Three Surprises –
In a recent conversation that included a range of topics including heaven, I told a friend what had been said to me many years ago. “There will be three surprises when we get to heaven. People will be surprised who made it. People will be surprised who didn’t make it. Lastly, people will be surprised we made it!” It’s a humorous yet true statement about the afterlife and Heaven’s membership. There will be surprises aplenty so don’t be so convinced in your beliefs, ability, and acceptability that you lose the mystery of a God who knows more than you, sees more than you, and is bigger than you can imagine. Heaven mirrors God’s nature and love not ours.
Wisdom teaches us that our ways are not God’s ways, our thoughts are not God’s thoughts. In the Benedictine tradition, we are to keep our; “eyes tilted toward the ground.” We are to keep our sin and shortcomings always in front of us. Not as a burden to bear but a constant reminder of God’s goodness and a reason to rejoice.
Several years ago I was leading a Bible study and we were talking about God’s grace. I made the statement; “Without God, no matter what we said or did, we had no true goodness or love.” A man in our group spoke up and asked; “If we don’t have anything worth redeeming why does God love us?” “That,’ I answered, ‘is why they call it grace.”
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We know there are many reports of so-called near-death cases in North America, which remains a place of significant religious belief. People in Canada and the U.S. remain somewhat religious. But what about nations where the faith has waned or where atheism even has begun to reign?
It turns out it doesn’t matter.
You’ll find the same afterlife experiences and the transforming effects of these experiences in those places as well.
Take the case of Holland, where the majority of people don’t believe in “life after death” yet where, according to J. Steve Miller, author of the new book Near-Death Experiences, such experiences parallel American ones.
In America, says Miller, one of every twenty-five, or over nine million people, have reported lucid glimpses of the afterlife during medical crises and they’re extremely similar to reports in Holland, China, or even India.
While there can be some variances in how aspects of such experiences are represented (for example, instead of seeing a “movie” of one’s life, they may encounter a book filled with life details), the pattern does not break down across cultures.
Speaking of foreign experiences, Miller says, “I found all the common western elements in the non-western experience: leaving the body, heightened senses, positive emotions, stating that it was definitely real, a tunnel experience, seeing a light, meeting deceased relatives, talking to celestial beings, altered time and space, life review, a beautiful heavenly realm, changed lives, and the overwhelming priority of love.” One thing folks who have this experience definitely have in common is the utter insistence that what they experienced was far beyond what a dream is like (and often very unlike anything they would have expected).
It is even more compelling when a person blind from birth — a person who dreams without images (only hearing and feeling) — suddenly observes the brilliant, gorgeous vistas and in some instances can describe seeing people and objects or events in the hospital that are later verified!
Take the case of a woman named Vicki, who was born without sight and had her experience during a coma after a car accident (at age twenty-two).
“I’d never seen anything, no light, no shadows, no nothing,” she reported. “And in my dreams I don’t see any visual impressions. It’s just taste, touch, sound, and smell. But no visual representations of anything.”
Yet after her experience she possessed the vivid visual images of medical personnel frantically working on her and “went up through the ceiling and saw trees, birds, and people for the first time,” says the author.
Many say their experience was far more real than the waking conscious of regular earthly awareness; and they say the same thing — describe the exact same details, without embellishment — even decades after the experience, noted the researcher.
There was the five-year-old who “died” and returned, only to tell his parents he met a girl named “Rietje” who said she was his sister.
His parents were stunned; they had never told him about the daughter they’d had who died a year before he was born. They had decided to wait to tell them until later in life. The girl’s name had been Rietje.
Others in a coma know if relatives or friends have died, or as in the case of Rietje encounter deceased relatives they never knew and never saw, describing them perfectly.
They see spiritual beings.
They see magnificent landscapes, with equal detail whether they’re close or hundreds of miles away.
They see vistas in three dimensions, as Miller says: “a thousand times more beautiful than my favorite holiday destination.”
Actually there is no space or time. The deaf hear heavenly music. Everything is suffused with an “indescribable” love.
We discuss this all at retreats.
When they return, Miller found; they all see the vast importance of love; this is by far the greatest consistency; they gravitate toward helping professions; they show much greater empathy and compassion; they’re far less materialistic and even a bit uncomfortable in a material world. Also, in most cases, there is no more fear of death.
As a formerly agnostic physician from India put it, “I was skeptical of religion or anything that could not be called strictly scientific.” Yet, notes Miller, he reflected that his experience couldn’t “be explained in normal objective terms. I underwent a positive personality change. All my arrogance vanished.”Submitted by Brother Mark Dohle, OSB