A famous author and physician (who for some odd reason is a regular reader of The God Squad column) recently sent this loving/spooky/moving note:
Q: My wife died in January. When my mother died decades ago, I found several dozen pennies everywhere and I knew it was no coincidence when you would walk to the mailbox and not see any pennies but find them on the way back up the driveway. My great grandchildren started calling them pennies from heaven. After my wife died, the pennies started appearing again and haven’t stopped. I find stray pennies in the house, in the woods, around buildings, and when I am walking the dog. Sometimes, I am “told” where to walk to find them. When I go to shop, I am told where to park, and I find a penny near the trunk of the car when I return. Twice at the checkout counter, I found a dime and a penny. We were married on the 11th. I have seen a cloud in our bedroom and been given wind kisses. I hear a pop-like sound and then a breeze on my face. I could go on and on but I had to share this. It is just amazing and real. Your columns stimulate this reaction.”
— From B
A: The Bible is pretty clear about its aversion to astrologers, witches and mediums. Check out Deuteronomy 4:19; 18:10-12, Leviticus 19:26, 31; 20:6; Micah 5:12; and Isaiah 47:13-14. My favorite is the pithy Isaiah 8:19: “When they say to you, ‘Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living?”
The Bible is, however, relatively silent on the topic of stray pennies.
The reason for the antipathy of the Bible to spooky stuff is not the result of its belief that these dark arts are not real. They may well be real, but they are spiritually corrosive and spiritually seductive. They undermine true faith and they convey a false message, which is that we can bridge the chasm between life and death. Let me say this again. The earth may well have people on it who have psychic powers, including the power to communicate with the dead. The problem is that God does not want us looking over or through or around that fence that separates life and death. Such communications teach us a lie. The lie is that death is not really real. The lie is that we can still communicate with our dearly beloved just like we did when they were alive. We just use mediums instead of smartphones. Death is forever. Death is a true separation from the living, not merely a new email account. Accepting this obvious fact helps us to move on in our lives and focus on this life and the grief work that we must attend to here and now.
The other problem with talking to dead people is that many of the psychics and mediums who claim to have this power are charlatans and scam artists, and God does not want to see people in grief exploited. I once saw a psychic say to a room of bereaved Italian-American Catholics, “I am getting a strong message from a dead person. Does anyone know a Maria?” Every hand shot up.
So what about the pennies, dear B? Well this is something I can wrap my spiritual arms around. The pennies are not an invitation to chat. They are not the product of a rip-off psychic. They are just signs, or maybe they are just a chain of coincidences. Martin Buber, the great Jewish theologian once said that a miracle was nothing more than the account of an ordinary event by an extremely enthusiastic observer. Maybe, some of the pennies you found were just lost pennies. Or, maybe, they were a loving message from your dear wife that her soul is resting comfortably in the World To Come and you need not worry. I don’t know and I would be intrigued to hear from other readers about signs — not psychic-mediated speeches — from the dead that brought comfort in a time of grief. For you, dear B, I pray that every source of comfort that moves you forward into life and light comes to you in full measure with God’s blessing.
As for me, my birthday and Tommy’s birthday are coming up this month, and although he told me that he would try to communicate with me after he died, I have not yet received a sign. I did wake up this morning and the clouds over my house spelled out: “Hey Gellman! It’s me Tommy! You need to lose weight!” But the clouds blew away, so it was probably nothing.