Over 20 years ago I walked into a bookshop in Brighton and casually picked up a book called Exploring Reincarnation by the Dutch psychologist and researcher Hans Tendam. Leafing through it I realised that this was a massive appraisal of a massive subject so I promptly bought it and took it back to my flat in Hove and read it, from cover to cover, finding it more compelling than most novels. By the time I’d finished it I had no choice… the research of such academics as Ian Stevenson and Helen Wambach were enough to convince me. Dr Wambach herself had originally set out to debunk reincarnation, and having organised over 10,000 past life regressions, she ended up saying: “ I don’t believe in reincarnation – I know it.”
After lending the book to a scientist friend, who responded in the same way, I found myself talking and thinking about the subject just about every day. As I sat on the underground train commuting with hundreds of people, immersed in their own lives, I marvelled on the fact that in their previous lives these people may have been a different sex, a different social class, a different age and a different race. Even more intriguing was the realisation that our culture had completely given up on a widely held precept that was eradicated in the Christian world in 553AD. This was the seminal moment when the Emperor Justinian demonised the teachings of Origen for the sake of political expediency.
Since reading Exploring Reincarnation I have met Hans Tendam several times. The first time we met he regressed me over a three-day period, and the second time I visited him with a view to finding another UK publisher to reprint his book, and succeeded in getting Rider to take it on.
The last time I saw him he expressed the view that the subject of ‘life after death’ (which he calls the discarnate state) was now a topic of much greater interest and research than reincarnation, and I think he’s probably right. Having run a number of workshops on the subject, I find that people are truly fascinated by the idea of what it’s like to be dead, and how it relates to being alive; both academic and anecdotal writings on near death experiences (NDEs) generate very widespread interest.
The quality of the writing and research on NDEs, and the idea of consciousness beyond life are now in the hands of some inspired academics, clinical researchers and people from all walks of life who have experienced or collected records of NDEs with massive life changing consequences. All these topics – life, past lives and life between lives are the main components of my workshop on Saturday October 18th at the Cornerstone Centre in Hove. It takes place from 1.30 to 5pm, and if you want to join us, just email me – firstname.lastname@example.org.
This year the blackberries have gone completely bonkers in sunny Sussex. We have picked them here, we have battled with bloody brambles there, we have even done dangerous things in an attempt to reach the fruity heights and grab the goodies. The blackberries got the weather they love, with the result that on the way to the allotment I have constantly stopped, armed with my trusty bag, poised to pick that wonderful fruit with a strange compulsion. It’s a dangerous business fighting for these wayward berries on the edge of steep inclines, getting scraped so frequently it looks like I’ve been self-harming, and doing battle with insects not to mention the worst nettles in the known western world. But the results are worth it – blackberry sorbet, juice to go on the apple cake, jam and jelly of sheer perfection. I was first introduced to blackberrying years ago as a child when I was on holiday in Sussex with my mother and my sister. I was entranced then, and I’m entranced now with the process of picking wild fruit as I roam around the rougher reaches of my allotment, thinking of my family with nostalgia and contemplating this luxurious free food that’s been on the menu for hundreds and hundreds of years. Long before I was born, my mum knew the art and science of blackberrying as a youngster, skipping around the Isle of Wight without so much as a pair of shoes, whizzing down the country lanes with her twin brother, defying the same hazards we all confront for this deep dark perfumed fruit. In those days free food had an altogether greater meaning and value. Years later, when she took my sister and me along the sleepy country lanes of Sussex during the summer holidays, it was if she already knew how to look under the leaves and in the shadier corners to discover where the berries chose to hide away. The sheer pleasure of searching for this most exquisite fruit comes to me as a reminder of the simplest pleasures that can be enjoyed by all, generation on generation, as we stroll along the leafy lanes of sunny Sussex. And… if George Osborne’s corporate pals plan on fracking here, we will be there, fighting for nature, beauty and the blackberries.
Seven years ago, shortly after I had been ordained as an interfaith minister, a friend asked me to find a reading for her mother’s funeral; she wanted a prayer about mothers. I looked high and low — on-line, in libraries and collections, and couldn’t find anything that was even remotely appropriate. It seemed vaguely shocking that mothers, who are universally important to humans, animals and the world, had been so poorly served in death.
So I duly wrote a reading for mothers, and read it at the funeral. After the wake a close relative came up to me and said, “that reading you did for ‘mothers’, I know that one, can you remind me who wrote it?” I realised then that I had written something that could be useful. If one can produce something original that resonates with the music of familiarity, one may have got it right.
Since then, after tending many funerals, I have been confronted many times with situations where people felt passionately about their loss, whether it’s a week old baby or a 99 year old parent, but were let down by the lack of loving, insightful prayers and poems. So I found myself writing for funerals, aspiring to honour the person who had died and their family. Because of this I’ve come to write over 100 interfaith readings, covering a great variety of life and death circumstances, adhering to the principles of truth, love and accessibility. The results have surprised me. People ‘feel’ as though the readings are right, and (so far) have always chosen them in preference to the more traditional or overused words recited in chapels over and over and over again. Most importantly they feel that the readings are relevant for today.
The readings I create cover a vast variety of situations, from general words of peace and rest, to prayers for children, relatives, thoughts about suicide, the journey of life and more recently reincarnation and near death experiences. At one point I produced a little book of funeral readings, which is used by interfaith ministers and celebrants, but as the words were constantly changing and the number of writings seemed to increase exponentially, the book has become less useful.
Nearly all the readings to date, plus a few more written by a talented friend – Claire Shelton-Jones, will appear in a week or two on a website called www.funeralstoday.org which I produced and designed myself (on account of the financial constraints). The production side of the website has been handled by the good website production company – Meerkats Digital Media.
Life is beautiful and poetic, as is death, and we have been uncertain and fearful about death for too long, and this is reflected in much of our writing. When writing for funerals it’s important to understand that death is not an enemy, nor is it usually horrible, in fact in some circumstances it has a mysterious beauty, unlike being born which can be noisy, bloody and momentarily uncertain for both mother and child. But let’s face it, birth and death are just those tricky little requirements if we aspire to enter this world and have a momentary look around in the incarnate state.