The fire crackled as the friends sat in a circle around it. The orange glow lit up contented faces, rosy with mulled cider. A large pan near the flames was keeping the cider warm.
Sylvia and Yvonne listened intently as each person took it in turns to tell their story. Those gathered there would not have been considered ‘great’ in any way in the Previous Age. Tolu had still been a child when she began taking care of several members of her family who had lost their sight, but she had done so with such an unwavering selflessness that Ruach had seen and rewarded her with access to Zion. Greg had checked up on every elderly person in his village for years until he was attacked and beaten up one evening for the contents of his wallet. He had died several days later in his local hospital. Now spending time in Zion, the group had all signed up for a hike in one of the mountainous regions and had been enjoying the breathtaking views and each other’s company for the past three days.
“I had never even thought about whether dinosaurs would be here on the New Earth,” said Greg, after the stories had given way to observations about Zion. “I mean, it makes sense, but to see them in the flesh today was such a surprise.”
“Yes, you certainly jumped out of your skin when you saw that sleeping Tyrannosaurus,” laughed Yvonne, “but so did I!”
“And the way it was all curled up with a Diplodocus – that certainly wouldn’t have happened in the Previous Age,” said Greg. “I loved dinosaurs as a kid and I thought I knew all about them.”
“That’s what Zion is like,” said Sylvia. “I find the most surprising things happen here that would have been impossible before.”
“The whole place is built on trust,” said Tolu. “That’s my observation. Nothing here happens without trust.”
“Trust and respect,” added Greg. “This is life where all insecurity has been replaced with trust and respect. All living things honour one another. It changes everything.”
“And yet nothing loses its distinctiveness, does it?” continued Tolu. “We aren’t all swallowed up into one mass, where we lose what makes us… us?”
“Unity in diversity,” said Yvonne.
By now the sky was as dark as it could get on the New Earth. The four friends took a pause from their discussion to gaze up into the sky as they continued to be warmed by the fire.
“Those stars,” said Greg, after several minutes of reverent silence.
“Yeah,” said Yvonne, also lost in wonder.
“Do you think we’ll get to explore the universe?” asked Tolu. “What’s it all doing up there, anyway?”
Greg chuckled at the awesome nature of the question. “I don’t know exactly, but it’s reminding me that I am very small.”
“Sometimes in the Previous Age, I would feel so small and insignificant, but then when I began looking after my relatives, I realised that I was very important to them and that I could make a difference in people’s lives,” said Tolu. “Then I felt at one with the whole universe.”
“I know what you mean,” said Greg. “When showing love became important to me, I didn’t feel so lost in the sea of existence. I felt like I belonged as I got to know the people around me. Helping them gave me such a sense of purpose and meaning. The only time I felt like my life had no meaning was when I was a young man.”
“Ah yes,” said Sylvia. “You were saying how you went to work in the city and made lots of money, just like your dad.”
“I made heaps of money and lost even more. By the time I was thirty I was miserable. I was divorced and convinced that all women wanted was my money. When I gave it all up and became a postman in the middle of nowhere, that’s when I started to notice the human needs around me.”
“Wealth can blind people to other’s needs, can’t it?” said Yvonne.
“Money can cause a feeling of entitlement,” agreed Greg. “That’s why I love the talent system here in Zion. It’s just another way we can honour each other. There are no banks, because no one needs to protect their money or save it up for a rainy day.”
“When you look at people in the various communities here on the New Earth,” said Tolu, “it’s easy to see how misguided their ideas are. I’m living and serving in a village of voodoo witch-doctors. But I can see how they’ve inherited their beliefs as they never had any experience of an alternative culture around them.”
“So how are they responding to their new circumstances?” asked Yvonne.
“Well, they are struggling to make sense of the world without their previous paradigms and are having great difficulty letting go of the traditions they had always known. That’s understandable. However, they do have an attitude of wanting to help others. So much of what we used to call ‘evil’ was just people’s misplaced ways of trying to do good things.”
“Creeds certainly don’t get you into Zion,” added Yvonne. “Some people have to give up their beliefs in the god or gods of their old understanding before they can begin to learn about the true nature of love.”
“They might even have to give up certain ideas of who Jesus is,” said Sylvia. “The name of Jesus that was thrown around where I was brought up often bore little resemblance to the actual man and what he taught.”
“But I have to say that even though I’ve met him,” said Greg thoughtfully, “I am still no expert on him and his teachings. I was a very lapsed Catholic in the Previous Age. Imagine my shock when Jesus said my faith was enough, and that my heart was in the right place. When I was raised and brought to the great supper, I honestly thought there had been a huge mistake!”
“I don’t think anyone is an ‘expert’ in following the Way that Jesus taught,” mused Sylvia. “Often it’s about ‘unknowingly’ showing love, rather than ‘knowing’ how things should be.”
“Intuition over knowledge?” suggested Greg.
“Yes, and trust over certainty,” added Tolu.
“Relationship over systems,” said Yvonne.
A thoughtful but happy quiet descended on the camp as the stars continued to twinkle above them.
As dawn appeared the friends stirred as the sky began its daily dance of colours – a pastel palette of yellow, orange, pink and purple with every shade in between.
The hike back down the mountain range was filled with encounters with strange and wonderful creatures. Herds of grass-eating dinosaurs looked up in unison as the travellers passed by. A pack of wild dogs ran alongside them and enjoyed being tickled behind their ears.
The group walked down the mountain trail that led into one of Zion’s more urban neighbourhoods. Tall buildings with crystalline windows for viewing the landscape of Zion reflected the pastel shades of the sky. People were already busy about their day with some riding various animals along the tree-lined avenues.
“I suppose many different animals can be used for transport, given that they are all so tame here,” said Tolu.
“The teamwork between humans and animals has a deeper synergy here, greater than anything we saw in the Previous Age,” explained Greg. “I went to a circus once as a child and there were lions and elephants, but I found out later that they were physically abused to make them obedient. Here, kindness is the basis of the relationship with working animals.”
“We became so far removed from nature before the Great Suffering,” said Sylvia. “We disregarded the other creatures of the Earth, and we thought so little of them. I am ashamed to think of how arrogant humans were back then.”
“It’s no surprise to me that animals are so central to life here in Zion,” said Tolu. “All creatures are loved by the creator, and we are now able to look after them and work with them in a way that reflects agape love.”
As the friends continued their journey, they came across many wonderful examples of humans and animals living and working together. Many of the scenes were surprising and joyous enough to make them laugh out loud in wonder. By the end of the afternoon, they had arrived back at their lodgings and were standing outside their rooms.
“Shall we meet up later for a final meal together?” suggested Yvonne, always the most socially-minded.
“I think I will probably enjoy some time on my own just now,” said Greg. “I always was a bit on an introvert, and that hasn’t changed here on the New Earth.”
“Of course, no problem at all,” replied Yvonne, sincerely.
“I’d definitely like some down time this afternoon,” said Tolu, “but I’d love to meet up with you for supper. We could go to the new Greek restaurant that you mentioned you’d like to try. ”
“I’m spending time with an old friend tonight,” said Sylvia. “The angel guides knew we had met in the Previous Age, so they arranged for us to have rooms close by one another. But I’m sure the two of you will have a great time.”
So the friends retired to their rooms to rest before embarking on their various plans, each one delighting in a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfilment from the amazing sights and experiences they had shared together on their trip.