I cradled the tiny baby gently through the quick flight to Heaven’s Gates, but it seemed to matter little to the infant.  She was fast asleep, dreaming children’s dreams.  I looked on her with paternal pride, and then to my brother, the archangel Michael, general of the Host of Heaven.

            “You seem tired, Raphael.”  He said to me as we neared the pearly gates, shining brightly before us on a luminous white cloud.  His tone was warm, and slightly concerned.  Michael and I had always been close, though he had his difficulties expressing himself.  He was the leader of our armies, and had little time to waste on voicing emotions that could erode discipline in the ranks.  However, he did have a warm heart despite his seemingly aloof exterior, and was beloved by his troops.  A kind word from him was like a medal, something to be proud of.

            “I am.  It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, Brother.  I had to help this little one live, and then I watched her mother die.”

            “I’m sorry.”  Michael said.  His words were simple, but I knew him well.  They reflected his internal sorrow and compassion for me as well as any other words could, and I appreciated the thought, whether it was expressed in many words or in only a few.  We flew the remaining distance to the gates in silence, with him respecting my need to emotionally absorb the events I had just endured, and with me appreciating his tact.

            Our honour guard of five angels landed before us, having flown ahead to give us archangels our privacy.  They heralded our arrival, so that the gates stood open and gave entrance.  This time my route to the Throne of God was unimpeded, so we moved swiftly past the glowing palaces of Heaven.  They shone like the sun, being made of gold that was clear, like glass, and into them was incorporated marble, jasper, sapphire, emerald and all manner of other jewels for effect.  The streets we flew down were also golden, and we hurried along them to finally land before our Father and His Son in the grass of the Garden.

            “Welcome home, Raphael.”  God greeted me warmly.  I felt the Presence again, His care radiating from the Throne and filling me.  I suddenly felt my faded strength returning, and my lack of faith was also vanishing.  I still had my questions, but now they merely needed answers.  I was no longer angry with God, just eager to hear my completed mission explained.

            “Lord, why is it that I doubted You, found it so easy to be angry with You, yet now my faith is restored?”  I asked.

            “Your mortal form was vulnerable to the same doubts, scepticism and fears that plague all men.  Did you not notice that other emotions were also stronger in their ability to cloud your judgement on the mortal plane?”  God answered.  I nodded in agreement, remembering how nervous love had made me at first, and how it had swept me away.

To angels such fierce passion is almost unknown.  We feel love just as strongly as humans do, perhaps more so because we do not feel the fear and doubt that can come with it, but it never clouds our judgement the way it can a man.  Love for an ephemeral contains the added dimensions of instinct, hormones and chemistry, physical things that are alien to celestial creatures until they take mortal form.

            “Your faith was always there, but your mortal mind allowed other things to come between you and God.  Here, in His presence, those barriers are removed.”  Michael said.

            “You have brought the child, Mara.”  The Son spoke, and it was not a question.  I was unsurprised that they knew the name my child had been given by her mother.  After all, it was God and the Son.  “Bring her before Us.”

            I lay the child in the soft grass at Their feet, and stepped back.  She was awake now, and not at all alarmed to be away from me.  She stared up at God and was smiling warmly, a toothless grin of sheer delight.  She even giggled sweetly, reaching out a hand to Him.  He stared down at her, smiling as well, and it seemed as if they were communicating in some way, only we were not allowed to share in their discourse.  He then looked up from her, at me and Michael.

            “It is well.  Take her and raise her, teaching her the ways of angels here in the city, and then of Man on Earth.  A day will come when she will serve Our will, and then you will bring her before Us again.” 

            “What about her mother?  Why did one so full of faith have to die?  And her grandmother, what of her prophecies?”  I asked, not willing to be dismissed so easily.

            “Her death was necessary, for her destiny had been fulfilled.  She has earned her rest until the day that all souls are brought to Heaven, to be with the Father in glory.  You know that as well as any, Raphael.  Death is but the doorway to Heaven.  She sleeps now, and will reawaken to a new life with you, here, in time.”  The Son said kindly, and His words touched me.  Relief filled my being.  I had known this simple fact, but had forgotten it in the face of my grief on Earth.  I marvelled at how powerfully emotions could affect the mortal frame, and found newfound respect for humanity, that they lived through such profound feelings every day and could still function.

            “The prophecies will unfold in time.  One has but to wait.”  The Father said.

            “But my daughter…  Is she in danger?”  I demanded.  The images my mother-in-law had seen in her dreams spoke of struggle and pain, and it seemed as if Mara might have been involved.

            “Your daughter has her part in the Plan, as do all creatures.  As it unfolds, so will her role.  The future comes to those who wait.  If there be danger, rest assured that she will meet it bravely, stand and be true.  The Lord God asks only that which can be given of His subjects, no more, no less.  In time she will win Him glory through her sacrifices.”

            And with that I had to be satisfied, for our audience was at an end.

Mara was perhaps one of the easiest babies in history to care for, in some respects.  She never cried, did not eat, as all angels are sustained by the celestial light of God found within themselves, and therefore never needed to be cleaned up after, either.  She also never needed to sleep, and neither did I, so we never had the problem of having to wake up in the night to deal with a baby’s cries.

            She was also, however, one of the most difficult babies in Creation to keep up with.  She was incessantly curious, with a need to understand everything around her, and kept wandering off to look at some new wonder.  No one quite knew what to do with her:  none of us had ever been children ourselves, we had been created as whole beings, not as babies who had to grow up and learn things.  Child rearing was not a usual angel activity. 

That’s something people often make mistakes about:  angels are not human beings, and never were.  Humans don’t become angels, either. We are related through God, siblings in a way, but we are not the same.  Another common misconception is that people go straight to Heaven or Hell when they die.  That’s not true either, there is a period of restful oblivion until the day that the dead are all brought as one to meet the Son in the air and are brought, newly revived, to their new home in Heaven.  It’s in John’s Revelation, people!  Where these rumours get started, I’ll never sort out.

            I was quite busy getting familiar with my duties in Heaven:  I had left my aide in charge of the seraphim ranks while I was on assignment to Mara’s mother on Earth, and found upon my return that he had mixed up my filing system in an attempt to be more efficient.  His well-intentioned attempt had utterly failed, so I had tons of scrolls to work through to try and get things to some semblance of order going in the office, because, while his system might have worked for him, I didn’t understand it at all.  Bureaucracy!  I prayed that the humans would never discover the concept. 

            Because I was so busy, I could often get quite distracted and Mara would take the opportunity to disappear on a quest to satisfy her curiosity.  I considered requesting a leave of absence so that I could concentrate on raising her, but realized that would only make the office even more disorganized by the time I got around to returning to it.  After much consideration, I assigned one of my junior seraphim to watch over Mara, a gentle soul named Jeremiah.  While I was busy he would nanny her, and then I would come home after a long day in the office to play with her.

            She grew to be a lovely little girl, with delicate child-sized wings, and lovely reddish brown hair that curled wildly to halo her face.  Her eyes had deepened some from the startling blue she was born with, and could sometimes appear almost violet.  Her skin was not quite as bright as that of a pure angel, but was definitely smoother than any human’s could be.  She laughed often with me and Jeremiah, and had her mother’s glorious smile.

            Once she began speaking, I would ask her how her day was.  Around the time she turned five, her summary of her day would go like this:

            “It was a good day.  Jeremiah took me to the Great Library, where we read about the First Holy War, where Lucifer’s army fell to Michael’s forces and then God tossed them into Hell, and Lucifer was given the title of the Adversary.  I’m learning lots, Father.” 

            Or she’d say: “Jeremiah and I played in the Garden today, and he and I went swimming in the River.  Grumpy old Raguel went by and didn’t even say hello.  I think he works too hard, Papa, he’s always in a hurry.  Even archangels should learn to have some fun.” 

            Sometimes she’d say something like this:  “We were practising my flying just outside the gates, and I flew up as high as the top of the wall and waved to the guards.  I waved lots and shouted hello, but I guess that they just didn’t see me.”

            I began to get the distinct impression that, as Mara aged, more and more of Heaven’s Host went out of their way to avoid the child.  They had welcomed her quite warmly as a baby, but now seemed to find my curious daughter a nuisance.  I found myself worried that perhaps my brethren were discriminating against Mara because she was half human, and remembered the day that Raguel had impeded my journey to God’s throne, and the disapproval of humanity that I had sensed within him.

            My suspicions were confirmed when he made a “casual” visit to my office one day, on the pretext of inquiring as to my progress in organizing the filing system and re-assigning my seraphim as Watchers of new humans being born on Earth.

            “Welcome, Brother Raguel.  To what do I owe the pleasure of your company on this fine, God-blessed day?”  I asked cordially, and invited him to sit down. 

            He took a moment before answering, looking about my office while he sat.  It was cluttered in a homey way, with scrolls open on my white marble desk, and with several more on the shelves of three walls of the room, shelves which also held flowers that had grown near Hannah’s hill and bloomed perpetually here in Heaven.  On my desk was a painting by Mara of the two of us standing in the Garden.  For a toddler, she was quite the artist.  I especially liked the wings on the depiction of me.  I’m entirely sure that I was the only angel in Heaven with a portrait done by his child, mostly because I was the only parent, and Mara the only child.  Highly irregular, I’m sure, for such a picture to be in an angelic office. 

            The large circular window behind my desk looked out on the Garden, with the Throne’s glow off in the distance and the River close at hand.  Rank hath its privileges, and being an archangel had earned me a lovely view, while others saw only the palaces of Heaven from their windows.  The palaces are beautiful, too, don’t get me wrong.  I just found that my time on Earth had given me an affinity for the simple pleasures of grass and water and trees.

            “I was hoping for a progress report on your doings here, now that you’ve had some time to reacquaint yourself with your duties.”  He said coolly.  It seemed that he had been unimpressed with the way my office appeared.  Knowing Raguel, I was sure his office must be perfectly ordered and completely bare of ornamentation.

            “I’ve finally got the system restructured, if that’s what you mean.  My aide had some twenty-one years to change it, I’ve got it back to the way I like it in only five.  The seraphim under my command are adjusting well to their new roles as Watchers now that they’ve been reassigned.  I have them working shifts as you requested, so that they spend time here in Heaven and on Earth equally.”  I paused for a moment as I looked over the order from Raguel’s office for the seraphim to work staggered shifts of duty, and then looked directly at my brother.

            “May I ask something?  Why the change?  I always felt that having angels spend all their time with their human created a certain bond, an affection for their duty.  You get attached to them, and through that attachment take better care of them, since you know them so intimately…”

            Raguel interrupted.  “This order is intended to end the inclination for such affections as you have just so aptly described.   I felt that we should strive for more clinical detachment in our work, for the sake of efficiency and objectivity.  That way we will not repeat the unfortunate mistakes of the past.”

            “What mistakes?”  I asked.  I felt a sudden disquieting chill, as I believed I knew where this was heading.

            “Why, those of the Fallen, who were so enamoured of Mankind that they renounced their celestial forms to serve their lusts.  We need to ensure that such…” He gestured with his hands as if he had touched something as equally disgusting as the idea of the Fallen seemed to him, and seemed to be searching for the appropriate words, “…undesirable interaction with the ephemerals never occurs again.”

            “‘Undesirable interaction?’  What is that supposed to mean?  They are God’s children, just as we are.”

            “Be that as it may, there is a distinct difference between them and us.”  He pointed his finger sternly at me, as if to emphasize the point.  He didn’t need to say it, but I knew he meant that he thought that angels were better than Man.  “We do not need more of our angels falling prey to human weakness.”

            I was struggling with righteous indignation that threatened to boil over.  I could not believe the gall of this angel, my supposed brother-in-arms in the service of the Lord!  He was blatantly insulting me and my beloved daughter, while concealing his feelings with talk of the Fallen.  His message was clear, however.

            “Oh, one more thing,” Raguel said casually, the sternness gone, halfway out the door, “That lovely daughter of yours?  It would be most appreciated if she not be allowed free reign of the palaces anymore.  Private homes are one thing, but she has been touring the offices as well.  We can’t have her disrupting any more of God’s work or His workers.  I understand the need for education, but that can be more easily accomplished in the Library, and not elsewhere, don’t you agree?”

                With that last comment, Raguel shut the door, leaving me standing in my office, angry and insulted, shaking with disgust at his attitude and words.

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