Cons: Some theological discrepancies; poorly written; will not please everybody.
The Bottom Line: You know you want to understand the concept of capitalizing pronouns with one's voice alone. Go and investigate!
On Analyzing Angelic Axioms
Ah, the joys of self-examination! Psychologists have designed myriad personality tests in order to assess everything from our anger management skills to our team-building gifts to our vacation habits. You have encountered these little questionnaires online, at your workplace, throughout high-school and university courses, and likely even on a random table at Starbucks. Why, then, is Bethesda Lily proposing that you engage in yet one more self-analysis? The answer is tried and true--one your parents likely gave you since you were five and asking why you couldn't play with Jimmy next door. Ready? The answer is... Because!
Are you disappointed? Perhaps you will overcome your dismay at my unsatisfactory reasoning once you have taken the self-assessment. For purposes of this exercise, I would like to know only one essential factor in your obviously multi-faceted character. What is an angel?
Now, may I be so presumptuous as to suggest what you, my dear reader, likely envisioned? Many people view angels as lovable children with wings and halos. Others consider the word's Biblical origin as "messenger". I have encountered several variations of the concept that angels are those who minister to others--people assisting one another. Under this definition, those who care for the sick are angels.
But what if these ideas do not encompass the great, awesome concept of angels held within a very precious book? What if, in addition to being messengers, angels are very powerful beings--tall, majestic figures sent both to protect and to provide messages from God? Certainly, the angels described within Scripture seem to have taken on human form when interacting with humans; in fact, many people seem to have entertained angels unaware for a time.
This extraordinary concept of angels seems most pronounced today through the stories of terminally-ill patients. On many occasions, those who were nearing the end of their earthly journey saw angels--men of imposing height who were dressed in beautiful, heavenly garments. While these accounts are themselves glorious, patients report a number of other striking moments as they travel toward the gates of the Celestial City. As a Hospice nurse, Trudy Harris has compiled forty-five of her patients' captivating stories. The result, entitled Glimpses of Heaven, provides a brilliant look at the heart of God's people and a still more marvelous view of God's grace toward His children.
The Picture of Jesus? We Don't Have a Picture of Jesus Here! As a child, I maintained a deep adoration for classic works--whether for children or adults, it mattered little so long as my realistic mind could remain free of fantastical bonds. That said, most of the editions I was able to obtain were encumbered with endless introductions, prefaces, forewords, introductions to the introductions, letters regarding the introductions to the introductions, reviews of the letters of the introductions to the introductions... Help! As a rule, I skipped these atrocities and exclaimed indignantly that, were I ever to set pen to paper, I would never allow my book to be introduced by anything save that comforting "Chapter I".
I have yielded. My unprefaced heart has surrendered. By casting forewords to the wind, you would certainly be doing Glimpses of Heaven a deplorable disservice. You see, Harris' compilation is introduced by Don Piper, author of the highly-acclaimed Ninety Minutes in Heaven. His endorsement allows this book to rise gently from the valley of obscurity, placing it atop Mount Mercy where it surely belongs.
Next, Harris herself explains her reasons for taking down this collection of beauty. For several years, her practical, Hospice-worker self had believed that the heavenly experiences of patients near death were the result of the body's shutting down and the medication that often kept these patients out of pain. Yet, as patients' experiences remained beautifully vivid whether or not they were on pain medication, Harris was forced to examine another possibility. Perhaps, just perhaps, what these patients saw and heard was genuine. Could it be that wonderful angels, ineffable singing, and deepest peace actually existed? Was it conceivable that these men, women, and even children were providing Harris the opportunity to gaze, just for a moment, into the things of God?
Through forty-five accounts, most of which are truly magnificent, Harris attempts to explain the radiance of the kingdom of God. Through the pages that follow, Harris emerges as a woman filled with compassion, devoted to the entire family of a terminal patient. Having grown up in the Catholic Church, Harris' accounts are written from a strong yet gentle Christian perspective. Her words are not salvation tracts, but the quiet gifts of a motherly sort of friend.
How does one analyze a book containing myriad vignettes of a deeply personal nature? For that matter, how might one evaluate a collection of short stories without giving away the tales' plot elements? My dear reader, this is a task worthy only of the literary scholars--and, as you well know, I have no scholarly tendencies about me. Nevertheless, this being the assignment at hand, I shall make a valiant effort to describe some of the stories that I found particularly touching, those that were inspirational on a certain loving level, and a few that made me somewhat uncomfortable.
Part I: The Glorious
Harris' grandfather was diagnosed with myoloma and had only a year to live. Being somewhat of a quiet man, he seldom spoke of the details of his journey home. Yet, as a man of strong faith, he continued to celebrate his love for God in his own soft-spoken way. Surrounded by a large and loving family, Harris' grandfather made a home of his children's house. An unfamiliar bed and armchair gradually became entrenched in memories--prayers, conversations with loved-ones, all of the elements that make a residence a home. One evening, just before he passed away, Harris' grandfather asked to be taken to the recliner near the window. Looking out toward the lake, he inquired, "Who is that man standing by the water?" Do you know? Can you surmise? Shall you read to find out? I daresay that you should!
Jean, a sixty-year-old cancer patient, had long been a member of the Baptist church. His faith was the essence of his entire being. It defined everything that he did, everything that he said, everything that he was. He knew that he was going to heaven, and he was unafraid. Here, the greatest inadequacy in the story is blatantly displayed as four minutes of devotion to the Deliverer speed by at a tremendous rate. Why, I wanted to hear Jean's entire testimony; could this story not have consisted of thirty wondrous minutes? Accepting the grim truth, however, I shall suggest that this was one of the most touching stories in the entire collection. During his weakest moment, after being unable to respond for several days, Jean was able to pray despite the fact that he had long been incapable even of speaking to friends and family.
Before he went to be with Jesus, Eliot experienced a great deal of fear regarding things he considered demonic. Perhaps, he supposed, this was due to some difficult experiences he had had as a young man before he had come to know God's forgiveness. How these moments of terror were resolved, that you must discover.
Tim belonged to a devoted, loving family. With two young daughters and a precious wife, he constantly attempted to demonstrate his love for those who cared for him. Sometimes, however, exemplifying peace was not easy. At times, his debilitating illness caused him to feel inadequate and even helpless. An angry man, a conversation with Harris, some Bible study. Need I say more?
Johnny was a hardened man who seemed to delight in criticizing Harris for her faith in God. Never had Johnny believed in God, and never would he--or so he thought. One evening, he and Harris sat on a porch of the retirement home to which he had been taken. Seeing a picture of Jesus knocking at a door--a door, might I add, that had no doorknob--Johnny inquired as to its meaning. Now, at this point, you have two choices: Read Harris' account to determine the miraculous significance of this picture and its meaning in the heart of one broken man, or reread the title of the previous section and piece that title and this paragraph together. That decision I shall leave to your literary sensibilities.
Frederick was one of those patients who seemed constantly to be in tearful peace. Yes, you read that correctly. Although he was at peace with both life and death, he frequently wept deeply and for no reason that Harris could discover--until, that is, Frederick began to describe beautiful experiences that he had had in the Lord. This is one of those treasures that must simply be experienced. Suffice it to say that, should you choose to purchase this book, you must first turn to the section describing Frederick's experiences. Do not pass go, do not collect the other two hundred pages in this work--though, if you wish, you may read Revelation Chapter 22.
Ira and Dianne. No words. Sorry. Must read. In all seriousness, if I were given to public displays of exclamation points, my advice would read as follows: "Ira experiences the Lord in a beautiful way!!!!! Dianne attends a healing service and is, indeed healed--though not as many would expect!!!!!" Happily for you, I am not tempted by the exclamation mark, so you can assume that I take no responsibility for this writing--only for the sentiments expressed therein.
Part II: the Good Madeline was a French-Canadian Hospice volunteer who had served as Harris' secretary for several years. When she became critically ill, she came to live with Harris and her family. Thoughts regarding Madeline's mother, I shall leave to your reading pleasure.
Three-year-old Brian's favorite recipe: take a chair and drag it near the telephone, stand on the chair and stretch up high, dial Domino's. How adorable! Brian and his parents epitomized the great, timeless concept of love. Over and over again, Brian hugged his mother and exclaimed, "You know, I love you so much!" His passing, complete with a poem by Harris, illustrates the combination of love and sorrow so often felt during these times. And what of a dream that his mother had a year later? Now, did you really think I was going to explain that experience?
Part III: The Gladsome, and Yet...
All right, fasten your seatbelts, for I am about to take you on a flight through the land of Theology. To review Harris' work without discussing Biblical and potentially unbiblical elements would be akin to discussing Focus on the Family Radio Theatre without providing information about the verbal acting. In other words, a bit of doctrinal discourse is inseparable from this work. That said, I shall provide a full thesis momentarily; for the present, however, let us concentrate on certain stories that made me a bit uncomfortable.
Remember Brian, that cute little three-year-old? His mother, who never had believed in an afterlife of any kind, had a dream that she considered quite special. From the way it was told, it seems that this dream came from God--a concept which I can easily accept. Perhaps, through this dream, the Lord was drawing Brian's mother to Himself. However, were Brian's mother a fictional character, I would suggest that she remains static. In other words, I did not have a chance to see what impact her experiences may have had on her. Was the dream from God? Perhaps--and I am certainly not qualified to judge what Almighty God can or does do. However, readers are not provided convincing proof that the dream was of a spiritual nature. Was her experience from God, or a subconscious attempt to derive comfort? In all sincerity, I must say that I do not know. Just be aware of the mystery-shrouded discrepancy.
Hank, a father in his seventies, longed to see his son once more. Sean had been convicted of a crime and had served several years in prison. No amount of persuasion on the part of Harris could convince the warden that Hank must see his son again before he died. Yet--and this is where the ending shall be revealed--Sean did appear to his father. He was not released from prison, but nevertheless appeared in Hank's bedroom and remained with him for nearly an hour. Could the Lord have allowed this to take place? Certainly; God is God. Is this found anywhere in Scripture? I find this difficult to locate--save, perhaps, for a reference to the apostle Philip.
Frank--not Hank, mind you--Frank, as I said, had been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Shortly before his passing, he saw his son, John. John had died in the Vietnam War; yet, he was present with Frank, explaining that it was "time to go". Harris' work is filled with many such accounts of loved ones meeting patients near heaven's gate, calling them to come home. Except for references to certain Israelite kings and patriarchs "rest[ing] with [their] fathers", I find little basis for this in Scripture. Even these references point to joining loved-ones, not to loved-ones guiding one another into heaven. As I am unwilling to judge for others, I shall simply say that this makes me very uncomfortable. Simply be aware of these ideas.
At The Church Yes, dear reader, I am about to review a church service I attended--once upon a time... Simply known as The Church, this place of worship featured music ranging from upbeat praise songs to gentle worship choruses to hymns. Songs were sung in English, Latin, Greek ancient and modern, Hebrew, and a bit of French. Each time a Scripture was cited during the pastor's message, ten other readers were called to the pulpit. These worthies repeated the pastor's text using the New King James Version, the New and old Revised Standard Versions, the English Standard Version, the Living Bible, the Message, the original manuscripts, the International Children's Bible, the Nouvelle Édition Révisée, and a version of the Bible written in traditional Chinese. The cleric discussed his title for several moments: he was a pastor, a minister, or a priest--depending on what you wanted to make of him. The Church was divided into two sections. The main sanctuary used no screens--no lyrics displayed on overheads, no PowerPoint's, nothing! In the overflow room, viewers could watch film clips that helped illustrate the speaker's message, gaze upon screens demonstrating sermon notes, or generally delight in the essence of church technology.
And all the worshippers lived happily ever after.
I hope you knew during my "church review"--and certainly that you know now--the difficulty that such a nonexistent church would pose. Truth be told, such a service was entirely fabricated. I never attended such a church--though, if I did, it would be very interesting to note the various ways in which Christians worship.
Instead, I read Glimpses of Heaven. My point in reviewing a mélange of magnificence was this: Harris' work demonstrates the same lack of cohesiveness. But I am not being helpful. Let us follow the example of Marie, that captivating heroine from The Sound of Music. "Let's start at the very beginning--A very good place to start".
During her introduction, Harris explains that she has worked in the Hospice program for a number of years and enjoyed many heart-stirring experiences. At this point, readers are acquainted with the basics, but they are deprived of a vital bit of information. From the start, I wanted a full description of Harris' beliefs. I wanted to know with which denomination she was affiliated, when she came to faith, and a bit about her own relationship with God. As her experiences are so inextricably intertwined with those of her patients, her failure to provide this information left a great, gaping chasm between herself and her readers. As the book's pages unfolded, I discovered that Harris is Catholic; however, she does not delve into any territory that would be considered controversial between Catholics and Protestants. She loves the Lord; this is all that matters. Nevertheless, knowing that she was Catholic would have provided a better framework in which to read Harris' stories.
Next come the accounts, in no particular order. Were I organizing the book--and perhaps I shall, should another edition be published--if, as I say, I were in charge of the world of Christian literature, I would have divided Harris' book into three sections. Grouped together would be stories based purely on faith; those describing loved-ones both on earth and in heaven, including accounts of relatives guiding patients toward their new homes; and stories of love and inspiration, not faith-based but very touching. However, I am not currently able to control others' writing; consequently, the book resembled one of the Chicken Soup collections. Stories were scattered abroad with little reason and no rhyme.
Speaking of rhyme, Harris seems to follow a thoroughly fixed pattern. Each story follows a formula of sorts: name of patient, quotation by patient or relative, patient's age and diagnosis, patient's career or other successes, thoughts on faith or other deep subjects, journey to heaven.
Now, let me ask you something: Suppose that I gave my reviews this treatment. "Glimpses of Heaven by Trudy Harris. Hospice worker. Catholic". "The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. Christian speaker, worker in the Dutch Underground. Dutch reformed". "Adventures in Prayer by Catherine Marshall. Author. Evangelical". And I daresay that you no longer trust my reviews!
What I am saying is this: Harris ought certainly to have mixed up her writing. Unless it was necessary to the story--as in the case of children--Harris need not include the age of every patient. Nor is a career as a physician more successful than any other; it almost seems as if the most "successful" or "accomplished" were capitalized upon in places.
Moreover, certain stories display a touch of the repetitive. I shan't cite any here as, quite frankly, I do not recall specific sections. Suffice it to say that information is often provided twice or even thrice; such superfluity of wordage--is "wordage" in the dictionary?--could have been eliminated. One of these days, I am going to work at Fleming H. Revell!
Speaking of which, I did the unthinkable in purchasing this book: I judged a masterpiece by its publishing company. This is like judging Monet by his paintbrush, so I do hope that you will pardon me for this admission. Fleming H. Revell is a beautiful producer of many of my favorite Christian books, so I knew that I could trust their content if not their writing.
Yes, dear reader, I actually purchased this book. I went to Christianbook.com, found an audio copy of Harris' work, and eagerly awaited its arrival during one of those "I-need-the-mail-right-now-or-else" weeks. My copy was narrated by Connie Wetzel, with lovely, keyboard-laden interludes between each story. Somehow, though the song is actually unidentifiable, the tune constantly puts me in mind of "I Can Only Imagine". Wetzel's gentle, respectful narration has a touch of the poetic about it and enfolds the listener in joy. True, I am biased; I always have preferred books narrated by women to those read by men. However, this soothing, non-dramatized version suits the subject perfectly. So glorious is this audio copy that I can hear love for the Lord radiating through Wetzel's voice. Each time Wetzel reads a pronoun related to God, her voice capitalizes that pronoun--you hear it, you know it, but you can't adequately explain it, as it is something that only a poet after Herbert's heart could comprehend.
While we are on the subject of capitalizing pronouns related to God, let us return to Theology, that controversial nation that seems to have constituted many of my travels of late. Here we have, in no particular order, a woman who attended a healing service, complete with a number of Charismatic thoughts and concepts; a Baptist who considered his salvation and that of others paramount; a Methodist; many individuals who had grown up Catholic; a few who were Jewish; some who did not believe in God or an afterlife; and a multitude of Christians who seemed to prefer that designation alone without being attached to a specific denomination. Now, where do I stand? Surely, a review of a Christian book is a bit difficult to comprehend without a brief glimpse of the author's own ideas. True indeed, dear reader. I am a Calvary Chapelist. All right, all right, that denomination does not exist; how is it that the reader is more brilliant than the author? I believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit--the Charismatic gifts, as they are commonly known--are present for believers but are not necessary for salvation. I believe in Jesus Christ as God's Son, that He gave His life for me, and that salvation is found through Him alone. What does this make me? A Christian--or, as I said, a Calvary Chapelist. (I'm going to petition my church to make that a denomination!)
And this is what most of the patients are--just Christians, just people. These are beautiful, real experiences of faith, hope, and love. Joyous springs of praise, prayer and devotion result from this book. However, because of the multitude of theological perspectives, this is one book that will almost certainly contain elements that members of all faiths question. Are you Catholic? You might dislike so many references to Protestantism. Are you Baptist? Discussions involving Dianne and her healing service may make you uncomfortable. Would that such divisions did not exist within the Body of Christ; sadly, they do, and the result seems to be a book that will cause all parties to both smile and question.
What This Means for You, the Consumer
Before I provide my recommendation, allow me to request a small favor. If you ever see me writing such a trite subheading again, please petition the Epinions community to shower me with creative writing books because I obviously need them. That said, I sincerely hope that my three-star rating is not deceptive. I am a critic through and through; where others might have awarded this book four stars, mediocre writing and some theological discrepancies prompt me to award it three, but with a high recommendation. I am relatively certain that, regardless of your persuasion, you will find many things in this book to make you smile, things to make you think, and--yes--some that will make you frown.
Do you remember our beloved Connie Wetzel who verbally capitalizes Biblical pronouns? I know you, my dear reader. You want to make the acquaintance of another Christian--even if vicariously. Go and find the audio version of this work on Christianbook.com. The $15 will be worth this intense experience of heaven and things heavenly. If you do purchase the audio edition, do not be disappointed by crude packaging or the meagre four CDs; this is not an abridged book. Think about it: If the book were abridged, would I recommend it?
Of course, you could be traditional, but what fun would that be? Nevertheless, if you do prefer convention to exhilaration, purchase a print copy of this work and enjoy with all your heart. Immerse yourself in the middle of the book, reading Frederick's story first and then progressing to Johnny's. Before reading of Ira or Dianne, plunge yourself beneath the grace given to Jean. These accounts and more are beautiful beyond words and worth the time of anyone seeking a book that discusses the joys of heaven.
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