I guess it is time that I gave you my experience of the NDE. I was born with a major birth defect of the heart called “Coarctation of the Aorta.” Until relatively recently, people who were born with that usually died very young. The small country doctor who delivered me did not have the knowledge or the tools to diagnose the condition at birth. As I grew into boyhood, it was just obvious that my immune system didn’t work well and my heart had a strange murmur. It kept me out of all the sports I was good at. I felt sort of like a leper. Finally, when I was 19, my old doctor got around to telling my parents that they should take me to the Houston Medical Center where Dr. Michael DeBakey was doing miracles with hearts. This was 1967 and by today’s standards, heart surgery was still primitive. After tortuous tests they found the bad part of my aorta and replaced it with a Dacron tube. I had never been to a big city before, much less to a big city hospital. I was scared but I let them do what they wanted. Today doctors look at all the scars they left on me and just shake their heads. One great heart surgeon today looked at the scar on the thorax and said, “If they were doing that on the outside, it makes you wonder what they were doing on the inside.”
When I came out of the operation I was still out cold. My body was in ICU in a bed and nurses and doctors were all around. That is when I first noticed that “I” was observing. It did not seem odd. “I” was hovering just over the left shoulder of the body just observing everything. That was when I noticed that in this state I could hear the thoughts of the nurses and doctors. I had no desire to go anywhere. I had never heard of an NDE back then and I had no concept of metaphysical travel. I was totally content to stay in this peaceful state in which I could observe. I could see 360 degrees. I could hear better than ever. I could read thoughts and people. The only thing I could not do was to physically speak. My body was out cold. Then something happened that forever changed me. A doctor came into ICU along with a nurse. The doctor was very upset. He said,”Why hasn’t he been catheterized yet? That should have been done on the operating table before we got him.” (A catheter is a tube into the bladder in order for urine to pass. It is inserted into the penis and threaded up into the bladder.) The nurse looked anxious and said, “I can do it.” The doctor asked, “Are you certified for this procedure?” The nurse quickly spoke up in the affirmative. The doctor left and the nurse brought in a cart of instruments. Back then I was 19 years old, slim, and handsome. I began to read the nurse’s thoughts. She was titillated at the idea of getting to handle my penis and insert the tube. I could also see how ashamed she was of these thoughts. I felt only compassion for her as she tried to hide her shame. Before she could get started with the procedure, the doctor returned quickly with another nurse. He was furious. “I just checked and you are NOT certified to do this procedure! Why did you lie to me? I felt the nurse experience all the shame she was hiding. I so wanted to tell her it was OK. I hovered around her trying to comfort her. She was ordered out of the room and taken off my chart. Finally my body work up and my clear observer consciousness merged back into my mind and body. But for a kid from the country, this experienced opened up a new world for me.
I was able to read people better, to know their inner truths or their shame. Without even knowing what it was, I was becoming psychic. I remembered that I actually had this gift as a boy. I could just look at people and know what was wrong with them. But that gift was now magnified. After I recuperated in Carthage, Mo., an old high school friend of mine came to see me. With my new sight I could see that he was changed inside. He had a love in him that I had never known. “I” wanted it. I wanted to love people like that. My Buddy called this internal Love “Jesus,” which was fine by me. He and many of my former buddies were all in love with Jesus. I prayed and asked this Jesus to come into my heart, change me, remake me, lead me. Since this was a pure desire of my heart, I immediately showed changes that everyone saw and most importantly, “I” felt this Love inside that I had never known. I grew up in the Baptist Church but I had never experienced this Love. It wasn’t long before this internal Love began to speak to me in an inner Voice. That was strange to me. Baptists do not hear voices! Maybe Pentecostals do, but not us Baptists. I was unsure if I was supposed to listen to this new Voice or my own voice of rational learning. It took me some time to sort that out.
I entered university with the intention of becoming a theology professor. I was a top student and the teachers’ pet. I was the student they all pointed to and said things like, “There is our next professor from this school. I graduated with a BA in theology and in Speech/Drama and was named to Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities for my work in oral interpretation of literature and Reader’s Theatre. For masters work I went to the best seminary that the Baptists had, Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky. There I continued being at the top of the class and teacher’s pet. Dr. Dale Moody saw me as a future professor at that seminary. But I was not feeling right inside. I felt like I wasn’t supposed to be there and i was very unhappy.
The one student who always competed with me for top grade was an interesting fellow named Lynn Fann. Some might have called Lynn an odd duck. He played opera in the dorm, morning, noon, and night and drove everyone crazy. He had no real, serious voice but would fancy himself an operatic tenor as he sang along to the records. He essentially introduced me to Grand Opera. The only kind of opera we knew in the Ozarks was the “Grand Ole Opery.” Still, as a university student I had been introduced to some great singers and this experience whetted my appetite for more. I listened to records of most of the great singers of the second golden age of singing there in the seminary dorm, including one great bass from the Metropolitan Opera named Jerome Hines. He stood out not just because of his wonderful bass voice, but because he was also an evangelical Christian who witnessed on skid-row in New York when he wasn’t singing at the Met. These great voices I heard spoke to me. There was something about the sound of their voices that grabbed me and I began to listen to opera in my room while I studied theology.
I grew more and more empty inside in seminary. I wanted desperately to be a minister but I felt very much out of place, like I didn’t really belong there. While I was at my most desperate I cried out to God for help. I actually heard an inner Voice say to me, “Your sermons can be your characters on stage. The stage can be your pulpit. The audience can be your congregation. Now go put feet to your faith.” I had absolutely no reason to believe this Voice. Baptists do not hear voices. Maybe Pentecostals do but not Baptists! I had taken no voice lessons. Nobody heard any special singing talent in me of this magnitude. I had no reason to think that I could ever get on a professional stage and sing Grand Opera. It sounded like a stupid idea! But at some level deep inside of me I must have believed it. I wondered why I had never really felt a “call” to the ministry. But this experience definitely fit the description of a “call” to sing opera. Eventually, after fighting seminary another semester, I left, got an apartment across the street and a job in a pizza restaurant. When I wasn’t working I was listening to opera. One day in 1973 I opened my mouth to see if I could make a sound like one of those guys on the records and out came the essential sound that I have today. A couple of weeks later a friend heard me singing as he came for a visit and said, “Wow, you’ve got quite a voice. You ought to enter the Metropolitan Opera Auditions.” I didn’t know what they were but I said. “Ok.” I sent off and got an entrance form. The first level of the competition was in Tulsa where I was supposed to sing five operatic arias. I knew none of course but I had records. So I picked out what I thought were the five hardest bass arias on the records and learned them by listening! Four were in Italian, and one was in Russian. Both languages I learned phonetically by listening. I can admit all of this now because the whole affair was such a miracle. In 1974 I went to Tulsa without a care in the world, sang without any nervousness and was easily named one of the winners. I seemed to be stepping into something that was very comfortable to me, something that I had done before.
People from Tulsa Opera were there and offered me beginning roles with their company as well as a scholarship to Tulsa University.
One of the judges was from The Santa Fe Opera which was also hearing singers audition for Apprentice Artists. Later I discovered that ten thousand singers across America were auditioning to become one of forty apprentices chosen for that summer season. An apprenticeship with The Santa Fe Opera was one of the most highly sought plums for a young opera singer trying to turn professional. The Artistic Administrator came back stage and said to me, “You haven’t applied to us but would you like to be an apprentice?” I didn’t even know what that was but I said, “Yes,” and my career in opera had begun. “This opera business is a snap,” I thought. Before going to Santa Fe, I made my debut with The Tulsa Opera singing a small but important part in Madama Butterfly alongside stars from The Metropolitan Opera. At Tulsa University I sang scenes from The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, and Don Giovanni, then packed up my old car and drove to Santa Fe in the summer of 1974 for a high profiled new beginning. When God opens doors, they open wide and people fall all over themselves to help you. But, as I would painfully find out later, when He closes those doors, no amount of pulling will open them.
In 1975 I won all the divisions of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions, and sang at the Met in two Gala performances. All of a sudden, I had been thrust into the top of a profession I knew nothing about. I was scared to death but that helped me to learn to listen to the inner Voice which spoke so plainly to me then. My career moved into great artistic accomplishments which I used, as the Voice said, as “sermons” for my “congregation.” But at a shallow, psychological level, I had many problems. I was lonely and needed companionship, or so I thought. I thought how wonderful it would be to have a wife with whom I could share things and receive support back from her. I began dating a woman who my psychic ability showed me to be very dark, but she appeared to care about me, so I stayed with her even though I knew I should have run away from her as far as possible. In 1984 my career was just taking off internationally. As from “out of the blue” there came these offers for me to sing Rigoletto with the Belfast Grand Opera and then tour England as Tonio in I Pagliacci. The director was a little known young man who would become a great star, Nicholas Hytner. Only one little trouble, I had agreed to marry this young lady in the fall of 1984 which would mean I would have to cancel my tour of England. I was rehearsing Rigoletto in London in early 1984 in preparation for Belfast. I was fast asleep in my room, when suddenly I heard a sharp voice which I knew very well. He said, “JOE, JOE….” I immediately popped out of the body and hovered about two feet above my sleeping body. Into this London Hotel room came the most amazing Being I have ever been in the presence of. This was a man made all out of white and golden Light. He was shaped as a man, but white and gold Light pulsated from Him in dashes, as thought he were wearing a million Christmas Tree Lights. A soon as I saw Him, I knew many things about Him. I knew this was Jesus. I knew that he knew everything about me and was all powerful. There is no way to describe the Power that emanated from this Man of Light. Three angels appeared with Him and stayed in the back of the room. They were oval shaped beings and clearly under subjection to the Man of Light. He spoke to me sharply. His Love was not sentimental. It was strong and objective. He said, “I am the One who has been helping you, and I have many more things planned for you to do. Find an honorable way to avoid making an honest mistake.” As soon as he said that I knew he was talking about my forthcoming marriage. He spoke in a hurry as though this little opening in space-time could not be held long, but He was going to hold it open as long as necessary to deliver the message. This was the Jesus who I had accepted into my life in 1967. His was the Voice I heard in seminary telling me to go sing opera. His was the voice I had been hearing for years since. He was the most amazing Being I could ever imagine. The oval angels were clearly underneath him in rank, like buck privates next to a 6 star general. As quickly as Jesus came into the room, after he made his speech, he vanished, leaving me and the three angels. I got the impression that they had orders concerning what they could and could not say. They could not simply say, “Don’t marry that girl.” They had such a commitment to free will. They could only help me with my choice. They explained that marriage was a big deal. It meant that my life mission would be altered by that of my spouse’s, and if my spouse was a “dark one,” my whole life plan would be thrown off. That was the urgency that caused my dear Jesus to break through time and space and speak to me. At this time in my life I had not read anything about NDEs. But many years later I became friends with Dr. George G Ritchie who also met Jesus. We talked about our experiences of Him and were both convinced that we had seen the same Jesus, the Man made all out Light, in command of the universe. That bond between us held us as close brothers for many years.
I am sure that this situation presents you, the reader, as an easy choice. Of course, do what Jesus and the angels said. Don’t marry her. But I was young in the ways of the spirit and this experience had scared me to death. I jumped back into the body and went back to sleep, trying to forget it. When I awakened the experience was still fresh, unlike a dream and it has remained the most “real” encounter I have ever had in this life. I went against Jesus’ advice. I married the girl, and just as soon as I did, my career began to collapse, my inner light became obscured. I could not hear the inner Voice any more. I was on my own and I felt as abandoned as any castaway on a remote island. I was also overcome with remorse for my stupidity. I knew I was forgiven but just as surely I had stepped into a big trap and I would have to learn hard lessons through pain. Go twelve years into the future and I was dying again because of aortic valve failure. I began to read about NDEs and I shouted “Eureka.” I knew this place they were talking about. The interval Voice came back and I began to have a three month long life review as I waited for my “turn” to have cardiac surgery. In four months I was back in the stage and singing better than ever. My marriage was being dissolved by powers higher than myself. They were rescuing me. For the next ten years I sang the best of my life and had daily talks with the inner Voice. I would wake up and say, “Good morning Jesus! What do you have for me today?” And he would tell me private information about the voice students that were coming that day and how to work with them. He basically said, “You just work on their voices. I will work on them.”
There have been other challenges to this relationship. In 2006 my heart valve failed again and I had to have another surgery. This time it did not go smoothly and I have not recuperated, and so I struggle to find my purpose now inside of this terminal body. Yet my mediumship has increased and I am able to help people out of the body. As I do, I draw closer to Jesus, the Man of Light, who came into my life out of the sincere desire of my heart to know His Love. Jesus works throughout all the dimensions of reality. Trust no philosophy that says otherwise. He is available to come into your heart today and become your inner Voice if you will just sincerely ask him. Don’t make a mistake. Ask Him in.