It’s been many years since I’ve identified with a single faith tradition. I grew up in a mainstream protestant Christian church, yet since my early 30s, I’ve been a student of Hermetic Philosophy and the ancient mystery teachings. Those ancient teachings underlie the mystical roots of many of the world’s religions and have become the foundation of my spiritual beliefs. As I continue to grow in understanding about how life works as energy in motion, I’ve embraced mysticism as a natural part of life. And that opened the door for my own mystical Easter experience.
These last two years have offered a rich and not always comfortable journey. Perhaps you can relate. I’ve experienced loss, sometimes deep and profound, yet there was also gain. There was death, and there was resurrection. I’ve explored previously hidden chambers within my own spiritual house, including tapping back into the mystical roots of my Christian heritage.
More recently, I have longed for a deeper understanding of what Easter could mean to me personally, especially within the context of all that is happening in the world. I wanted to understand “resurrection” in my own life. This wondering has consumed my morning meditation and my thoughts, and it took me back to my father’s death in June 2010. I now realize that it was through his death that I had my first mystical and very personal experience of Easter.
My father was a very special man. A protestant minister, he was a man of deep faith. He grew up in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky; his father was a railroad worker. My father worked his way through university by washing dishes. At 19 years old, he became a licensed minister and began serving small country churches in Kentucky. He was an extraordinary pastor, and later became a leader at the national level within the church. He would say he lived a somewhat ordinary life; I would say he lived his life in his own quite extraordinary way. He was my greatest role model.
A 16-Year Walk with Cancer
My father had a 16-year walk with cancer. Some of those years were relatively normal; others were incredibly challenging. Even though I was traveling a lot internationally for my work, at a certain point, I began calling him every day no matter where I was in the world just to check in. I wanted to hear his voice. Without fail, every single call, no matter how rough his day had been, he would start by saying, “It’s been a good day.” He loved life. In his last couple of years, no less than five times we thought, “This is it—he won’t live through the night.” Yet each time he rallied. My father embodied resurrection.
In his last spring season, just a couple of months before he died, he was asked to preach on Easter Sunday at a local church that was without a minister. They didn’t realize how sick he was. Without hesitation, he said “Yes.” We thought he was crazy! The cancer had taken over his whole body. We couldn’t imagine how he was going to do it. His strength was fleeting at best. Yet he insisted that he could, and that he would.
After much back and forth trying to convince him to decline the invitation, I finally asked him, “What makes this so important to you?” He looked away, and after a momentary silence, he replied softly, “It’s my 60th Easter as a minister.”
Resurrection. His preaching that day was moving and inspiring. He stood at the pulpit without waivering for his 20-minute sermon.
Coming to the End—And a New Beginning
A couple of months later at midsummer, I was teaching a leadership workshop on a tiny island off the west coast of Sweden. Late in the evening in the midnight sun, I walked to a rocky cliff overlooking the sea for my daily call. It was my morning meditation spot when I visited this island, and I wanted to be in the power of this spot for this call.
I knew that he and my mother were to have been with his oncologist earlier that day. The report was sobering, yet not surprising. The doctor had told him there was no more to be done. There was not another treatment. It was time to call hospice.
My father was very sad, yet fully accepting and at peace. My mother was struggling. I was scheduled to fly back to the States in three days and a few days later would drive to Kentucky to be with them.
That news came on a Friday. On the following Tuesday, he asked my brother-in-law, also a minister, if he thought this was it—that he was going to die. My brother-in-law wisely replied, “I don’t know, what do you think?” My father shrugged his shoulders, gently smiled, and said, “Well, there were a few more things I wanted to do, but I guess it’s alright.”
On Wednesday night, my parents played bridge with friends they had known for more than 50 years. My father was a brilliant bridge player. He had trouble holding the cards that night—his fingers weren’t working so well—yet my mother was amazed at how alert he was and how well he played.
The next morning, he began slipping fast. Hospice brought a hospital bed and got him settled; he never got out of that bed. Johnathon and I arrived on Saturday evening. I went straight to his bed, told him I was there and that I loved him. He barely opened his eyes and mumbled, “I love you, too.” Those were his last words.
I sat vigil with him through the night holding his hand and singing spirituals that he loved. My mother drifted in and out of sleep in the next bed. Her process of letting him go had finally begun. He gently took his last breath about 7:30 the next morning—a bright and sunny Sunday. A perfect day for him to go home to God.
Easter Becomes Real
Little did I know when he took his last breath that resurrection was coming. About two hours later, I experienced a profound shift of energy in every cell of my being. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Yet somehow, I understood that my father’s spirit was entering into my body—not in a controlling or manipulating way, but in a joyful and enlivening way. I was totally overtaken by the experience. I began to realize that my father was going to live on through me. Resurrection. I had no words to explain what was happening inside of me—I still don’t, really. Yet it was—it is—a gift beyond measure. A mystical Easter had come. My father lived on in a new way.
Twelve years later, when I look in a mirror, I often see my father’s face before I see my own. As I get older, I see my father’s hands in my hands. From time to time, I hear his voice coming out of my mouth. I am my own man, to be sure. Yet my father lives inside of me, inspiring and supporting me to be my own man every single day.
My father lives on. Resurrection is real. Easter is alive in me.
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