Nancy Flood-Golembeck: Messenger of Joy
I remember as a child lying in my bed, putting my fingers in my ears, closing my eyes and burying my face in the pillow in an attempt to find out what it was like to be dead. I don’t think I can imagine a state of non-being. I still can not.
As I got older and started attending Sunday School, I eagerly listened to stories about Heaven. Then, when I embraced the Bahá’í Faith at the age of 20, I was delighted to find much in the Bahá’í Scriptures that deal with the immortality of the soul.
Additionally, I have read the studies of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Kenneth Ring, Raymond Moody and others in the emerging new field of near death experiences or NDEs. These experiences vary and in some ways are as unique as the individuals who experience them. However, some elements are remarkably consistent, even with different cultures and religious backgrounds. What struck me strongly as I read more of the reports of these NDEs was the similarity I found between their various elements and what I was reading in the Bahá’í scriptures.
NDEs have their supporters and detractors, and I will not try to change anyone’s opinion about them. Rather, I will detail some areas of correlation with Baha’i belief. First, I will stress that the vast majority, but not all, of NDEs described in the literature are positive in nature. There is, and continues to be, a minority of negative experience reports. This too has its correlation with the Bahá’í Scriptures, as in the following: “If they (the mysteries of man’s physical death) were revealed, they would cause such fear and sorrow that some would perish, while others would be so full of joy as to wish for death. . . “Whether we feel ‘fear and sorrow’ or joy depends on how we have spent our earthly lives and how well we have strived to develop the spiritual qualities advocated in all the major religions of the world.
Life Check: This is one of the most reported elements of NDEs. People report being able to look back on their lives and see the effect of every action they’ve taken or every decision they’ve made. The Bahá’í writings say, “Every day before you are called to account, for death, unannounced, will come upon you and you will be called to account for your deeds.”
Being reunited with loved ones: Another common theme of near death experiences is that of being greeted by deceased family members and loved ones. The Bahá’í Scriptures say: “As to the question whether souls will recognize themselves in the spiritual realm: this fact is certain; for the Kingdom is the world of vision where all the hidden realities will be revealed. How much more well known souls will become manifest. The mysteries of which man is heedless in this terrestrial world, he will discover in the celestial world, and there he will be informed of the secret of the truth; how much more will he recognize or discern the people with whom he has been associated.
The thinness of the veil separating this world from the next: Frequently, when near-death experimenters “return” they attempt to explain what they describe as the closeness of the world to come to this physical world. Regarding this, the Bahá’í Scriptures say, “Those who have passed away by death have their own sphere. It is not withdrawn from ours; their work, the work of the Kingdom, is ours, but it is sanctified by what we call “time” and “space”. . . Those who are ascended have different attributes from those who are still on earth, but there is no real separation. And further: “In prayer, there is a mixture of station, a mixture of condition. Pray for them as they pray for you!
Being enveloped in light and / or meeting beings of light: This is another of the most reported elements of NDEs. The Bahá’í Scriptures are replete with references to the light. For example, Bahá’u’lláh says: “With the joyous tidings of the light I greet you. Rejoice!” He also says, “You are my light and my light will never go out. Why do you fear extinction? And in a prayer specifically for the one who left this world, we find these words: “Lord, glorify his rank, shelter him under the flag of your supreme mercy, bring him into your glorious paradise and perpetuate his existence in your exalted. rose garden, so that it plunges into the sea of light in the world of mysteries.
No fear of death: this is a massively reported aspect of NDEs. Experimenters often report a great reluctance to leave this other world and return to their physical body. Almost universally, they report that they are not afraid of death and, indeed, look forward to it. We are told in the Bahá’í Writings that we should expect death the same way we expect any journey: “with hope and expectation.” Speaking of the rank of a believer after death, Baha’u’llah says: “If anyone learns of what has been ordained for such a soul in the worlds of God … his whole being will instantly be ablaze in his soul. great desire to attain that highest, most sanctified and most resplendent rank. He also said: “I have made death a messenger of joy to you. Why are you grieving?
These days I don’t spend my time wondering what death looks like. Instead, I contemplate the next phase of life and prepare to greet this Messenger when he arrives.
Nancy Flood-Golembeck is a retired teacher and long-time member of the Baha’i Faith.