I have a dear friend who was just placed in Hospice Care.
I will call her Bernice, in order to keep her identity private. Bernice is a member of a devoted Carmelite Prayer Community. Bernice has been a member for about seven years, and she is in her mid-80s.
About two years ago Bernice became very ill and nearly passed away from a significant health issue. Bernice is a former nurse, so she is well versed in the medical aspects of her health condition, including her brush with death. However, she is not as familiar with the various aspects of how the Lord might choose to work in our spiritual lives, most especially when it comes to our time to pass beyond the veil of this life and into the next. This is unfamiliar to many of us as well.
As I mentioned, Bernice has been a member of our Community for about seven years. This Community is a group of individuals who are particularly dedicated to the practice of contemplative prayer. There is little doubt that Bernice has been faithful to her commitment to prayer for the time she has been a member of our Carmelite Community. It is quite obvious to anyone who has known her that she has gone through a significant transformation over the past many years.
When she had her brush with death, Bernice went through a very profound spiritual experience. She felt quite comfortable sharing the details with me. This occurred about two years ago, but she will still occasionally bring it up in conversation. And when she does, she always details the same sequence of events, as though they happened yesterday.
She begins speaking about the experience of passing into the next life. She describes something that is quite common during what can only be called a ‘Near Death Experience’ (what we might more accurately refer to as a ‘Near Life Experience,’ since eternity is where our lives really begin). She describes seeing an incredibly bright light. She explains that she was convinced, somewhere deep down inside herself, that the light was, in fact, Jesus. She heard no voice and did not see either His eyes or His face, but she did feel as though the light was beckoning her, inviting her to come towards it. At the same time, however, she sensed that she had a choice, she could, if she chose, return to her hospital bed, to her life and to her journey on earth.
As she described it, she was not entirely aware of having made a deliberate decision, but she did hesitate a moment to ponder the matter, when all of a sudden, the light began to withdraw, and Bernice seemed to slip back into her hospital bed and her immediate surroundings. She said she was not upset, but merely accepted and believed that she was not really ready to go.
The Necessity for Watchfulness
“But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)
Bernice was visited this past week by a wonderful woman, another member of the prayer Community, whose ministry is to visit the sick, the homebound and the dying members of the Community. This visit occurred just before Bernice was placed in Hospice Care. The woman who has this ministry of visitation got to spend a fair amount of time with Bernice, on what will likely be her last visit to see her. In that time together, Bernice’s experience of prayer and waiting for the Lord seemed to emphasize one thing to her visiting friend. Mind you, this experience Bernice was having was that of a woman who has lived a life of service in the medical profession and as a faithful Christian, and it was the experience of a woman who has spent much time on her knees before the Lord, most especially in the past two years of more intense prayer following her experience with the light. The one thing Bernice’s experience seemed to convey, to both her visitor, and to the entire Community of Carmelites, was to not wait until the end of one’s life to begin to develop a serious relationship with the Lord.
Again, Bernice was and is a woman of prayer—there is no question about that. And none of the members of our Community sensed there was anything akin to fear or trepidation on Bernice’s part in what was relayed to us at the prospect of her passing. Remember, she has already seen the light. Instead, it is more likely that her experience was intended to communicate the need for each of us to spend our entire lives getting to know the One with whom we will spend eternity.
For it is in getting to know the Lord better that we will also come to know ourselves better. And, if there is anything about ourselves today that we may not want to carry into eternity with us, now is the time for us to be healed, purified, transformed and most importantly, for us to come to a full understanding of God’s Love for us; and this is primarily so that we can understand how we are to share that love with others.
“We love, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
Obviously, some might read or even hear this message with a healthy degree of skepticism. Certainly no one is obligated to believe in the phenomena of either Near Death Experiences or Near Life Experiences.
But perhaps, before we “pass on” (sorry, pun intended) to the next set of activities in our busy daily lives, we might just take a moment and ask the Lord to continue to reveal to us who He really is. And, if we have the courage to enter into a process of transforming love, we might also ask Him to reveal to us who we are really are, in the deepest part of ourselves. We all know of those aspects of our personality that we would like to see changed, if not eliminated altogether.
Who of us can say that we are the same persons we were ten years ago, and who of us would want to be? No doubt we have each matured in many ways. Thankfully, this is also true for our spiritual life.
We are all in the process of being transformed; the only question is, who is in charge of the transformation? And what is our role in this process?
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren.” (Romans 8:29)
“…having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe…” (Ephesians 1:18-19)
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Copyright © 2019 by Mark Danis
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