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Saturday, 30 August 2014

Heaven Defined

Letters from Julia,* First Series, to her friend, Ellen  

Crossing the Bar

When I left you, darling, you thought I was gone from you forever, or at least till you also passed over. But I was never so near to you as after I had, what you called, died.

I found myself free from my body. It was such a strange new feeling. I was standing close to the bedside on which my body was lying; I saw everything in the room just as before I closed my eyes. I did not feel any pain in "dying;" I felt only a great calm and peace. Then I awoke, and I was standing outside my old body in the room. There was no one there at first, just myself and my old body. At first I wondered I was so strangely well. Then I saw that I had passed over.

I waited about a little; then the door opened and Mrs H. came in. She was very sad; she addressed my poor body as if it was myself. I was standing looking at her, but all her thoughts were upon the poor old body I had left behind. It seemed so absurd I could not help laughing. I did not try to speak at first; I waited to see what would happen.

Then I felt as though a great warm flood of light had come into the room, and I saw an angel. She, for at first she seemed to be a female, came to me and said — "

I am sent to teach you the laws of the new life." 

And as I looked, she gently touched me and said — "We must go."

Then I left the room and my poor old body, and passed out. It was so strange; the streets were full of spirits. I could see them as we passed; they seemed to be just like ourselves. My angel had wings; they were very beautiful. She was all robed in white.

We went at first through the streets, then we went through the air till we came to the place where we met friends who had passed on before.

There were Mr M—, and Mr M— and Ethel A—, and many others. They told me much about the spirit world. They said I must learn its laws, and endeavour to be as useful as I could. The angel who remained with me all the time helped me to explain. 

The spirit friends had their life much as it was here; they lived and loved, and if they had not to work for their daily bread, they had still plenty to do.

Then I began to be sad about you, and I wanted to go back; the angel took me swiftly through the air to where I came from. When I entered the death chamber there lay my body. It was no longer of interest to me, but I was so grieved to see how you were all weeping over my worn-out clothes. I wished to speak to you. I saw you, darling, all wet with tears, and I was so sad I could not cheer you. I wanted very much to speak and tell you how near I was to you, but I could not make you hear. I tried, but you took no notice. I said to the angel — 

"Will it be always thus?" 

She said, "Wait; the time will come when you will speak with her. But at present she cannot hear, neither can she understand."

I was then called away. I found myself in a great expanse of landscape where I had never been before. I was alone; that is, I saw no one. But you are never really alone. We are always living in the presence of God. But I saw no one. Then I heard a voice. I did not see whence it came, or who spoke. I only heard the words, "Julia, He who saved thee would fain speak with thee." I listened, but no words other than these were spoken.

Then I said, "Who is it that speaks?" And, behold, a flaming fire—really like fire, though in human shape. I was afraid. Then he spoke and said, "Do not be afraid. It is I who am appointed to teach thee the secret things of God." Then I saw that the brightness as of fire was only the brightness that comes from the radiant love of the Immortals.

Then the flame-bright One said to me, "Julia, behold your Saviour!" and when I looked, I saw Him. He was sitting on a seat close to me, and He said, "Beloved, in my Father's House are many mansions; I am here whom you have loved so long. I have prepared a place for you."

And I said, "Where, oh, my Lord?" He smiled, and in the brightness of that smile I saw the whole landscape change as the Alps change in the sunset, which I saw so often from the windows of my hotel at Lucerne. Then I saw that I was not alone, but all around and above were fair and loving forms, some of those whom I had known, others of whom I had heard, while some were strange. But all were friends, and the air was full of love. And in the midst of all was He, my Lord and Saviour. He was as a Man among men. He was full of the wonderful sweet mildness which you are acquainted with in some of the pictures that have been painted by the Italian Fra Angelico. He had an admirable look of warm affection, which was as the very breath of life to my soul. He is with us always. This is Heaven—to be with Him. You cannot understand how the consciousness of His presence makes the atmosphere of this world so different from that with you. There are many things I wish I could write to you, but I cannot, nor could you understand them. I can only tell you that He is more than we have ever imagined. He is the Source and Giver of all good gifts. All that we know of what is good, and sweet, and noble, and lovable are but faint reflections of the immensity of the glory that is His. And He loves us with such tender love! Oh, Ellen, Ellen, you and I used to love each other with what seemed to us sometimes too deep and intense a love, but that at its very best was but the pale reflection of the love with which He loves us, which is marvellously and wonderfully great beyond all power of mind to describe. His name is Love; it is what He is—Love, Love, Love!

The Crucified Christ — Fra Angelico (circa 1395–1455)

I cannot tell you everything; you could not understand it. But I am in a state of bliss such as we never imagined when on earth. I am with my friends who went before.

No one seems to be old. We are young, with what seems to be immortal youth. We can, when we please, assume the old bodies or their spiritual counterparts as we can assume our old clothes for purposes of identification, but our spiritual bodies here are young and beautiful. There is a semblance between what we are and what we were. We might recognise the new by its likeness to the old, but it is very different. The disembodied soul soon assumes the new raiment of youth, from which all decay has been removed.

I find it so difficult to explain how we live, and how we spend our time. We never weary, and do not need to sleep as we did on earth; neither do we need to eat or drink; these things were necessary for the material body; here we do not need them. I think we can best teach you what we experience by asking you to remember those moments of exaltation when, in the light of the setting or rising sun, you look out, happy and contented, upon the landscape over which the sun's rays have shed their magical beauty. There is peace; there is life; there is beauty; above all, there is love. Beauty everywhere, joy and love. Love, love is the secret of Heaven. God is love, and when you are lost in love you are found in God.

You ask me what we feel about the sin and sorrow of the world. We reply that we see it, and seek to remove it. But it does not oppress us as it used to do, for we see the other side. We cannot doubt the love of God. We live in it. It is the greatest, the only real thing. The sins and sorrows of the earth life are but as shadows that will flee away. But they are not merely on the earth plane; there is sin and there is sorrow on this side. Hell is on this side as well as Heaven. But it is the joy of Heaven to be always emptying Hell.

We are learning always to save by love; how to redeem by sacrifice. We must make sacrifices, otherwise there is no salvation. What else is the secret of Christ?

* The writer has prepared an abridged and edited copy of the original — After Death or Letters from Julia — A Personal Narrative (published before 1923 and now in the public domain),  W. T. Stead, E. Cadwallader, Chicago, 1917