As we crossed the meadow and entered a shady grove, my guide paused and pointed out a man who was walking slowly up and down. “There he is.” Again she touched my arm in dismissal and I walked forward quickly. I began to feel like a soldier on the eve of battle; tense, expectant, a little nervous but very glad to be in action again. A few paces away I stopped. Still he did not see me. He was a man of middle height and broad. His face was large and smooth, except for many laughter-wrinkles, and his thick hair was sandy-hued. I knew I had never met him on earth, but that we had corresponded, and I knew that his name was Stephen.
“Hallo,” I greeted him—for if I did not speak first it seemed that he would never notice me.
“Hallo,” he murmured. Still he did not look up but walked slowly along, lost in thought, yet gazing about him at the sparkling ‘fire’. I fell in step beside him, feeling somewhat embarrassed. “The colourings!” he cried suddenly, laying a hand on my arm; “the texture! It is quite exquisite.” Then he turned and looked me in the face and an expression of consternation spread quickly over his. “I say, I am sorry. A newcomer to this Hall and I treat you like this. I thought you were one of us.” And then, with engaging simplicity, he added, “that is, if I thought at all—and I doubt it!” We laughed together.
“I am Bernard,” I began, “and you are Stephen. We did not meet on earth, but—” He laid a firm hand on my shoulder and gave it a friendly squeeze.
“Welcome!” Before I could tell him my errand he was prowling on again, this time with his hand linked in my arm. “Look at those colours,” he murmured in a tone of awe; yet there was so much happiness in it that it was also a song of praise. I followed his gaze and then stopped in wonder. All around me appeared a mass of fiery ‘snow’ draped gracefully from trees, hung over bushes, banked on the tops of hedges, sparkling on the tips of grass-blades, sometimes appearing to be scattered thinly, sometimes in great drifts, piled high. No words can describe the glory of the colours for the whole mass seemed to move and change, sparkle and blaze, at one point frothing like a winter sea, at another deep and still as a summer lake. Every colour, every shade and tone of earth was there and many more besides, ranging from the palest, most delicate hues, through the bold, full tones to the deep, dark ones that at first glance looked like coal. Behind, beneath and within it all there appeared to glow a great light so that the colour was enhanced and made alive by it.
“It’s marvellous,” I stammered.
“Feel it,” Stephen invited. His tone held the awe of one who saw for the first time and yet I knew that this was not so. I fell on my knees and plunged my hand into a drift piled at the root of a tree. My hand went right through it and yet it softly caressed my fingers, dripping from them like water, yet it was not water; clinging to them like thistledown, yet it was not that either. Neither was it snow or fire or spider’s web or silk or cloud! I sprang to my feet.
“What is it?”
“Stuff?” I echoed. “But it is too wonderful to have a name like that.”
“It is too wonderful to have any name at all,” he said soberly. “Look at the colours!” He seemed in danger of going into a prowl again, so I said quickly, “But you haven’t yet told me what it is.”
“No one knows what it is.”
“Oh!” For a moment I was silent. Of course, how could anyone know the nature of such a substance? “But what is its use?” I queried suddenly. “Surely it does not just stay here—”
“It is used for everything.” He linked his hand in my arm again. “Come, let us walk awhile, and while we have our fill of the sight of it I will tell you as much as I can. But mind,” he warned, “nobody knows all except the Father.”
“What did you mean when you said it was used for everything?” I knew quite well that I could find the answer to all my questions alone, but it was so pleasant to walk and talk with my new friend that I gave myself to the enjoyment of it. For a while we walked on silently while I watched the ridge of a hedge glow as though it were a morning horizon, and then change to a score of pastel tones, which gradually deepened into the green of the sea when a shadow lies upon it.
“This stuff is the creative substance of the Father,” Stephen said at last. “It is a reflection of the light which first came forth from Him.” His tone was hushed and I held my breath at the wonder of it all. “All things are made from this substance, as it takes many forms and colours, as you see. On earth, plunging as it does into such a low plane, it becomes hardened. This accounts for the apparent solidity of earth-things. Everything without exception is made originally from this one substance.” I digested this silently for a while and then a further problem occurred to me.
“Is it in its natural state here in Heaven?”
“Yes. This is a creative stuff with which we work for the Father.” There was another long pause. The depth of the subject and the glory of the ‘stuff’ around me, constantly changing as it was, necessitated this. “On earth,” Stephen continued at last, “I was a chef. I loved to prepare food; it was a kind of art with me. The subtle odours, colours, flavours…they fascinated me. Here it is not the preparation of the food that is my joy; it is the building of it. . . Just now I am working on a peach. At least, I call it that for it is very like a peach on earth.” He shut his eyes as though blissfully building up his mental picture. “It has the same texture but it is as large as a pineapple and at its centre is a little skin vessel holding additional juice like the milk in a coconut.”
“Do you mean,” I asked in amazement, “that you are creating this fruit?”
“Ah, not creating it,” he said quickly, “that is for the Father alone. No, it is like this. Those who have had creative instincts on earth—and the preparation of food is a creative instinct—are given a mental picture by the Father. That is how the picture of the peach came to me. Since then I have searched among the ‘stuff’ for the exact colour and texture, and when I have found it I have begun to build. . .”
“Have you succeeded?” I asked.
“Not yet. When the result is imperfect the form just dissolves away, but when it is perfect—”
“The Father fills it with life and then it lives eternally. One day, if I succeed, that fruit will be giving delight to children when they first come here—especially the little ones who die suddenly and who might be frightened if we did not welcome them with smiles and treats.” We walked for a long time after that without a word or an exchange of thought. Each of us had drawn his ‘mental veil’ and that veil was worship of the loving kindness of the Father. When at last Stephen spoke he appeared to be summing up as though he had been discussing it all the time. “So you see, even in the Hall of Food life is a praise of the Glory of the Father, and a prayer to Him.”
After a while I thought it time to tell Stephen my errand. We were sitting at the foot of a great tree where the glorious ‘stuff’ shimmered above us like a million blossoms. I began at the very beginning, describing my side of the matter and what I knew of his. Not sparing myself, I admitted my guilt and humbly begged for him to let me repay him in any way he chose.
To my amazement he broke into a throaty chuckle which gradually deepened into a great sonorous laugh. His face was all crumpled up in its laughter-wrinkles and I could not help smiling in sympathy although I could not see the joke.
“What fools men are,” he gasped at last. “What fools!” They spend half their lives in trying to get as much money as possible for as little service as possible to their fellow-men. Three quarters of the world feels just like that! Plan, scheme, think—and all to amass a bigger pile of cash than the next man, just like kids on a sand heap, each trying to build the biggest castle!
“The one who should have the wealth is the one who has given the most valuable service to his fellow-men. Oh, I know it would be difficult on earth, especially with people all thinking in different ways, but, man alive, their standards are wrong! If they could only come here for a visit, find the Hall of their choice, and learn the joy and satisfaction of creative work for its own sake!”
“Then you forgive me?” I persisted. “If you do, tell me what I can do in reparation.”
“Pray with me about that peach,” he declared without an instant’s hesitation.
“Pray with you? Just one prayer? But surely that would not be enough?”
“Have you not learned yet that prayer is real? People on earth often speak prayers into the void with no knowledge of their mighty power, but here—ah, here we know the value of prayer!”
“I have heard of the strengthening ray,” I admitted.
“That is it,” he agreed. “Every good prayer on earth or in Heaven attracts the attention of one of the guides. He or she immediately sets to work, either carrying an angelic benediction direct, or in seeking one of the Higher Order who is most fitted to deal with it. No prayer for any worthy matter is ever ignored. The strengthening ray is always the result, and although it may not be recognised, it works in that one for his eternal good.”
“Then what do you want me to do?”
“peach? I have laboured over it for so long! Not that it has seemed like labour, mind. It has been a great joy. But now I grow impatient and long to see the kiddies’ faces breaking into smiles when they see my offering. The Father has given me the pattern, just as He does on earth when men say they have an inspiration; but although one is more or less resigned there to imperfection, here there is a difference. You do see how much it means to me?”
I had only to look at the man’s earnest, glowing face to answer truthfully, “Yes.”
“Then pray with me!” he begged (in as matter-of-fact a tone as two men would use on earth as they stood over a workshop bench and one asked help with a bit of carpentry of the other. “Give me a hand with this frame, Joe!”) In just this tone Stephen made his request. “Pray with me! I just feel the need of a little more power, you see. Then I am certain to get it right.!”
“Yes, of course I will. Only too glad to pay my debt.” We stood side by side then, just where we were, gazing at the glorious sheen of the creative substance that Stephen yearned to use aright. Was it a coincidence, I wondered, that it appeared to change to gold just then? It seemed like a promise of victory. . .
Soon after that, Stephen was called away. A newcomer was looking for him.
“Someone with another debt to pay, I hope!” he chuckled. “I am rich today!” Gripping my shoulder in farewell, he hurried away and then I saw my guide waiting for me.