Kenneth W. James, The Church of the Spirit
July 15, 2008
I usually allow the topic for my lecture to come to me, and then I expand upon it. Today’s topic was an uncomfortable one to become aware of: the relationship between Spiritualism and war. The more I thought about this topic, and reflected on it from the perspective of the early history of Modern American Spiritualism, I realized that it was an important and necessary topic for our local community here in this church, and for the larger Spiritualist community, to consider.
Modern American Spiritualism is usually said to have begun with the phenomena of the Fox sisters in Hydesville, NY in 1848. If you remember your nineteenth-century history, you will realize that this is just thirteen years from the start of the Civil War in the United States.
As part of my lecture today, I will make reference to the writings of Emma Hardinge (later Britten), who published Modern American Spiritualism in 1869. This work is considered foundational for the training of Spiritualist ministers even today. It documents the rise of Spiritualism in America dating from the revelation to the Fox sisters, but also places this “modern” movement within the context of spiritualism that has prehistoric roots. Virtually every religious text from past millenia affirm the presence of phenomena that we understand to be spiritualist in nature. Our current era presents us with a particular version of spiritualism, but it is important to remember that Spiritualism as we know it did not begin in Hydesville in 1848. This was just its most proximal appearance.
As I read a few passages from Hardinge’s book, let us remember that she wrote at a time and with a consciousness very different from our own. She wrote at a time when it was acceptable to write with flowery passages and word choices, and with a consciousness that was comfortable speaking of heaven, and angels, and at a time when patriotism was not thought to be the possession of the few, but the heritage of the many.
After covering in detail the early years of American Spiritualism, Hardinge devotes a chapter to Spiritualism in during the Civil War. At the beginning of that chapter she writes (Hardinge, pp.493-494). Hardinge affirms the bravery of the Spiritualist soldiers, and shows how bravery, compassion, and intuitive shrewdness in battle all could be related to the fundamental principles affirmed by all Spiritualists, including these soldiers.
But Spiritualism, above all, affirms the validity of communication between the so-called dead and those still on the Earth plane. It is in this regard that Spiritualism was of service to the mourning survivors of soldiers and others who made their transition as a result of war. In a particularly touching section of her chapter, Hardinge writes of a mother and her five sons. (Hardinge, pp. 505-507).
It is interesting to note that this mother, when she remarried, was forced to stop speaking of her clear connection to Spirit and to the spirits of those who had been brought by war through the change called death. Nevertheless, her story emphasizes the role of Spiritualism in a time of war: to facilitate communication between those on the Earth plane and their departed loved ones, taken by this Moloch of war, which requires “life, more life.”
While it is uplifting during our services to receive messages that remind us of the power of positive thought and the love which the Divine shows to humanity, these Spiritualist greetings are only a small hint of the power of mediumistic communication. In Britain, for example, what we call “readings” are referred to as “demonstrations”, because the medium’s primary vocation is the demonstration that life and personal identity continue after the change called death. Therefore, simple messages like, “you always loved my blue turtleneck sweater,” when it affirms without a doubt that one’s beloved still lives in the world of Spirit, are far more important to our religion than messages that tell us, “you create your own reality.”
We are once again in a time of war. And as Spiritualists, our sensibilities must be turned toward service of the larger whole. Whether we are mediums or healers or not, as Spiritualists we can always and everywhere affirm, even if only in our hearts, that those who have died have never, ever left. These so-called dead have a pact with the living. This pact, facilitated through mediumistic communications, takes away the fear of death, and replaces it with the understanding that we are all connected all the time, and death changes nothing of this connection. This message is critical in a time of war, when all around us, and maybe we ourselves, are despairing at the depths of hatred, unconsciousness, stupidity and arrogance that humankind can reach. Not denying the presence of these sad elements, as Spiritualists we can and must affirm for others, Spiritualist or not, that these so-called dead have merely entered a new realm of life, one to which we are all called. With the wisdom sadly gained through their experience of war, those who have been brought to Spirit through acts of war bring with them a deeper awareness of life and the connections between people than we can ever come to on the Earth plane.
As Spiritualists in a time of war, we are called upon to demonstrate the truth that life continues after the change called death, that the door to reformation is never closed against any soul, here or hereafter, and that Spirit and spirits intercede for those on the Earth plane in ways that we cannot even imagine, but which are nevertheless true and necessary to healthy living. It is possible that the consciousness of those who have gone through the change called death as a result of war are even now working to bring peace and harmony to our wounded and benighted world. We can offer the best we have, our awareness of Spirit, as a tool to aid this cause. Spiritualism has always been a religion of peace, connection, love and light, but it is not afraid of war, separation, hatred and darkness. Fear has no place in the hearts and minds of Spiritualists because of the fundamental truth that has always been behind the religion, science and philosophy of Spiritualism: There is no death and there are no dead, and those who have gone to the world of Spirit still communicate with those on the Earth plane. Those communications are powerful forces for healing, and we must all bring those communications forward for the good of the whole of humanity, and all the inhabitants on this Earth plane