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Chapter 4: The Dark Planet
Suddenly I was on earth again. I recognized it immediately. Back to the grime. Back to the murky atmosphere. My mind flashed through memories of earth – flowers, sunsets, mountains. Then it hit me: sin pervades everything – even nature – on this planet. Everything reeks of it. Why had I not noticed it before?
Without even considering such wonders as the “sparklers,” merely the difference in the physical atmosphere and light were enough to make returning to earth leave me feeling like a cross between a multi-millionaire suddenly made bankrupt and a love-crazed romantic reeling at the discovery that the one who means everything to her has deserted her.
And I felt physically different. Sort of – heavier. Had I become weaker, or was I in the process of readjusting to earth’s gravity? I was still trying to take this in when a new emotion hit me. I felt violated. I had noticed my sleeve and then in shock quickly examined the rest of me. Someone had completely undressed me, removing every article of clothing, and put weird clothes on me. My wallet was gone. I looked in vain for my watch. Then on my bare wrist I noticed my suntan. How did I get so brown? Just how big a hole is there in my memory? Could I have been living here for years? I’m dressed roughly the same as everyone. Then again, if I believed in fairy tales, my change of location, clothing and skin color could have happened in an instant.
My mind flashed to the Bible where Philip suddenly found himself in a different location. What I could recall of the account provided no clues. Then I had another thought. I recalled those bright “sparklers” back – wherever and whenever it was. Had they emitted ultraviolet light and tanned me? If so, why hadn’t I noticed my darker skin when I was in the forest? There was no white band where my watch used to be. When had I last had my watch?
There was no time to consider all of that. My mind raced to weightier matters. Who had done this to me? Why? And – more disturbing still – when? I was aware of no time lapse since I was in that forest. I must have lost consciousness or somehow lost memory of what had happened when someone had undressed and reclothed me. I recalled as a kid reading in a magazine about a woman who regained consciousness to find herself dressed somewhat like I was. She had been drugged and kidnapped. The article was about white slavery. In a panic, I looked around. No one was guarding me. Was this my one chance of escape? But escape to where? I looked around and saw people and architecture suggesting I was in some third world village. A remote part of Afghanistan was my guess. To my relief, I could see no guns.
Then I saw him. He was surrounded by people. Everyone’s attention was riveted on him. He looked ordinary, and yet everything about him – voice, gestures, facial expressions – conveyed a powerful and peculiar mix of humility and authority. He had the air of a man who knew exactly where he is going; a man so confident that he had not the slightest need to prove himself to anyone. Like everyone else, I was captivated by this man.
I strained to hear his every word . . .
“When someone invites you to a feast, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted. Many who are first now will be last.”
His lip movements did not correspond with what I was hearing, and yet I still could not take my eyes off him. “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them. Not so with you. Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man,” he drew his outstretched hands a little closer to himself, “comes not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
I tried to move closer, but there were just too many people. True, there was a small space to my front left but I decided to give that a miss. The spot was covered with animal (donkey?) manure. This was not a good time to be wearing open sandals. At least no one was staring at me, however.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you when men hate you for my sake. Leap for joy in that day, because great is your reward in Heaven.
He’s either a superb actor, or this isn’t Afghanistan. In fact . . . The very thought made me sick. If that’s who I think it is, this isn’t even the twenty-first century. It would be hard enough to get back to my own country, but how could I possibly find my way back to a different century?
He continued to speak and I found myself so stirred by his message that my very real concerns began to fall away.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
“Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Do good to those who hate you. If you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. But love your enemies, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Give, and it will be given to you. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. “
The conviction and passion and intensity with which he spoke so gripped my attention as to leave me almost overwhelmed. To put on paper what he said is to so drain it of color and life as to be like reading about a sunset rather than actually seeing one. But something far more exciting and significant was happening within me than could ever be explained in terms of his voice and body language. My very spirit was being supernaturally illumined. Truths I had thought I knew were suddenly exploding into spiritual life within me. No longer were these theological tenets or moral principles. They were life; they were revelation that seemed almost on par with a discovery that would explain the entire universe. With every word, vital jigsaw pieces were snapping into place. Eternal mysteries were being resolved.
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor,” continued the man. (He was just an amazing actor, wasn’t he? I mean he really couldn’t be . . .) “Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out; a treasure in Heaven that will not be exhausted. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
“I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
A burly man near the front interrupted, “We have left everything to follow you! What will there be for us?”
The man who had everyone’s attention smiled, “I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on thrones, judging Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or land for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and eternal life as well.”
“What fantastic teaching!” said someone, “I could listen to it for hours!” I had been so mesmerized by the proceedings that the voice startled me as though I were waking from a dream. There was something familiar about that voice. I looked round and there was Gabriel with two other angels. Until then, I had not even noticed them there. No one paid them the slightest attention. It was as if they were invisible to everyone, and yet I could see and hear them as clearly as I could see everyone else.
Gabriel, laughed like no human I’ve ever heard. “You have been listening for hours! The sun’s going down!”
“Teeeeeoool!” exclaimed the first angel, looking around as if suddenly becoming more aware of his surroundings.
“No one in any universe has lived those words like that Man will,” remarked another angel. He was surprisingly chubby by angelic standards. Until seeing him I would not have thought it possible for the one person to look both cute and majestic, but he did.
“They are truly living words,” mused Gabriel. “They not only bring life, but they fall from the lips of God-become-man, who is the Living Word.”
There was a slight pause. Then the chubby angel said, “You know, I think I could put some of those beautiful truths into a song.”
“Teeeeeoool! Let’s hear it!” said the first angel with obvious delight. I was beginning to see that music is very special to angels.
“It’s only a few lines,” replied “Chubby.”
“Oh, come on!” urged Gabriel.
“Yes, Kairel!” chimed in the first angel.
Kairel . . . I must remember that name. “Well . . . okay.”
Kairel stood and suddenly the weirdest contraption appeared in front of him, aligned to his feet, his hands and his mouth. He started blowing into it. Simultaneously, his hands began moving over the instrument as if he were playing a harp, and his feet moved, as if he were operating foot pedals on an organ. He almost looked as if he were dancing. Immediately I heard a sound like I had heard in Heaven. It must have been one of Heaven’s musical instruments. Somehow I had never noticed any in – wherever that place was. I presume there was just so much else happening that I had missed seeing them.
The more I looked, the more I was convinced that Kairel was dancing with his musical contraption. It was a dance that produced the most exquisite music. I had already discovered that angels have much more flexible bodies than us. He occasionally knocked his knees together in a form of percussion. He twisted his spine in peculiar ways and this, too, seemed to affect the music.
The instrument was translucent, shimmering with light. The changing colors were neither random, nor simplistically linked to the music. They added another dimension to the music, a little like the way skilled choreography noiselessly adds a new element to music. But the experience gripped my heart far too powerfully for me to subject it to rational analysis. My skin prickled with icy goose bumps. Like a magnet, the music seemed to draw from my innermost being feelings of awe beyond anything I had ever known. Not even my previous exposure to celestial music had prepared me for this.
I cannot say whether this music was superior to what I had heard earlier in that otherworldly place. Since somehow leaving my own time and world, I had experienced so much that all superlatives have fled from me in red-faced shame, like con artists exposed by truth. My ability to compare one wonder with another was exhausted. Nevertheless, this particular music had the effect of overwhelming me with an awareness of how worthy is the majestic Lord of the very best any creature in any universe is capable of offering him. Before I knew it, I found myself on my face crying out to the Creator of every good thing, “You are worthy! You are worthy! You are worthy! You are worthy!”
I have never been one to grovel and yet here I was with my face in the dirt, acting almost like a worm. To my surprise, there was something peculiarly thrilling about assuming such a humiliating position. I doubt that I had ever felt so fulfilled and – despite my posture – so uplifted. In a sense I felt broken and yet I have never felt so whole. I felt like a lover who had previously thought it the height of humiliation to kiss someone’s feet and now finding it the pinnacle of delight. An exhilarating Niagara of adoring love for God was thundering through me, knocking me to the ground. I was on my face not through shame but because love had swept me off my feet.
Love changes everything.
Like a lightning flash illuminating my soul, the realization hit that in contrast to the euphoria of falling in love with a human, I was adoring the Perfect One – the One who could never disappoint. I was captivated by the beauty of the One so vast that for all eternity I will keep gaining new glimpses into the wonders of his uniqueness. Not only will there never be an insight into the Infinite Lord that disappoints, each new discovery will thrill me still further, intensifying my awe.
Whether it was supernatural, or merely psychological, I do not know, but while I was locked into adoration of the Eternal Lord, time seemed to freeze. It seemed to last for days, maybe years. Finally, and suddenly, I snapped back to a startled awareness of my surroundings because Kairel, who had previously been blowing into his musical contraption, somehow began to sing into it. I was so shocked by the musical effect that I could not have been more surprised had I heard a piano or a violin speak. He somehow used the instrument he was playing to amplify and modify his voice. The effect was stunningly beautiful. It was as if when he had previously been using the instrument he had merely been humming. Now he added words.
“But it’s too short,” said Kairel. “Come on Gabriel, you’re good at songs, how about some more verses?”
“Well, let’s see . . .” said Gabriel, “Sing your verse again.”
Kairel repeated his song, while Gabriel seemed deep in thought. The verse ended, but the music continued. Then Kairel looked to Gabriel, who raised his voice and sang.
“Chorus” said Gabriel. The music stopped and Gabriel sang unaccompanied.
The music died and the angels vanished. I scanned the area in a slight panic. They were nowhere to be seen. The crowd was dispersing. I was beginning to feel on edge. I was alone in a foreign time and place. A couple in front of me were engaged in an animated discussion and my alarm intensified. I heard them distinctly but could no longer understand a word of their language.
Then everything vanished.
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