After the Border Has Been Crossed
Although my communications with Julia have been more or less regular, for the last five years they been chiefly about matters in which I have been personally interested, and for nearly two years abstained from questioning her as to her life on the other side. In one of the last letters that she wrote, she excused herself from writing further at that time. She said she felt that it was almost a presumption for her to describe a country in which she had made so brief a, sojourn. Travelers should not attempt to describe a continent as soon as they land on its shores, and she adjourned for a season all communications on those subjects. This silence I respected, but at the close of 1894 Julia announced that she would resume her communications, and this is the result. The headings are my own. It will be noticed that here and there, in these communications, there are remarks by the way, asides, as it were, interrupting the tenor of the message. That is owing to questions that I ask, or mental observation that I make, as I read what my hand is writing.
– W. T. S.
December 17, 1894
My Dearest Friend: – My duty to you and to those whom you reach is very grave. My task, however, is a pleasant one. For you are to allow me to tell those who are still in the body something more of the life which they will lead when their bodies are no longer useful.
In the Hour and Article of Death
In my earlier letters I told you how I experienced the change which you call Death. I have since then exchanged experiences with very many others on this side, and I now know more than I did then. With me the change was perfectly painless. I wish that it might be so always with all who are appointed to die. Unfortunately the moment of transition sometimes seem to be very full of pain and dread. With some it lasts a comparatively long time; I mean the time of quitting the body. With some it is momentary. The envelope opens, the letter is released, and it is over. Put sometimes the deathbirth is like childbirth, and the soul labors long to be free. There is no visible cause why this should be. That is to say, I do not know why some should pass so much more easily than others. That it is a fact is true. But, after all, the parting of soul and body is but an affair of moments.
There is no reason to regard it with so much alarm. The tranquil soul that prepares and knows need not feel even a tremor of alarm. The preliminaries of decease are often painful; the actual severance, although sometimes accompanied by a sense of wrench, is of small account.
When the soul leaves the body it is at the first moment quite unclothed as at birth. The spirit-body disengaged from the physical body is conscious, at least I was, almost from the first.
I awoke standing by my dead body, thinking I was still alive and in my ordinary physical frame. It was only when I saw the corpse in the bed that I knew that something had happened. When the thought of nakedness crosses the spirit there comes the clothing which you need. The idea with us is creative. We think, and the thing is. I do not remember putting on any garments. There is just the sense of need, and the need is supplied. When we stand for the first time on this side there is not so much fear as great awe and curiosity. The sense of being in a land altogether undiscovered and unexplored, where there may be all manner of strange beings, perhaps hostile, fills you with a moment’s trepidation. And then it is that the good Lord in His kindness sends to the newly delivered soul the Guardian Angel of whom I wrote before.
The Guardian Angel
So far as I have been able to ascertain, this Messenger of Love and Mercy meets all men when they die. In this there is no distinction made between the saved and the lost, and the Messenger is sent alike to all. But the lost have not the faculty to see him. The saved not only profit by his counsels, but feel him, and know he is with them.
It is to all that the good Lord ministers – to all on your side and on this. His loving kindness is over all his creatures.
But some know Him not, and when He would draw them nearer to His heart they are as if they saw, heard, felt nothing, But I think He loves best those who need Him most. The orphaned souls He cares for, though they see Him not; and they suffer, as it is necessary that they may be rid of the sin-stains which their loveless life has left upon their souls.
In Outer Darkness
The sinfulness of sin chiefly shows itself in the inability to see God. The punishment of sin which is remedial, is the sense of loneliness and darkness which overwhelms the loveless souls when they come into this world, the atmosphere of which is eternal love. This they endure until such time as they love. When they love they turn to God, and see in the darkness a ray of the Love infinite and everlasting, in which they are able to realize, as we do, that they live, and move and have their being.
There is much about this of which I will tell you later.
For the present let me just say this: There is, when the loveless soul comes here, as much care taken to welcome it as when the soul of love arrives. But the selfish soul is blind and dark, and shudders in the dark. The imagination, which here is far more powerful than with you, fills the solitude with spectres, and the sinner feels he is encompassed by the constantly renewed visions of his deeds. Nor is this all; he sees those whom he has injured, and he fears. If ever a soul needs a Savior and, Deliverer, it is when imagination and memory without love recreate all anew the selfish acts of a loveless life.
Alone in a New World
December 18, 1894
When you stand all alone for the first time on this side there is not always, as you would think, a great longing to go back to the world you have quitted. The first sense is not that, but of awe, and of curiosity as to the new world. When I awoke I was so astonished and amazed at what I saw, and at the strangeness and sameness, I did not want to come back. The mind has not room for too many strong emotions at once. After the first shock of the entire novelty has subsided you begin to remember your friends. I remember seeing the nurse at my bedside and trying to speak to her, but I was soon convinced that it was impossible, and the new life lay before me.
You see it is this way: There is so much that is familiar and so much also that is unfamiliar, that you don’t feel as if there was any immediate hurry to examine the old which you have seen all your life, and go on seeing, while there is so much that is new which you have never seen.
You naturally are absorbed by the new, and only after you have felt and seen and understood what the new things are does your mind revert back to those whom you have left, and you wish to go back to tell them of what you have experienced.
No Desire to Return
Have you ever wished to be back again in this life? She wrote: No, I have never for one passing moment wished to be back in my body again.
The body is such a miserable substitute for the spirit in which we live and move and act as we think. No, if I might come back and live on earth as I used to do, I would not; it would be all loss and no gain. There is nothing the body could give me, which I do not now enjoy.
Only in an etherealized but more real way, and much that I enjoy I should lose by being again in my body.
No Separation From Friends
What about being parted from friends who survive? That is, I admit, a deprivation to them and to you, inasmuch is you see them lamenting their deprivation.
But it is not a real deprivation. You are with them to help them more than when you lived. When the departure entails material loss, as of the father who earns the money with which the family is supported, and the children are hungry, are scattered, or are sent to the poor house, you may think that it is hard to bear. And in one way it is. But you can have no idea of the abiding sense of the things which most impress us here. The first is the vivid realization of the love of God; the second is the exceedingly transitory nature of all earthly things; and the third, the extent to which poverty and misery minister to the creation of character, the development of love.
These things make you feel very differently from what you, who are still immersed in the fever of matter, can quite understand.
The Difference of Perspective
We see so very differently the perspective. We realize that what often seems to you hard and cruel is the greatest benediction of the love of God. We know that He is Love, and what seems least loving is the irreducible minimum of suffering necessary to create the soul anew in the likeness of the love of God. Whatever else you may doubt, never lose hold of this: – God is Love. The atmosphere of the universe is the realizing sense of the love of God, and the more I live here the more impossible it seems to doubt it. The sun shines. The light of the sun fills the sky, and there is no doubt about it. God is Love.
His love fills the universe; to us there is no doubt about it. Nor does the cloud or the night make us doubt the sun. And we do not doubt God because of the sin and the darkness where He is not seen. Oh, my friend! my friend! I am ashamed of the poor, paltry, miserable words and metaphors with which I am now trying to give you some idea of the abounding and overwhelming sense which we have of the love of God. That, my friend, is Heaven; and when you have it Heaven is there. All is summed up in that: God is Love, Love is God, and Heaven is the perfect realization of that.
December 28, 1894
What I want to write about this morning is the state of the disembodied soul immediately after death. When it meets the Guardian Angel there is usually a blank wonderment.
The Same Yet Not the Same
All is so new, and there are such unexpected samenesses as well as differences. When, for instance, we wake into the new life we are still in the same world. There are all the familiar things around us – the walls, the pictures, the window, the bed, and the only new things is your own body out of which you stand and wonder how it can be that it is there, and that it is no longer you. And then you begin clearly to understand what has happened. It is very much like experiences you have in dreams, which, after all, are often due to the same cause, the conscious soul leaving the physical frame, which, however, remains breathing. The first thing you notice that is not the same is the Angel. You are the same. I mean that there is no break in your consciousness, your memory, your sex I was woman in my bodily life, and I am woman still. There is no change there. But you are in a manner different.
On the Wings of Thought
The Angel Guardian who came to me had wings, as I said. It is not usual, but if we please we can assume them.
They are no more necessary than any of the contrivances by which you attempt to attain the mastery of the spirit over the burden of matter. We think and we are there. Why, then, wings? They are scenic illusions useful to convey the idea of superiority to earth-bound conditions, but we do not use them any more than we use steam engines. But I was glad my Guide had wings. It seemed more like what I thought it would be, and I was at once more at ease than I would otherwise have been.
The Voice of the Guide
When my Guide came he spoke to me in a very sweet, strong voice that had in it the confidence of the Invisible.
And I was thrilled through and through with its note, which did not seem strange to me. Nor was this strange, for he had often been with me during my earth-life, although I had never seen him. I recognized him as an old and familiar part of myself, and this at first made me think that it was a woman. And when he said: “Come!” I did not hesitate. There was, as it were, a natural response to what seemed as the prompting of your own conscience.
This is often the case. We have all our guides.
These angels, unknown and unseen by us, prompt us to all good actions and dissuade us from evil. They are with us in thought, and we often receive their warnings as if they were the promptings of our own spirit. So they are; but the spirit which prompts is quite outside our own conscious self.
Our Higher Self
The Guardian Angel is indeed a kind of other self, a higher, purer, and more developed section of your own personality. This is perhaps a little difficult to understand, but it is true. There are, as well as good, evil angels, who are with us no less constantly, and they are also sometimes visible as Angels of Darkness when we come across. They are with us always, and we are with them here when we leave our bodies. We are always swaying hither and thither towards our good and evil guides. We call them, or we did call them, impulses, wayward longings, aspirations, coming we know not where or whence.
We see on this side where they come from.
The Senses as Blinkers
The soul in the body hears but dimly, and sees not at all the innumerable influences with which it is surrounded.
The first and most startling thing we have to learn is that our senses, material senses, are not so much to help us to see and hear as to bar us off from seeing or hearing. We are on earth as it were, with blinkers on. We must not see or hear or know much that surrounds us. The physical consciousness which is part of us, needs for its development the temporary seclusion of life from the realities of the world of spirit into which it is ushered at death.
Hence, when we close our eyes in the sleep of death, it is more of a laying down of the blinkers that limited and confined our vision than almost anything else. I am speaking of the conscious change to our senses.
“After the Border Has Been Crossed” is an extract from After Death: Letters from Julia by W. T. Stead