In which we learn about Nathan’s curiosity, his imaginary friends, and Livinia’s teaching about the pre-eminence of moral fulfilment over human law (not to mention Nathan’s epiphany about who Livinia really is)
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It was the yearly meeting of the UK region of the twelve Reluctant Angels (RAGS) who administered localised groups around the country. As the members gradually trooped into the room — which was the renovated barn of a member’s house in the countryside near Ashburton in deepest Devon — Nathan could not help noticing that Livinia Soares was looking distinctly more male than female this evening. Not that Livinia had developed facial stubble or anything of that nature. But there was a presence of authority and leadership which came through her face and general body language when Livinia was leading meetings such as this. It was as if Livinia could morph between one or the other according to the occasion. Or was it that gender did not apply to Livinia? To his knowledge, no one had asked about this; but someday Nathan was going to do so.
Inquisitiveness and curiosity were his strong suits, and they had often got him into trouble. He had been the kind of child who asked the rarely seen great-aunt what the hairy wart on her face was all about — much to the embarrassment of the assembled relatives. “Shush, go to your room!” had been a literal imperative which featured much in Nathan’s early life (and in a more unspoken form throughout the rest of his life from diverse sources). It was actually one which he welcomed, for in his room it was his world, his toys, his books, his secret transistor radio under the bed transmitting pirate radio stations to him under the blankets at night and, above all, his friends. These friends had been labelled as “imaginary” by all the human adults by whom he was surrounded, as well as most of the children who were his peers. But for Nathan, they were no more imaginary than he was himself. In fact, he often surmised in his own childish manner that he was less real than the so-called “imaginary” friends; for he would fall asleep and become someone else in other worlds, whereas his “imaginary” friends never slept at all, apparently, for whenever he wanted to interact with them, there they were. ‘I am also my own imaginary person’, he thought, with a smile, waving his hands about as if wafting away some etheric material from around his face.
Nathan’s experience of ‘imaginary’ friends had its roots in happenings when he was around five years old. He would wake up in the night bathing in treacle. It wasn’t the flavour of it but the consistency. He could move but only as if in slow motion. Still, that was better than being paralysed. One element drove his little body out of bed, down the stairs, through the front door (after climbing on a chair to unlock the latch) and out onto the frozen street where he would wander till just before dawn, asking the cosmos to save him, but he didn’t know what from. He had no idea how to put it into words. All he knew was that if he remained where he was in bed, he would certainly die. For a crushing weight had pressed down on him with inhuman force. He later read a story about a man in a room in which all six surfaces had gradually closed in on him and this is what he related to his earlier night-time experience of crushingness.
From that tender age he had known the meaning of terror; and it had taken many years of crushing before he was able to withstand those converging walls and simply ignore them. In hindsight, he had realised that the experience was some kind of supernatural test to increase his strength and power of will. There were always tests. The trick was to discern when it was a test. So often he had realised too late and missed the opportunity it gave. Whenever he mentioned these tests to people, although one or two had somehow understood, the majority scoffed bitterly. That scoffing — he had observed — was way beyond what would be normal disagreement and bordered on fanatic denial. What seemed to upset the scoffers the most was that the idea of a life-test of those kinds implies a supernatural tester who is other than the one being tested. But Nathan had yet to learn that most of the world rejects higher authority. When they questioned that, Nathan would tell them that he had met his testers — not in the flesh but “in the spirit”. Once he had tried to describe one to a questioner. He said they came to him from another dimension so unlike our own that he was almost lost for words. So this is what he would tell people:
“They don’t even have a describable form. You would have to imagine electricity flowing through a cable, then squeezing through a hole of sorts (which he later learned was called a portal), then materialising around you in a crazy unseen cloud and then give it a name like Jarod or Beltine or Nedrigor. Then you might start to have a little glimpse.”
Pause. Followed mostly by scoffing and ridicule.
As Nathan would later say (but only after he had experienced the torch-and-pitchfork madness of the crowd and life-wiltingly divested himself of his naivety): “There is only one thing worse than ignorance and that is wilful ignorance.”
The first time that he had been “presenced” (as he would put it) by such a being was between three and four years old. From that time, for about five years, this presence had lived in his wardrobe. He could just about see it, although “see” probably isn’t the precise word. There was a discernable form like a transparent shadow and, when it was communicating, something crackled like rain falling on glowing embers of wood in a fire. It started early one morning as he lay under the covers on his broken bed — the one which no one ever mended, so that he always rolled towards one side and sometimes even falling out onto the floor, which always made him laugh and he would lie there for some time looking at the ceiling, which always seemed more interesting from the floor than from his bed. An unearthly sound came from the heart of the vast dark oak monolith which stood in one corner like a reminder from the past. One of the doors moved then hung open like an outstretched arm beckoning him to step within. He peeped out over the top of his sheets and peered at the open space. He could just make out the dark but formless shape. It was a kind of shady blob sharing space with his clothes. Was he frightened of it? No. Why not? Because it seemed friendly. How could he tell? Because he felt a smile cascading around the room.
“Who are you?” said Nathan. Then he felt a voice on the inside of his skin reply: “I’m your friend”.
He would talk to this shadow for hours. He learned more from within his wardrobe than from his kindergarten or school, which he regarded as a daily imposition on his freedom and the creative meanderings of his mind, a veritable prison. When his mother said in her customary accusatory tone, “Who were you talking to?” (with the accent on the word “who”), he would reply “To my shadow” and she would say “You are a funny boy” (with the accent always on the word “are”). When he was seven years old and she asked the same question, he would answer, with some triumph in his voice, “I’m speaking to my nebulosity” (a word he had invented specially for the presence in the cupboard). At which his mother would turn to his father (who was never listening and usually reading a newspaper) and ask with consternation in her voice:
“Where did we get this boy?” (with the accent always on the word “did”).
The father, on stirring from his snoring stupor behind the newspaper, would reply: “What? You know where we got him”.
She: “I didn’t mean it like that.”
The father was referring to the questionable orphanage from where they had collected the eight-week old Nathan. His parents never had to tell him that he wasn’t really theirs for him to know it (though they mentioned it at every opportunity, as if designed to make them feel ultra-charitable and him feel eternally grateful). Right from the start of his sojourn in that family he had felt completely alienated, as if birthed from another world which was his true home. From as early as he could remember he had wanted the words, “He never belonged here anyway”, to be carved deeply on his gravestone after he had moved on from this form.
One evening, when his mother was listening to “Strangers in the Night”, sung by Frank Sinatra, on her Dansette record player, he had seized on the title as a fitting description of his time among those family people and in the world in general. Later, he romanticised his experience as being like that of Abraham’s friend, Melchizedec, “without father, without mother, without genealogy” — having somehow materialised on this planet in a mystery. In a strange and obscure sense, this was true, as we shall see; and it had played a key role in the development of his calling.
It would be no exaggeration to say that because of those early experiences Nathan spent the first part of his life attempting, with futility, to belong somewhere. However, there came a time when he ceased that search for ever — what he called his Day of Elucidation. But we will learn more about that in its own place.
Nathan came back to himself with a start. The room was filling up with RAGS and Livinia was looking at him with a knowing smile. ‘That smile!’ thought Nathan, going into simile-mode. ‘It’s like mother’s milk and homemade apple pie on a balmy summer’s day’. He had no idea where those words came from; but they were amply descriptive of Livinia’s face when the orifice through which the overseer spoke widened capaciously. ‘If Livinia can read minds [which he knew was true], I wonder if Livinia thinks I’m weird?’
Once all the seats around the room had been filled (Nathan counted twelve, apart from Livinia’s) as a round-cornered square masquerading as a circle, their occupants closed their eyes for around thirty seconds to bring the energy in the room up to eleven on the dial. Livinia did not close any eyes but, instead, looked from one to the other for a few seconds each, as the room remained in silence. Then the words came in that unique voice. You could never be sure if that voice came from the entity in front of you or from somewhere deep inside you; or both at the same time. Yes. That was it. Both at the same time.
“I have not given you any advance notice of what this meeting is about. That is because our next big move is going to involve something which some of you may find shocking”.
No one’s face changed. All simply waited for what would come next.
“I have examined the hearts of those who stand in high political office in this land”.
And then, almost as an aside, “In other forms, I have examined those in other lands too, but they are not my concern just now”.
No one moved or made a sound.
Inwardly, Nathan said, “Just the thought of Livinia examining people’s hearts is enough to make the stars fall from the sky”.
Livinia glanced at Nathan, then continued. “I can tell you without doubt that almost all of them are hardened to a degree well beyond the psychopathic spectrum. In them, I have not detected even a spark of potential light. And this has been confirmed, with one exception. There is one man for whom I have great hopes and who will be of great use in our work at this time and in the near future. He is presently working as Secretary of State in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. I speak here of Lord Livorall. He has been writing a book about how the media is used for propaganda and disinformation. We all know this is true, but his book is not just based on speculation or supposition. He has impeccable sources. It is what you would call a major work of whistleblowing — bringing darkness to light, of which I am very fond, as you know — with recordings of interviews as well as film and photography. There is an imminent threat on his life about which he is mildly aware but is not at all fazed. I think he is ready to become one of us. He has been seeking help not of this world. He met up with a religious leader in a club recently but that is not a road down which he should go. That so-called leader is a fraud and friend of the establishment and will not do him any favours. I have already sent messages to him in various ways, but he hasn’t yet responded. We are going to have to step in here and take him out of his situation forcibly”.
Livinia paused and looked around the room.
“You mean kidnap him”, said a voice from the round-cornered circle masquerading as a square. It was Paul Altara (formerly the Reverend Paul Altara), looking all righteous with his head pulled back from his neck a little. “How do you propose to do that and by what means?”
“Are you shocked by that proposal?”, said Livinia.
“Not shocked but deeply concerned about the legal implications”, he replied. “Are we turning from an angelic organisation to a criminal one?”
Livinia smiled at Paul’s pomposity. In the process of descrambling his conditioning from nearly twenty years in “the ministry”, how much he still had to learn about the important matters of life. Livinia paused and took a breath. “Well here’s the thing, Paul…” drawing that already straight back elegantly upright as if to increase the degree of authority and presence, while increasing the volume and tone of voice… “Moral fulfilment is infinitely more important than any rule of human law and should always override it. This is part of what is involved in judging righteously”.
Twelve heads then spent the next few microseconds coming to grips with those words. To Nathan (and a couple of others), they seemed obvious, for that was how he had lived almost his entire life, sailing close to the wind and sometimes nearly capsizing because of it. Others took a little longer. As one who was relatively new to this life he was now living, Paul struggled with this. But eventually he said, “You are right. I was foolish to even question it”.
“No, you were not”, said Livinia immediately. “It is important that you question everything with sacred curiosity and grace”.
Then Livinia’s countenance changed even more, and these words came: “Terrible times are coming upon us now. We are going to have to take many surprising creative measures. We will not be passive but proactive. This will never involve violence or harm. But it will mean doing things which are steadfastly moral in the spirit rather than legal in the letter. Are we together in this, for nothing here is mandatory if you are not ready for it?”
The room gave assent. Livinia then suggested that Jim, Denny, Geoff and Pete (former black ops guys, now RAGS) get involved, along with three of those in the room: Nathan, Julianne Risewell and Greta Wagner. That pleased him, for he had been the one who had dramatically drawn those four ex-soldiers out of their wasted state into working for RAGS.
Throughout the rest of the meeting, various assignments were given, and news updated from different parts. Nathan was already anticipating the whole operation by which Lord Livorall would be waylaid into safety. ‘If I didn’t feel useful, I would wither away and die’, he thought. His mind went back to the time in his school chapel when, though unmoved by the monotonous intonation of the clergy, his heart had leapt for joy when the reading from Isaiah had depicted the prophet (after hearing God asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”) as exclaiming in response, “Here am I. Send me!” He had felt just like that throughout his entire life. “Here I am. Send me!” were words that he would often call out loud, whether in a crowded place or on top of a high mountain.
Before the meeting finished, one of the group, Julianne Risewell, asked the question, “Are there other groups like ours in the world with ones like you guiding them?”
Livinia immediately responded: “Yes, there are. I guide many other meetings like this all over the world”. Then, leaning forward, Livinia added in an almost conspiratorial tone, “sometimes even at the same time”.
Livinia paused and smiled, observing the puzzlement in the room. “Many of you will not understand this now. One day you will, if you truly want to”.
In a flash, Nathan epiphanically realised who Livinia is. But the thought was so huge that he couldn’t go any further with it there and then. As if in recognition of this, Livinia glanced at him with a look of compassion which was enough to satisfy anyone for a lifetime and more. Nathan felt his sense of self dissolving, but it didn’t bother him in the slightest. He was on holy ground on which anything can happen. He was willing to die right there and then, for the sake of the adventure of it. But he didn’t. At least not in the way in which most understand the word “die”. As he undissolved, he knew that he was not the only one in the room with this realisation. The face of Julianne Risewell sitting across the room came into his focus. The expression of transfiguration which she wore was so beautiful, so complete, that his tear ducts went into overdrive.
When the meeting completed, Nathan went straight over to Julianne and they hugged long and hard. Matter dissolving into matter and doubling the energy. When that had subsided, Nathan looked around at Livinia, but there was no trace. The chair was empty. He surmised that the hug must have lasted for longer than he had been aware.
Later, on his long walk under the stars to the town nearby, alone (for, as he said himself, “before Karelija appeared, I was always alone”), he had the urge to do what he always did when his feelings overwhelmed him. It was a cold night and snow lay on the ground; but that didn’t deter him. He climbed over a drystone wall into a field and lay on the ground with his arms and legs spread-eagled around him. Now he understood the context of Livinia’s male and female all-in-oneness. His mind was alive with lightbulbs. ‘No wonder the name is Livinia!’, he thought. He slowly spelled out the word in his mind. ‘Live-in-ya’. “Of course!” he said aloud. “That’s it!”, as he remembered the words of the Christ, “I will request the Father, and He will give you another Helper to be in your midst forever — the Spirit of truth, Whom the world is not able to receive because it does not see nor know Him. You know Him because He abides alongside you and will be within you”.
The huge implications of this realisation made Nathan both ecstatic and strangely fearful in an awestruck kind of way. At the very least, it meant that Livinia is some kind of theophanic manifestation or high angelic presence in human form — a dynamic representative of the Spirit to work in this world and match the strangeness of the times. He whispered aloud the words, “Alongside you and in your midst”. His mind raced on. ‘This is art in action… the ultimate in creativity’. He envisioned how Livinia is both an artist and a living work of art — an appearance of light and colour gathering people and activating them as if they were strokes of a brush on the canvas of this world. His daringness exploded across the sky like the meteorite he had just seen arcing its way towards earth. ‘It’s at this point that all the intellectual theology books and religious dogma fly out of the window and a refreshing transcendent breeze blows in. All those men fitting everything cosmically expansive into matchboxes then labelling them with scratch-the-surface faux-profundity. I learn more from a shooting star!’ Nathan laughed like a drainful of bathwater. ‘For the very best of everything lies well beyond words, no matter how eloquent they are’. And he saw how the very best that a writer can hope to be is a brokenly-honest signpost. He thought about Paul and wondered what the ex-Reverend would make of all this. ‘God can contradict human theological systems and other instances of brute rationalism’, he thought. “Flying in the face of them!” he exclaimed out loud with a chuckle. He realised what a privilege it is to be alive at this point in history, in spite of all the craziness and evil which was rising to its zenith. At the thought of this, Nathan began to tremble in an uncontrolled manner. It was like an earthquake passing through his body on that grassy ground and he saw for real that matter is not solid, that light is energy, and that he is just a temporary matter-and-light phenomenon passing through this base-order state to gain experience and development, rather like an angel working out in a low-end gymnasium.
When this trembling subsided, he put his hands in his pockets to warm them away from the cold night air. Then a strange thing happened. In his right-hand pocket (in which he would never normally keep any papers, though his left pocket was always stuffed with old receipts and till printouts), he felt a small piece of paper. He pulled it out and angled it towards the moonlight to read it better. He laughed out loud when he saw what it said. On it, were three handwritten words: “Yep… you’re weird ;-)”, with a winking smiley drawn next to them.
© Alan Morrison, 2020