‘Proof of Heaven’: Neurosurgeon turns NDE into fascinating read for skeptics, believers

Proof of Heaven

Skeptics have fascinated me for many years because they will often hear a supernatural story from a trusted source — a long-time friend who no history of mental illness or a reason to lie — and still find ways to dismiss it. Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who also worked at Harvard Medical School in Boston, was one of those skeptics until he contracted a case of E. coli meningitis, which attacked his brain and left him in a coma for seven days.

What makes Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife such a compelling read is that its author a.) was a secular man, b.) is a doctor who specializes in the brain, and c.) knows that his illness attacked the very parts of the brain that give skeptics an “out” in terms of believing that neath death experiences (NDEs) offer proof of the spirit world.

Dr. Alexander’s NDE is important because he isn’t just some random guy who drowned and was resuscitated; it is important because he knows about “endogenous glutamate blockade with excitotoxicity,” the limbic system, the lateral amygdala, N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) “dumps,” cortical function, etc.

In short, he is not a man who can be “out-scienced” because he has dedicated his life to medicine.

Random blog posts by a lucid dreamer who was visited by a floating purple orb can be easily dismissed — but a Near Death Experience by a neurosurgeon with over 25 years experience, who uses science to back his claims, is much more difficult to deny.

Dr. Alexander says at one point:

Depending on whom you talk to, consciousness is either the greatest mystery facing scientific enquiry, or a total non-problem. What’s surprising is just how many more scientists think it’s the latter. For many — maybe most — scientists, consciousness isn’t really worth worry about because it is just a by-product of physical processes. Many scientists go further, saying that not only is consciousness a secondary phenomenon, but that in addition, it’s not even real.

Many leaders in the neuroscience of consciousness and the philosophy of the mind, however, would beg to differ. Over the last few decades, they have come to recognize that ‘hard problem of consciousness.’

Like many other scientific skeptics, I refused to even review the data relevant to the questions concerning these [supernatural] phenomena. I prejudged the data, and those providing it, because my limited perspective failed to provide the foggiest notion of how such things might actually happen. Those who assert that there is no evidence for phenomena indicative of extended consciousness, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, are willfully ignorant. They believe they know the truth without needing to look at the facts.”

For those still stuck in the trap of scientific skepticism, I recommend the book Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century, published in 2007. The evidence for out-of-body consciousness is well presented in this rigorous scientific analysis. Irreducible Mind is a landmark opus from a highly reputable group, the Division of Perceptual Studies, based at the University of Virginia.” — Eben Alexander, Proof of Heaven, (Simon and Schuster, 2012), 151-153.

I do not want to spoil any details of the doctor’s experience in the spirit realm, so I will refrain from mentioning them here. I will say, however, that Proof of Heaven is a quick and worthwhile read for anyone interested in the subject matter. The paperback edition is $16 for a new copy, but it is money well spent.

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The power of prayer: A blueprint for realizing faith’s potential

It is incredibly tough to get those who do not believe in prayer to understand how it works. Even those who do believe in God often pray in strange ways and then get frustrated by the results. Since prayer recently helped me regain my work-related Twitter account after it was unjustly suspended, I will try to use that story to explain how it works.

First, a recap:

  • After I wrote a story on Iran for work, an apologist for the regime Tweeted “I will find you and kill you … death to America.”
  • Twitter said it “could not determine” if that violated its terms of service. When I publicly questioned that decision, my account was suspended. Countless appeals were ignored over the course of one month.
  • The company’s press account ignored my emails and the emails of my co-workers.
  • A Washington, D.C. spokesman for Twitter ignored an inquiry by my employer.
  • Public pressure from countless Twitter followers and a story by WND did nothing to forward the process along.
  • My attempts to get certain conservative media outlets and personalities to take up my cause fell on deaf ears.
  • Well-connected people said they were at a loss as to how to help me. They essentially said my cause was hopeless.

During this whole ordeal I had a conversation with a friend about well-known personalities who did nothing to help me. I told my friend that it didn’t bother me because if God ultimately wanted to use them to help me, then He would. I prayed for an entire month, and last night I prayed throughout most of the night when an idea came to me: I would email Twitter’s CEO. I would make the case that he needed to intervene on my behalf. Then the words came to mind. When work started I didn’t know his email, but I took a chance on what I thought it might be — and I was right. Within 30 minutes of emailing him, my suspension was lifted and I received an apology from Twitter. A friend of mine said that what I did was something straight out of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I must admit, I did feel like the “The Sausage King of Chicago: Abe Froman.”

I nearly broke down into tears, knowing that my prayers had been answered. For someone who writes news for a living, Twitter is indispensable. Six-years worth of contacts and personalized news lists were restored.

Twitter apologyThis is just one story of many that I can tell where prayer has worked miracles in my life. If you’re interested in understanding how I pray and prepare for prayer, then here is the general blueprint:

  • A man’s heart must first be open to the possibility that God exists and that He and His angels hear our prayers.
  • We all have a lot to be grateful for, no matter what situation we find ourselves in. Prayer should take place after acknowledging those blessings. I often try to think about all the things that I am grateful for — to the point where I almost become overwhelmed with emotion.
  • Pray for the ability to discern God’s will and strength carry it out. If you are doing God’s will, then success is guaranteed.
  • Realize that what you may perceive as setbacks or failures on God’s part are never such things. If a man with night-vision was guiding you through a dark path and you occasionally slipped, would it make sense to get angry at him? How foolish would you feel if the path was suddenly illuminated and you realized that without the man’s help you would have fallen into a giant crevasse? In my story with Twitter, what would have happened if I shook my fist in anger and gave up when at least 10 different so-called media allies turned down my requests for help? Answer: I would not have come to a point where I would successfully email an insanely-busy CEO with a net worth of roughly $450 million.
  • Believe that the crosses that you carry are the burdens you must bear. There are very good reasons why hardship exists. With each obstacle we overcome, there are lessons to be learned. You should find a way to be grateful — even for those things in your life that cause pain or, at a cursory level, seem unwanted. Pray for the ability to understand the lessons God is trying to teach you.
  • Work hard. Prepare. Know your God-given talents and then hone them to perfection. Take my situation with Twitter. Imagine that I prayed, “God, if it is your will, please assist me in regaining my Twitter account,” and then sat on my butt waiting for a miracle that seemed to be denied. Now imagine me asking God why he denied my prayer and His response: “I made you a talented writer, but instead of writing to Twitter’s CEO and trusting in me, you took that talent for granted and expected some sort of dazzling light show. That was kind of a weird move on your part, don’t you think?”

I can probably add to this list, but that is a good start. I’m confident that someone who takes this advice will see amazing results over time. It is a humbling experience to see just how prayers can be perfectly answered. Often I reflect on how seamlessly some of them have been answered and cannot help but well up. A passing glimpse at perfection — true perfection — is a thing of beauty, but at the same time it can be emotionally crippling. Perhaps others have had a different experience, but my own brief tastes of infinite knowledge and infinite love can only be dwelt in for mere moments. It is a paralyzing epiphany to realize that on many levels we are comically insignificant beings, yet infinitely loved by our Creator.

If you believe in God, then I hope my prayer blueprint can be of use to you. If you do not believe in God, then hopefully I have given you some worthwhile insight into a Catholic mind that’s been around since 1979. In either case, thanks for reading and know that there’s a good chance that on random nights I am praying for you, too.

Francis De Sales’ ‘Introduction to the Devout Life’: 1609’s must-read still amazing in 2015

Francis De Sales Intro Devout LifeIt is a rare occurrence to read a book and come to the conclusion that the writer’s initial inspiration was perfectly realized upon its completion. Saint Francis De Sales’ “Introduction to the Devout Life” may have been published in 1609, but its stunning insight into the human condition makes it a must-read in 2015. In another 400 years, it will still be leaving readers in awe.

While De Sales wrote for a Christian audience, the blueprint for a healthy civil society he presents is one that men and women of all faiths (or no faith) would be hard-pressed to criticize. The virtues he seeks to cultivate in his readers may be motivated by a desire to instill a love of God in  as many hearts as possible, but at the end of the day he is still talking about honesty, humility, patience, charity, fortitude, prudence, etc.

Even more impressive is how De Sales addresses the reader (“Philothea”) directly, yet with a delivery that feels like a kind and gentle father imparting time-tested wisdom to a child. De Sales (who must have consulted countless men and women from all walks of life) has such an exquisite grasp of humanity’s trials and tribulations that it is hard not to feel as though he already knows everything about you — yet still offers unconditional love.

De Sale somehow manages to write for the YouTube-Instagram-Facebook culture of 2015 while living in 1609:

“We apply the term vainglory to whatever we assign to ourselves, whether something that is not actually in us or something in us but not of us, or something in us and of us but not such that we can glory in it. Noble ancestry, patronage of great men, and popular honor are things that are not in us but either in our ancestors or in the esteem of other men. Some men become proud and overbearing because they ride a fine horse, wear a feather in their hat, or are dressed in a splendid suit of clothes. Is anyone blind to the folly of all this? If there is any glory in such things it belongs to the horse, the bird, and the tailor. It is a mean heart that borrows honor from a horse, a bird, a feather, or some passing fashion.

Others value and pride themselves because of a fine mustache, well-trimmed beard, carefully curled hair, soft hands, ability to dance, play cards well, or sing. Such light-minded men seek to increase their reputation by frivolous things. Others would like to be honored and respected by men because of a little learning, as if everyone should go to school to them and take them as their teachers. They are called pedants for this reason.

Other men have handsome bodies and therefore strut about and think that everybody dotes on them. All this is extremely vain, objectionable, and foolish and the glory based on such weak foundations is called vain, foolish, and frivolous.

We recognize genuine goodness as we do genuine balm. If balm sinks down and stays at the bottom when dropped into water, it is rated the best and most valuable. So also in order to know whether a man is truly wise, learned, generous, and noble, we must observe whether his abilities tend to humility, modesty, and obedience for in that case they will be truly good. If they float on the surface and seek to show themselves, they are so much less genuine in so far as they are more showy. Pearls conceived and nourished by wind or thunder claps are mere crusts, devoid of substance. So also men’s virtues and fine qualities conceived and nurtured by pride, show, and vanity have the mere appearance of good, without juice, marrow, solidity.” Francis De Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life (New York: Image, 2014), 121–122

The depth and breadth of De Sales’ understanding of humanity is a marvel to behold. If for no other reason, “Introduction to the Devout Life” shines a giant spotlight on just how far we’ve fallen as a culture. The book was written for the likes of carpenters, soldiers, sailors, and tailors — not academics — and yet the man on the street in 2015 would likely have a hard time digesting much of De Sales’ intellectual discourse.

If you have ever sat alone in your bed at night and tried to plumb the depths of your soul to root out what is rotten and realize what is wholly good, then I cannot recommend Francis De Sales’ “Introduction to the Devout Life” enough. If it is read with an open mind and seriously meditated upon, then I have no doubt that it will truly change your life for the better.

‘Angels in My Hair’: Lorna Byrne’s gentle touch creates solid stepping stone to spirituality

Angels in My HairLorna Byrne’s 2008 book ‘Angels in My Hair’ is a bestseller. Her memoir covers the trials and tribulations she experienced while growing up with the ability to see angels — but not talk about it with anyone. Her own family thought she had mental problems. She was warned that there was a possibility they would send her to a mental institution. She was given foreknowledge of painful events that would happen later in life (e.g., the early death of her husband), but was sworn to secrecy. Finally, at a much later stage in her life, she was told to write her book so that people would know one simple message: We are never alone.

Ms. Byrne’s book has plenty of detractors — atheists, agnostics, Christians of various denominations, and individuals from other religious faiths. That is understandable, given the nature of her claims. As a Catholic, I certainly have qualms with topics that were left out of the book, but many of her editorial decisions make sense when one considers Ireland’s violent history between Protestants and Catholics.

‘Angels in My Hair’ is a great book for anyone who has ever wondered if angels exists. It’s also a worthwhile read for those who identify as a devout [insert religious denomination here], provided he or she accepts from the beginning that Ms. Byrne is writing exclusively on angels — not the Bible.

Before I go on, perhaps the best way to sum up how I feel about Ms. Byrne’s book is to first share a quick story from my own life.

When I was a young child I had a snowball fight with a bunch of kids. Half of us were on one side of the street, and half of us were on the other. We were running around having a good time, and at a certain point I picked up a snowball and charged towards the road with tunnel vision on my target. Suddenly I felt a force, as if someone had grabbed me by the shoulders and planted my feet into the ground. I was brought to an abrupt stop. A car slammed on its breaks and skidded to a halt right where I had been running. Even as a young child — with no formal religious education — I knew that I should have been hit by that car. I knew that I should have been injured or possibly dead. I knew that something intervened on my behalf. I had no knowledge of guardian angels at that time, but I remember being completely in awe of whatever force made itself known to me in that moment.

I tell this story because I have no reason to lie to my readers. I am not insane. I am not schizophrenic. I am not on some secret Vatican payroll to deceive people. I do not do drugs. I rarely drink. I am a law-abiding citizen who tries to do what is morally right. I also acknowledge that I am an incredibly flawed individual. Likewise, countless others like me — perhaps including individuals in your life who have never given you a reason to trust their integrity or mental health — have experienced something supernatural. Why should those individuals be treated as hostile witnesses? Answer: They shouldn’t.

Ms. Byrne says:

“We have become a very materialistic society, and so frequently we look at death and ask, ‘Is this it? I rot away and there is nothing more?’ I assure you there is more — much more. I hope that through the books I write I can communicate this and help people to understand. Believe what I say. Believe that, yes, there is more, much more, even though I may not be able to prove it or show it to you now; it is proven to everyone when they die. Some people feel that then it’s too late — if they have to wait to die to see the proof. People are given proofs while they are alive, but sometimes they have to look or listen very hard to recognize them.” Lorna Byrne, Angels in My Hair (New York: Random House, 2008), 174.

It is healthy to be skeptical. We should always read with a discerning eye. However, it is also healthy to have an open heart. The search for truth requires ample doses of each, even if it seems paradoxical. I believe that if you read ‘Angels in My Hair’ with that balancing act in mind, then you will see that there is much truth to what Ms. Byrne says.

You do not have to be a superman or superwoman. You do not have to bear all of life’s burdens as if you were Atlas holding up the globe. You do not have to create a tough-talk exterior shell to protect you from the opinions of others and you do not need to have all the answers. That is because you are not alone. In your darkest hours there is always someone by your side. Ask your angels to give you strength, and you will be surprised at what they bring you from the depths of your soul.

Mysterious ‘angel’ priest at car crash reminds us of our true nature

Car crash

Miracles happen every day. Angels exist. If you’re on the fence about either statement, look no further than New London, Missouri, where a mysterious priest has fire fighters and rescue workers scratching their heads:

Emergency workers and community members in eastern Missouri are not sure what to make of a mystery priest who showed up at a critical accident scene Sunday morning and whose prayer seemed to change life-threatening events for the positive.

Even odder, the black-garbed priest does not appear in any of the nearly 70 photos of the scene of the accident in which a 19-year-old girl almost died. No one knows the priest and he vanished without a word, said Raymond Reed, fire chief of New London, Mo. …

The scene unfolded Sunday morning. Katie Lentz, a sophomore at Tulane University, was driving from her parents’ home in Quincy, Ill., to Jefferson City, Mo., where she has a summer internship and planned to attend church with friends. The Mercedes she was driving collided with another vehicle on a highway near Center, Mo. The accident crushed Lentz’s vehicle into a ball of sheet metal that lay on the driver’s side, Reed said.

Reed’s team and emergency workers from several other jurisdictions tried for at least 45 minutes to remove the twisted metal from around Lentz. Various pieces of equipment broke and the team was running out of choices. A helicopter waited to carry Lentz to the nearest trauma center. Though Lentz appeared calm, talking about her church and her studies toward a dentistry degree, her vital signs were beginning to fail, Reed said.

“I was pulled off to the side by one of the members of the” helicopter evacuation team, Reed said. “He expressed to me that we were out of time. Her condition looked grim for her coming out of that vehicle alive. She was facing major problems.”

At that point, Reed’s team agreed to take the life-threatening chance of sitting the vehicle upright so that Lentz could be removed from it. This is dangerous because a sudden change in pressure to the body can be critical, he said.

That’s when Lentz asked if someone would pray with her and a voice said, “I will.”

The silver-haired priest in his 50s or 60s in black pants, black shirt and black collar with visible white insert stepped forward from nowhere. It struck Reed as odd because the street was blocked off 2 miles from the scene and no one from the nearby communities recognized him.

“We’re all local people from four different towns,” Reed said. “We’ve only got one Catholic church out of three towns and it wasn’t their priest.”

Fireman missouri angel priest

Mr. Reed continued in an on-air interview with the local news station:

“He came up an approached the patient and did offer a prayer. It was a Catholic priest. He had anointing oil with him. A sense of calmness came over her then, even more so than what she had been already — and it did us as well. I can’t be for certain who said or how it was said or where it came from but myself and one of the other firefighters who was beside mewe very plainly heard that we should remain calm, that our tools would now work, and that we would get her out of that vehicle.

As a first responder, you don’t know what you’re going to run into. Everything is on a case by case basis. Everything that we come across. We have a lot of tools that allow us to do many things and we have extensive training. In this particular case it is my feeling that it was nothing more than sheer faith and nothing short of a miracle,” (Raymond Reed, fire chief, New London, Mo.).

Who was this mystery priest? Was he an angel in human form? Was it just a priest who happened to be wandering the corn fields of Missouri at the perfect time in the perfect place to come to the aid of a devote Catholic who asked for someone to pray out loud for her — just as her vital signs were failing? Did the fire chief of New London, Mo. and the local townspeople all decide in the moments after a gruesome car crash to put together an elaborate hoax? Interesting questions, indeed.

The fact of the matter is this: Whether Katie Lentz was saved by an angel or comforted by the wandering priest of the Missouri cornfields, a miracle happened. And in the end, this story reminds us that we are all spiritual beings. We all have a higher self. When we realize that, we too can act as earth’s angels. Are the emergency workers any less of an angel than the priest? In many ways, no. As humans, we are confined by our physical bodies but we are certainly not our physical bodies and we are not our thoughts. We are the animating force behind our thoughts. Once an individual realizes their true nature then nothing is impossible.

Matthew 21:21 Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.

The story of the mystery priest reminds me of the two Christian girls who pulled a 3,000 pound tractor of their father’s chest when they prayed for God to give them strength. When you believe in something with all your soul the physical world has no choice but to react. There are countless instances of this being the case, but to the non-believer such stories simply serve as more material for a round of jokes. And that is fine.

Teal Scott explains the predicament of the non-believer with stunning accuracy:

Even though every single person alive today has [the attention and devotion of angels], regardless of what you’re doing, you must ask for their active help in your life because of the law of free will. When you came into this physical dimension you chose to become two points of perspective. You are the perspective of your higher self; you are also the perspective of your individual physical existence. And as such, you have the free will of focus. You get to pay attention to whatever it is you want to pay attention to, and thus your subjective reality will become the exact match, the physical match, of that focus. And so, if you choose not to focus on the presence of angels they can not show up in your objective reality. And we can flip this and say: Unless you choose to consciously focus on and invite these angelic presences into your life they can’t be a part of your reality. If you choose to focus on angelic presences and invite them into your life, they must become a part of your subjective reality. They can not impose themselves on your reality.

We create our own reality. The difference between Katie Lentz and the person who makes jokes about the priest who appeared before her when she needed him is this: Katie invited God into her life with open arms. Ms. Lentz is smart enough to know that there’s a whole heck of a lot out there that is beyond human comprehension. Thankfully, she’ll be around for a lot longer to share her experience with others once her wounds heal.

I believe Ms. Lentz may very well have been visited by an angel. However, if I am wrong I hope the priest stays silent. I like it better that way.

Matthew 6:1-6

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

No matter how you slice it, a miracle was performed in Missouri. For that, we can all be thankful.

Update: The mysterious ‘angel’ has come forward. His name is Father Patrick Dowling of the Diocese of Jefferson City:

“I thank God and the amazingly competent rescue workers,” Mr. Dowling said Monday. “I thank them for making me welcome in such a highly charged situation and allowing me to minister as a priest.”

The Aug. 4 wreck near Center, Mo., involving Tulane University sophomore Katie Lentz made news nationwide after reports of a man dressed like a priest who supposedly cured her and disappeared without a trace.

Miss Lentz was trapped in a clump of twisted metal that used to be her Mercedes as her vital signs continued to fall. Rescuers spent almost an hour trying to remove her from the wreckage when she asked someone to pray for her.

“I will,” the priest said.

Some people have already used this revelation to mock the idea that an angel came to Katie’s aid. Indeed, a priest just so happened to be in the perfect location at the perfect time to come to the aid of a devout Catholic who asked for someone to pray out loud for her — just as her vital signs were failing. I still maintain a miracle was performed.

Also note this from Father Dowling:

“I was probably part of the answer to their prayers, I came by and Anointed and absolved, (but) I didn’t say another word … I did not say anything like the machinery would begin to work or they would succeed in getting her out of the car.”

Take it for what you will.