Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Mystery

“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.” Heb 10:1 (NIV)

Fly Free, Spirit?It was 1985 while sitting beside my brother, Keith, in the Kettering Seventh-day Adventist Church that a preformed verse came to my mind. I pulled out the bulletin beside me and quickly wrote it down:

'Eternity' by Ramone Romero
Body cask, treasure held.
Earthen jar
Presuming to hold the wind.
Air, perhaps, but not the wind.
Starlight caught
But not for long.
Fly free, spirit, and know
No bounds.
Body, forms, and expectations
Cannot hold thee.

-by Cherry Brandstater

What did it mean? I was a sixth generation Adventist who had been raised with the belief that when one dies all consciousness ceases, awaiting reconstruction at the second coming of Christ. Keith wanted to read what I had written - since we often passed notes back and forth to invest the usually dry church services with some redemptive humor. I remember the feeling of discomfort when I relinquished my bit of heresy. He took it, held it, and made no comment - no sign that he had even read it. I was afraid to ask what he thought. He handed it back and never mentioned it until 1988 when I was going thru a crisis in my life.

Funny how hard times and vulnerability will open up lines of communication that have long been clogged with family history and just living. Perhaps it is a gift of love to become equally vulnerable when one we love faces pain and suffering. I know that Keith offered me a great gift of openness when he confided in me an experience from 20 years earlier. He had kept this story secret since it involved risk to divulge something he so deeply cherished, knowing it would be ridiculed if shared. My own weakness and pain made me seem, somehow, a safer confidant. This is the experience he shared.

Not In My Family!

My brother, Keith, was born with the absence of his right main pulmonary artery. In addition, he ingested and aspirated kerosene when he was three years old. The result was impaired pulmonary function. But instead of acquiescing to the limitations, he overc
Four generations of SDA's on the Middleton side, Keith is the childompensated. He seemed pulled like a magnet to activities that required strong lungs. He studied the oboe and became first chair in the orchestra. He took up scuba diving and pushed it to the limits. He became a pilot and got his instrument rating.
It was while he was in his anesthesiology residency at Loma Linda University that some of his colleagues began noticing how easily he got winded. Someone talked him into getting an arterial contrast study of his heart and pulmonary arteries. It was then they discovered the congenital absence of the right main pulmonary artery that meant a 
functMy parents and Keith at new appointment to the PA SDA Conferenceionally absent right lung. But more significantly, it was during that procedure that his heart straight-lined for ten minutes. The doctors tried valiantly, without success, to revive him and finally conceded that further attempts would be futile. I don’t know how long after they had given up that his heart began to beat spontaneously – one beat at a time. He began breathing on his own, bringing in the needed oxygen. Life had returned.

He had never related this event to any of us in the family. Now he felt it important to tell me not only about the observable episode but what had happened internally during those critical minutes when he was left for dead. He, himself, had been taught to have a healthy suspicion of accounts like he was about to tell me. He knew that we would immediately reject his story. He took a deep breath and launched in as he told me with some apprehension, “I felt myself moving upward and was able to look down on the whole scene and to see, with detail, my body lying on the table.

"I remember wondering vaguely why they weren’t doing something to bring me back to life when I saw an angel who invited me to follow. It was a magnificent being and I felt a burst of joy knowing that I was finally seeing what I had always believed by faith alone. I gave one last look toward my body and it was no contest. I turned my face toward Heaven and ascended with no effort at all. I passed over a threshold and entered in. Everything changed. Everything was alive. The colors themselves were alive. I have no words to describe what I saw. The ground lived and praised God. The flowers emitted a fragrance that lived to worship. But most compelling of all was The Light. The Light seemed to be the essence of life itself. It danced and swirled and soaked all that it touched with joy and power and love. Once I saw The Light everything else lost its appeal. I knew that everything I had ever desired was in that light. Everything I had longed for was an imitation of this glorious light. My walk turned to a run as I abandoned every other pursuit but this."

He Turned Back

"As I got closer I began making out some form, indistinct but noticeable. And at the same time the thought came to me that my family needed me. I set the thought aside and continued to run. Then I remembered tasks God had given me to do that were unfinished and my run became a walk. My heart was struggling with duty, obedience and desire. Even my walking stopped as I stood, weighing my choices. I was torn between two choices. Perhaps by revelation I knew that I was going to Christ prematurely and it was not time for me to enter into the direct presence of God. And so, with a heavy heart, I turned and slowly walked away from The Light. I felt like I was hundreds of pounds heavier. It became harder and harder to go back to the threshold. By the time I got there my shoulders were drooping and I was bent over weeping. I began to turn in order to take one more look at The Light. But the angel at the gate took ahold of me and said, ‘Don’t look back. You won’t be able to leave. But it won't be long. You can come back when you are 47.’”

Keith stepped thru the gate and back into his body. He began to breathe the air of Earth and it felt polluted and heavy. He opened his eyes and everything looked indescribably dark. For awhile he felt panicked that he had made the wrong choice. He wanted to go baKeith at age of storyck to where mortality is swallowed up by life.

Over the next twenty years Keith had a full and productive life. He 
was on the faculty in the Anesthesiology Department at Wright State University and Chairman of the Anesthesiology Department at Kettering Memorial Medical Center. He founded the Pain Clinic at Kettering with a heart of compassion for his patients that brought them to faith in the mercy of God. Along with his plethora of interests and professional satisfaction, he also experienced suffering. His pulmonary function deteriorated so that he had to give up the oboe and scuba diving. He developed lumbar disk disease and had a total of five back surgeries, all unsuccessful. He was never without pain, a fact that gave him a close kinship with the patients he treated. He also developed alopecia universalis, the total loss of all body hair. The prednisone he took gave him the characteristic moon face and he was nearly unrecognizable to us.
As he finished his story I could see the impact it had on every aspect of his life. He told me that knowing he could soon return to the Lord was all that kept him going. He couldn’t wait. ApparentlKeith with alopecia universalisy he had been given a choice, like Paul had, and he had chosen obedience and responsibility. But soon, he could legitimately be free.

Predictable Response
What was my response? I was spitting mad, and I told him so. To my best memory, I shot back something like this: “Keith, don’t believe that lie. It is from Satan. You know those near-death experiences are just neurochemical aberrations that trigger things in your brain like a psychedelic trip. Don’t think about it. You will make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.” I couldn’t even hear it. Instead of feeling comfort about his peace, I felt frantic. I couldn’t bear to lose anyone else right then. I was scared, morally outraged, and angry - just what he had expected. How I wish now I could take back those words. How I wish I had understood and could have held that secret, that promise, as a joyful hope with him. How I wish I had known what I know now and could have rejoiced with him.

Five years later on June 10, 1993 as I landed at the airport in Sydney, Australia with my mother and kids, to celebrate my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary, my nKeith, Cherry and Timmy - nightly prayersame was called over the intercom. I was told to meet the attendant, who took us to the Red Carpet Room. My father had left a message for me to call him. He had to take a different flight and was to arrive several hours later. When I heard his voice on the other end of the line I knew that he was devastated.

Keith had been taking his sons, Sean and Scott, on a picnic to celebrate Scott's being named valedictorian of his eighth grade class. Keith was driving his motorcyle; Scott was riding on the back. Sean followed on a second bike. With no warning, a woman decided to turn left, plowing right into Keith and Scott. The impact sent Scott flying into the air, causing serious injuries. Though there were eight cars at the scene of the accident, no one got out to help. Sean tried valiantly to resuscitate Keith, but this time, he didn't come back. Keith had been killed - three months after his 47th birthday.

We stayed in the airport until we could catch a flight to Ohio for his funeral. We were in shock. But on the long, anguished flight, the story he had told me five years before flooded my memories and I began to wonder.

Passive Student

Most of what I have come to understand about life after death, about the state of the dead, about annihilation and other related subjects has emerged tangentially. I didn’t really pursue the information. It seems to have pursued me. I still find it hard to be content with what has been revealed. But the truth is that there is much more mystery in the Biblical accounts on this subject than certainty. Where the Bible is silent, I believe it is wise for us to remain silent. Perhaps most of the seeming void of information has to do with our inability to conceive of the realities of the spiritual realm. We have no reference point, no fund of experience from which to draw.

A brilliant astrophysicist named Hugh Ross, based near Pasadena, teaches from scripture that God exists in a minimum of eleven physical dimensions. We exist in three and a half: length, width, height and half of time. We can only go from this time forward, not backward into eternity. How could we possibly understand the realities of the spiritual realm even if He told us? I want the answers. I want to know, and for me, the hidden mysteries are like putting a rabbit in front of a race dog with a solid plate of glass in between. But there are things we will have to wait to discover in the other part of our eternity.

Having said that, there are things God has revealed which are our privilege to search out. This study is an attempt to unearth what we can in order to better understand what God desires for us to know about the nature of life and death. If it weren’t important, God wouldn’t have revealed these things in His word. I have discovered that what we believe and understand about life, death, and what lies beyond, has a direct bearing on our ability to live and move in the spiritual realm.

Sleep Song Keith's first piano recital
Ere thou hadst known my
I called thee.
From the glad darkness
of misty morning
and velvet sunset I bade
come and revel in the
of my satin shining softness.
Ere thou hadst known Me
I knew thee
and gladly did I rock thee Our family at Keith's funeral in Kettering
in the cradle of my solace
protecting thee in silence
from the perils from without.

Come frighted ones
my name is sleep and

always have I been thy mother
thy protector and thy friend.
in feather pillows scented
with the triumph
of submission to my ken.
And justly offered in return Keith's headstone - Gone Home
peace and health and
to the promise of the dawn.

--A. Keith Callender, my brother

Spirit Table of Contents

The Next Chapter: Adventist Teaching On Soul Sleep
You may be more familiar with the term "state of the dead". It has a number of names, but the next part of the study deals with the origins of the doctrine and its history in Adventism.

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