As a nondenominational independent healthcare chaplain, John McNally helps people face the emotional maelstrom of catastrophic illness and imminent death.
"They're terrified," he says, "whether they think it's going to be 'lights out, show's over' or whether they're imagining hellfire."
But McNally believes in a fabulous afterlife, evinced by tens of thousands of personal accounts of near-death experiences recorded all over the world over thousands of years. "If we were talking about a couple hundred accounts, it wouldn't have the weight that it carries," he says, citing research compiled by organizations such as the International Association for Near Death Studies.
No two near-death experiences are exactly alike, explains McNally, whose talk on Sunday, December 6, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley (1 Lawson Rd., Kensington) is titled "Fear of Dying: Is It Justified?" But basic themes recur: People who have been clinically dead or were otherwise extremely close to losing their lives report undergoing a "life review," during which they re-experienced their pasts in a kind of multiperspective hyper-speed.
"They say it was a learning experience," says McNally, a graduate of Berkeley's Starr King School of the Ministry. "They say ... they had a sense of being asked two questions: What knowledge have you gained in this lifetime? And how loving have you been? Upon realizing that loving kindness is what matters most in the world, they're yanked back to life.
Appearing with McNally at the church are Lewis Griggs and Sean Talbot Johnson, each of whom have survived near-death experinces that affected them profoundly.
"We don't hear from the ones who don't come back," says McNally. Nonetheless, he's convinced that "not only are the dead not gone, they're experiencing a wonderful new life. From so many accounts we hear that it's amazingly wonderful over there, so much more wonderful than it is here, that a lot of people are really pissed off when they're brought back."
Relationships with those who die "aren't ending. Those people are alongside me in spirit and I'll get to be with them again someday. This turns our fear of dying on its ear. Instead of this horrible disaster way of thinking, we should be willing to let this information in and let it help us: During near-death experiences, people say they felt more at home and more alive than they ever felt in this life. They describe heightened senses, beauty, and color so vivid they can't even find words for it, and a depth of unconditional love that absolutely blows their socks off. So ... what's to lose? There is wonderful stuff in this life. I love my wife. I love the fact that we just bought a home. I love my friends and family. So I'm not ready to go jump in front of a truck right now. But whenever my time comes, if that isn't the next great adventure, then what is? I know I'm going from what's pretty good to what's fabulous." 10 a.m., free. UUCB.org