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At the moment of death, the spirit rises out of the body, it seems, in full awareness. In fact, hundreds upon hundreds -- thousands -- of accounts of those whose life signals halted (before they were resuscitated), and who say they had a look into the other side, indicate that we are not only aware, but more aware than ever.

In dying, we come alive (and into eternal life).

We awaken. Scripture tells us this. So do near-death accounts, which were first detailed in a lasting way by Pope Gregory I ("the Great") in the Sixth Century.

Consistent with those who have near-death experiences is that they suddenly see vastly more than physical eyes can see and with the freedom of the wind (and the speed of thought, leaving behind the laws of Einstein).

Such makes it confusing as to why the Church uses terms like "rest" or "sleep in death." This may be a way of trying to describe the peace that's widely described by those who encountered the threshold. At Medjugorje, the Blessed Mother said the transition into death is made "in full conscience" (which is perhaps better translated as "full consciousness").

We die in full awareness, and we quickly find that what religion says is true: we live forever: All of the brain is in the mind, but not all of the mind is in the brain. Translate "mind" into "spirit."

One has to be cautious with any form of mysticism. And that goes doubly with near-death episodes, which are now recorded by psychologists, doctors, and other medical practitioners. Testimonies often rely on the witnesses' own interpretations -- which can stray into non-Christian perspectives (and even the New Age). We have to draw the line there. In fact, a disquieting number of these folks head into dubious fields like channeling or reincarnation. That we totally dismiss.

But the parting of soul and body -- spiritual and physical -- is brought home especially by those who told a group of researchers called the International Association for Near-Death Studies in Durham, North Carolina (whose views we do not always accept, but whose diligence we respect) about their ascent from physical existence. It is consistent with accounts such as those handed down by Gregory the Great.

"It was on Columbus Day 1985," said one woman (for discernment). "I was in a fatal car crash; a head-on collision. I was driving down a road and the other car was coming the other way and at the last moment he decided to turn left, right in front of me. I think I had enough time to say, 'Oh my God heís tu---' I didnít even have time to say 'turning.'

"The next thing I knew I was looking down at the top of my car. I looked down and I saw my car crunched and I saw the guy get out of his car, come over to mine, and turn my headlights off. I didn't know what that was about -- until later.

"But I suddenly lost interest in what was going on down there, because I saw this white light and there was this tunnel that seemed very dark, with this great light at the end. I really wanted to find out what was on the other side. There was this feeling of love that was coming through. I just sort of thought, 'I want to go through that,' and the next thing -- I was through it!

"And I was in this place but it wasnít a place, like here. It was an environment, an atmosphere. And it was love. It was amazing Ė it was total bliss, total joy, total love Ė total acceptance: total everything is fine and always will be and always has been. It felt like home; it felt like where I belonged."

When she needed a concept of "place," it formed into one, with her relatives who had died to one side waving and and smiling. "They were doing great. I could just feel that."

"The next thing I knew, I was standing in the middle of a circle of these 12-foot beings of light. And Iím only 5í4Ē. They were pretty intimidating, but not really. They felt more like family than the people I had seen. They felt so familiar and so loving." But they told her she had to go back.

For your discerning.

Said a woman named Beverly who was an agnostic and "died" in a motorcycle accident (in 1970):

"I lifted up out of my body and I felt all the pain go away and I had this ethereal body that was perfect. I had had glasses, but I could see clearly. I was still alive. I was still myself. There was this angel that was very beautiful with this glow from within. I thought I knew him. We went 'flying' out the window and I had no fear. We went over the ocean and into this place that people call a tunnel. It looked like a funnel to me. It was wide and then it narrowed at the other end. I went into the tunnel with the angel and it was like completely leaving the whole space-time continuum that weíre in.

"There was this feeling of no distances and no time and I was so alive.

"I was more alive then than I am now here 37 years later."

Added a woman from Marina del Rey, California who was raised Catholic and died from hemorrhaging and a massive cyst in her early twenties:

"My life really began the night of my near-death experience. I was trying to fight the feeling of death. 'Iím not dying, am I? Iím young and invincible.' Then there was another point and I call it a threshold where I said, Ďokay, this is really happening; I think Iím dying.' I went from this fighting and fighting to survive and crossed this threshold into acceptance. I remember smiling and my smile was my last physical memory of this earth."

There was a "roaring and bells going off" ó and then a "most beautiful, peaceful existence" and "amazing peace" and "no pain."

"I was at the top of the hospital room," she continued. "I floated upward and over 'negative tree tops' like a photo negative. There were other beings or entities and people, a couple whom I recognized, like my grandmother, and they were like saying, 'Hi, come in.' I transitioned over to the real deal and I wasnít expecting this; I had never heard of near-death experiences. I was floating about and looking down.

"I just allowed it to be," she claims. "I saw a big tunnel with a light at end of the tunnel and I floated through toward light Ė this amazing, beautiful, peaceful, loving, all-encompassing, and unconditional Light; you really canít express it in human words, because it completely limits the experience; there are no words to express it; itís more an emotion. I went into all this light Ė inundated, overwhelmed. 'Iím home, Iím home.í Thatís all I kept thinking."

We are of course careful with "lights." The devil can come as an angel of light. Always, caution! But we also know -- in fact from near-death witnesses -- that the Light emanates from a figure they saw as Christ.

This is very consistent. It is also consistent with the New Testament. St. Paul himself described an incident in which a man rose from the body.

The lessons learned?

Stay close to the sacraments. In the transition, have the words, "Jesus, Jesus" on your lips. Call for the Blessed Mother. While here, learn to love. Simply, get rid of all selfishness.

"You realize that the most important thing is love Ė the only thing is love," said the woman who died in the car wreck. "All that petty stuff doesnít matter."

It's what the Pope has been trying to tell us. God. Love.

And one other thing:

"We all know we came back with a mission," intoned the woman who "died" in 1985.

Every one has different missions that remain mysterious but we all have an essential task and that is "to be here in three dimensions in this time and this space and hold the energy of the Light of God Ė just hold it. As we hold it, we help other people around us find it."

[resources: afterlife books]

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