Is Heaven for Real?

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It’s back to the salt mines after a four-day break in observance of Holy Week. While  Manny Pacquiao got his “vindication” last Holy Week with his win against Bradley, most of you may have experienced your own sort of purification whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. Whichever way you celebrated it, the Holy Week has a way of bringing to the fore feelings of being renewed, reborn and readiness to face life’s challenges anew.

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Our family capped our Holy week with a movie entitled Heaven is for Real. No big stars but it is a feel-good movie that speaks about Colton, a boy of four years who had a near-death experience while going through emergency surgery. This intrigues his father who is a church pastor especially when Colton starts talking about seeing himself on the operating table, of meeting Jesus and his light blue colored-eyes, a sister whom he never knew, his great-grandfather and other people who have been long dead. The movie is based on a true story which happened in small town USA and narrated by Nebraskan Pastor Todd Burpo in a book which carries the same title.

Heaven Is for Real placed No. 3 and, clearly benefiting from the Easter holiday, is  the latest film about faith to exceed expectations. I have no figures for domestic consumption but from Sony’s TriStar label, the movie earned an impressive $28.5 million in its first five days.

“It’s really a terrific result,” said Sony’s distribution chief Rory Bruer. “And Easter was certainly a date that was in the wheelhouse of the film.”

Easter weekend provided further evidence that 2014 is indeed the year of the Bible movies. Heaven Is for Real was one of three such titles populating the top 10 chart.

Noah placed No. 9 with $5 million for a domestic cume (short for “cumulative audience,”  measure of the total number of unique consumers over a specified period) of $93.2 million, while God’s Not Dead came in No. 10 with $4.8 million, pushing its total to $48.2 million. Heading into the weekend, no one expected the $12 million Heaven Is for Real to beat Transcendence, which cost a hefty $100 million to produce. Transcendence suffered from scathing reviews and a C+ CinemaScore. (http://www.today.com/entertainment/heaven-real-rises-above-johnny-depps-transcendence-box-office-1D79552134)

I am sure stories about near-death experiences abound in the Philippines but not many are documented or even put on film like Heaven is for Real. Researchers have identified the common elements that define near-death experiences. Psychiatry Professor Bruce Greyson of University of Virginia argues that the general features of the experience include impressions of being outside one’s physical body, visions of deceased relatives and religious figures, and transcendence of egotic and spatiotemporal boundaries. Many different elements have been reported, though the exact elements tend to correspond with the cultural, philosophical, or religious beliefs of the person experiencing it:

The traits of a classic NDE are as follows:

The notice of unpleasant sound or noise (claimed by R. Moody).

A sense/awareness of being dead.

A sense of peace, well-being and painlessness. Positive emotions. A sense of removal from the world.

An out-of-body experience. A perception of one’s body from an outside position.

Sometimes observing doctors and nurses performing medical resuscitation efforts.

A “tunnel experience.” A sense of moving up, or through, a passageway or staircase.

A rapid movement toward and/or sudden immersion in a powerful light. Communication with the light.

An intense feeling of unconditional love and acceptance.

Encountering “beings of light,” “beings dressed in white,” or similar. Also, the possibility of being reunited with deceased loved ones.

Receiving a life review.

Receiving knowledge about one’s life and the nature of the universe.

Approaching a border, or a decision by oneself or others to return to one’s body, often accompanied by a reluctance to return.

Connection to the cultural beliefs held by the individual, which seem to dictate the phenomena experienced in the NDE and the later interpretation thereof (Holden, Janice Miner. Handbook of Near-Death Experiences. Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publishing Data, 2009.).

Kenneth Ring (1980) subdivided the NDE on a five-stage continuum. The subdivisions were: peace, body separation, entering darkness, seeing the light, and entering the light. He stated that 60 percent experienced stage 1 (feelings of peace and contentment), but only 10 percent experienced stage 5 (“entering the light”)
Might I add that I too had my own near-death experience over the weekend when I had a serious bacterial infection which warranted my confinement in the hospital for four days after seeking emergency treatment. With fever on and off reaching 39.9 degrees, I experienced moments where I saw my life flashed before my eyes via images of people and places that seemed plastered on film negatives and rushing through my head. Unlike Colton, I did not see myself on the hospital bed or meet Jesus face to face but I saw my mom who had passed on 13 years ago. It could be dismissed as pure fantasy, hallucinations of one who is under heavy medication but I did see flashes of light every time I closed my eyes and images of people I have met.

I thank God I am alive today and recovering strength. My realization: Heaven is for real. But it is not a far-off place but rather a place where you find peace and quiet within. And I believe one does not have to die to experience it.

God is great!
thelmadm@yahoo.com

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