unknown berries, I should rub one on some sensitive skin, such as my armpit, and see if I have an allergic reaction. It was claimed this would give a valuable clue as to whether the possible food source is edible. It sounded messy and I assumed one would need to wait quite some time to be sure the skin does not react, and even then it would not be foolproof.
I looked up, and to my surprise the animal I had been following was right in front of me, looking inquisitively at me. Almost as soon as it caught my eye, it ate a ‘cherry,’ then looked up at me, then ate another. While this was happening, I noticed that the ants were leaving.
I hauled up from my memory times as a child when I sampled the exotic fruits of ornamental trees and shrubs. I had felt secure because I always waited until I had observed birds eating the fruit. It was not until years later that I heard to my horror that birds can feed off things that are poisonous to humans.
I had already taken enormous risks in this alien world and each had apparently paid off. Dare I take yet another risk? It certainly looks good to eat, I thought. I winced as it hit me that Eve had uttered almost those exact words. Yes, even Eden had its forbidden fruit. At last I realized that yet again I was on the verge of making a small but possibly critical decision without bothering to ask the only One who knows everything and therefore the only One whose guidance is fully trustworthy.
So I prayed.
My furry friend looked at the ‘cherries,’ then at me, as if trying to urge me to eat them. I tentatively licked the juice on my fingers left from when I had opened one. It was delicious. Tossing caution aside I hungrily gobbled handfuls until none was left.
I smiled to myself, At last I’ve found some ants I’d be happy to picnic with! Then I wondered if I had done the right thing. Was I headed for a serious belly ache, or worse?
The animal was off again, waving its fluffy tail in the air as it pranced along the path. I followed, careful not to tread on any remaining ants, but all had left. I pursued the animal, pondering how my needs had apparently once again been met by a surprising coincidence.
The path drew close to the creek again, and passed a particularly idyllic spot where trees laden with flowers drooped over the water. Then it hit me: Australian aborigines used to make a sweet drink by swishing flowers laden with nectar in a crude container of water. Could flowers dropping into the creek explain the water’s taste? It was just a theory, but the possibility of a fairly simple, natural explanation was satisfying. No, it was more than that. I found it comforting. I desperately needed assurance that this strange world was real.
I came to a pond. In Australia, it might be called a billabong. The very word melts my cares away, conjuring warm, lazy days and the melodic bonk-bonk of banjo frogs calling each other. I peered into the smooth, glassy waters, then jumped; startled by the reflection of a stranger. As I jumped, I looked around for the stranger and then back at the water, the reflection mirrored my movements. It took a couple more moments to verify that it really was my reflection. What staggered me is that the reflection looked vaguely like me but was of someone quite good-looking. I do not enjoy looking in mirrors but I have done so enough to know I am far from good-looking. I presume from the total disinterest with which women treat me that I am at least slightly repulsive to them. For a split second I began to wonder what it would be like if ten percent of women actually found me attractive. I stopped myself. Wishful thinking only intensifies the pain. Anyhow, I needed to solve the mystery of why in this water I was good-looking.
Has my face changed? Is there something weird about the reflection? Have I somehow undergone a psychological change, causing me to view myself more positively? Is this how God sees me? Is this what I would look like if it had not been for Adam’s sin messing up the human gene pool? Is this how my resurrection body will look? The questions flowed but the answers backed up.
A bird began to warble and another joined it with a melodious sound better described as a chirp. It hardly surprised me that each bird sounded more magnificent than any birdsong I had ever before heard. I was coming to expect such superiority in this place. But what enthralled me was the way their quite distinct calls harmonized and blended perfectly. There was nothing random or haphazard. If ever I have heard a duet, this was a duet. “Antiphonal singing,” I said out loud, priding myself in knowing the term, and once again enjoying the sound of my voice. In some species of earth birds, after pairing off to raise young, the male and female blend their birdcalls into a duet, perhaps to maintain their bond.
I must see those birds, I told myself. After a few moments of peering up trees and through leaves I spotted them. I was taken aback. I looked from one to the other, confirming they were definitely the source of the sound. The large one had a toucan-like beak and impressive claws and predominantly teal plumage with a red head and yellow collar. The other, at about a fifth its size, was finch-like. It was bright pink gray with a ruby-colored breast. I realized that this was a totally different world and that even on earth, birds can differ markedly in appearance according to their gender and maturity. Nevertheless, I was convinced that the birds harmonizing like I had never heard two earthly birds harmonize, were completely different species. “Birds of a feather . . . ,” I quoted to myself, amazed to see this earthly saying not applying here.
I was just beginning to come to terms with this, when a third, utterly different voice joined them. It, too, blended with perfection. I looked in the direction of the new voice to discover it was coming from the animal I had been following. I looked wide-eyed at the animal, then looked back at the birds. Now I was truly flabbergasted. If I were not above such emotion, there would have been tears in my eyes; not because of the matchless beauty of their sounds but to see such diverse creatures uniting in song.
While their wordless song continued, something on the ground caught my attention. I peered down to discover ants engaged in the most peculiar movements. I smiled at the thought that an uneducated person might come to the absurd conclusion that the ants were dancing to the music.
A swarm of flies appeared in the air. They alternately swarmed into a dense ball and dispersed into a less dense swarm, rhythmically repeating this over and over, with variations, creating a visual display that could be mistaken for being in time with the music. Of course I sensibly dismissed that interpretation as impossible. Nevertheless, it was both a fascinating phenomenon and aesthetically pleasing.
What sounded like various species of frog started up. One species gave a syncopated croak. Others were more melodious, but none clashed with each other. I admit I am not musical, but I am neither tone deaf nor totally without rhythm. I swear that each of these sounds added to the birds’ song, emphasizing the beat.
Then another out-of-sight creature sounded, and then another, and another. I detected crickets and monkey-like animals and all sorts of fascinating creatures but most were hidden by the dense forest. Some creatures seemed limited to a single pitch, with the pitch varying from species to species. Each broke their silence only at appropriate musical moments. Before long it was like a vast orchestra of hundreds of completely different instruments all blending together under the hand of an invisible conductor.
A swam of red insects joined the flies, sometimes mingling with them, sometimes not, thus making more intricate than ever, the varying patterns the flies were creating. Then shiny blue flying beetles arrived, followed shortly by brilliant green dragon flies. Were I looking at a computer-generated screen I could simply dismiss it as beautiful. That it was a living display, however, left me flabbergasted. And I could no longer resist the conclusion that the pulsating, ever-changing patterns matched the music.
That peculiar breeze sprang up again, giving the illusion of each leaf and flexible branch in every bush and tree joining in this amazing concert. It was not that every plant was blown at the same time. It was a bush here, then a tree over there, then one closer. It was a little like someone would use hand bells for musical effect. Different trees and bushes seemed to yield slightly different sounds but I suspected that for the most part the subtlety was beyond my ears.
Finally, I could resist no longer. I, too, joined in. This was an even greater surprise than what was going on around me. I sing like an asthmatic cow. I am occasionally capable of appreciating music but I usually regard it as brain-numbing, sentimental waffle; a mere distraction from intellectual pursuits and worthwhile endeavors. Nevertheless, I raised in song the new voice I had somehow gained in this world and, like a river, words flowed over my lips.
I have no idea where the words came from but I certainly could not produce such a torrent. Writing is my preferred medium because it gives me the time I need to get my words together. Even in this book, when seeking to capture the blur of thoughts bolting through my frenzied brain, it has taken considerable effort to crystallize the muddle into words that would be intelligible to anyone else. Admittedly, I find it ridiculously hard to be satisfied with anything I do but I’ve been known to spend an hour to knock a single sentence into shape. And I most certainly cannot produce original tunes. It’s beyond me how anyone achieves that. My few attempts at musical originality have inevitably ended up being a tune I have already heard. Nevertheless, I was singing a continually new song, and it blended exquisitely with the music around me.
I deliberately skipped a note or two, just to satisfy myself that I still had control over the words and music coming from my mouth. I discovered that in addition to being able to alter the loudness and speed, whatever I chose to think about ended up perfectly melded into the lyrics. The words were too numerous and spontaneous to be originating in my mind and yet I was contributing to this musical miracle. I could stop at any moment, but who would want to end a miracle? Rather than being reduced to a mindless automaton, my mental powers were somehow being enhanced. Every word and every note seemed to pump new life into me. It was as if for my entire earthly life I had been semi-comatose and only now was I at last coming to life. The process itself was enough to overwhelm me with awe but this was totally eclipsed by adoration for my Creator.
Words and melody cascaded from my mouth without repetition or interruption for what I believe was hours. Equally surprising was that as my voice rose and fell in an unrehearsed musical treat, so did that of all of nature, as together we joined in song. I felt I was harmonizing not only with all of creation but with the Creator himself.
To me it was priceless, but I will not risk your patience by filling a book with all the words that came from nowhere and bubbled through my lips. A tiny sample will suffice.
Lion and lamb, romp together
Trees, reach up to your Maker;
Lord, all creation praises you.
You give all things to all.
Our greatest longing,
Complete our joy,
Assume your right,
On and on I sang, feeling like the pinnacle of creation; privileged beyond measure to be able to articulate for all creation what each, to its varying intellectual capacity, felt towards its Maker. Continuously rising within me, to a higher and higher and still higher level, was a longing to pour out my life in worship to the Giver of life. Never have I felt so convinced that to enjoy God is to truly live.
I confess to a little silliness in the midst of the most beautifully artistic thing I have ever been a part of. To my horror, I found my arms rising heavenward in worship. Don’t misunderstand: I have never before done this, nor have I since broken my vow never to act like a fanatic. Nevertheless, at that time it seemed perfectly natural. It seemed, in fact, that I was harmonizing with the trees as their upward branches waved in that peculiar wind. This, in turn, made me feel closer to all of creation, as on their behalf I worded praise to our Creator.
Yes, I was guilty of being carried away with emotion. I don’t think I was high on spider venom. You are free to form your own opinion. All I can say is that as I write this I am coldly sober and yet the memory still floods my heart with praise.
After perhaps an hour of delighting in the God of all, and listening in fascination at the ever-changing words and tune, I heard myself sing:
Let the mountains quake before the Lord,
Just then, the ground began to rumble. Alarmed, I broke off my song. What have I done? I must be careful as what I say! The animals continued without interruption.
Recalling stories of animals seeming to sense oncoming disasters, I took comfort from the way the creatures seemed quite unconcerned. As both the quake and nature’s symphony continued, I slowly relaxed, and even began to enjoy the rhythmical, almost exhilarating movement of the ground beneath me. It seemed to add bass to the music and it seemed to vary in rhythm in a way appropriate to the music. As the quake continued I tentatively tried to sing and words began to flow again. Soon I was back to full volume.
I felt like the piece that had been missing from a sophisticated machine. Now at last I was fitted where I belong. The switch was flicked and at last everything functioned like the maker had always intended. Reference to a machine, however, belies the fact that I, and everything I fitted in to, was vibrantly alive. In fact, I was like an instantly healed spastic. The unresponsive part that had sprung to life was all of subhuman creation. Nature now seemed to act in harmony with my mind, almost as much as my physical body acts according to my wishes. No longer was nature a separate entity that usually refused to respond and sometimes caused me pain. At long last, subhuman creation was almost a functioning part of me, with every part serving me by fulfilling my goal of worshipping the God I was made for. And worship was not some formality. It was the height of intimacy; the purest, most uplifting, fulfilling experience in the universe. Worship joined me to the Source of my joy, enabling God’s life, love, goodness and perfection to gush through me in an inexhaustible torrent of perfection. It turned the intimacy of earthly lovers into an empty, childish game of make-believe; like pretending that a toy is the real thing and that a mud pie tastes delicious.
Finally, what seemed like an unseen angelic choir joined in, completing the masterpiece. Yes! I told myself triumphantly, This is the final element. Now all creation is united in praise. Eventually, the music came to its finale. The ground stilled, along with the wind and every creature. There was total silence, like a hushed yet, joyous, love-filled reverence. I stood motionless for quite some time, allowing my emotions to wind down, like a pounding heart returning to normality.