Category Archives: spirituality

The Face in the Shroud

I intended to put this out on Easter, but as with so many things during this overwhelmed period of my life, I’m way behind. I did spend a good deal of Sunday reviewing research on this subject, finding that there was a lot more available than there had been the last time I looked.

Among the surprisingly many religious articles in my mother’s room, I found one that I’d given her myself. I bought it at the gift shop of the Santuario de Chimayó in northern New Mexico. It’s a small card with the kind of double picture that changes when you hold it at different angles. One view is the familiar face found in the negative shot of the Shroud of Turin:

And the other is a reconstruction of the living face as imagined by an artist, whose name is not given:

I was so struck by the beauty and power of the artist’s conception portrait that I wanted a copy to bring home.

There is not much I can say about the Shroud of Turin that hasn’t been said already. I’m writing about it here because it is a source of continual fascination for me, as for so many others. It is one of the anomalous objects in the world that reminds us that reality is not at all what we’ve been told it is, and that we have far less understanding of what is “really” going on than we might like. No matter how one interprets the phenomenon, there is an irreducible amount of mystery. Something beyond the ordinary happened here. What exactly was it?

Here is a summary of the facts and questions about the Shroud, as my small knowledge of them permits:

We don’t know, no one can say for sure, who the Man in the Shroud really was. We can be sure of the meaning of some aspects of his image, though. What we see is a gruesome record, in literally excruciating detail, of the torture and murder of a man by the Roman state, in a way that myriad others were also tortured and murdered. This is what holds my attention above all. The terrifying injuries— the thorns piercing the scalp, the hundreds of tears made by the lash, the abrasions and bruises, the slash of the lance, and all that beyond the horror of the nails themselves— bear witness to the cruelty of human beings to their fellows. It would be difficult to believe if we did not see it right in front of us, right down to the still-obvious blood and body fluid stains. When I was a child, the nuns told us that Jesus being nailed to the cross was unusual, that most of those who were crucified were only tied to the wood. That was not true. What happened to this one whose sufferings we see so clearly in the Shroud happened to thousands.

We do know that the blood is type AB. It turns out that the Sudarium of Oviedo, the cloth said to have been used to wrap the face of Jesus when he was prepared for burial, is saturated with the same type of blood. Records of the Sudarium’s whereabouts over time go back about seven centuries further than those of the Shroud, lending weight to the contention that the Shroud is at least that old as well. Similarities in the placement of the stains as well as the blood itself point to the same origin as the Shroud. The shapes and contents of the stains indicate that the person whose head it covered died in an upright position, consistent with crucifixion. It must be the most historically important dirty rag on the planet.

We don’t know the age of the Shroud through testing of the cloth itself. Carbon dating done decades ago placed it in the medieval period, meaning that it had to be a fake, but since the cloth was much handled over the centuries, in addition to surviving fire and water damage, there is now agreement that it was too contaminated for carbon dating to be accurate. There is also a question about the part of the cloth that was tested, which appears to be a repair added later.

We know that pollen grains found in the cloth of the Shroud place its origin in the area of Jerusalem, and are consistent with the species of plants that would be used with a burial.

We know that the color forming the image is not paint or dye. There are simply no molecules of such things present. If the image was faked during medieval or any other times, it is very challenging to give an explanation of how the faking could have been accomplished. The contention that the Shroud is simply a fake just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The situation is more complex than that.

One theory is that a Maillard reaction, similar to the browning of bread in the oven, could have formed the brownish-yellowish image. This does not explain the holographic and X-ray like properties of the image, in which some structures that would have been behind others can be seen.

Similarly, the theory that the Shroud is an example of a medieval photograph is intriguing and more or less plausible, but it does not explain how details other than those on the surface of the body can be seen. (Although all the materials needed for photography were indeed available in the 14th century, there is no evidence that photographs were actually made anywhere at that time.) It also fails to explain the details of the wounds and patterns of bodily secretions. Neither a live body nor the corpse of a person who had died other than through this specific series of tortures would display these particular details when photographed.

So what do I think happened? I am agnostic. The most likely explanation, it appears to me, is one that raises still more questions. Some form of radiation emanated from this body and caused changes in the surface of the cloth, by a mechanism we don’t understand but may at some point be able to reproduce. I mentioned, when I described the events around my mother’s death, that a huge amount of heat was present around her body before she left it. Could a much more powerful burst of energy of some kind be released from a human body under certain circumstances? Could this perhaps have happened many times, but to bodies that were left peacefully in their graves so that we never saw the evidence? Have images like this one been imprinted upon many other burial cloths but crumbled away unnoticed in the earth?

And in this case, what happened to the body? Why was the Shroud not left in place with it? Was the body simply disinterred and moved— the obvious hypothesis— then wrapped in a fresh length of linen and buried elsewhere, with the original cloth kept as an object of veneration? Did it reanimate and walk away, as the stories say? Did it go poof and disappear in a burst of light, which formed the image?

It seems that there have been recorded cases of people who survived crucifixion, unlikely as that sounds. Could the Man in the Shroud have been one of these, and if he was Jesus, could that explain his apparent resurrection? The evidence in the cloth is against this, as the patterns of bleeding and fluid leakage look like what would be expected to occur postmortem. As far as anyone can tell, the man was dead when he was wound in the Shroud.

Is the Shroud a supernatural phenomenon, a miracle? To me, “supernatural” only means something that is natural but not yet understood. There has got to be a way of expanding our scientific understanding to encompass this phenomenon. Even if that might mean understanding how a physical body could suddenly transform into pure energy, which is one conceivable interpretation of the evidence. The physically-measurable electromagnetic signals in and around a human body, photons included, are fairly small. It’s hard to imagine how there could be enough light or other energy emitted to produce an image on a physical surface, but equally odd things have happened, and I don’t want to rule it out.

The one thing we know for sure, from studying the Shroud, is that we are creatures who have a gigantic ability to torment other members of our species. The only comfort I can find about this is that nowadays we at least give lip service to the idea that doing this is wrong, even as we keep doing it every day, all around the world.

But what I hope we’ve learned from this strange artifact is that we are also far less limited beings than we believe, and that possibilities exist that we’ve barely begun to grasp.

Article on the mysteries of the Shroud

A website giving an overview of what is known about the Shroud
The Sudarium

A reply to Nicholas Allen’s “medieval photograph” theory

The evidence of plants wrapped with the shroud, through pollen samples and images

Holographic studies of the image
‘While photography has the advantage of fixing an image in time and of concentrating it so that whichever angle you look at it from, it will remain the same, with the Shroud that is not the case. Moving around that table (lighting under an angle from one side only!), from a certain angle I saw this image so faded as if to practically disappear, while from others it seemed as if the figure WAS ALMOST OUTSIDE THE SHEET: it was, I repeat, an incredible emotion. At that moment I knew that this image was unique. I approached the face placing my camera at a distance of about 20-30 cm, aimed the camera at the face and saw…………………nothing in my viewfinder.” “And yet,” I said “I know it by heart.” I had to beg my friend to point to the position of the eye, because from a distance of 30 cm I could not see it. I could only see it as I moved away from it.’


Filed under history, mythology and metaphor, physics and cosmology, spirituality, the unexplained

Worthy to Sit at the Divine Table

Icon by Andrei Rublev, 15th century

I’m posting this on International Women’s Day, which is appropriate for reasons that will probably be clear to you.

Last time I told you about the powerful experience I had in the hospice while my mother was dying, where I felt that I was surrounded and embraced by uncountable beings who loved and supported me. This feeling of ineffable love continued as my mother stayed present with me over the next few days, and then the typical disjunctions and confusions of life took hold more again, in addition to the stresses of adjusting to her absence and dealing with the many responsibilities of her estate and planning her memorial.

We allowed nearly three weeks to prepare for the memorial service and the get-together for family and friends afterward. It was a massively busy period but also one in which I was able to contemplate important matters and to have deep discussions with friends and patients about life and death. A subject that came up was one that I’d been planning to write about anyway, the pervasive feeling of not being worthy and not deserving. It was on my mind the day of the memorial Mass, which took place on February 10, a few blocks from my house at Our Lady of the Assumption church.

I was apprehensive before the service, even felt like I was going into enemy territory. I had only met the pastor once and never heard the church’s singer before, and I had no control over the proceedings. But my family and I were welcomed warmly by the pastor and the deacon, the singer turned out to be one of the best I’d ever heard in our area, and friends gathered closely around us with great love and caring. My piano teacher played an organ piece right before the Mass, and as the last chords were sounding, the church bells began to ring with magically perfect timing.  I’m not sure if one is supposed to enjoy a funeral, but I did. It was everything it should have been, and we all felt sure it was just what my mother would like.

Some of us were feeling strongly that my mother was present and did in fact like the event. That sense of an atmosphere filled with myriad kindly beings visited me again. I had felt that in certain churches before, but for some reason I wasn’t expecting it at this one, which seemed cavernous and perhaps a little impersonal. The priest told us all, a little apologetically, that although people of different beliefs were present, we were going to hear about Jesus and get the standard Catholic experience. (Exactly as it was supposed to be.) When he said “Jesus,” I suddenly felt as if a cord flew upward from my head and connected with that loving presence.

Feeling that I was cradled in the love of my mother and the heavenly entities, I was busy communing ecstatically when I heard the words, “Lord, I am not worthy….” Wow. There it was again, stated flat out. “I am not worthy.” I am not good enough for God. I do not deserve to have the Divine be with me or within me.

And you know what? That idea rolled right past me and none of it stuck. I was completely immune to its destructive power. In every quark and photon of my being I knew that I was a child of God, a citizen of the universe, an integral and indispensable part of All That Is, however you want to put it. I was deserving of all the goodness that was pouring into me and I soaked it up joyfully and with profound gratitude and with absolutely no reservation. Not only was I worthy to receive the Divine, I was doing it right then and there and with no effort at all.

Later, as I am wont to do, I spent time rationally analyzing what had happened. I considered the fundamental contradictions embodied in “Lord, I am not worthy.” I read about the Gospel story* from which this line in the Mass was taken, and worked through a few different exegeses of it. (A nice scholarly-sounding word!) I could see where they were coming from, but I just wasn’t buying them. And this was new. Although I could still recognize my inadequacies perfectly clearly, a lifetime of existential guilt and subjugation to self-hatred had evaporated. What I knew intellectually had come to live in my heart. After years of struggle, I was at last ready for this radical acceptance.

Think about it. Even a moment of attention will show you how odd and backwards that “unworthiness” is, by doing no more than following along through basic Judaeo-Christian religious thought. God is supposed to be all-good and all-powerful, so surely God must have done a fine job at creating everything. We’re told that God looked at His creation and saw that it was good. Why, then, would human beings be total pieces of crap?

I am far from the only person to bring this up. When I was reading one of the articles on “Lord, I am not worthy,” which insisted on the truth of our not-deserving, I was pleased to see that a commenter asked, simply and directly, why we should disagree with the Creator’s opinion.

Now, suppose that God is a loving parent, as we are so often told. Imagine that you have a child, and you tell that child, “I love you, but you are really a mess, and you will never be worthy of my love no matter what you do and no matter how hard you try.” Only a twisted, psychopathic parent could say such a thing. How could an all-good God say it?

To an extent I’m oversimplifying, but this not-worthiness, this fundamental self-rejection that undermines us at a core level, is one of the most notable characteristics of mainstream religion, in our society at least.

There is another way.

The work of Fr. Richard Rohr, at the Center for Action and Contemplation here in Albuquerque, has been getting international attention. Fr. Rohr stays within the fold of Catholicism but at the same time is profoundly radical. His “Franciscan alternative orthodoxy” views our flawed humanity with great compassion, and constantly points us toward union with the divine, never into ashamed isolation.

Fr. Rohr’s recent writings have had to do with the concept of the Trinity. The idea of three-persons-in-one-God has never made sense to me, nor resonated emotionally, but he uses it to present a dynamic, moving, relational energy, a “divine dance,” rather than a static deity that doesn’t particularly interact with us or the universe. Referring to the painting shown at the top of this post, he wrote:

“In Genesis we see the divine dance in an early enigmatic story (18:1-8). ‘The Lord’ appears to Abraham as ‘three men.’ Abraham and Sarah seem to see the Holy One in the presence of these three, and they bow before them and call them ‘my lord’ (18:2-3 Jerusalem Bible). Their first instinct is one of invitation and hospitality—to create a space of food and drink for their guests. Here we have humanity feeding God; it will take a long time to turn that around in the human imagination. ‘Surely, we ourselves are not invited to this divine table,’ the hosts presume.

“This story inspired a piece of devotional religious art by iconographer Andrei Rublev in the fifteenth century: The Hospitality of Abraham, or simply The Trinity. As icons do, this painting attempts to point beyond itself, inviting a sense of both the beyond and the communion that exists in our midst….

“The icon shows the Holy One in the form of Three, eating and drinking, in infinite hospitality and utter enjoyment between themselves. If we take the depiction of God in The Trinity seriously, we have to say, ‘In the beginning was the Relationship.’ The gaze between the Three shows the deep respect between them as they all share from a common bowl. Notice the Spirit’s hand points toward the open and fourth place at the table. Is the Holy Spirit inviting, offering, and clearing space? I think so! And if so, for what, and for whom?
At the front of the table there appears to be a little rectangular hole. Most people pass right over it, but some art historians believe the remaining glue on the original icon indicates that there was perhaps once a mirror glued to the front of the table. It’s stunning when you think about it—there was room at this table for a fourth.
The observer.
Yes, you—and all of creation—are invited to sit at the divine table. You are called ‘to consciously participate in the divine dance of loving and being loved,’ as Wm Paul Young, the best selling author of The Shack, writes.
The mirror seems to have been lost over the centuries, both in the icon and in our on-the-ground understanding of who God is—and, therefore, who we are too!”

In this view, we are not unworthy to receive the Divine— we are invited to sit right next to it, co-equal, at the same table. Imagine if all children were brought up this way instead of in the shadow of the Antichrist of guilt and unworthiness. The world would be transformed.

I would add one more thing: to me, the angelic figures in the painting look androgynous. The Trinity is not being shown as “three men,” but as three human beings— perhaps even three women.

Never let anyone tell you that you don’t belong at this table.


*The story is that of the centurion who asks Jesus to heal his servant, and trusts that he need “only say the word” and the man will be well. The centurion says that he is not worthy to have Jesus enter under his roof.
‘What roof do we mean? We are temples of the Holy Spirit, and our flesh is like the “roof” of this temple. We know we are unworthy to be such temples, where God is present spiritually; we are even less worthy to receive our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.’


Filed under history, spirituality

Being Dead Is Easy. Getting Dead Is Hard.

mystical-door-shutterstock_184672772-webonlyBeing dead is easy. Getting dead is hard.” — Gerrie Glover

Gerrie is a wise and formidable lady, and truer words were never spoken. I thought of this maxim of hers over and over while my mother, Molly, was going through the process that ended in her death on January 22, 2017.

All this time I’ve been writing about the “dead” and the spirit world from a position of being in touch with that reality, but for the most part I was not down in the trenches with death itself and its gritty and messy biological details. It all became immediate and concrete when my mother had a stroke on January 12. I’m going to write about what I observed in hopes that it is useful to someone.

First, on December 30, 2016, our 20-year-old cat passed. She had done astonishingly well for a long time with her failing kidneys, but her body reached the end of what it could handle. Sheena had been velcroed to my mother constantly for a few years, and her death was a hard thing for my mother to get through. We nursed the old lady through to the last, very hands-on because she would not allow herself to be left alone and cried if we weren’t right with her every moment. We were left with her tiny body between us on the sofa, like a perfect sculpture of a cat down to every hair but somehow no longer a cat. My mother wondered what we should do with the body overnight, since it was late and we weren’t going to bury her till morning. “Well,” I said, “no matter where we put her body, she will probably be in your lap.” And at that moment I felt Sheena crawling into my own lap, a small warm weight that stayed till it was necessary for me to get up.

For a few days it was as if we still had two cats, only one was invisible. After that, it seemed that we only had one cat.

Shepherding Sheena through her journey, being the person who listened to see if her heart had stopped, arranging her little limbs for burial, gave me a kind of dry run or rehearsal to help me deal with what would happen with my mother. In Sheena’s case, there were no wrenching medical decisions to make, no questions about whether she might get better. We had known the end was coming and that there was no treatment possible. Things are more complicated with humans and hospitals.

On January 12 my mother suffered a major stroke, affecting areas on both sides of her brain. I think the emergency room doctor had the right instinct. She told us very gently, based on what she saw, that it was time to think about making end-of-life decisions. But within a few hours my mother was able to move her left side again, and within a couple of days she was speaking somewhat intelligibly and swallowing a bit. It looked like she might recover enough to at least sit up in a chair, communicate and feed herself. We exhorted her to rest so that her brain could heal as much as possible, but for a while she was using a lot of energy to make it clear that she wanted to get the hell out of the hospital and get rid of the IV and the other medical annoyances. Which was certainly understandable.

Two and a half days after the stroke, late on January 14, she was able to explain to my daughter that she was ready to go and had nothing else she needed to do. She had great difficulty speaking but was able to get a whole paragraph out and be completely clear. “I’m ready for the sky,” she said, and Lenore confirmed with her that this was really what she meant to say. We’d pretty much known that she felt that way, as she had been weak and had felt rotten most days for a long time, due to problems with her heart, but it was a great gift to hear it in so many words and be sure of it.

The hours and days had a way of running together, and I’m having trouble remembering exactly when various events occurred. It was probably the 16th when she suddenly pointed straight ahead, no trembling in her arm, and clearly called out, “Ann!” That’s her eldest sister, with whom she had had some previous dreamlike contacts. “Is she here?” I asked. My mother nodded. Since the other contacts had been extremely helpful and positive, I was glad to hear it. I couldn’t detect my aunt myself, but I knew that communication with deceased relatives was common near the end of life, and I took this very seriously. My husband and daughter were familiar with this phenomenon as well, and I think that was when we all knew she was turning the corner toward death.

I will spare you the details of the indignities and unpleasantnesses that my mother had to suffer over the next few days. We were told that most people in this kind of situation “just slip away,” but unfortunately she had to take a harder road. We had assumed that the severe agitation she was displaying so much of the time was an effect of the stroke and would likely improve, but if anything it got worse. By the time the palliative care team came to see her on the 17th, she had been through at least a day of hardly any rest or respite and the nurses and I were getting frantic trying to help her. As soon as the palliative care doctor saw her, he recognized what was going on as “terminal delirium.” I had never heard that term before, but apparently it happens a substantial percentage of the time.

The doctor said that we should stop bothering her right away, pull the IV, the heart monitor, and the other devices that could not possibly do her any good. Thankfully, we were moved to a private room where there was relative quiet. We still had a terrible night because the low doses of medications being given weren’t enough to stop the seizure-like agitation. I couldn’t imagine any of us going on like that. The palliative care people agreed and very quickly and efficiently put through an order to move to the inpatient hospice. Their nurse held me and let me weep all over her.

The Kaseman Presbyterian inpatient hospice was a revelation. Instead of a cramped, chaotic hospital room, we found ourselves in a space big enough to walk around easily, with home-like seating and nearly perfect calm, and an atmosphere that felt like it was filled wall to wall with angels and helpful beings. Soon after my mother was brought in and my daughter and husband and I gathered around her, a priest came in to give her the blessing for the sick. The moment Fr. Charles opened his mouth to pray, it was as if the ceiling opened and a thousand more angels dropped into the room. My mother had been stressed further by the ambulance trip there, and this uplifting interlude was soothing to her as well as to the rest of us. I had only once before had an experience like this with being prayed over. Not everyone has that kind of connection to the heavens, it seems.

We more or less lived at the hospice during the next few days. They had a miraculously comfortable place for a family member to sleep, such a contrast with the hospital, and I took advantage of that. The first night, Wednesday, I felt that I was embraced hour after hour by myriad beings of light, wrapped securely in grace and benediction. In that state it was easy to make a strong heart connection with my mother and feel her embrace as well. I was up often to respond to the nurses and check on things, but when I slept it was a wondrous and restorative sleep, and I dozed off and on far into the day, with the staff encouraging me to rest.

Despite that, Thursday night I felt ill and crashed at home. I intended to go back to the hospice in the middle of the night, but never made it. We all continued to limp along through the process, my mother still sedated most of the time and moving slowly toward the end, not really responsive anymore.

Friday morning there was some drama. Her body became extremely hot, not just to the touch physically, but radiating incredible energy all around. The nurse could also feel the heat and energy— I think anyone would have noticed it— and she and I assumed my mother must have had a raging infection by that time, but since they don’t take temperatures in hospice, we didn’t determine whether she had an actual fever. It was far more than that, though. I had never seen so much energetic activity around a person, and I’ve seen a lot. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, and wondered if it had anything to do with the nonphysical part of her moving away from the physical substrate. I haven’t found any information or opinions about this, but much later I did see a reference to a dying person’s skin becoming very hot at about the same stage.

I will describe my subjective perceptions of the next stages of the process. Friday night, as I was keeping watch from the sofa bed across the room, I saw what looked like a sudden opening in my mother’s chest, like a door or hatch being opened. Something that seemed whitish poured out. (This was a “mind’s-eye” vision— I was not looking directly at her.) This energy appeared to congeal into a mass near her body, with a sort of band still connected rather tenuously. It looked like a vague ribbon or stream to me, not the famous “silver cord,” though it must have been functioning in the same way as that.

Drifting through the hours in the middle-of-the night state of grace (not dreaming, mind you), I lost track of where that main concentration of energy was. Where is my mother? I kept asking myself. She didn’t seem to be close to her body anymore. Fryderyk was accessible, and I asked him what he could see and if there was anything he could explain to me about what was going on. I said something about wanting to be sure to be present when my mother actually passed and not wanting to miss the moment.

“If you wait to see it, you will already have missed it,” he told me in his usual aphoristic and slightly cryptic way. In images, he conveyed the idea that death is not a moment but a series of steps or distinct events.* I was already witnessing it, he said. And as usual, I realized that he was telling me something that should have been obvious to me already.

The next morning, Saturday, I found a distinct change. Her skin was still physically quite hot, but there was almost no feeling of energy near it at all. My mother’s body was still functioning, more or less the same as the night before, but she was somehow much less alive. She had already been mostly unresponsive, but now she seemed not to be “in there” in the same way anymore. I took this as a positive sign. It seemed much better for her not to have to experience too much of her body’s travails.

My understanding was that beneath the painkillers and sedatives, the body was still feeling some distress. I could detect a strong sense of disturbance in her heart, that is, the physical organ, and I felt pain in my palm when I held my hand near that part of her chest. I mentioned to the nurses that I was feeling pain in her chest, and no one seemed to think anything was strange about my statement. Hospice personnel hear and see all manner of things.

We began to feel like midwives, encouraging my mother to make the leap into the next birth. We talked to her and told her it was OK to go, which we figured she knew, but we thought we should say anyway. We started to wonder whether there was some unfinished business we didn’t know about. As I would with a regular patient, I poked around and looked for any emotions or issues that might show up, and worked to clear the minor things I found. (Mostly, she was concerned about leaving the mess of papers and paraphernalia in her bedroom for us to sort out.) We reassured her that we were fine and she didn’t need to worry about us.

I stayed over again Saturday night, afraid to leave, thinking that it would happen anytime. By mid-morning Sunday, I was wanting to get a change of clothes and clean up, and the nurses were gently pushing me to get out of there. (We know that often people wait to pass, not wanting to do it in front of their loved ones.) “Did your mother spend a lot of time alone?” they asked.  (She did.) “Maybe she’d like some alone time now.” So I went home, and Bob went to replace me a little while after. Hardly an hour later, they called for Lenore and me to come back right away.

It was almost comically anticlimactic to rush back to the hospice only to sit there again just as before. But things were beginning to change more noticeably. An elderly friend who hadn’t been able to come sooner arrived with her daughter, and they confirmed, based on their experience, that it wouldn’t be long. Their perspective and wealth of experience were helpful, but a little disturbing and imposing too. When they came to my mother’s bedside, I moved to the foot of the bed so that they had space, and they immediately told me not to stand there. Huh? They explained that in their belief system, the soul exits the body through the feet, and they didn’t want me to block its passage. I was completely nonplussed by this thought— I’d been brought up Catholic too and had never heard such a thing— and taken aback that anyone would try to dictate anything to me at my own mother’s deathbed when she was so near the end. I moved over, though, mumbling something about having seen my mother’s chest open and her soul pour out that way already, which didn’t seem to get through to them.

Every so often the nurses checked on the color of my mother’s extremities and the sound of her breathing. There was nothing to do but wait as the death rattle set in. I sat very close, and the sound was terrible even though I knew it was normal and expected. I was insulated from the distressing events, though. What I mainly experienced was the warm, reassuring sensation of my mother embracing me as if I were a tiny child. It was an incredible gift. I knew that whatever her body was going through, she was fine, and so was I. I wished that my husband and daughter, and the staff too, could feel what I was feeling and know the same peace.

I was the one who probed for a pulse and announced that it was gone. The nurse confirmed the time of death, then left us to say our goodbyes. We weren’t quite sure how to react. I remember blurting out, “I’m so excited for her!” and really meaning it, since so many new possibilities had suddenly opened for my mother. She was vibrantly present in the room, so I kept talking to her. Her mouth was hanging open awkwardly, and I wanted to close it for a more dignified appearance, thinking that she would not appreciate being seen that way. I kept trying to reposition her head to make that possible, and it just didn’t work no matter what I tried. I apologized for my failure, laughing helplessly. The absurdity somehow seemed natural. We found ourselves engaging in some gallows humor, and I wondered how the other families in the facility were dealing with this kind of thing. It was surreal and bizarre as much as it was sad, and at that moment I was feeling relief more than anything.

I wistfully noted that the individual cells of the body, most of which were probably perfectly healthy, were now condemned, along with the billions of commensal organisms that ride along with us and make our human life possible. But that is the way of things.

My mother was around and available a great deal for the next few days, and others besides me experienced and enjoyed her company. I couldn’t really feel grief-stricken, since she wasn’t gone. She didn’t continue to hang around so much of the time, and I expect that she’s been doing more worthwhile things than watching us, but there is contact now and then. I still haven’t found her current will; I’d thought I knew where to look, but her papers were not arranged the way I expected. When I begged her for help in locating it, she pointed me in a definite direction in her bedroom— but what we found there was her will from 1963… this would be a great time for me to be a much better medium than I am… still no current will to be seen, unfortunately.

But that situation can be easily dealt with. I have no major complaints. My mother is dead but not lost, and I’m at peace with her and with the process of her life and death. I’m intensely grateful to have been privileged to observe and perceive so much of what went on. My only discomforts have been a few small lingering questions about the medical decisions we made. I’m comfortable that we did the best we could with the information we had at each moment, though.

I understand far more about death than I did before, but there are myriad questions remaining. For one, I have been wondering, if a person dies suddenly in an accident, by gunshot, etc., do they go through the same stages, only much more quickly? Or is it a very different process? I’m sure there must be some after-death accounts of sudden deaths out there.

Friends and patients have been telling me about their experiences of the deaths of their own parents and others close to them. I would love to hear anything you would care to share, either as a public comment or privately.

*Michael Tymn posted this on his blog at

‘In his 1998 book, Light & Death, Michael Sabom, an Atlanta cardiologist, cites an article by Dr. Linda Emanuel, who comments that life and death are viewed as non-overlapping, dichotomous states, whereas in reality there is no threshold event that defines death. “Several scientific observations support Emanuel’s argument that loss of biologic life, including death of the brain, is a process and does not occur at a single, definite moment,” Sabom writes.’


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On the Nature of Persons


Fryderyk hadn’t been around for a couple of weeks, and I was starting to feel lonesome. I “rang his phone” a number of times during the day, and then late in the evening, while I was reading in bed, he visited.

A little while before that I had seen a video about Jay Greenberg, a young composer and pianist with near-miraculous abilities, someone it seemed Fryderyk might be able to relate to, a good topic of conversation. The boy was only 12 at the time the 60 Minutes excerpt I saw was made, but he had already written a huge amount of music, and even as prodigies go, he was positively scary. For example, at the age of 2 he’d started asking for a cello, although his parents were not musicians and he’d never been exposed to such a thing, and he started drawing wobbly staves on paper and putting notes on them. When he was given a cello, at age 3, he could play it right away.

I told Fryderyk what I had seen and asked if he had anything to say about it. Many of us see reincarnation as a likely explanation for such extreme abilities in children, and indeed, in the Leslie Flint tapes, the Chopin entity had talked about his efforts at music in other lives, and being ready to hit the ground running in the 19th century because of that preparation. Michael Tymn* favors another theory, that the spirits of deceased adults who had developed their abilities in the arts during their lives “overshadow” and take control of these children, using them to express their own work. What did Fryderyk think about that?

First, he gave me to know that I was looking at the matter from the wrong angle. This happens rather a lot– at least he no longer insists that I’m not listening to him! The idea of a person having different lives in sequence was incorrect. I don’t think of time as linear, myself, so I was fine with that. This part was fairly incoherent, with a sense of rushing energies and various ideas flying at me at once. I struggled to pin it down. “What are you?” I asked for the zillionth time. As has happened before, I saw a flame– same thing you and I are, of course. When I tried visualizing a child artist, such as himself, and asked about other spirits floating around trying to control it, I got nothing.

I was able to pick out the thought that the rushing lights and colors represented a person and its activities and creations, and that the person was an extensive being that existed in many forms and did many things at once, so to speak. He seemed to be using the term “person” (at least as I was hearing it) to mean a total entity including what we might call the Higher Self and any and all individual, earthly lives or personalities. I would be more likely to use that word to mean one of those individual personalities, myself. So I asked him to elaborate on what a person was, in his view.

This time I got words. “A person is an outpouring from God,” he told me. Along with that, I received feelings and visual flashes of a kind of river of light and fire. I still wanted to know more about how he saw the relationship between the different parts of the larger entity.

He explained, “The person is a force which pushes out in all directions, and those directions look like separate lives.” This sounded a lot like the concept described by the Seth entity years ago, in books like The Nature of Personal Reality. It also sounded so good that I wanted to be sure to remember it. I turned a light on and hunted around for my notebook and pencil, which would normally be right by my bed, but dang, I had cleaned my room and moved them. By the time I’d written the sentence down, the contact was broken. As I had feared. I wanted to ask him something about his own larger being, but there was no more communication to be had.


* Find his blog here, with links to his books:



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Not Left or Right but Up: The “Undivine Comedy” and Our Comedy of Errors

In 1833, the young poet and playwright Zygmunt Krasiński penned Nie-Boska Komedia, the “Undivine Comedy,” which is still an icon of Polish literature.  Krasiński was a one-percenter who was acutely aware that things could not go on as they were in his intensely inequitable society. In the play, the fed-up 99%, led by the charismatic but cruel and unbalanced Pankracy, rises against the ruling class. Count Henryk, a character who has much in common with the author, is the central figure on the aristocrats’ side.

An apocalyptic battle ensues, taking place in a Dantesque, fantastical setting that could not be fully realized on a physical stage at the time. Henryk and his cohorts represent a tradition that has fallen away from its noble ideals and become vain and selfish. The revolutionaries are an unsavory rabble who espouse justice and equality, but are willing to destroy everyone and everything in their way. Neither side is worthy to lead the country into the future.

In the end, the revolutionary forces win the battle, Henryk dies, and Pankracy orders the execution of the remaining aristocrats. Suddenly he is overtaken by a brilliant vision of Christ, so brilliant that it paralyzes him and blinds him to all else. In the vision, the clearly displeased Christ is leaning on his cross as if on a sword, and lightning flashes from his crown of thorns. Pankracy cries out “Galileae vicisti!” (“Galilean, you have won!”) and drops dead on the spot. The end.

When I first read a translation, many years ago, I thought it was the most facile, brainless deus ex machina ending anyone could ever have come up with. Krasiński was only 21 at the time, I thought, and he was trying to deal with hopelessly intractable social problems; he must have just thrown up his hands and walked away. I couldn’t get this crazy, surreal story out of my mind, though. Eventually it percolated through my head long enough that Krasiński’s insight got through to me.

You may have figured this out a lot faster than I did. Krasiński was saying that humans cannot mend the injustices in their world through conflict, and that no human point of view is entirely right or deserving of victory. Only a spiritual awakening can bring about the needed transformation, and that can only happen within the individual.

Well. Obviously we are not there yet. It’s going to be a while before enlightenment strikes every human heart.

Krasiński wrote in a time of fundamental dissolution and transition. Poland had been obliterated as a nation by the Russians, and many of his compatriots had emigrated to form a sort of country in exile, rather as has happened with Tibet under Chinese rule. Poland had been in shaky positions before, but now it had officially ceased to exist. It must have seemed as if nothing could ever be normal again. Yet Romantic-period sensibilities included a robust belief that a utopian world could be created (at least on a small scale), along with a willingness to imagine the wildest of possibilities. We are not there, either. We are cynical and disillusioned and far beyond the naivety of the 19th century.

Despite his pessimistic portrayal of Henryk and his followers, Krasiński held to the view that an educated, cultured elite, steeped in old-fashioned values and Christian ideals, would be best suited to run society. He was bitterly opposed to the Tsar’s regime, but also opposed to radicalism and insurgency. He distrusted the disorderly mass of the 99%, preferring at least the possibility of a redeemed 1%.

In this dark moment we have our own kind of Pankracy, an uncouth, uncontrolled pseudo-revolutionary who claims (falsely!) to be an outsider and populist, and who has already succeeded in blowing apart longstanding power structures. On the other side we have an establishment figure who embodies the American version of aristocracy. Those of us who identify with the educated and cultured elite are horrified that anyone would even momentarily choose the former. We are appalled at his utter disregard for civility and for reality itself. Like Krasiński, we would much rather have one of our own in charge, someone with solid intelligence and broad knowledge of the world. But as in his time, hallowed power structures have become calcified and disconnected from the ideals they were originally intended to serve, and we no longer trust those who have found success within them, no matter how competent they show themselves to be.  So we have widespread frustration and discontent.

We find ourselves watching a drama as lurid as anything the Romantics dreamed up, rapt and hypnotized, unable to tear ourselves away. The only path out of this, I think, is not left or right but up. Awakening is the only possible solution to the national nightmare. And it is most difficult to achieve, requiring us to pull the beams from our own eyes when we would rather pay attention to the motes in the eyes of others.

May all our eyes open.


Here is a quick overview of Krasiński’s career:


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Love, Fear, and Viruses: Some Ways We Make Ourselves Ill or Well, Part II

“If you believe in love and acceptance, you cannot judge another for choosing fear and rejection. If you do, it means you are guilty of precisely what you are accusing others of.” — Alexander Loyd, Beyond Willpower


There were deeper emotional connections with those recent respiratory illnesses, too, no surprise. The thing that turned out to be the main issue was a major surprise, though. James Rolwing did a distance treatment for me, and he found something that confused both of us: that I was reacting to someone making a “bigoted statement,” and I’d had trouble dealing with the darkness in her and in myself. I don’t usually hang with bigoted people, so I couldn’t figure out who that might have been, but it made sense after a little consideration. I’d been reprocessing something that had happened over 30 years earlier, the incredibly nasty end of a relationship with someone who had been hugely important to me. Just a few days before I’d been reminded of that in a big way. The “bigoted statement” had to do with my sexuality and her rejection of that and pretty much everything else about me. She never spoke to me again and I never had any opportunity to resolve anything. Faced with love, she chose fear.

This seemed to get intertwined with the general climate of hatefulness and intolerance in this year of Him Who Must Not Be Named. I could not digest the poisons in the atmosphere. (Wait— the way that sentence came out mirrors my statement in Part I that “air felt irritating and threatening to my damaged tissues.” No wonder.) Until then I had thought I’d left the pain of that rejection behind, but it had more lessons in store for me.

It gets weirder. About six weeks later, the husband of the woman who had rejected me died after a shockingly quick illness, and I heard about it through mutual acquaintances. I can’t tell you much about either of them because I want to respect their family’s privacy, so I’ll have to describe the ensuing events in a very general way, but I think it’s an important story to pass on to you.

As I said, the extremely unpleasant event had happened over 30 years ago, and I hadn’t seen either the wife or the husband in the past few decades. I read the man’s obituary and the glowing tributes left by his friends and students, talked with my own husband about him, wrote some memories down myself, and found that I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I supposed that it was because I was worrying that something like that could happen to my husband, at any moment. But as this continued over a few days and nights, I began to wonder what was going on. The night of April 12, I was particularly agitated and barely slept, and he was constantly on my mind. The next morning, I had a polarity therapy appointment scheduled, and I snagged a photo of the deceased from Facebook and brought it along.

“This man I barely knew died and I can’t stop thinking about him and it’s got me really messed up,” I told the therapist, the very intuitive person I’ve mentioned to you in the past. She did her stuff, and at the end of the treatment, she took a deep breath and told me, “The reason you can’t stop thinking about him is that he’s present, and he’s trying to get through to you and you’re blocking him.” She continued with a question I’d never have expected. “Is it possible that he had feelings for you?”

Oh, my. Suddenly everything fell into place. “I wouldn’t have thought so,” I replied— and I still don’t— “but it’s what his wife believed.” I told the therapist a bit about what had happened between us. She gave the opinion that the rift was more about the wife’s attitudes than anything I had said or done. As we talked, I became inescapably aware of the presence of the gentleman in question. I couldn’t block him out anymore.

I still wanted to, though. The whole thing had come out of far left field and I didn’t know what to do with it. The rest of the day was busy wall to wall and I didn’t have a chance deal with him anyway. I felt pressured by his need to communicate with me and the mass of strong energy that was right up against me, and I figuratively clapped my hands over my ears and repeated, “La la la, I can’t hear anything!” As soon as I had a chance, I called Mendy Lou Blackburn, my psychic mentor, and asked for help.

During the day, I considered this earth-shattering development whenever I had a moment, and got more comfortable with it. This was not an evil entity, after all; it was just a guy, someone I had known to be a very decent and highly intelligent person. I could easily handle visiting with him. And of course he’d only been deceased for about a week and a half, so I couldn’t expect him to have much control over his “volume level” or understanding of the etiquette of spirit contacts.

When I went to bed and had time and quiet, I opened a conversation. I was feeling hostile, surprisingly so, and since one cannot lie or hide emotions in this situation, I acknowledged that and went from there. I told him that I was perfectly willing to talk with him, but that my mental and physical integrity had to be respected. I heard, “I’m sorry.” I tried to communicate further but fell asleep.

The next morning, the sense of pressure and invasion was gone, and I felt normal all day, no longer agitated and obsessive. Mendy Lou had time available in the evening, and as soon as I arrived, the gentleman made himself apparent. I want to make it clear that I don’t mean just that Mendy Lou reported messages from him, but that he was decidedly right there in the space with us, as impossible to ignore as if he’d still been physical. He was powerfully, intensely present as a mass of warm, vibrant energy, mostly at my right side. I was feeling him inside my hands as well, but I wasn’t discomfited by it, as by that time he seemed familiar and friendly and he wasn’t trying to force the interaction on me.

Mendy and I spent about three hours with him, during which he stayed steadily focused in the room. I was amazed at how long he was able to keep up the clear contact, as well as how intensely he came through, since he was so new at this business of being a disembodied spirit. (Did he have help? We didn’t perceive anyone else in the background.) We were able to talk through a lot of history, and he confirmed that the breakup hadn’t been my fault. It was a relief to know that and to be able to explain my actions to him. It turned out that the reason he had contacted me was that he’d always felt bad about the way things had ended between him and his wife and my husband and me. He’d liked both Bob and me, and would have preferred to stay friends with us, but his wife wouldn’t allow it. He transmitted a lot of heavy and troubling emotional content, which, again, I can’t share because of privacy concerns.  I will say, though, that he expressed a great deal of frustration, and we wondered if that might have contributed to his illness.

I can tell you, though, that beyond all else he was worried about his distraught wife and was hoping that I might be able to help him get through to her, or to comfort her in some way. That must have been why he’d clamored for my attention so. He had tried to communicate with her but hadn’t been successful, something we hear often from those who have recently passed. I was very concerned for her welfare too, and could hardly begin to imagine how much pain she must be in. But even assuming that I could contact her at all, I could only have been a further disturbing influence. As tempting as it was to try, I had to decline.

It was beyond astonishing that, first, we had been important enough to this man that he made an intensive effort to contact me, and second, that he was able to find me. Why did he even consider looking for me? I didn’t do any kind of psychic work back when he knew me. Perhaps we have deeper connections that consciously I know nothing about. Mendy Lou kept telling me that none of this was my responsibility, that I had no obligation to help. I agreed, but the fact that it happened at all must mean that I am involved, and I have been wondering if I acquitted myself properly and adequately.

It was heartening a few days ago when one of my elderly patients told me about a similar situation, but one involving someone much more central to her, her brother. The brother had married a woman who was very concerned to keep him all to herself and away from family members who for some reason she thought were unacceptable. He went along with this and didn’t speak to his sister for decades. “It was all jealousy,” said my patient. The brother passed on, and at that point he did come to talk with her. They had a good conversation, “talking without words,” she told me, and they worked out their differences. What a wonderful relief that was for her, and probably for him too.

My own experience is still working its way through my psyche, and I don’t think I’ll be done with it for a while. Some things are clear to me, though. As I’ve written before*, it’s best to get right while you can with everyone, if at all possible, while you are alive. But there is always hope, always another chance. And if we can put aside fear, there is always love.


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Love, Fear, and Viruses: Some Ways We Make Ourselves Ill or Well, Part I

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” ― Rumi

I am so grateful to be past the series of respiratory infections that first hit me way back on January 28. Lots of people in Albuquerque have gone through something similar, but it seems like I set a record for duration of cough. Not only was it obnoxious in itself, it made work and anything I did in public difficult. It was also bad for my reputation as a healer! My newest patients, who had never seen me healthy, were becoming convinced that something was terribly wrong with me, and my established patients were making noises about my not taking proper care of myself (whereas I was doing everything I could think of to get better). I wasn’t looking like a good example for them, that’s for sure.

I don’t like blaming patients for getting sick, but I know that our inner lives have a great deal of influence over what happens to our bodies, and as this crud went on and on I could not help but think there must be more to it than viruses or bacteria.

This came to a head during a treatment for one of my patients who have dealt with asthma for many years. She was sympathizing with my cough, because that’s the main symptom of asthma for her, and she told me about the worst asthma attack she’d ever experienced. She had hardly finished the sentence when I went into a knock-down, drag-out coughing fit that wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t talk or do much of anything else. It went on for about 10 minutes. This was unnerving for me and for the current patient, but all the more for the next one, one of the new ones, who had walked in just when it started. Fortunately, I was able to settle down and do a good treatment for him, as if nothing much had happened, but the lesson got through to me. The simple idea of an asthma attack was enough to make my respiratory system go off the rails.

This happened even though by that time my cough was lessening and for the most part wasn’t a big deal anymore. I noticed that I was getting some uncomfortable tightening in my chest and wondered if I, too, had crossed the line into having asthma, which was not unexpected after decades of year-round allergies, and possibly could have been diagnosed already if I had ever cared to use the word. Maybe the cough was persisting because it was really asthma? I made an appointment with my primary care doctor*, someone I hardly ever see but who I admire for his empathy and healing presence. He listened to my breathing and agreed that asthma must be the diagnosis.

This gave me a chance to understand more about what my asthmatic patients were experiencing. The albuterol inhaler did make me more comfortable, although it tasted and smelled unpleasant. I thought about what Dr. Pereira had observed, that he only heard a wheeze on inspiration, while expiration was fine. Why was I clamping down on my trachea when breathing in? Well, it was obvious. After weeks of coughing, air felt irritating and threatening to my damaged tissues, and the onslaught of tree pollens and dust didn’t help any. I didn’t want to pull that air into my lungs and was unconsciously trying to reduce the irritation. It was no big surprise. I’d been through similar journeys, including the one I wrote about here, when I first met Chopin and was in the midst of a long challenge to my respiratory system.  ( As soon as I realized what I was doing, I was able to talk myself into breathing smoothly again, even when the wind and dust were high. It was clear that my breathing was exquisitely sensitive to the slightest thoughts and feelings.


Late in 2014 I was severely ill for a couple of days with what I suspect was norovirus, which was common here in Albuquerque at the time. It was awful and wonderful and transformative. During this very unpleasant process I was able to observe in detail how I was going about making myself sicker.

The illness had two mutually aggravating components, a crushing headache and nausea with vomiting, both of which went on hour after hour without any improvement. I couldn’t take any kind of painkiller because I couldn’t keep anything down, throwing up made the headache tremendously worse, and I couldn’t rest or sleep because I had to keep running to the bathroom. I’m telling you this TMI stuff because it has to do with what I discovered.

At the beginning of this trouble, I was feeling a lot of self-loathing, boatloads of it. That may have been as much a symptom as a cause, I don’t know. It followed an episode of serious failure with my singing voice, which was giving me a great deal of trouble at the time. I was deeply ashamed and horrified by my inability to put out much of any sound, which was a shock at the time, and the worst of it had happened in front of musicians whose opinions I cared about.

At the same time, I was at a standstill in a relationship, and was frustrated both with the other person’s unresponsiveness and with my own inability to communicate more effectively.

Since I couldn’t do anything but lie there hurting, I had plenty of time to think. I noticed that whenever the thought of my recent debacle crossed my mind, the tension and the headache increased. I was disgusted with myself and felt that the person who had heard me was disgusted with me too, and the disgust translated into more intense nausea instantly, the moment this crossed my mind. Which happened over and over. I couldn’t seem to do anything to break the cycle. And then the other frustration would come up. Eventually I found myself sitting in the bathroom wailing in desperation, feeling that I couldn’t manage another second of this. My husband came running and tried to rescue me, but couldn’t do much besides hold my hand and let me know he was there. At the height of the crescendo, the crisis seemed to break and I started to get better.

I’m pretty sure that if I had not gotten into this emotional tailspin, I would still have been ill with the virus or whatever it was, and it wouldn’t have been easy, but I would have been able to rest and ride it out without turning it into an existential threat.

At some point during that afternoon, while trying to work through the emotional morass, I had a breakthrough. It suddenly hit me that loving someone didn’t depend on their doing or saying what I wanted or meeting my expectations in any way. If I loved them, I loved them no matter what. Eventually I realized that I needed to extend this concept to myself too! With this revelation I started to become well in a profound way, even though I was still physically miserable.

I already knew about the fundamental dichotomy of love vs. fear. Through this experience, it became palpable, embodied, no longer abstract. I knew which side I was on, and I understood that the emotional part of my illness could be traced back to fear.


Not too long after that I encountered a sample of a book, Beyond Willpower, that was being offered for pre-publication orders. I was already familiar with the author, Alexander Loyd, from his Healing Codes work. The sample chapter told how he had nearly lost his marriage through approaching love as if it were a business deal, “if you do this for me, I’ll do that for you”— otherwise, no love. “Loving truly, on the other hand, has nothing to do with the other person’s response,” he wrote. “If you truly love someone, you’re all in: no safety net, no plan B, nothing held back.” Yes, exactly! I put in an order for the book.

Dr. Loyd expounds on what he calls the Greatest Principle, that pretty much all of our life and health problems are rooted in fear in some way, and that transforming fear to love is the way to solve them. He outlines practical methods to make that happen, because just talking about the matter won’t do the job. At this juncture in history, with fear so obviously in ascendance in our public life, I think it would be particularly useful for us all to be working on this. You can find some resources at Dr. Loyd and his associates have been trying to get a widespread movement going, and a number of people have started their own groups.

The book is being reissued as The Love Code. The original Beyond Willpower contained some screaming errors about science, particularly one Dr. Loyd likes to repeat over and over in his talks and materials and relies upon for evidence of his claims, regarding the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox (he even gets the name wrong and refers to “Podasky”). I was dying to correct his misconception, but never found a loving way to bring it up with him, nor managed to put together a brief, clear explanation of the issue for him. Reviewing some physics books was good for me, though, so being annoyed was a gift. But if nobody else brought it up and it wasn’t fixed for the new edition, I will feel guilty! If you read the book, you can look past this weakness, because it doesn’t take away from the overall message. At least you can look past it if you don’t have an obsessive copyediting brain like mine, or if you aren’t driven crazy by appeals to garbled quantum physics in popular books.

Imagine if everyone moved out of their closed-up state of fear and into an expansive state of love! Dr. Loyd suggests that we try to live completely centered in love for just 30 minutes at a time— that’s hard enough. If you can get through that much, you try for another half hour. If you get derailed by your reaction to someone misquoting Einstein or whatever, you try again. And keep trying.

*Oswaldo Pereira, MD at Albuquerque Health Partners.

I saw the Rumi quote at:

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