Thursday, 8 June 2017


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Amongst revellers in Borough Market on Saturday night, enjoying a pint with mate James, I heard a commotion. Screams. People running. Turned around: a bearded young man, face twisted with hatred, rushed at me with a big knife. Plunged it into my chest. A sear of pain and an explosion of light followed…that was that.

A kind face looked at me, as I came to. A benign old man. ‘Who are you?’ I asked. ‘My name is Abraham. Worry not, I am your friend.’ ‘Er…Abraham? You mean…’ ‘Yes, Abraham the Patriarch. Or the Prophet Ibrahim, if you prefer. Same figure. Makes little difference.’ Was I dreaming? Or delirious in hospital? Never mind. Wise to play along, I thought.

‘So, I am dead?’ I asked.  ‘Am I in what St Luke calls Abraham’s bosom? Is Jamie all right?’ Abraham smiled: ‘My bosom is a figurative expression. Heaven is more exact. The abode of the blessed. And James is unhurt.’ Incredulous, I gasped: ‘There must be a mistake! I have done nothing to deserve Heaven. I am a ghastly person. A sinner. Sinful through and through. Have no right to be here. Purgatory, maybe… Heaven – no way!’

Abraham appeared amused: ‘Let us decide that, if you don’t mind. It’s not a question of deserving anything. God’s grace can’t be merited. It’s a free gift. A priest ought to know that…’ he reproached me gently. ‘Oh! You are right. Salvation is by faith. I got that OK. Although, to be honest, I occasionally doubted…Oops! Anyway, I am not complaining. Overjoyed, actually. Solved the problem of how to survive on a measly pension… Can I meet the other people around? My mum and dad. My brother. Grandparents. Young Francesco, tragically murdered. My beloved Marian…Even my notorious Sufi master, Julius Evola…’

Abraham pointed towards a kind of pink crowd in the distance. ‘You will, have no fear. It will be a glad reunion for all. All’s well in Abraham’s bosom.’
‘That’s fantastic, Father Abe! Only…what about the knotty theological problem of evil? The bad guys? Don’t mean the jihadi who stabbed me. He unwittingly did me a good turn. But the slayers of the innocent, children and so on, they cannot go unpunished? St Luke has you say that there is a great chasm between Heaven and Hell.’

‘Correct. You can’t pass from here to there. Or viceversa. But you can have a glimpse.’ Abraham drew aside a vast, crimson veil and, lo and behold, what I saw! Like a cauldron of swirling, naked bodies. Some with their faces grotesquely upside down, their backs on fire. Others were drinking bitter, Zakkum boiling water. They swallowed it down avidly, like camels, their entrails on fire. Many were squirming wildly, wearing fiery clothes, being beaten by demons with massive maces of iron. No matter how they wriggled, trying to put out the flames, the fire was renewed, rekindled and burned with greater force. Others were dragged along with hooked rods, their bleeding flesh exposed…’ I had to shut my eyes. Sights too hideous to bear. But I thought I recognised a few sinners. Clergy like a certain bishop of London and worthless priests galore. Statesmen like Muawiyya, his son Yazid, Cromwell, Churchill, Maggie Thatcher, Ceausescu, and Saddam Hussein. Nero, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I,
Lord Nelson. Writers and poets like Heinrich Heine…enough!’

Horrible groans and croaking cries issued from behind the veil: ‘O Ibrahim! Prophet Ibrahim! Please, send that dumb priest to bring us some relief! As stupid Christian, an unbeliever turner of the other cheek, he will do that for us, even if we killed him!’ Sternly, Ibrahim shook his hoary head: ‘No one can breach this gap. You have played your evil game while on earth. You brought shame on your religion. Now must suffer the just consequences.’

Mindful of the teaching of the Roman Church, I timidly asked: ‘The guy is right. I am sucker for pity. I would have helped. Sorry it’s forbidden. But I recall Catholic doctrine. Is there not an intermediate state between Heaven and Hell? What Muslims call Barzakh? Protestants disbelieve in it, Anglicans sit on the fence and Catholics insist in the existence of a special place of cleansing, purification, prior to Paradise…’

Abraham was silent. Had I said something wrong? After a pause he spoke: ‘Not all the secrets of the invisible world are accessible to souls in the Hereafter. Rest content with you saw. Don’t seek to prize open all the doors of the heavenly mansions. It is unprofitable to inquire into such matters.’

Still shaken by the horrible vision, I swiftly changed the subject: ‘Happy you look after our three monotheistic faiths, great Patriarch. But Professor Levinson, of Harvard University, is sceptical. He contends you really belong to Judaism. The idea of “Abrahamic religions” with a shared heritage was created by hung-up French Orientalist Louis Massignon. Quite an arbitrary invention, according to Levinson.’

‘Abraham is the father of many nations’, he replied. ‘He has many children. Isaac, Ishmael, Jews, Arabs and…by faith, the Christians. I am a genuinely inclusive ancestor, see? I care for all of you lot. Just like Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Squabbles among you are sad stuff. Satan-driven plots. Steer clear of them!’

Gratified, I desired to know more. Did he really break down idols, like the Qur’an and the Rabbis say but not the Bible? What about the Ka’aba? And his prayers for the Sodomites? Best not to cross him, though. I therefore briskly ambled my way towards the Blessed nearby…

Revd Frank Julian Gelli


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