But is it "Christian"?
A friend recently expressed her surprise that I, a Christian minister, was exploring all these woo-woo things to do with death and dying that the church has always forbidden us, or discouraged us at least, from doing. Communing with the dead? Assisting the dying in their passage? Remembering the realm of our pre-existent souls?
I get it. The Bible itself says that spiritualists who commune with the dead, if they like it so much, should be taken out and stoned to death, so they can be with their new "friends" (though that's not exactly how the Book of Leviticus puts it). Even when it's not so harsh, scripture eschews spiritualism, saying we can't learn anything from spirits that we shouldn't be learning directly from the Lord.
It's interesting that the Bible doesn't disavow the presence of spirits and other realms of existence; it simply says, "Don't go there." Similarly, while the church has traditionally echoed that teaching, it has also sanctioned a particular ministry to deal specifically with those realms, that is, Exorcism (for which no rubrics exist in the official prayer books, only the instruction to go see the bishop ... what, is there a secret handbook?).
I can imagine that unscrupulous people with a bent toward the spiritual can find all sorts of trouble to get into. Whether for fun or for profit or for power, spiritualists could misuse their intuitive gifts and damage other people's lives rather than heal them. But that's true everywhere, including the corridors of power in churchland itself. Fear is no reason not, at the very least, to take an interest, to poke one's head in the door and have a look around. We just might learn something.
I was fascinated last week to have a conversation in the Mystic Cave with Jane Fleming, a minister at Calgary First Spiritualist Church. In her there is no darkness. There's only curiosity, delight, compassion, intelligence, and a deep conviction that, whatever we learn of the other realms, it only leads us back to this one, where we are all on a journey towards union with God and with all things. Spiritualism simply acknowledges that some mortals have a facility for seeing into those realms, one way or another, for the benefit of those on earth.
I've been to her church, where I enjoyed a visit from my father who had died fourteen years before. In turn, I arranged a weekend at my own church on the theme of death and dying. Among the other speakers and workshop leaders, I invited Jane and another medium from her church to come and do "readings" in our chapel for people who were interested. They were, in droves.
One woman approached me at the end of the weekend to thank me. She attended another church, she said, that forbade her from hanging out with spiritualists, so she had to sneak off to join them whenever she could, feeling guilty about it. But here we were, openly and honestly, exploring a part of life the church itself was neglecting.
Needless to say, I didn't tell my bishop. I knew the boundaries and I knew I was crossing them with this particular interest of mine. But nothing grows in the shadows except mushrooms, and some of those are poisonous. Better to bring it all out into the light where we can wonder at the extraordinariness of life and maybe even put our minds at rest about what happens when we die.
It was, after all, the church that taught us to fear death, where an angry God might just consign us to an eternity of hellfire and damnation. Curious, then, that the messages spiritualists relay from the other side have to do with love and forgiveness and peace. What have they remembered that the church may have forgotten?
This week in the Mystic Cave: A Lamp Unto our Feet: A Conversation with Spiritualist Jane Fleming.