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Books: Dying is safe, I promise

Books | A New Ager leads dying readers contentedly to hell

Issue: "California: Bellwether state," Oct. 24, 1998

When I was about six, my mother came into the living room and found me bawling my eyes out. When she asked what the problem was, I blubbered, "I don't want to die!" I forget what my mother said, but if Kathleen Dowling Singh had been there she would have whispered comfortingly the words from the introduction to The Grace in Dying: "Dying is safe. You are safe. Your loved one is safe. That is the message of all the words here." In this big-selling inspirational title, Ms. Singh, a long-time hospice worker, describes her New Age theology of dying. People are "manifestations of energy" that arise from the Ground of Being, the source of all life and consciousness and "what most of us call God." After a brief sojourn into the material world, individual entities will merge once again with the Ground of Being. At the moment of death, a person's energy field will open, enlarge, and intensify as his spirit is reunified with its Source. "Often I have felt the 'whoosh' of the exit itself," she states solemnly. She believes that there are three spiritual "stages" in dying. In Chaos (stage one) we rage against death because we have struggled all our lives for control and identities that are separate from the Ground of Being. We do not grasp that the Path of Return (in other words, dying) is the only way to perfection. Eventually we acknowledge that death is inevitable and we Surrender (stage two). This leads us into the final stage of Transcendence or "enlightenment at gunpoint," as she puts it. The sooner we accept that enlightenment is unavoidable, the more likely it is that our last days will exhibit grace, which she defines as "the experience of finally, gratefully, relaxing the contraction of fearful separation and opening to Spirit as our own radiant splendor." Despite being vague, repetitive, and filled with the enigmatic jargon that passes for profundity in New Age circles, Ms. Singh constructs a worldview that, if the premises are allowed, explains mid-life crises, the search for "identity," feelings of emptiness, and the paralyzing fear of death. With practiced glibness, she weaves together quotations of mystics from Hindu, Islamic, and Christian traditions and illustrates it all with dozens of anecdotes from her years in hospice work. Moreover, she offers comfort to vulnerable people: "Let us share, far beyond the last breath and even through a breaking heart, in our loved one's Transcendence," she concludes. "The entrance, at the edge of life, into the peaceful, resplendent Center." All this is why The Grace in Dying is so dangerous. In the way of today's pop spirituality, there is no sin, no judgment, and not even a need for salvation. Everything is fine. There is nothing to worry about. Everybody attains enlightenment. You just have to realize that you are part of God. Embrace death. Her message is that of the Serpent in the Garden: You can be God. And you won't really die. We have good reason to fear death-the wages of sin. I knew that much even when I was six. But death can be conquered, not by a self-deifying mysticism, but by faith in Jesus Christ and the promise of the Resurrection. Ms. Singh comes across in her book as a sincere, likeable woman offering to shepherd people down a peaceful path to wisdom and a happy ending. In reality, she blinds them to the gospel as perhaps their last opportunities to repent slip away. She herds them, bleating contentedly, into hell.

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Les Sillars
Les Sillars

Les directs the journalism program at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., and is the editor of WORLD's Mailbag section.

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