In the soft cool glory of an autumn afternoon I found my way to the top of a hill. In the valley below me were cattle, peacefully grazing in meadows through which there passed a river chattering loudly of its haste to reach the sea. From the chimney of a solitary farm-house came wreaths of smoke that seemed to reveal a probable cozy interior. The whole scene breathed peace and contentment: and as I gazed on it my spirit became calm, my eyes involuntarily closed.
It must have been a trance that possessed me, for the valley which had smiled in the sunshine became quite dark, save that here and there it was lighted by lurid flames that evidently arose from earth-fires. The river ceased to hurry along and became as silent as the waters of the nether-world. It was a vision of the world of Passion that I saw before me. And upon the shadowy faces which peopled that world what anguish, what bitter hatred those lurid flames revealed! I saw that many envious eyes followed the progress of a girl whose beauty not even the flames could wholly distort. Her flowing robes swayed to and fro as, in perfect grace movement, she advanced to the music of mandolin. Lovers with eager, yet half-mocking faces, crowded round her: and she idly smiled on each in turn, proud in her conscious beauty, scornful of envious glances, heedless of the dark shadows that gathered on the faces of those on whom she smiled no longer. At length the triumphal procession was checked by one who refused to be cast aside as no longer amusing. I saw him bind the woman to him with golden chains, so that her steps were no longer free. O the torture that she endured! I could not bear to see her suffering, and as I turned to look another direction I heard a giant, yet clear voice saying, "Come unto Me."
But although from my distant station I heard the voice, the stricken victims of passions were deaf apparently to its entreaty. One of them had cast himself headlong into one of the earth-fires and was not beyond sight or sound. Another was drowning the gentle invitation in sounds of revelry and laughter, and his bleared eye and hoarse voice betrayed the influence of wine. Some turned their heads in the direction f the sound, but somehow did not understand its meaning. At last I saw with relief that a man was standing as though transfixed by a beautiful vision. His face had lost is hopeless expression: and following the direction of his faze I saw a radiant form at once human and Divine. It was indeed the Christ who was standing, I aw, at the entrance to a steep and rocky path, on which there shone a light that seemed to issue from Himself. On the path I could see pilgrims walking with drooping heads and making very slow progress; but on following the path with my eyes I saw that it grew ever more brilliantly lighted and that, when the steep beginning had been left behind, progress seemed more rapid and joyful.
When I had seen the man who first drew my attention to the voice enter the Shining Way, my eyes again sought the woman whose sufferings has been so painful to witness. I found her at last: at her feet was an awful fiery abyss: in her eyes was a strange wild light: all her winsome beauty was gone; the mandolin was cast away, while her hands that had made sweet music were clasped in agony.
"Come unto Me," said the voice again, and to my great relief the woman heard and looked towards the Speaker. As she did so the light from the Radiant Presence slowly transformed her passion-dimmed eyes, so that in them there dawned a peace like that which belongs to childhood. With peace came strength, and meekly but steadfastly the woman entered the Shining Way, steep and difficult though it was.
"Ah!" cried I aloud in mingled relief and sadness. "Why are there so few who hear?"
As though in answer to my question, the light grew stronger and I saw that there were thousands of shining roads all converging into that I had first seen. I saw men and women, who seemed asleep, standing on them: I saw others running hither and thither in feverish excitement: others were walking along timidly, starting aside at every unusual sight or sound. But always that patient, untiring voice rang soft and clears through the passion-laden air, saying: "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you Rest."
Darkness was falling on the earth when normal vision returned to my body on the hill-side. The young moon was shining feebly in the fading glow of the western sky: the stars were twinkling out in groups as though to give her a shy welcome: I could hear again the river babbling its innocent story to the shadows down below. Rest! Rest! What was it? It was not stillness, not stagnation, of that I was sure when I remembered the vision of the Shining Way. Life, abundant, joy-inspiring life was there; but it was lived free from conflicting emotions and influences. Purity, Truth and Love were its eternally-ruling forces: sin, falsehood, and hatred were renounced forever by those who accepted the invitation to the Land of Rest: and I understood that as the renunciation of the pilgrims became perfect the Shining Way grew ever more smooth under their feet.