In my last article I wrote about one of my favourite topics, near death experiences, or NDEs. Here’s a quick recap:
Years ago I found a book with the odd title Life After Life. It was written by Raymond Moody, M.D. The book was based on interviews with patients who had a heart attack, or had some other emergency, and died. But then the medical team brought them back to life. These patients reported some amazing stories when they were supposed to be out cold, completely unconscious. Dr. Moody was the first to call these reports ‘Near Death Experiences’.
The experiencers (let’s call them NDEers) reported floating outside their bodies. From up above, they saw the doctors and nurses desperately trying to revive them and bring them back to life. They then went through some kind of ‘tunnel’ and met their deceased relatives on the other side. Many also reported seeing a “being of Light” that was indescribably beautiful, all-loving, and very comforting.
They felt no fear. The peace they felt was beyond description. Some reported seeing their whole life flash before them.
Dr. Moody noticed something amazing about these stories: they all sounded the same. And they did not seem to be hallucinations.
The NDEers were from many different backgrounds and different cultures. They were male and female, black and white, Asian and Hispanic, young and old, rich and poor. Some were religious but others weren’t. They said they will “never fear death again.” Using slightly different words, they all seemed to be telling the same story about being at death’s door. Some called the Light an angel, and others said the Light was probably God. One NDEer asked the Light if it was God and the Light replied it was the “breath of God.”
I was raised Catholic. As a child, God was very frightening. He was out to punish me. As a teenager, I thought for sure I was going to hell. Most of my friends were also going to hell. We drank, partied, and got high. Life was all about drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll. I soon threw God out the window and I left the church.
I became an addict. Years later I went into recovery. I attended many 12-step meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. In those programs, members were encouraged to believe in the “God of their understanding.” They called God their “higher power.” I had some difficulty because of the negative picture I had of God from my childhood. I had to get a new God. I began a long search through many different religions, beliefs, and traditions. I was looking for my higher power. I needed a God like the one in the NDEs who was more positive, more loving, and non-judgemental.
But today, God is hard to find. He (or she) seems to be hiding somewhere. In modern times, many people have become so materialistic we doubt if a God even exists. There’s little room for a Creator in a shopping mall, or the big city with all the noise and traffic.
My grandmother was Algonquin. The Algonquin people call God, “Gitchee Manitou.” The Native world was filled with powerful, supernatural spirits. Gitchee Manitou was the ‘Great Spirit’. There was mystery and everything meant something. God had other names in other religions. All cultures point to some kind of higher power, or Creator. Why is that?
When I read Life After Life, a lightbulb went on in my head. The being of Light encountered by NDEers was very different. Maybe God is not all about anger, sin, punishment, and hell. In the words of one NDEer, “I felt unconditional love. I never felt love like that before… feelings of peace, tranquility, and safety… no one asked what religion I was, or if I believed in God. The love was truly unconditional.” Could that all-loving, being of Light really be God? I was taught you had to believe the right things and belong to the right church or God would cast you out.
The Light in NDEs didn’t cast anyone out. My views started to change. My image of God started to heal. As I learned about a healthier, more positive God, I started to heal emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I also learnt that the Creator was not just in church but also in nature, in the wind, trees, rivers and the many creatures living on the land. As I learned all this, my addiction lost its grip on me. I also started to lose interest in partying. Don’t get me wrong — I believe in celebrating life. But I no longer had to get totally wasted to laugh and have fun.
But if God is so loving and non-judgemental, what about right and wrong? Certainly, there must be good and evil? Isn’t God a God of justice? Doesn’t he reward us if we do good? What happens if people go around hurting others? Shouldn’t they get punished? Do NDEs offer any answers to these questions? We will explore the question of judgement in my next article about NDEs.
—Darrell Taylor is a retired mental health professional who has lived in the NWT and Nunavut for 20 years. He is originally from Ontario and is a member of the North Bay/Mattawa Algonquins.