…we know that an idol is nothing in this world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth (as there be gods many, and lords many: ) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him, and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. – 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 (KJV)
I was grazing with my herd when the Good Shepherd came up to me, looked into my eyes, and said “I must wake you now.” At once my hoofs became hands and feet, I stood and saw that my form had become like His and was clothed. All that remained of my pleasant fleece were the hairs of my head and a growth of white beard on my chin. Memories of my sheep-life ebbed away as the memories belonging to my human form came back. In most of them the Shepherd had seemed absent. In many of those memories I hadn’t minded His absence, which had only grown painful to me, I realized, with the passage of years.
“Thank You, Lord,” I said, delighted to find Him standing face to face with me. “What should I do?”
“Enjoy yourself. Enjoy My company. Come, sit with me.” There was a large, flat boulder nearby, with a folded blanket on top. He gestured that I should sit at His right hand. “I want you to meet My friends the gods and goddesses.”
His words startled me. I’d been taught that there was but one God, the Source of all that is, and that there was but one Shepherd, through Whom alone we might have access to that Source. Having lived as a sheep, I knew the stupidity of my kind intimately, as I also knew the treacherousness of the hireling, the wickedness of the thief and the fierceness of the wolf. As a sheep I’d come to know the Shepherd’s voice, and knew in my heart that He alone was worthy of my trust. Who were these that He was calling gods?
“These are some of your fellow-citizens in My kingdom,” He said, answering my thoughts, as glowing, strange-faced forms like men’s and women’s came emerging from the nearby wood, the waters of the stream and the clouds of the sky, some winged and some many-armed, hundreds, thousands, thousands of thousands, all forming themselves quietly into an orderly array before Him. I noticed that when I leaned away from Him their appearance grew opaque and dull. Curious, I leaned toward Him till my head was almost against His chest, and saw the light from their gleaming forms blaze dazzlingly bright. At the same time they became transparent, so that I could see the glorious interior of each one in perfect detail. Some sparkled within with delightful complexity, like the one I took to be a goddess of learning; others seemed sweetly simple, like blades of grass.
“Many on earth seek to serve the Good by worshipping these gods individually. They often begin by calling on a particular one, like the elephant-faced one yonder; but we needn’t follow any special order. This is Agni, god of fire,” He said, beckoning one forward. “Agni, this is My friend John.” The man standing before me seemed to be made of light, yellow, orange and blue all over, serene as a candle flame in a windless place. “Don’t get up,” the Shepherd cautioned me. “Just shake his hand. It’s appropriate to thank him for the gift of fire, and nod to him as you would to a friend when he warms your house or cooks your food. But it’s more appropriate to thank Me, by whom all things consist, as all the gods understand. Don’t forget your bond of friendship with Agni if, at My bidding, he burns your flesh or destroys your goods; for the gods do nothing without My will and consent.
“But it’s not good for either of you if you bow down to him, or give gifts to him; that’s why, in the covenant I’ve made with you, I’ve forbidden you to worship any gods or goddesses, or angels, or powers heavenly or earthly. It’s a step backwards, away from Me, and to go in that direction brings great pain. Having known and loved Me, the Word and First-born of the Creator who am also One with the Creator, why would you pass Me by to ask one of My creatures for its favor or intercession? Unless there were some aspect of Me you were trying to hide from. Question your heart, then, if you feel this temptation. If you ever wish to honor Agni or give gifts to him, or to any other god, give them to Me, or to our heavenly Father, and We’ll see that they get where they should go.”
“What my Lord says is right and true,” responded the man of flame, smiling and shaking my hand, then giving way to the next being before us. She was a beautiful brown-skinned woman, dressed all in green, with a sleeping baby in her arms. I knew without an introduction that this was Mother Nature, also known as Mother Earth and by a thousand other names. How should I not recognize her? For she was my own mother, who’d woven my body from the stuff of her own, and in her I saw all I had ever desired – save the One Thing that was beyond nature. Longing for all these objects of desire welling up in my heart, I began to rise to go to her, but my heavenly Teacher’s hand gently restrained me.
“I know you love her,” He murmured to me, “and so do I. You will go to her one day, when you give all your substance back to her, leaving this world of time to join Me forever. But when you sit at My right hand in time and Nature’s world, as you’re doing now, you’re not to leave your seat, for if you do you’ll also lose your gift of seeing all things as they are.” His words had the power of impressing me with their truth in such a way as to remove all doubt. I settled myself back on the blanket, shook Mother Nature’s hand as she passed on, and found myself greeting a person of constantly changing shape, alternately seeming male and female, young and old, restful in one stable form and vanishing in a spray of droplets that dissipated as a dissolving mist.
“This is Tlaloc, god of water,” said my Teacher. “My beloved Francis called him ‘Sister Water, humble, useful and chaste.'” Suddenly aware of both a great thirst and a compulsion to wash myself, I felt unaccountably tempted to fall at this being’s feet, but awareness of the greater Majesty sitting at my side kept me still.
Then there approached one looking dreadful and smelling foul. “This friend, you know, is Death. Don’t be afraid to take his hand,” encouraged my Teacher, the healing brightness of His presence at once driving away all unpleasantness from the one coming toward us. Death smiled. There was merriment in his smile, the smoldering joy of a secret-keeper with a pleasant surprise for those he visits. He lingered near us as my Teacher continued:
“There are gods and goddesses many, all with powers granted by Me, none with powers not of My giving. As all are obedient to the One Will which is God’s, there can be no strife or enmity or jealousy among them, such as the myth-makers fancied. When you call on Me you call on them all; there is no advantage to be gained by calling on them separately, nor is there ever need to call for any intercessor, whether god, human or angel, between you and Me – who am your Best Friend and very Self. I send them to you as you need them.
“There are also many that seem gods and goddesses but are not. These are conscious or unconscious creations of men and women that have taken on a mere semblance of life, like the ‘stocks and stones’ derided by the prophets, which have no core of being. Some of these dream-inventions, hungry for attention and energy from the living, may call themselves by My name, or the names of My saints, never realizing, in their dim and limited awareness, the untruth of their claims. They may speak in religion’s name, or of the nation, the world economy, or other things thought noble; others are mere creatures of lust. Together they make up what My apostle called ‘the god of this world,’ whose lead you follow when you turn aside from My Light into the false lights that glow in the shadows. But they enslave; and I free. By their fruits you may know them.
“Finally there is your Enemy, who uses the god of this world, and every deceit, and every false spirit, to draw you away from Me to your destruction. I am your infallible Protection against this being, so long as you persevere in the effort to follow Me. I have overcome him, so do not fear him; but know that he lies in wait for you, as the wolf lay in wait for you when you lived as one of my flock. He is one that is, and is not, and yet is. You will understand this at the Great Awakening that is to come.
“There are different kinds of human awareness, depending on what sort of glass the soul sees the world through. There’s a dark glass, self-chosen, that lets it see only a small portion of what is. The soul then imputes all power to the half the world it sees, and flees from the half it denies, so that it must pass its time in ignorance and fear. There’s also the fiery red glass through which the soul knows much of the world, but cannot see the unity and perfection of the whole, so that all that’s perceived is separate parts of creation in endless strife. This unhappy vision locks the soul into a life of struggle with no lasting peace. Yet by efforts to be truthful and fair-minded it may come to see the world through the clear glass through which you see things now. By steadfast looking through this glass it comes to enjoy peace, trust, discernment of temptations, and the knowledge of Me in which is found eternal life. I speak of these windows of glass so that you might know why so many souls cannot see what you see, nor follow your reasoning, nor trust the purity of your intent. Red glass does not permit the seeing of green, nor blue glass yellow. Because of this, souls often cannot understand one another’s covenants with Me.
“I am the only Savior, the only Door into eternal life with God, though souls in different lands and times know me by different names. And there is but one faith, by which souls abandon untruth and repent, experiencing the one inward washing that brings salvation. But there is a diversity of covenants with Me, as souls have a diversity of natures; some are called to observe times and rites, while others are free of them. Because not everyone can understand his neighbor’s covenant or heart, I forbid the judging of other men and women’s efforts to be faithful. If your neighbor’s conscience is good and his heart loving, know that I’ve blessed him, and rejoice for him. But if you perceive that he’s put his trust in a lie, or has strayed from his own covenant with God, tell him what you see, and pray for him. If he teaches untruth, bear witness to it. Remember, though, that your best way of influencing your neighbor for good will be through your own faithfulness to the covenant I’ve made with you. He may see your light and follow it, and by following it see that it’s My light and so come to Me.”
“That’s clear, and I understand it,” I answered. “Thank You.”
“Good,” He said. He turned to look into my eyes and said, “I must wake you now.” At once my hands and feet became hoofs again, and my body was again covered with fleece. The scope of my attention dwindled to a single simpleness, without qualities, and such was my inward peace that I felt no need to direct it elsewhere. My Shepherd spoke to me again, but I no longer understood the sounds He made; I only knew, in my heart, that He alone was worthy of my trust.