“Once you have one sincere moment of divine union, you will want to spend your time on the one thing necessary, which is to grow deeper and deeper in love every chance that you get. Talk to someone who has had a near-death, or nearing-death, experience. They all agree: It’s all about love. It’s all about union.” (Fr. Richard Rohr) This core, so beautifully captured in Rohr’s words, is shared across many experiences, experiences from Christian mystics to those who underwent a near-death experience. Welcome to what we heard this past Sunday!
Those experiences share general traits … it is all about love in the end, God is everywhere, we need not fear. They vary a great deal in specifics. As Emanuel Swedenborg noted in the book Heaven and Hell, “The heaven that is outside reflects the heaven that is within.” So that wonderful variety, no doubt embedded in the very DNA of creation, serves us and God well. Variety is perfection.
Much was striking on Sunday. First, clearly there is a huge interest in these conversations around life after death. Our morning service drew 362, one of largest crowds ever. The evening event, featuring a talk by Dr. Eben Alexander, the NYT’s best selling author of “Proof of Heaven”, drew over 1,000.
The second thing striking to me personally was the profound impact of these types of experiences on the individuals who face them. Much of life flashes by us as an often shallow listing of events and activities. Near death experiences … not so much. These experiences CHANGE people. There is a softness, a joy, an enthusiasm for life that all the speakers in the morning and Dr. Alexander in the evening shared. As Sgt. Matthew Pennington so beautifully phrased it…
“I know there is a purpose for my life greater than I can understand and comprehend, to spend the time lying on the desert floor [injured and dying] sensing the love of God and not wanting to live but having the foresight to know everything is going to be alright [and everything] is certainly divine in nature. I believe we all have a purpose while we are here, whether it is inspiring a stranger through an open act of kindness, guiding the father and mother-less, assisting those less fortunate than ourselves. Sure my life has not been easy I have been tested and have had my fair shares of passing and failing them, but through my trials I have grown to have compassion and understanding.”
And the third part that was striking was frankly a deep honoring, a deep pride that I am part of a church that comfortably and warmly entertains these conversations. Truth can be either a point or a portal. If we orient ourselves to truth as a point we all must agree on the one thing, on the one experience, leaving little room for dialog. If we see truth as a portal however, our conversations open to much grander vistas. As a New Church pastor, I believe that is the nature of true wisdom because it is the nature of true love.
Stephen Lis, Sgt. Matthew Pennington, Margaret Gladish, Dr. Erica Hyatt, and Dr. Eben Alexander all articulated different perspectives. And all shared an experience of the heart of our Creator!
So thank you to everyone from the sponsors to the team members to the volunteers. Sunday was a great blessing!