A few days ago I came across an account of a near-death experience that I’ve been thinking about ever since. (It’s actually the same one Greg wrote about yesterday. We both wrote our posts at the same time and so I pulled mine for a day so that we wouldn’t double up.) It was from a Today Show interview about the new book Evidence of the Afterlife, by Jeffrey Long (which I am reading and heartily recommend). The experience itself comes from Mary Jo Rapini, a clinical psychologist who had worked with terminal cancer patients. She had been a skeptic. When patients told her of their visions as they neared death, she said, “I would leave the room and tell the resident to check their morphine level.” Then in 2003 she suffered an aneurysm and after three days in intensive care, she took a turn for the worse. The doctors were rushing around inserting things into her. She saw a bright light that grew larger, and then she went into it:
“I went into this tunnel, and I came into this room that was just beautiful. God held me, he called me by name, and he told me, ‘Mary Jo, you can’t stay.’ And I wanted to stay. I protested. I said, ‘I can’t stay? Why not?’ And I started talking about all the reasons [why she should be allowed to stay]; I was a good wife, I was a good mother, I did 24-hour care with cancer patients.
“‘And he said, ‘Let me ask you one thing—have you ever loved another the way you’ve been loved here?’ And I said, ‘No, it’s impossible. I’m a human.’ And then he just held me and said, ‘You can do better.'”
Maybe that story hits you like it hit me. However brief it was, it said a number of things to me all at once. First, it said that divine love, love that is beyond the human, really is there. It’s not a pipe dream. It’s not some nice fantasy. It is real. And we are held in that love.
Second, it said that learning to love like that is what we are here for. This is priority one—the top of the list on a list of one. This is it. Of course I already believe that. But it’s so easy to forget. In the days since reading the story I’ve noticed how I usually have some other priority that is driving me, some small, superficial thing that fills my vision while my core job of learning to love goes unattended. We know that we are capable of putting off and ignoring central priorities while we attend to more peripheral things. Couldn’t this be the biggest case of that of all?
Third, it said that my excuses for why I can’t love with divine love are simply not good enough. OK, maybe it is not in me to love like that tomorrow. I still believe in my human limitations. But whatever those limitations are, I can do better. God knows it, and if I’m honest with myself, I know it, too.