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Wrestling with Death

Posted November 28, 2015

path into forest

I like to think that people die when their souls have finished what they came here to do.

But my belief has been challenged this year. (Have you noticed an unusual number of deaths this year?)

Just this month:

  • A beautiful woman in my church is dying of cancer. She's in her 40s, with two teenagers.
  • A man who was a pillar in the community and a delight to all who knew him was killed in a car accident.
  • Then the day after Thanksgiving, a friend's 29-year-old son was washed away in his car on a dark, flooded road, leaving a wife and little boy who will be 5 this week.

How could they have been finished with life or ready to go, even at the unconscious level of their souls?

Those of us who knew them or their families have been asking why, why, why. How could this possibly make sense, even in the great cosmic scheme of things?

I'm still wrestling with an answer.


I don't believe the choice to die is made logically or consciously at a human level, at least most of the time.

At a soul level, they might have been finished with what they came to do, or maybe they had reached a point where they could do no more in this time and place. Maybe they never intended to stay for 90 or 100 years.

For those who loved them, adjusting to their deaths will be part of their paths now. Maybe those brave souls signed up to learn about loss in this lifetime.

Isn't that better than believing it's all just random? That we're victims of fate?

I suspect the choice for death from the soul's perspective is like walking through a door. You're inside, then you step outside for some fresh air, and eventually you'll come back inside for another lifetime.

It's as if we had all come on a vacation together, and a few of our friends were called home early. Disappointing, but from a soul perspective, we'll be right behind them.


I'm well aware these ideas probably don't help in the midst of grief.

Losing the physical presence of someone we love is a very big deal for us humans, even if entering and leaving a lifetime is just a routine shift from a cosmic perspective.

So I probably wouldn't share most of this with someone still in shock from a loss. In the beginning, we just sit with people in their pain. Then if they ever bring up the topic of why something happened, we can speculate with them.

And it is just speculation. No one understands exactly why or when death happens, or what's next.

But it helps me to remember that, from everything I read and hear (NDEs, mediums, etc.), the so-called “dead” are right here with us, listening and watching as we carry on with our lives. They are available for communication anytime we think of them.

We can say whatever was left unsaid, and they will hear. We can ask questions or even heal relationships.

They are right beside us, simply without bodies.


I believe we all come here knowing we will live as humans for a while, learn what we can, enjoy what we can, then slip out of our bodies and leave.

That means the loss of those we love is part of the human experience, which is what we came for. We are loved through all its ups and downs.

A friend who lost his wife this year said his answer to the question Why is the same for all of life's pain and difficulties: It's an opportunity to engage more deeply with the divine.

But, oh, it hurts sometimes.

PS -- What do you believe about why and when death occurs? What has been comforting for you when you experienced loss? I would love for you to share your thoughts below.


Grateful for the Small Stuff

Posted November 21, 2015

I don't have to remind you to be grateful at Thanksgiving.

You already are grateful, aren't you?

Maybe not every minute of every day.

But most of the time, I should think, you are uncommonly grateful for the uncommon good in your life.

If perchance you run out of things to be grateful for, Brother David Steindl-Rast has a few suggestions about giving thanks for the simplest, slightest things in life.

As a Thanksgiving meditation, I hope you'll take five minutes to relax and breathe with this beautiful video.


Why Is There Evil?

Posted November 14, 2015


The young woman on the back row rose to ask me a question.

I had been holding forth as usual about the good that can be found in any situation and the gifts that are brought to us even through pain.

I'm sure I touched on the divine within each person and the sometimes difficult soul paths we have chosen for this human experience.

Then I asked whether anyone had questions.

The young woman didn't raise her hand at first. She waited until I was on a roll, knocking out answers and feeling confident. This was going well.

Finally, I called on her. She asked shyly, “How do you account for pure evil?”

Oh, yikes.

I shouldn't have been surprised. This was before the terrorist attacks in Paris, but those are only the most recent example. The question of evil always, always, always comes up.

Why are people so horrible? Why do they do such monstrous things to each other? Find the good and gifts in THAT, Debenport!

The thing is, the greatest philosophers and theologians of the ages have not devised an adequate explanation for those people, events and circumstances we label bad. Especially the ones that are so bad, we call them evil.

How can there be a God that is good, given what we see every night on the news? How can we even believe good has the upper hand?

The answer I offered the young woman didn't satisfy her at all, and I've been cogitating ever since on how better to explain it.

Here's what I should have said:


Evil is entirely manmade.

There is no devil luring us to the dark side. We cross over all on our own.

There is no force of evil or a fallen angel doing battle with God for our souls.

Evil is the result of human decisions and actions.

Yes, those decisions might be made by a sick mind. But someone has to decide to fire a gun or abuse a child or detonate a bomb or kill all the Jews. Nothing is forcing us to do those things.

Maybe our planet is an experiment in allowing free will. So far, not so good.

We choose inhumanity again and again.

Arguably, we've become less barbaric over the centuries, but we still have real trouble rising above our beliefs in competition, scarcity and danger.

So we fight and kill and quarrel and condemn as we try to hold onto some little piece of good that we believe is all we have available.


It doesn't have to be this way.

There is nothing in God that is not good, including human beings. In the Absolute realm, there is no pain, sickness or death.

No suffering is inflicted on us as “God's will,” nor is it part of our divine heritage. And we are divine by nature, despite the poor choices we sometimes make.

When we were given dominion over the earth, we were given the power to command reality.

That means each of us is born with the creative authority to determine exactly what happens and what kind of world we live in.

But so far, most of us wield that power as indiscriminately as if we were whirling around while slashing a sword, unmindful of what we might hit.

Even the best of us use our powers to create pain, suffering, sickness, poverty and death, often unintentionally, and largely because we believe suffering is necessary and required in our experience.

Think about it: You might be leading a benign, even productive, life, but you know that somewhere people are starving. Somewhere, atrocities are being committed. Somewhere, someone is waging war, maybe even someone you voted for.

We all know life could and should be better. We just have no idea how powerful we are.


Personally, I end up back where I started.

Yes, your life will probably include some pain and suffering, just as a toddler will fall down and get hurt while learning to walk. That's where we are as a species.

Or maybe we have progressed to a teenage level of consciousness, and you know how reckless and dangerous that age can be! But it's also the time we take more and more responsibility for conducting our lives.

For the foreseeable future, I believe we will continue to encounter obstacles and fight enemies – enemies that often are within us. It's the hero's journey.

But no, it doesn't have to be this hard. Deep down, we know it shouldn't be. Wielding our creative power is what we came to learn.

So why is there evil in the world?

It's entirely up to us.

PS -- The idea that good and gifts can come from any situation is what my new book, Hell in the Hallway, Light at the Door, is about. It is now available on Amazon or Barnes & Noble online.


Who Gets Credit for Your Greatness?

Posted November 7, 2015


Have you ever had a mentor?

I think of a mentor as someone who takes you under his/her wing to show you the ropes in some endeavor, someone who has experience in an area where you want to excel.

I've had mentors and still do, except for the wing part.

Most of my mentors aren't up close and personal. They probably have no idea how important they have been to me or even that I follow them.

They are authors, speakers, people I've found online. I've known a few of them personally or have worked with them, but even then, I doubt they realize the influence they had on me.

Do you have to know your mentor personally? Be in the same place? Discuss what you're learning from them?


This came up for me when I wrote the page of acknowledgements in the back of Hell in the Hallway, Light at the Door, the book that just came out. (I'll send you an update soon. It's been an incredible week!)

I've always seen acknowledgement pages in books, but when it came time to write mine, I wasn't sure who should be included. Friends who encouraged or helped with this particular book? The authorities I quoted? Teachers I have formally studied with?

I ended up thanking the people who essentially taught me everything I know. And of course the list was incomplete.

How many, many newspaper editors helped me with my writing through the years? How many, many ministers have I been inspired by? They were mentors, all of them.

The original Mentor was actually a character in Homer's “Odyssey.” He was a friend of Odysseus' and an adviser to O's son, Telemachus.

The name apparently derived from the word mentos, which means “intent, purpose, spirit, passion.”

Yes, perfect! A mentor directs someone's intent, purpose and passion.

It turns out Mentor was often Athena in disguise. She's the goddess of wisdom, courage and inspiration – pretty much what a good mentor offers – and she is the companion of heroes and heroic endeavors.

I wonder whether she disguised herself as a man in order to convey more authority.


In the early days of the women's movement, I remember hearing a lament that bright young women had no one to mentor them, whereas men naturally set up such relationships. Has that been your experience?

Then there's the risk that you will outgrow your mentor, which can make a personal relationship complicated and awkward. It's easier if your mentor has been an author you just don't read anymore, or a blogger you now delete.

I suppose outgrowing your mentor is the ideal, isn't it?

A good mentor would want you eventually to do more. (Even Jesus said we could do anything he could do, and more.)

Have you ever had a mentor? Or are you a mentor to someone now? Is it a formal relationship?

I'm just curious.

As much as we are flooded with impersonal data and information, I suspect the real learning still comes from real people that we engage with over a period of time, even at a distance. That is, people we can name.

Who has accompanied your heroic endeavors? Who is on your acknowledgement page?


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