Saturday, December 31, 2022

The transcendent realm of experience

Dr Peter Fenwick & Dr Pier-Francesco Moretti, Dr Vasileios Basios, and Martin Redfern write: "The accounts we have of the mental processes of the dying can only give us a partial view, taking us up to the moment of death. The accounts given by those who return from an A/NDE [After Death Experience or Near Death Experience] have a higher definition and paradoxically seems to give a much clearer insight into the mental state of the dying as they start the journey. But despite these differences, the amazing similarity of accounts of the transcendent realm strongly supports the idea that there is one transcendent reality which, although accessed differently, is where the dying go.

"It is surely illogical to think of end of life visions and actual death experiences as isolated, entirely unrelated events. It makes more sense to regard them as part of a continuum, or as different views of the same event – the dying process. It is easy to spot the similarities between them. Both give a glimpse of a transcendent realm suffused with love and light, and both seem to eliminate any fear of death. The presence of dead relatives who seem to be there for a purpose is common to both experiences - to take you on your journey, in the case of an end of life experience, or in an ADE, to send you back, with the message that it was not your time to go. The relatives are all healed of any injury like lost limbs and they never age.

"There are obvious differences too. First, the feeling of being out of one’s body has not been reported in any of the end of life visions we have been told about, though it probably occurs in about a third of ADEs. Neither has anyone described a tunnel experience as part of an end of life vision. Instead, although the dying person sometimes describes being able to move into and out of another transcendent realm, only a movement towards rather than a real journey seems to be involved, just a feeling of going to and from with great ease. Perhaps it is the mental set of the dying which makes the tunnel experience less likely to occur. 

"The dying often spend some time on the edge of consciousness, and at some level at least may know that death is approaching; they are embedded in a psychological matrix of ongoing, a journey to elsewhere, in which the process of leaving may be prolonged. In the A/NDE the movement into the experience – sometimes through a tunnel – and the return, usually described as a ‘snapping back into the body’ are very precise and abrupt events. There is a clear beginning and a clear end. But the end of life experience is a one way journey only, guided and supported by those you have loved.

"How does this help with our understanding of life after death? The evidence we have would suggest that the domain after death has no location in physical space; subjective time is quite different, almost as if there is no time. But the domain is full of light and love. This would fulfill the concept of an entry into no time and no space but the memory of this area is always love and light.


“To Be And Not To Be. This is The Answer: Consciousness Survives,” essay for the 2021 Bigelow essay contest submitted by Dr Peter Fenwick & Dr Pier-Francesco Moretti, Dr Vasileios Basios, and Martin Redfern.


Friday, December 30, 2022

Shared experience of dying loved one

Writer and researcher Nick Cook relates this story: "In 2014, I gathered with my wife’s family at her family home to be with my much-loved mother-in-law as she slipped into unconsciousness after a long illness. Besides my mother-in-law, there were six other family members in the house.

"After a day in which we’d taken turns to be with her, her breathing changed suddenly, and we all assembled by her bed for what her nurse told us would be her last moments. My wife, who had been exceptionally close to her mother, took her hand. At the precise moment of her mother’s passing, still holding Sylvia’s hand, she turned unexpectedly to the rest of us and, in a joy-filled voice that belied the pain everyone knew she was feeling, announced to the room that ‘all was well’. When, some hours later, I asked her what had happened in the midst of her turmoil to make her say this, she looked at me, perplexed. 'Didn’t you experience it, too? Didn’t everyone?'

"She told me that what she had experienced had been so vivid – so real – she was convinced everyone in the room had been ‘there’ too: a place where time didn’t exist, but where it also seemed to stretch endlessly. In this realm, she told me, everything had felt so primally ‘connected’ that she had been presented with every piece of information that had ever existed across all time and every bit of it ‘made sense’. Fear, anxiety, and pain had all disappeared to be replaced by a different state of being a realm, my wife described it as that felt infinitely ‘more real’ than our own; the world that for a second or two (as we had experienced it) she had left behind.

"She felt in this moment overwhelmingly that her mother had gone ‘home’; and that for some reason she had been allowed to experience that place too. These were words that had come from someone who wouldn’t have categorized herself for a moment as ‘religious’ in any recognized sense.

"The other word my wife used was ‘love’ – love of the purest and most joyous kind had permeated this place at every level of its being and of hers; and, in this sense, she said, there was no distinction, no separation, between ‘it’ and her; they were, in effect, one.

"Here is her personal experience in her own words: I felt like I’d been taken part of the way with her. I felt, as I was holding her hand, something else was holding her, and that I was a part of that moment. I just felt loved. I knew everything. I didn’t need to know what I knew. I just understood it. I felt a part of everything, connected with everything. It was like: ‘Ah, I get it’, but I can’t tell you what it is that I got. There was no division. I was it and it was me. All I remember (on returning to the room) is turning around and going: ‘All is well. It’s all OK. She’s fine.’ I had never felt more loved, more safe. I was just one with everything. I had perfect understanding of everything and knowing that where she was was real.

"Over the next several months, this event had a profound effect on me. I had been given testimony of an anomalous event from someone whom I trusted intimately – and there was no question that, for the person to whom the event had happened, it had been real. When I Googled it, I found it was something others had experienced – a phenomenon allied to the OBE and the NDE known as a ‘shared death experience’.


Nick Cook is an author of 20 fiction and non-fiction book titles in the US and the UK. A former technology journalist, he is well-known for his ground-breaking, best-selling non-fiction book, The Hunt for Zero Point. He has also written, produced, and presented two feature-length documentaries for the History and Discovery channels. In 2021, Cook was amongst 29 prize winners in the BICS institute’s essay competition on consciousness.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

End of life experience that was reassuring

Dr. Christopher Kerr, Chief Medical Officer and Chief Executive Officer for Hospice & Palliative Care Buffalo, writes of dying patients having dreams of renewing friendships with deceased friends and relatives:

"Frank had been admitted to the Hospice Inpatient Unit with severe congestive heart failure. At 95, he was still completely aware of his surroundings and loved a good conversation. He had collected encyclopedic bits of baseball lore the way others do treasured objects and could talk the game like no one else. Yet, despite his recall and engagement, when Frank closed his eyes to rest, his room became crowded with dead relatives. One of them was Uncle Harry who had been dead for 46 years and who 'wouldn’t shut up'. This was a recurring phenomenon I now knew better than to mistake for the manifestation of a broken mind.

"Like for so many of our dying patients, time was now inconsequential and what was before was now in the present while realities, whether current or past, living or dead, merged. His body was shutting down, but his mind had not lost its foothold in consciousness. In truth, he had a foot in two worlds, only one of which we shared.

"Over time, Frank’s inner-world experiences returned him to what he treasured most in life, his wife’s love. The more he dreamt of her, the more he felt her presence and the more peaceful he became. He finally requested that we discontinue treatment. His decision to decline care was medically appropriate. As is so often the case, patients recognize medical futility before their physician and, in a sense, release the doctor from an obligation that can no longer be honored. Frank wanted to join 'Ruthie in heaven'. 

"We helped him reach comfort for this much-awaited reunion, and he died with the beauty and grace he had lived and created. As his organs failed, his senses, perceptions and awareness did not. In fact, they were telling Frank that his soul was in fact very much alive. In contrast to the notion of 'raging against the dying of the light', Frank, like most of our patients, was fighting towards not against. The 'towards’ he was drawn to was within his end of life vision providing a renewed consciousness warmed in familiar love. This was where he was now experiencing 'life', beyond his physical boundaries."

Christopher Kerr, “Experiences of the Dying: Evidence of Survival of Human Consciousness,” an essay written for the 2021 Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies in response to the question: “What is the best evidence for survival of consciousness after bodily death?” Dr. Kerr, MD, PhD, is the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Executive Officer for Hospice & Palliative Care Buffalo.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

After death experiences: Consciousness Survives

Dr Peter Fenwick & Dr Pier-Francesco Moretti, Dr Vasileios Basios, and Martin Redfern write: "There can be no evidence clearer than the personal testament of someone who has died. Thanks to the success of medical interventions following cardiac arrest, many people do return from something that would have been classified as dead 50 years ago a state in which the brain has ceased to function, the heart has stopped and the person is to all intents and purposes actually dead. And some report experiences which suggest the existence of another state of consciousness, unavailable in our normal everyday world.

"The international definition of death is: no respiration, no cardiac output and absent brain stem reflexes. This is the exact clinical state after a cardiac arrest. Simultaneous recording of heart rate and brain electrical activity show that within 11 seconds of the heart stopping, the brainwaves go flat. You are clinically dead.

"Consciousness is lost in a matter of seconds when the heart stops and may not be regained until hours to days after it restarts.

"Even if cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) begins straight away, blood pressure will not rise high enough to establish an adequate blood flow through the brain. Doine Stub and Graham Nichol found that only 7% of cardiac arrest patients survived and most had some evidence of brain damage; and the mental state during recovery is confusional.

"The flat EEG indicating no brain activity during cardiac arrest and the high incidence of brain damage afterwards both indicate that unconsciousness is total. The brain can’t create images, so it should be impossible to have clearly structured and lucid narrative experiences and because memory is not functioning, if experiences did occur they should not be remembered. The brain does not begin to function again until the heart restarts. So in theory it is impossible for anyone in this state to a) experience or b) remember anything that occurred during it. And if an experience occurred during the gradual return to consciousness it would be confusional, and not the clear, lucid story which is characteristic of actual death experiences.

"However, to muddy the waters some studies have found that in patients who are being monitored and have begun the actual death process, there is a sudden recurrence of brain activity, containing faster frequencies which may last up to five minutes. Materialists have jumped on this as the explanation for the ADE. But this is random cortical activity which does not integrate different areas of the brain, and certainly could not restore consciousness.

"Conventional science cannot explain how an ADE could occur at any point during the death process, and there are special difficulties in accepting that it happens when the ADErs say it happens — during unconsciousness. However, about 10% of those who survive a cardiac arrest report an ADE .

"It is very difficult to judge the exact timing of an ADE during a cardiac arrest. But two prospective studies were of people who had had cardiac arrests and were resuscitated in coronary care units, where their medical records show exactly what had happened; the patients had the same medication and resuscitation procedures and could be questioned as soon as they were well enough.

"Of the 63 cardiac arrest survivors interviewed, 89% had no memories and about 10% reported ADEs, which they said had occurred while they were unconscious. These ADEs were, as was expected, very similar to those NDEs already reported in the literature. The authors also found that the ADEs were not due to medication, electrolytes, blood gases, religious belief or any other cultural factors.

"Other research groups have found similar results. In a Dutch study of 344 cardiac arrest survivors, 41 (about 12%) reported ADEs (van Lommel, 2011). Their occurrence was not influenced by the duration of unconsciousness or cardiac arrest, or by medication but more ADEs were reported in the group of survivors who died shortly after their experience. In another study a higher rate of 23% was reported (Schwaninger et al., 2002) about 10% were found by Greyson, (2003) , while others (Sartori et al., 2006) report about 25%. What is clear is that actual death experiences do occur in association with cardiac arrest, and their contents are similar to those reported in the NDE literature.

"No studies have so far been able to provide definitive scientific proof of when an ADE occurs. Parnia, with Fenwick and others (Parnia et al., 2001) found that the patients themselves felt that the experiences occurred during unconsciousness - important because, as discussed above, we have no idea how clear consciousness can be experienced during a period of clinical death with a flat EEG. This question is absolutely crucial to one of the biggest problems facing neuroscience: is consciousness entirely a product of brain function and is it confined to the brain? ADE research is perhaps the most promising way of filling the ‘consciousness gap’ in neuroscience. From the point of view of science, the ADE cannot occur during unconsciousness, and yet there is tantalizing evidence that that is just when they do occur.

"About a third of ADEs are preceded by an out of body experience in which the experiencer says they leave the body and rise to the ceiling and can see the resuscitation taking place. Anecdotal evidence points to the OBE and therefore the ADE occurring during unconsciousness. Certain subjects even described their own resuscitation procedures accurately, suggesting that their ADE had occurred when the brain was ‘down’ (Sabom, 1982).

"Dr. Penny Sartori studied a group of cardiac arrest survivors in a coronary care unit, several of whom said they had left their bodies and witnessed the resuscitation process. She compared their accounts of their resuscitation with those of another group of patients who had had no ADE during their resuscitation but were asked to describe what they thought had happened. It is usually argued that everyone sees so much resuscitation on TV that they know the procedure. Dr. Sartori was able to show convincingly that the patients who claimed to have seen their resuscitation, described it much more accurately than those who could only guess what had happened and who made significant errors (Sartori et al., 2006).

"The case of Pamela Reynolds, described in the BBC’s documentary film The Day I Died, (Broome, 2002) is worth quoting at length because it seems so clear that even the most ardent debunkers have been unable to produce a satisfactory explanation for it.

"Pamela had to undergo surgery to remove a cerebral aneurysm situated deep in the central structures of her brain. The operation was carried out in a specialized neurosurgery center under close medical monitoring during the entire operation. Her brain was cooled and EEG electrodes measured her brain activity. When the anesthesia had reached sufficient depth, the brain was known to be non-functioning. Pamela was clinically dead. Her circulation was taken over by a heart lung machine, the blood was emptied from her brain and the neurosurgeons removed the aneurysm. Then the heart was restarted, and the wound was closed.

"After the operation Pamela made several observations about what she had ‘seen’ during it which were acknowledged by the medical team to be correct. The best skeptics have been able to come up with to rebut this was that it was a case of ‘anesthesia awareness’, which does indeed occur under some circumstances, but is impossible in cases such as this when the brain is emptied of blood and clinically dead. Far more significant is the following comment on the case, from the British Medical Journal.

“There is still much scientific work to be done before we can confidently suggest mind-body separation during the NDE. Dr Spritzer, the neurosurgeon who operated on Pam Reynolds, stated that he could not explain her NDE in the physiological state she was in, commenting 'I don’t want to be so arrogant to be able to say that there is no way it can happen'. Let us hope that all those engaged in NDE research can adopt a similar attitude.” (BMJ-editorial, 2003).


“To Be And Not To Be. This is The Answer: Consciousness Survives,” essay for the 2021 Bigelow essay contest submitted by Dr Peter Fenwick & Dr Pier-Francesco Moretti, Dr Vasileios Basios, and Martin Redfern.


Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Deathbed "appearances" and "coincidences"

Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick write: "Further evidence to support the theory that consciousness can in some form continue after death has been found in studying what appears to happen to people as they approach death

"Occasionally, someone may have a premonition of their own death some time before it occurs, though this is rare. But about 80-90% of people who are dying see a vision of someone they loved so real that the dying person looks at them as if at a fixed location in the room, may talk to them, try to shake hands, or may clearly feel that the visitor is sitting on the bed. Often the visitor tells the dying they will be back to collect them when it is time for them to go. Without exception these experiences are positive and reassuring for the person who is dying and occur independently of "drugs, pathology, or any physiological factors affected by the dying process.

These deathbed visitors seem to come to reassure the dying that all will be well and that dying is only a transition to a continuation of being. In some cases they accompany the dying person into a new, spiritual area, full of love and light, where they may see spiritual figures and other dead relatives. Often the dying seem to travel into and out of this area, and they are given to understand that this is where they will be going when they die. Relatives who overhear the conversation nearly always describe it as rational and lucid." Below Marie Dowdall describes what she saw while with her dying uncle:

My uncle served in the First World War and experienced the horrors of the Somme. He had led a group of men, returned with only three survivors was badly injured and was awarded the Military Cross. When he was dying of cancer, my mother cared for him at home. One evening we were sitting with him when suddenly he leaned forward and stared across the room. He became very animated and looked very happy as he began to talk to people he could obviously see but we couldn’t, calling them each by name and saying how wonderful it was to see them again. It became apparent that they were some of the men who had served with him at the Somme and died there. There was a look of wonderment on his face and he forgot his pain. I didn’t see him conscious again, and he died a couple of days later. (Fenwick & Fenwick, 2008).

"The appearance of these visitors is often used by the palliative care team to comfort the dying and in one hospice in Canada the staff tell them about the possibility of deathbed visitors and encourage them to go with them if they are asked to do so.

"Another very common experience reported by the dying is the transition in and out of another reality they describe as composed of light and love, and which they believe is their destination.

My father was at my grandfather’s bedside, deeply distressed, but my grandfather quietly said to my father, “Don’t worry Leslie, I am all right, I can see and hear the most beautiful things and you must not worry.” And he quietly died, lucid to the end. (Fenwick & Fenwick, 2008).

Deathbed visitors are occasionally seen by relatives or palliative care staff who are with the dying person and more frequently (though still rarely), by children.

Monika Renz

"Recent work by Dr. Monika Renz, a palliative care physician working in Switzerland on cohorts of patients dying of cancer, has characterized the final stages of the death process, with a transition into light and love very similar to the ADE (Renz et al., 2018).

1. The cleaning and giving up of attachments.

2. The gradual crumbling of the ego structures of the mind and the dawning of non-dual consciousness where everything becomes a unity.

3. The final stage, death, characterized by experiences of light and love and movement towards a more cosmic sense of mind."

"Some of the best evidence for the continuity of consciousness is the phenomenon of deathbed coincidences, in which a dying person makes a farewell visit to someone emotionally close to them. Often this is during a dream, or when the person suddenly wakes with an overwhelming realization that something is wrong, or that someone was trying to contact them. (Fenwick & Fenwick, 2008) found 66% of the visits described to them occurred either in dreams or on a sudden awakening from sleep.

"Distance is no bar for these communications, and even being underwater can’t stop them. In October 1987 Terry Woods was serving in the Royal Navy on patrol as a Submariner:

Two days after diving I was asleep in bed and had a very real dream that my grandfather had "died". All of our family were waiting and I was the last one to arrive. When I arrived my grandfather picked up my nephew's bike and said "that's it, I'm off" and pedaled off and disappeared. I woke up the next morning and told my best friend that "I had a really weird dream that my grandad had died."

"Whilst on patrol submariners are never told of any bad news, so it was three weeks later that Terry was told about his grandfather’s death at approximately 3.00am on the 18th October 1987, when he was fast asleep 200 feet under the Atlantic ocean (Fenwick & Fenwick, 2008).

"It is certainly not uncommon for people who are away from their families to have anxiety dreams about them, but Terry says the dream was very real and this, combined with the precise timing, adds weight to the idea that it was more likely to have been communication than coincidence.

"The following coincidence was reported by an Australian mother whose son was a sailor. The transition to love and light is similar to the new reality described in the ADE.

I was suddenly awoken from sleep to feel something was wrong, then I saw a vision of my son (not a dream) walking slowly towards me. He was disheveled and dripping wet. As he got closer he slowly transformed and became surrounded by light. He then said “don’t worry mum I am ok” and slowly faded. I knew something had happened to him so I rang England the next morning to find he had been drowned in a sailing accident the night before (Fenwick & Fenwick, 2008).

"Sometimes coincidence is a reasonable and rational explanation for these events. But in many of these accounts, both the accuracy of the timing and the strength of the emotional response make it much harder to attribute them to ‘just coincidence’. That seems much less reasonable or rational than the alternative explanation – that there is somehow a genuine connection between the people involved and that this contact is driven by the person who is ill or dying.

"This suggests that there is a state at death or just after death in which the person has some kind of existence in which their personal consciousness – their ‘mind’ - somehow persists independently of their brain. We can find further corroborative evidence for this in the study of actual death experiences.

"Some of the accounts of these deathbed visits are particularly interesting as they show apparent communication between a dying person and someone who is close to them emotionally but geographically far away.

Our friend Sarah told us how she had been living in Florence for several months when one day, on her way back to her pension from an art class, she had a sudden, overwhelming feeling that something was wrong with her father – who, as far as she knew, was perfectly well and healthy at home in America. The feeling was so powerful that she began to run, feeling that she must ring home immediately and find out if anything was wrong. When she reached the pension a phone message was waiting for her, telling her that her father had died after falling down the cellar steps and broken his neck. (Peter Fenwick: Personal Communication)

"These experiences are usually brief and while some, like Sarah’s, give rise to a sudden strong conviction that someone they love is very ill or has died, other people simply have a feeling of uneasiness for no apparent reason, as in the following account by Kathie Guthrie.

Sadly my brother was killed in a car crash some 20 years ago now. I had been at work intending to work till 5 o'clock. At 4.20pm I was so uneasy and began getting cross with myself I just packed up and went home despite really needing to stay at work for one reason or another. I found out at 2.30 am the next morning that my brother had been killed instantly by a drunk driver at 4.20pm. (Fenwick & Fenwick, 2008)

"Kathie would probably not have given a second thought to her feeling of uneasiness had she not discovered the exact moment of her brother’s death. It is ambiguous experiences like this which reinforce the view that they cannot be dismissed as simply coincidences, even when the feelings experienced are inexplicable and out of character, and the timing approximately correct – indeed uncannily accurate in this particular case.

"To determine whether an experiences is coincidence or fact we devised a rating scale and used it to rate 100 coincidences reported to us in response to newspaper articles and broadcasts. We found that the experiences were all within half an hour of death but most were at the time of death as recorded by the hospice.

"A number of inexplicable occurrences are often reported at or around the time of death, for example clocks stopping, light in the room, shapes seen leaving the body and domestic pets seeming disturbed. These features suggest that dying is a very special event which seems to cross the boundaries of both time and space."


The above quoter were included in “To Be And Not To Be. This is The Answer: Consciousness Survives,” an essay for the 2021 Bigelow essay contest submitted by Dr Peter Fenwick & Dr Pier-Francesco Moretti, Dr Vasileios Basios, and Martin Redfern.


Monday, December 26, 2022

Death may lead to healing and bliss

Rachel Naomi Remen writes: "Sometimes the particulars of the way in which someone dies, the time, place, even the circumstances, may cause those left behind to wonder whether the event marks the healing of hidden patterns and personal issues, and answers for that person certain lifelong questions. Death has been referred to as the great teacher. It may be the great healer as well. Educare, the root word of ‘education,’ means to lead forth the innate wholeness in a person. So, in the deepest sense, that which truly educates us also heals us.

"The theory of karma suggests that life itself is in its essential nature both educational and healing, that the innate wholeness underlying the personality of each of us is being evoked, clarified, and strengthened through the challenges and experiences of our lifetime. All life paths may be a movement toward the soul, In which case our death may be the final and most integrating of our life’s experiences.

Anything that is real has no beginning and no end. The stories in your life and in mine do not stop here.

Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal (Riverhead books, 1996), pages 325, 331. 

Mozart wrote to his father in 1787 at the age of 31: "As death, strictly speaking, is the goal of our lives, I have for some years past been making myself so familiar with this truest and best friend of man that its aspect has not only ceased to appall me, but I find it very soothing and comforting! And I thank my God that he has vouchsafed me the happiness of an opportunity (you will understand me) to recognize it as the key to our true bliss. I never lie down to sleep without reflecting that (young as I am) I may perhaps not see another day—yet none of those who know me can say I am morose or melancholy in society—and I thank my Creator every day for this happiness and wish from the bottom of my heart that all my fellow men might share it."

"Mozart on Death," National Library on Medicine,

Sunday, December 25, 2022

The Christmas story in Matthew 1-2

The story begins with a genealogy that places Jesus in the line of descent from Abraham and David. An angel in a dream tells Joseph in this birth story that Mary's surprising pregnancy is the work of the LORD. Joseph accepts this as the will of God and takes Mary into his home. Jesus is born, and then the gospel relates the story of the wise men. After the wise men slip out of Judea, King Herod sends soldiers to kill all the children of Bethlehem under two years old. But Joseph is warned in another dream and so he escapes with Mary and Jesus to Egypt. He only returns to Judea after the death of Herod the Great.

If we listen closely to the story in the gospel of Matthew, we will hear that events are taking place according to prophecy. Mary's pregnancy, the birth in Bethlehem, the flight into Egypt, the slaying of the children — all these events, the narrator of the story tells us, were foretold by the prophets. This theme is repeated throughout the gospel of Matthew. Jesus is the fulfillment of the hope of the people of Israel, as expressed through the prophets, who were speaking for God. Jesus is thus the fulfillment of the covenant of God with the people of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings, reflecting the earlier covenant between the LORD God and Moses on behalf of the twelve tribes of Israel.

The gospel of Matthew was written for a Jewish Christian community. In Matthew's gospel Jesus gives the famous Sermon on the Mount, in which he says he has come to fulfill the Law of Moses not to abolish it. This gospel was a powerful argument in the hands of Jewish Christians who were resisting the growing influence of the Gentile churches.

Yet, the author of the gospel of Matthew extends the hope of Israel beyond any narrow interpretation of ancient prophecy by masterfully telling the story of the three wise men. They represent the non-Jewish world of wisdom, which in the birth story of this gospel recognizes the sovereignty of Jesus and comes to pay him homage.

Luke's birth story is about women and shepherds, and Matthew's birth story is about men and kings. (Later in the life of the church the wise men are called "kings" because of a verse in Psalm 72 that refers to kings bringing gifts to the king of the Israelites.) The three wise men come looking for the one born to be king of the Jews. They come to the ruler of Judea, bringing gifts fit for a king. And this ruler massacres the young boys of Bethlehem in an effort to kill the child he perceives to be a threat. In contrast to the birth story in the gospel of Luke, the story in the gospel of Matthew is not about poverty and receiving the Holy Spirit. It is about the birth of a new king of the Jews whose life is threatened by a Roman appointed Jewish leader.

What might the birth story in Matthew's gospel mean for us today? I suggest, first, that its focus is God. If the story in Luke stresses the humanity of Jesus, the story of the three wise men reminds us of the sovereignty of God. Jesus is God incarnate, and in this story he will rise to rule in heaven. The story in this gospel tells us that God's mysterious plan is being worked out through history.

Second, this story reminds us that human rulers are subject to God. The star created by God summons the three wise men. Herod is foiled in his attempt to destroy Jesus, who will be king. Furthermore, Matthew's gospel relates the story of the ministry of Jesus, his death as the king of the Jews, his resurrection as the king of kings, and his commissioning of the disciples for a ministry to the whole world.

Third, the birth story in the gospel of Matthew tells us that the promises of God will be fulfilled. The story calls us to faith by affirming that God is faithful. The covenant that God established with Israel is being renewed through Jesus. If we have faith in him and follow his commandments, God will keep faith with us. Prophecy and promise will be fulfilled. 

Robert Traer

Saturday, December 24, 2022

The Christmas story in Luke 1-2

The anonymous gospel attributed to Luke, a missionary colleague of Paul, begins with the story of the birth of John the Baptist. Elizabeth and Zechariah are elderly and without a child. Yet Elizabeth conceives and an angel tells Zechariah that the child's name will be John. Six months later the angel Gabriel comes to Mary to explain that she will give birth to a child with the help of the Holy Spirit and to tell her that Elizabeth is also pregnant. When Mary visits Elizabeth, the older woman feels her babe leap in her womb. Elizabeth says to Mary, "Blessed are you among women . . .." Then Mary sings praises to God, in words that have come to be known as the Magnificat — words that bring to mind (for those who know the Bible well) Hannah's song of praise after her prayers for a son have been answered with Samuel's birth. (1 Samuel 2:1-10).

The story of the birth of Jesus follows. We hear of Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem, finding no room in the inn, and taking shelter in a stable. During the night Jesus is born, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, and then shepherds are directed by angels to come and adore him.

The Christmas story in the gospel of Luke gives a prominent role to women, in contrast to most of the narratives in the Bible. The story also emphasizes the humble birth of Jesus in a stable, attended only by his mother and father, and then by shepherds. At the very beginning of Luke's gospel we read the author is writing his account for Theophilus, a Greek-speaking Christian. If we know our Bible well, we also know that Acts of the Apostles is a companion volume written by the same author. Thus the story of Elizabeth and Mary, and their children born in Judea, is the beginning of a story that includes not only accounts of the ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus, but also of the conversion of Saul (who becomes the apostle Paul) and of Paul's missionary work until his imprisonment in Rome.

What meanings might this birth story have had for Theophilus and the other Greek-speaking Christians of his largely Gentile church? The birth story in the gospel of Luke sets the birth of Jesus within the Roman Empire at the time of a census decreed by Caesar Augustus. When the author of the gospel of Luke and Acts concludes his narrative with Paul in Rome proclaiming new life in Christ to Jews and Gentiles, we see clearly that the “good news” of this story is directed far beyond Galilee and Jerusalem to a much larger and more diverse Greek-speaking, Jewish and Gentile community throughout the Roman Empire.

In the second century some Christians began to claim that Jesus was a divine being who merely appeared to be human. Luke's gospel became a defense against this "Gnostic" heresy, because the birth story emphasizes Mary's pregnancy and the human birth of Jesus. Yet we don't hear of a Christmas celebration in the life of the church until the fourth century, when it is listed in an almanac as the Feast of the Nativity. Most likely this feast began in churches dominated by Gentiles during the reign of Constantine, after he was converted to Christianity in 312. In the Julian calendar of that period the Feast of the Nativity was celebrated on December 25th, which was the winter solstice. As the birth story in the gospel of Luke does not mention any date, the winter solstice was undoubtedly chosen to coincide with the pagan celebration of the rebirth of the sun. Thus, Jesus was proclaimed in the Roman Empire as the "true sun."

Probably Christians in Rome were unaware that shepherds in Palestine did not tend sheep in the fields during the winter. When Christian scholars in the Middle Ages were confronted with this factual inconsistency, they concluded the shepherds had stayed in the fields because of the winter solstice. European Christians adapted the story in other ways. The manger was represented in paintings and crèche scenes as a wooden rack or "crib." In Palestine, however, it would have been a stone ledge, trough, or a niche in the wall of a stable, in which fodder was placed. In Middle English the Feast of the Nativity was called "Christes masse," that is, the mass of Christ. This eventually was shortened to "Christmas."

It is interesting to recall that after the Protestant Reformation, Christmas was rejected by most Protestant denominations because it emphasized the baby Jesus rather than the risen Christ. In 1659 the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony made the observance of Christmas a punishable offense, and Protestant opposition to celebrating Christmas continued in some denominations well into the 19th century.

The flood of immigrants to the United States turned the tide. Germans brought their Christmas tree. Irish put lights in their windows. Catholic immigrants from Eastern Europe sang their native carols and protested having to work on Christmas Day! It was the Roman Catholic Church that kept the "Christ mass" tradition alive until the holiday became acceptable to all Christians and to many others as well.

Eventually, a surge of enthusiasm swept away all resistance. Neither the moral authority of the church, nor the power of the state could prevent the celebration of Christmas. It is almost as if the spirit of Christmas has a life of its own ― undisciplined, chaotic, commercial, fantastic, seemingly irrepressible!

As the Christmas story is told in the gospel of Luke, what meanings might it have for us today? I suggest, first, that as a very human story of mothers becoming pregnant and giving birth it reminds us that life, as we know it, is the medium in which God chooses to dwell. Jesus is born and grows up in a family, before as an adult he challenges religious and political authorities, suffers, is crucified, and then appears after death to his followers. 

Second, the gospel of Luke reminds us that poverty is not a mark of human failure or divine rejection. The origins of the church are humble and poor. The gospel story shows that the kingdom of God is not for those who claim to have earned salvation because of their success in the world, but for those who have faith.

Third, this story of women, a baby in a manger, and shepherds in the fields who come in wonder to the stable, should elicit in us a renewed sense of awe and gratitude for life. Each child is a wondrous creation, and the birth of a child is cause for joy. 

At Christmas, therefore, we celebrate the birth of the true sun, the light that enters the darkness and is not overcome by it, the life we know together in Christ, and the joy we share with one another and with the world.

Robert Traer


Friday, December 23, 2022

Life changes due to near-death experiences

Researchers Robert and Suzanne Mays write: The most important paradigm shift will be for all of humanity to accept that the human being is a spiritual being clothed in a physical body. There is no need to fear death because our essential being does not die with the death of the physical body. There is no death.

When people lose the fear of death, their whole perspective changes. Nearly all near-death experiencers report a strong decrease or complete loss of the fear of death as the result of their near-death experiences (NDEs). Shared death experiencers and after-death communication (ADC) witnesses also experience this after effect.

NDErs experience many other lasting changes in their lives. They experience an inner peace and greater appreciation for life; for them, life has meaning and purpose. NDErs are less judgmental and more loving than before their NDE; they are less materialistic and more altruistic, with an increased concern for others; they are less competitive and more cooperative, and they are less self-centered, more compassionate and more understanding of others than before their NDE.

Kenneth Ring

You don’t need to have an NDE in order to make these changes yourself, inwardly. Researcher Kenneth Ring has found that merely hearing and learning about NDEs can bring about profound personal changes similar to what NDErs report. For example, Donald, a retired professor, wrote to Ring that studying NDEs brought about a major life change in his life:

“I have found myself identifying so closely with these [NDErs] that I have been experiencing vicariously much of what they experienced in fact. ... A noticeably reduced fear of death, and with it, the attendant disappearance of all fear of living. ... Prior to my research, I characterized myself as a rip snortin’ atheist. ... Now, ... I am firmly convinced that human consciousness survives bodily death.”

Another student of NDE literature, James, told Ring:

“NDEs have greatly reduced any fear of death I had. In fact, they’ve eliminated it. I have a very positive view of death, and the beginning of a much clearer picture of life after death. ... NDEs have greatly enhanced my awareness of the primacy of love as a Living Force, and as the meaning and goal of all of our actions and of all things.”

Writing after his near-death experience Jerry Casebolt affirms: "The [near-death] experience represents the very essence, the very expression of the fabric of being. It is the ultimate of all spiritual experiences, with the only known exceptions being death itself and its complement, birth. The numerous stories from experiencers have provided humanity with a wide variety of richness in spiritual experience. Over the ages, these tales have provided the world with the very core of spirituality, religion, and esoteric teachings. For the person who has had such an experience, it is not ‘near-death.’ It is a real death, both physically and psychologically. It is a transformation in that it changes one’s life forever. It is time to get these stories out to the public. Humanity is in need."


Robert G. Mays, BSc and Suzanne B. Mays, AA,  “There is no death: Near-death experience evidence for survival after permanent bodily death.” An essay written for the 2021 Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies addressing the question: “What Is The Best Available Evidence For The Survival Of Human Consciousness After Permanent Bodily Death?” Footnotes are omitted from these excerpts.

Kenneth Ring Kenneth Ring, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Connecticut, and the author of the 2006 book Lessons from the Light: What We Can Learn from the Near-Death Experience


Thursday, December 22, 2022

Elizabeth Krohn's near-death experience

When Elizabeth G. Krohn got out of her car with her two young sons in the parking lot of her synagogue on a late afternoon in September 1988, she couldn't have anticipated she would within seconds be struck by lightning and have a near-death experience. She felt herself transported to a garden and engaging in a revelatory conversation with a spiritual being. When she recovered, her most fundamental understandings of what the world is and how it works had been completely transformed. She was “changed in a flash,” suddenly able to interact with those who had died and have prescient dreams predicting news events. She came to believe that some early traumatic and abusive experiences had played a part in preparing her for this experience.


Told in matter-of-fact language, the first half of this book is the story of Krohn’s journey, and the second is an interpretation and analysis by Jeffrey J. Kripal, Associate Dean of the School of Humanities at Rice University who holds the J. Newton Rayzor Chair in Philosophy and Religious Thought. Kirpal is also Associate Director of the Center for Theory and Research at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California and served as the Editor in Chief of the Macmillan Handbook Series on Religion. He places Krohn's experience in the context of religious traditions and proposes the groundbreaking idea that we are shaping our own experiences in the future by how we engage with near-death experiences in the present. Changed in a Flash is not about proving a story, but about carving out space for serious discussion of this phenomenon.


Krohn writes: The NDE changed me in ways I never could have imagined. On September 1, 1988 I was a skeptic. Nothing could have dissuaded me from believing that when a person dies, that’s the end—that they are gone and nothing of them remains. But a bolt of lightning literally jolted me into reality.


On September 2, 1988, that lightning bolt bestowed upon me a gift, the power and profundity of which remain unmatched more than three decades later. That gift was knowledge that death isn’t the end; knowledge that where we are now is a temporary place, and where we go when we die is home; knowledge that what we do with our time here matters and affects our afterlife; knowledge that our souls, the vessels that carry our consciousness, continue on after bodily death and actually become keenly aware, awake, and all-knowing once unencumbered by our bodies.


One of the things I learned in the afterlife is that no two souls have identical afterlife experiences. Each experience in the afterlife is tailored to each individual soul, their expectations, and their needs. Each soul perceives the afterlife, and everything about it, differently.


"When you find yourself dead, in a place of otherworldly love and beauty, with a sudden understanding of everything, and you hear your beloved deceased grandfather tell you to sit on the most elaborately crafted bench you have ever seen, you sit. I took a seat on the ornately carved bench and found that it conformed to whatever my individual 'body' had become as soon as I sat down. The bench morphed around me. As I sat, cradled in the most comfortable seat imaginable, I began to look around. I saw that I was surrounded by a Garden of foreign plants, the likes of which I had never seen before, or even imagined.


My grandfather’s soft familiar voice, complete with the French accent that made it so distinct during his life, was a soothing presence. He said that audible speech would disrupt my absorption of the surroundings, so he was going to give me information, knowledge, and answers to my questions silently. I believe that this voice was actually not my grandfather speaking to me, but was God using my grandfather’s voice to put me at ease. This was a strange reckoning for me, given that in life I had been such a non-religious and non-spiritual person who gave very little, if any, thought to the existence of God. And yet, here I was, sitting on a bench with someone I thought was God in a place that I knew was Heaven. 


The calming voice shared things with me about our family that only my grandfather, and of course God, would know. This presence gave me information that showed a total knowledge of where I was and what choices I would need to make if I chose to go back to my life on Earth. He relayed the clear impression that the choice to remain in the Garden or to reoccupy my burned body was mine to make. I understood that I could take as long as I needed to make the decision to either stay in the Garden or return to my life on Earth, and that I would be given information that would help me make that decision. 


I was dead, but I was more alive, conscious, and aware than when I had been that twenty-eight year old woman with the children and the umbrella in the synagogue parking lot a mere second earlier. I was surrounded by and suffused with an unutterable feeling of unconditional love. The love was all-encompassing and embraced me in every possible way. Everything in the Garden emanated love. The lull of a gently babbling brook, the cadence of the soothing otherworldly music surrounding me, and the resplendent, fragrant visual feast of constantly blooming flowers and hypnotic colors I had never seen before, all reinforced the knowledge that I now had: that I was safe, protected, and unconditionally loved by God. I was home


The glow that I had followed into the Garden initially had moved away from me. It seemed to be a living energy, a conscious entity that moved with purpose. It was still to my upper right, but it had now shifted behind a mountain range, whose outline in the distance was backlit with the glow’s shimmering light from behind the mountains. I resisted the impulse to follow the living glow to the mountains, since the peace, comfort, beauty, and ineffable love that surrounded me where I was sitting were all that I could ever want. The sound of the brook nearby, the music in the air, the sweet scents of the otherworldly vegetative oasis, and the vivid backdrop of the sky and mountains lulled me to depths that I had never known my soul to possess.


Regardless of whether my companion on the ornate bench was actually my grandfather or, as I suspected, God, I knew that I was not alone in the Garden, and I knew that the feeling of abundant unconditional love that this presence communicated to me would never leave me. Still today, I can draw on that memory of unwavering acceptance and love when I need to do so. I could have gratefully and willingly remained there for eternity. That love, that place, that afterlife was a gift, tailored to me, from a higher being that loved me unconditionally.


The landscape was clearly meant to comfort me and put me at ease. The sound of flowing water, be it a gentle brook or crashing ocean waves, is something I have always found to be soothing. A view of any landscape has always been enhanced for me if there is a body of water in the scenery. I think that is why it was so prominent and noticeable to me among the other sweet sounds that permeated the Garden. What I understood is that all who arrive in this place encounter and perceive whatever is most comforting and beautiful to them. My source of comfort was the all-embracing feeling of unconditional perpetual love and the unmatched beauty of my surroundings all captured in the Garden. This was my personal Heaven.


I understood that all who come to this wondrous place are soothed and welcomed by whatever they find soothing, comforting, and pleasurable in life. Therefore, it made sense that my Heaven looked like a perfectly manicured garden. I love gardens and find peace and joy in spending time in a well tended garden. During my time in my heavenly Garden, I saw people in the distance. I instinctively knew that those people perhaps had visions of something other than a garden as their perfect Heaven. People I saw in the distance may have expected their Heaven to be a thickly wooded forest. Others may have seen a boundless field of wildflowers, or a quiet beach with gently rolling waves. Yet we were all in exactly the same place. We were each in a Heaven tailored specifically for each individual soul there. Understanding this loving kindness added to my ease during my visit to the Garden.


I also understood that one’s own appearance there projects the best of each person’s soul in their most recent Earthly life. The type of person you are here on Earth colors the experience you will have in the afterlife. What we do with our time here on Earth matters. A lot. Learning this was surprising to me as I never thought that my actions or thought processes during life would have any bearing at all on my death. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I learned in the Garden that not only the acts I performed during my life but even my very thoughts and feelings had woven together to create the tapestry that was my afterlife—my Garden. The fact that I had been a good person in life mattered in the Garden. The fact that I had not been religious did not.


I feel so inadequate in my attempt to convey the overwhelming totality of the Garden. Time there is perpetual. Its events and sensations all occur at once. This idea of simultaneous time, the physics of it, is something I understood while I was in the Garden but have difficulty explaining, or even understanding, now. I do understand, however, that it is possible to return from another realm or dimension and be completely unable to help those who have not seen it to understand that it even exists at all. Something can be perfectly true yet completely unbelievable and impossible to scientifically prove.


This knowledge that I was absorbing while on the ornate bench in the presence of the loving being who spoke in the voice of my beloved grandfather was also shared with the other humans (or souls) whose forms I saw in the distance. Everyone was in pairs, and no one was alone. Everyone was dressed in what I knew as street clothes. And they were all perfectly beautiful, youthful, and healthy. I wondered: If they were all so perfect, was I?


I looked at my left hand, curious as to how the burn from the lightning strike had affected it. My hand looked as if it belonged to a younger woman. There were no chipped nails or imperfections on the skin, and certainly no burn from the lightning. I noticed that there was also no wedding ring. All I saw was the pristine skin of myself at eighteen or so. The skin on my hand was flawless.


As soon as I thought of questions, I had the answers. I saw people in the distance, although no one approached me. Why were they all paired up? Did I appear to them to be alone? My companion explained that I was also part of a pair, and that he was the other half of the pair. We must have appeared to the distant human forms as they did to me—as a pair, and as beautiful as I ever was at my best.


As quickly as I was receiving answers to my seemingly unlimited stream of questions, I had more questions. There was only one question for which I never received an answer: What did my companion in the Garden look like? Did this partner of mine look like my grandfather at age ninety when he died, or did he look as he did at age eighteen, as everyone else there seemed to? Or did he have an entirely different appearance? I don’t know because I never looked at him. I now think I was not supposed to see him because I would have been overwhelmed at the sight of my beloved grandfather.


Or by the beauty of God. 


Elizabeth G. Krohn is the author with Jeffrey J. Kripal of Changed in a Flash: One Woman's Near-Death Experience and Why a Scholar Thinks It Empowers Us All (North Atlantic Books, 2018). Krohn received an award from the Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies for her essay “The Eternal Life of Consciousness.” 

Gödel's reasons for an afterlife

Alexander T. Englert, “We'll meet again,” Aeon , Jan 2, 2024,