The Opening: The Audience

No Man an Island

I had watched the girl child’s birth, and her growth through infancy to young womanhood. Each day she awakened with wonder to the world that God had made, and each day I waited with anticipation for that first moment. There was nothing like it in all Creation, as she awoke with a look of complete surprise on her face, as if the world were brand new and made especially for her just moments before the opening of her eyes.

Who was I to watch this private moment between a girl, her world and the God who created it? I already told you, I’m Raphael, an archangel. Weren’t you paying attention? I’m just kidding. I know you didn’t forget. (Unless you did, in which case, shame on you!)

In truth, I was her Watcher, the angel assigned to the job of being one of her guides and guardians through life. It was an easy job in the old days: several hundred million angels for only a few thousand humans. Since then it’s gotten harder, what with some six billion humans to watch live and die, marry and give birth.

It’s a big responsibility now, with harried deadlines. We’re not omnipotent and omniscient like God, you know, we can only do so much. You try watching little Betty’s first steps, Jimmy’s first home run, Vladimir’s first date, Mai-Ling’s labour pains, Consuela learn that she has cirrhosis of the liver, Apu’s thesis dissertation , Martine’s reunion with her estranged father, while Karl drinks his first beer, Sammy fails a mathematics test and George signs a multi-million dollar movie deal. That’s hard work, and with some three hundred million angels and some six billion people, it means each of us watches twenty of you. Thank God for time zones and your necessity for sleep, although people who stay up late can be a hassle.

Anyway, back to what I was talking about. What was I talking about? Oh, yes, the girl. Simply put, she fascinated me from the moment of her birth.

Some might question why one of God’s best and brightest, an archangel, the first to speak to Man, the angel who defeated the demonic fallen angel Azazel and trapped him under the desert, the great Raphael, would be relegated to the position of a Watcher in the dawn of Mankind’s reign on the planet. With a few thousand people and several million angels, why waste an archangel’s time with such an easy job? Gabriel has to guard Eden’s gate, Michael’s the general of Heaven’s armies, Raguel keeps order in Heaven with Saraquel and Ramiel helping by running the angel corps, Uriel oversees the sun, what’s Raphael doing watching an ephemeral, a lowly mortal girl? That’s a very good question. One several other angels asked of me. My only answer is, and was then, too, that “God moves in mysterious ways.” It was my job, and the Boss had His reasons for choosing me to do it.

The more I watched her, the more I found myself enjoying my work. It began much like the affection a father or older brother feels for a newborn baby girl, she makes you want to watch over her and play with her. But as she aged, my feelings for her changed dramatically. Around the time she turned eighteen or nineteen, I was completely in love with her.

Surprised? I was. I’m an angel, beloved of Heaven. There was a tendency amongst my brethren to disdain Mankind. Truth be told, some of us were jealous. Well, okay, most of us. Here we were, first creations of God, and you, the new kids, got to have your very own planet, specially made just for you. Here all of my friends and relatives are complaining about humanity, how they get their own planet and we have to watch over them, and then I have the sheer audacity to fall in love with one. It just simply wasn’t done, I’m afraid.

I wasn’t much interested in what the others thought, however, I was too busy admiring the object of my affections. I was madly in love with her, and felt I knew her intimately because I shared every waking moment, and watched her even as she slept. I could not tear myself away.

As she got older I watched her journey to her hill every day and look out towards the horizon. Every day she went and waited there until the stars came out. It was not for daydreaming now, the visits to the hill were to wait for someone. Her dream, that of a child, required a lover, and she waited for him every day, at that time when the sun melts into the horizon and dusk gives birth to night and the cold gaze of the stars. Each day she went, expectant and hopeful. Instead of becoming frustrated, she lingered a little longer each evening. My heart ached with sympathy for the disappointment she must have felt, until my heart could bear no more.

One night not long after the maiden passed her twenty-first birthday, a day after all of her other elder sisters had been given in marriage, I left another angel at the maiden’s house, one of the seraphim responsible to me, who would watch her while she slept while I went to the Throne of God. It was the first time I had left my post since her birth, she had so enthralled me.

I turned from her bedside and unfurled my white wings to lift myself from Earth towards Heaven. As I rose, I turned to look at her and to salute my comrade while he guarded her. I then turned my gaze towards the night sky and soared towards Heaven. It took but a moment to achieve the celestial plane, as we angels can move with the speed of thought if we choose. I approached Heaven’s pearly gates slower than that, however, for I felt the need to prepare myself. I had to think about what I was doing, and why.

The Celestial City appeared before me upon a white cloud, shining splendidly with God’s radiance reflecting from golden and bejewelled palaces. The sight is truly a marvel to behold, and impossible to accurately describe. Every time it inspires awe in me, and I’ve seen it a lot over the past few millennia. Try to imagine the sun appearing from behind a cloud, how bright and blinding that is, and then pretend there is a city at its centre, the most beautiful city you’ve ever seen, constructed of jasper and agate and sapphires and gold and any other jewel you’d care to see. What you’ve just imagined doesn’t even come close to the beauty of Heaven, but hey, at least you tried.

There are walls all around Heaven, and three gates on each of the four sides. I headed for the main and largest gateway, the Gate of Judah. At the gates I found some of my brethren awaiting me. Among them were Michael and Raguel, fellow archangels, resplendent in long white robes, their hair shining like spun gold. As the shining pearl gates opened before me to allow entrance through the high walls, Raguel stepped forward.

“My brother,” He offered a perfunctory greeting, “Why do you come to Heaven’s Gates, Raphael? You have left your earthly post.”

“I seek audience.” I said, not needing to mention with whom. They knew Whom I wanted to see. “Will you grant passage?”

It seemed somehow a tense moment, three archangels standing in the arch of the Gate of Judah as the cherubim and seraphim hovering around us watched every motion and heard every word. Michael stood by calmly and silently as Raguel stared at me.

“Perhaps if you enlightened us as to your intentions…” Raguel prodded. I found his attitude intrusive, and my response was somewhat lacking in diplomacy. I was set on my goal, and my general cordial manner gave way to impatience easily thanks to this unexpected imposition.

“That is between me and our Father. If I had wish of your counsel, brother, I would seek audience with you.” I said harshly. I could hear soft murmurs of surprise from the crowd at my tone.

“Such impatience. Perhaps you have been among the ephemerals too long, Brother, and learned some of their ways? Perhaps that is why you have come?”

I sensed something in my brother, some disapproval, and it suddenly incensed me. I spoke out, and angrily.

“What’s this, Brother, resentment for our Lord’s new children? Disapproval of His Creation? Why do you not let me pass, what do you fear?”

I made as if to walk past him. Raguel’s eyes blazed as he stepped towards me, perhaps to halt my egress, and that was what caused Michael to step between us and speak.

“Easy brothers, we need not argue. As archangels, beloved of Heaven and the Lord, we are compatriots and equals. No need for this, is there?” His tone was confident and soothing, a diplomatic attempt to smooth over our differences and avoid further confrontation. Raguel nodded his silent agreement and stepped aside, leaving me an open path. His respect for Michael was evident. Angered by the lack of respect he had shown me, a fellow archangel and equal, I turned to go in disgust, only to have Michael take my arm.

“Brother, you have been long among Mankind, by their standards. Perhaps your time there has coloured your feelings, making you impatient and coarse? I think I can persuade Raguel of that, and apologize to him for you over the anger I see in your eyes and hear in your voice. Would that suit you?”

“What of his behaviour? His contempt…”

“Raguel holds us all accountable, such is his place. I may lead our armies, but if I were derelict in my duties, his duty would be to hold me to account. He wanted to know why you are here and not at your posting. If he held his duty so strongly that you took offence, I will talk to him and see about his apology. Does that suit you?”

“Yes. I suppose…”

“Only one thing more, Brother. Your matters are your own affair, but I want you to think on this: is your course one that you follow for yourself, or one you follow for God? Act according to your station, Raphael. If you cannot, do not act at all.”

I left the gate and continued through the celestial city, passing each bejewelled golden palace without noticing any of them, lost in thought. I had not given any consideration as to why I was here, only enough to know that I had come to see God about my maiden, about my love. I thought of my fallen brethren, those angels who had lost Heaven for their desire of Mankind’s children. Was I to be like them? Or was I doing God’s work, was I meant to love her? Was my decision reckless, prompted only by selfishness developed over my time with the humans, or was it the Holy Spirit at work?

I thought on Raguel’s behaviour and found myself angry again. The sanctimonious prig dared to judge me, without even knowing of my feelings or intentions. I was surprised that a fellow archangel could be so closed-minded. I wondered if Michael was right, that maybe I was impatient because I had spent too much time on Earth. But then I figured that I would rather become like the ephemerals than ever become as conceited and self-righteous as Raguel.

I resolved to continue on to the Throne. As God’s archangel, I served Him in all things. If my love was right, it was right because of Him. If it was wrong, He had planned it that way. My fate was His to decide, and if my fate was to fall, I would embrace it willingly, as my place in His plans. God would see me through.

Despite having rationalized my position, I still approached the Lord’s glowing Throne slowly, determined in my course yet in awe of the Creator. Even we angels who live with Him are subject to the aura of love and reverence that He projects. Sometimes it can be quite overwhelming.

The Throne sits by the River of Heaven, perhaps the most beautiful part of Heaven, to my mind. It is like the most exquisite park in the middle of the most beautiful city you can imagine. The Garden of Eden was designed around the same basic parameters as this area, yet was not quite as beautiful. Perhaps that was because of the presence of Him who I had come to see.

“Welcome, my child. You wish to speak, Raphael?“ The Lord saw my approach and, unsurprisingly, knew of my intentions. His voice, deep and warm, seemed to envelope me as much as His light did, as if there were chords throughout my being that His voice set to strumming in a glorious symphony. My spirit soared and sang as I neared my Father and, beside Him, the Son.

“Yes, Lord. I must ask a boon.” I knelt at Their feet in the soft grass of Heaven’s garden, humbled in Their presence. I basked in His gaze and light, feeling His care for me. “I love a mortal…” I began timorously.

“I know.” God spoke, cutting me off and sparing me further words. “I grant permission. Go in peace, My son. You will know what to do, and you shall do it with My blessing. So I have spoken, so it shall be done.”

I had not thought it possible to be any happier than when one was in the Lord’s presence, but I was pleased to find myself mistaken, as the joy in my soul doubled at my Father’s words. A little stunned at how quickly His answer had come, I stood and bowed in thanks, assuming the brief audience to be finished. As I turned to go, the Son spoke.

“Love is the greatest force in Creation, Raphael, but it has a price. Such is justice, that we make sacrifices to obtain that which we hold most dear. To gain, one must also lose, for that is balanced and right.”

Despite the love in my soul for Him and the Father, and for my maiden, I felt a disquieting chill run through my spirit at the Son’s words. I turned back to match gazes with the Son, filling my eyes with His bright glory.

“What price love, then, my Lord?” I asked, my nervousness suddenly gone. “What cost, what sacrifice must be made? I love her, and am willing to suffer any payment You ask. But what cost?” I spoke with conviction, knowing that our Father had already given His blessing, and any expense was worth having my love. I was resolved.

“A time will come,” The Son said ominously, “When We shall ask a task of you. You will make the greatest sacrifice, and watch the cost of this love, the suffering, befall another. You will know that you are fully accountable, but you will be unable to relieve this other’s agony. So it shall be done. Do you still wish to stay your course, knowing your joy shall harm another?“

Here I wavered. Could I accept the responsibility for the pains another would suffer, knowing that my actions caused such torments? Was I so selfish that I could put my happiness before another being’s welfare?

“My Lord, I cannot harm another for my own gain. Such is evil, the way of the Fallen, and of sinful men… I cannot in good conscience act knowing that another will pay my debts for me, they are mine alone to bear. Is there no way for me to bear the full brunt of the cost? No way to spare this unnamed innocent?”

Our Father spoke in answer: “The ways of God are mysterious, even to His greatest servants. It has been decided. You will love, and the fruits of that love shall be bitter. So I have spoken, so it shall be done.”

I found myself in disagreement with my sovereign Lord, something most of my brethren, if not all of them, would find impossible.

“What justice, this, that an innocent soul pays my debt for me? That another suffers while I prosper? How can this be right and just and balanced?” I angrily demanded. Of their own accord, my wings unfurled themselves to their full length with a sudden rushing sound that echoed in the garden. The confrontation had not exactly angered me, for it was my beloved Father before me, yet I was extremely vexed. I would have seemed imposing at that moment to any human, demon or angel, I am certain, with my eyes aflame and my wings spread as I floated before God and His Son upon them. Yet God and His Son were not easily impressed, and my lack of humility before them seemed to go unnoticed.

“It is fair, for you shall suffer even as you watch them suffer.“ I was told. “That is your payment, to watch and do nothing. Such will be unbearable, for yours is a powerful will, and to be unable to act is unthinkable to a being with such powers as yours. It will make you humble, as humble as a newborn man. It is just, for while the other must suffer, they shall also receive great glory for God. It has been decided.” The Son spoke again, and His words fell like stones, each one a new weight on my shoulders and on my soul.

I found myself confused, uncertain of what He meant. How could another’s agony bring glory, and how could my own inaction be unbearable and humbling? I did not understand, but I knew my duty as the Lord’s archangel. I had to follow the course He placed before me.

“So it shall be done, then.” I answered resignedly, bowing again, my wings drooping as I set foot in the grass again. I made as if to go, only to be halted yet again by my Father’s voice.

“She must sacrifice, too, for her desires. She will have her child, Raphael, but you must bring it here, to Heaven. It cannot remain among Man. Such is the cost of granting her wish. Make certain she understands that.”

“Thy will be done.” I acquiesced to Their commands and bowed to show my understanding, and soon found myself on her hill, watching the dawn, sent from the celestial plane to do my task.

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