From left, the Rev. Earl Y. Thorpe Jr.  of Church-in-the-Garden, Rabbi Michael...

From left, the Rev. Earl Y. Thorpe Jr.  of Church-in-the-Garden, Rabbi Michael Stanger of Old Westbury Hebrew Congregation, and the Rev. William McBride of the Interfaith Community Religious Education Program. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.; J. Michaels Photography; Interfaith Community RE Program

In the spirit of Halloween, some may dress up as ghosts, others may try to communicate with them via spiritualists and Ouija boards. This week’s clergy discuss how their religious traditions view attempts to commune with the dearly departed.

 

The Rev. William McBride

Religious director, Interfaith Community Religious Education Program, Brookville Multifaith Campus, Glen Head

 

Halloween is a wonderful time to ponder this question because cultural customs and costumes indicate our desire to connect with the world beyond. Belief systems offer words and ways to understand the afterlife and facilitate people’s communication with the dead.

Both Jewish and Christian belief systems include interesting afterlife aids. Let me offer two illustrations. After my brother Tom died, my sister Veronica dreamed of him. He eyed her in appreciation of all we were doing and said “thank you.” The Jewish mystical tradition describes her dream as a spiritual ascent from nephesh (spirit associated with earthly realities) to neshama (spirit closer to heavenly realities). Tom’s “thank you” was a real soul-to-soul encounter.

In the Christian tradition, belief in the bright promise of immortality, as we profess in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Catholic Mass of the Resurrection, sustains hope that life is changed, not ended, by death. My second example happened one Easter when I was seeking the guidance of my dad, who had died 20 years earlier. Out of nowhere I felt the loving presence of this immortal in my life and proclaimed, “He’s alive . . . and if he’s alive all the people I have loved are alive. Amen. Hallelujah. Amen.” Thanks to my belief, what psychologists might describe with the word hallucination, I could celebrate with the word “Hallelujah!”

 

Rabbi Michael Stanger

Old Westbury Hebrew Congregation

 

Many Jews are surprised to learn that Judaism does in fact ascribe a belief in the afterlife: There is a heaven and hell, and even ghosts walk this Earth (according to the Talmud, they are most often found in cemeteries or synagogues). This misconception can probably be traced to Jewish tradition’s strong prohibition of trying to communicate with the dead and spirit world, dating to the Bible itself: Leviticus 20:6, 22, Deuteronomy 18:11 and Isaiah 8:19. The Talmud’s Sanhedrin, a code of Jewish law, cautions that anyone who does engage in spiritual divination will be punished by God and not any earthly authorities.

That being said, what might be the best way to try to connect with a loved one whom you miss? I always say, visit their graveside and try talking to them or reciting prayers and blessings in their name. As a rabbi with a congregation, I am always happy to help with that, and as someone who lost a parent more than a decade ago, I still employ this personal practice whenever I am at my father’s graveside. I believe this is vastly different from seeking out mediums or Ouija boards to disturb the dead.

 

The Rev. Earl Y. Thorpe Jr.

Pastor, Church-in-the-Garden, Garden City

 

People have always believed they can commune with deceased loved ones (usually for a price). As a theologian, I constantly have a hermeneutic of suspicion (a fancy term for being skeptical until I investigate thoroughly) concerning most things that deal with the occult and those who say they can reach specific deceased persons.

I believe that we can speak to God and that God can speak to us directly. I’m not sure about those who have passed on. I have heard from people who had recently lost a loved one who say they still talk to their dearly departed, or that the loved one still talks to them. In some religious circles, there is an understanding that we can commune with our ancestors.

Since we barely have figured out how to live, and we have less experience with what happens after we die, I dare not judge those who claim they can commune with the deceased. Nevertheless, I am profoundly suspicious that paying money to someone will allow that person to talk and hear from my grandparents or a dear friend who has died. Knowing my grandma, she would contact me herself!

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