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Posts tagged ‘death’

Angels and Supernatural Experiences: Book Review

Angel on My Shoulder: Inspiring True Stories from the Other SideAngel on My Shoulder: Inspiring True Stories from the Other Side

by Theresa Cheung

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those books where you feel the title and cover image give a misleading idea of the contents. An Angel on My Shoulder was passed on to me and I admit from the cover I thought it was going to be rather sentimental. Instead I found it totally rivetting and full of authentic stories. Several things fascinated me about these:

1) I could identify with a number of them from my own experience, though I have tended to think of them as synchronicity;
2) Each one had a distinct element of the supernatural;
3) Far than being sentimental, they had a strength and simplicity which was compelling.

Many described sudden and shocking bereavement, which most of us dread. Yet the authors of the accounts had experienced a compelling supernatural intervention which totally changed their attitude to the tragedy, to death itself, and to the meaning of life, and lasted for decades afterwards – providing the sort of comfort and reassurance that some might only achieve, if at all, with years of counselling or psychotherapy.

The author’s stance in relating these stories is very measured and balanced. She fully accepts those who take a “reductionist” view of these events and prefer a rational explanation, and she invites us to make up our own minds.

I found the whole book very convincing, not least because of the cumulative effect of so many stories told by different people unknown to each other who had all had similar experiences. It had the same effect upon me as another book I’ve reviewed called Miracles.

In her summing up, the author refers to “organised religion no longer providing the structure and certainty that it used to” and I found myself thinking that although the church does indeed offer structure and certainty, more and more people feel unable to identify with it, because it doesn’t seem to meet their needs and appears irrelevant to their lives. But the stories in this book suggest, to one way of thinking, that God is finding other ways to connect with people totally outside the confines of “church”, finding ways to communicate his love to them – through angels.

Highly recommended.

View all my reviews

Review of “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green

I’ve just finished reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

The Fault in Our Stars book cover

The Fault in Our Stars book cover

This story of two young cancer “survivors” is a story that eats into your marrow. And if you haven’t seen the film or read the book, and would like to, don’t read on, for my review contains plot spoilers!

Even though I had already seen the film, and knew what was going to happen, I found the book itself utterly compelling. Two young people facing death every day with no religious belief in a conventional sense, told through the honest, sharp, hard-hitting viewpoint of Hazel Grace, a 16-year-old girl living on borrowed time, is very strong.

To me the most interesting character, however, is Peter Van Houten, the ghastly novelist who’s written a fantastic book and won the admiration of millions, yet is destroying himself with alcohol, throwing away all the value of what he’s achieved.

And the message within that particular subplot: don’t expect an author to be like/worthy of the book he/she writes.

The Fault In Our Stars also makes me realise how profoundly annoying sentimental pious language can be to non-religious people, especially in the crises of life; and that leads me to reflect on the power of language itself, and how words can build bridges or destroy, or create wars – as we constantly see in the history and in the current state of our world.

How powerful it was for Hazel to receive Augustus’s letter at the end – and how critical it was that they were Augustus’s own words, and not Peter Van Houten’s. That at least was one decision Van Houten made that was right – even out of his alcoholic haze.

And the story also poses the question: how true is Hazel Grace’s outlook on the world, from the point of view of a young person living with imminent death every day? Her cynicism is a refuge for her, a way of dealing with the pain and the horror of her situation, when even saying things that are horrible, is comforting.

Another thought arising from the story: in our Western society, we all talk so much rubbish around death, it’s frightening. There seems to be a conspiracy of not saying what you really think and feel – especially at religious funerals for non-religious people.

One of the saddest moments for me in the book and in the film was at Augustus’s funeral when Hazel decides to say all the anodyne things she knows her audience will like to hear, instead of saying what she truly feels and thinks about Augustus and his death.

I really do think religious language used carelessly and thoughtlessly at the most critical times of our lives can be a tyranny – when we use it as a mask and a means of self-deception, instead of a way of communicating the truth.

At the end of the story, what is left is love: the love Hazel and Augustus felt for each other despite knowing they had no future. That must be the single most important message of the book – the one impossible fact of love in the face of death.

The Fault in Our Stars and Poignant Reminders of Short Lives on Milverton Hill

Recently I went to see the film The Fault in Our Stars with my two teenage children. Based upon the book of the same name by John Green it was about two teenagers both diagnosed with terminal cancer, who form a relationship at a cancer support group, try to avoid falling in love because of their life-limiting illnesses, and then do fall in love, before one of them dies.

Old Milverton Churchyard 27 June 2014 (photo taken by SC Skillman)

Old Milverton Churchyard 27 June 2014 (photo taken by SC Skillman)

Abigail with Jeni the dog near Old Milverton Churchyard 27 June 2014 (photo taken by SC Skillman)

Abigail with Jeni the dog near Old Milverton Churchyard 27 June 2014 (photo taken by SC Skillman)

 

 

Along the way, many wise observations are made about life and death and mortality, and the way we handle death in this society, and our failure to speak the truth or be “real” in the presence of life-limiting illness.

This was such a poignant film, especially the scene in Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, where both are brought face to face with another teenager whose life was also cut short – for a very different reason.

Ruby Johnson's memorial plaque at Old Milverton Churchyard 27 June 2014 (photo taken by SC Skillman)

Ruby Johnson’s memorial plaque at Old Milverton Churchyard 27 June 2014 (photo taken by SC Skillman)

With this film in my mind, we recently made a walk up Milverton Hill to Old Milverton Church, near my home in Warwick, where there is a memorial plaque to Ruby Johnson (one of my daughter’s former fellow-pupils at school) who died of leukaemia in 2009 age 13.

Walking up this hill to Old Milverton Church is always poignant for me, because I now associate the summit of that hill, and that quiet churchyard, with Ruby’s lovely and touching memorial.

 

 

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