I grew up in North Louisiana, the Bible belt, a strict by-the-(Good)-book place where I managed to live through the 1960's, never once seeing - much less touching - a marijuana joint or anything more adventurous. When I entered college and encountered my first hippie…a fellow student carrying "The Art of Revolution" and wearing the American flag as a belt…I fled to my dorm and cried. To say that my worldly experience was rather limited is to understate the obvious. I could reach out and touch my parameters on both sides.
Now, at 50, I am (for the most part) still that girl, but being the author of a book about John Lennon has helped ease me into the Twenty-first Century. I am beginning to awaken to other ways of looking at the world, thanks to my readers. Let me tell you about one of the most memorable…
A couple of weeks ago, I was in Chicago at the Fest for Beatle Fans - madly selling my new Lennon book with customary OCD-Puritanical work ethic ardor when "out of the blue" (as John sang it), a lovely lady named Sherry stepped up to my table and widened my world view forever.
As I was autographing the book she purchased, I chatted with Sherry in hopes of discovering something meaningful about her - about her passion for John or The Beatles - something that would help me inscribe her book more meaningfully. But Sherry took our "small talk" up a notch when, with a quiet and sincere honesty, she whispered to me that she communicated frequently with John.
The small-town girl who never was never brave enough to skip school and who never ever colored outside the lines wanted to scoff; the Beatle author wanted to be open minded; the Catholic girl who believes in the mystery of faith raised her eyes to Sherry and said, "How is he? Is he okay?"
That act of acceptance sealed our friendship, and we talked for quite some time about John's life, his death, and life after death. It was a serious conversation - a conversation that ended in a promise from Sherry that John would contact me in the days to come. And the contact, she said, would come in the form of a white feather.
That evening I shared Sherry's prediction with my husband, and I pleaded with him not to purchase a white feather and put it in my path (just the kind of thing he would do to make me happy!). And although I kept my eyes and mind open, I found no feathers in the days that followed. I went on with business as usual.
About a week after the Chicago Fest, I received a message from Sherry via MySpace. She said that John wanted to communicate with me, and she asked for my permission. Contrary to every conservative bone in my body, I said, "Of course!" And I waited.
Two weeks passed, and I heard nothing from Sherry (or John). No messages, no visions, no feathers. I shrugged my shoulders and said to my husband, "Well, I guess John decided not to talk to me after all." But that night, I received another MySpace letter from Sherry after all!
John, she told me, wanted me to know that he liked the concept of my historical novel. He said that he wasn't always pleased with the books that had been written about him, but my book was "on target," and he approved of what I had done. He went so far as to mention one specific episode in the book (a fight between John and Mimi in which John speaks the words, "Don't start, Mim!"), and he told Sherry that although the dispute was not quite as angry as I had written it, it did occur just as I had depicted it.
I was interested…intrigued…I wanted to believe but…
I immediately wrote back to Sherry, thanking her for sharing such a remarkable message. I told her how much it meant to hear that my twenty years of diligent work and research had paid off. And I told her that as a Catholic, I was not blind to the phenomenon of the "communion of saints."
Every weekend, all across the world, Christians in thousands of churches (Catholic, Episcopalian, and Methodist…) stand and repeat the "Nicene Creed" and the "Apostles Creed," both which state: "I believe in the communion of saints." Believers say this earnestly and with great feeling, but few know what it means.
It means, very simply, that those who have died and are in favor with God (the saints) may receive messages from us. We may ask them to pray for us…just as we ask a prayer group at church or a next-door neighbor to pray for us. We may ask the saints for help…just as we ask a sister or best friend to assist us. We do not pray TO our friends nor do we pray to the saints. (The Holy Trinity is only the recipient of prayers!!) But we believe that we may communicate with the saints on an "as needed basis."
That is exactly what Sherry had done, and from a Christian perspective, she was taking part in an age-old practice of the church.
Now, even as I write this, I can feel some of you out there throwing your eyes to the ceiling and scoffing, "John Lennon…a saint?! You've got to be kidding!"
You're thinking of how angry John was at God for the loss of Julia, for the loss of Stu. You're thinking of how cynical John was. Some of you, who don't know the real story, think that John blasphemed and said that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus. (It didn't happen like that.)
I'll give you this much. John was angry and bitter. His life of tragedy piled upon tragedy pushed him further and further away from God. First, John was hurt; then, destroyed; then, furious…and finally, he turned his back on God altogether. But the story didn't end there.
By 1980, John was searching for faith…he was reaching out. He was spending hundreds of dollars a week on books about faith and reading them hungrily. He was asking questions. He was seeking, and in his last photos, you'll see that he was wearing a cross.
As a Catholic, we believe that anyone who dies in that "transition phase"…not in harmony with God but searching and yearning…enters a "holding place beyond the grave" known as purgatory. It's a bus stop where the ticket can be purchased. It's a "time out" where the child can think about his actions and amend his mind. While someone is waiting in that holding place, loved ones my offer fervent prayers to "cheer" the believer on, to uphold him, to plead for him, to intercede for him. And in the years following 9 December 1980 (8 Dec. in the U.S.), that is exactly what I did.
Every single day for many years, I prayed for John's soul. I interceded for the little boy who had lost his father's love, his Uncle Ge'rge, his mother (twice), and his dearest friend. I begged compassion for the lost soul who knew nothing but deep sadness. And each day as I prayed, I asked God to give me a sign, something to let me know when John was home, safe and warm.
Finally, I was given the sign I had asked for so earnestly all those years. On 4 December, 1995, The Beatles released a new single based on a song that John had recorded before his death. Paul, George, and Ringo had artfully dubbed their voices into the composition and added gorgeous musical accompaniment to the song. The moment I heard it, I knew that John was no longer waiting in a holding pattern, yearning for peace and happiness. I knew that he was truly "a saint," that he was eternally happy.
The opening words of the song made his new status so clear, so obvious. John sang with crystal clarity that he was "home."
He told the listener that he was at last "safe and dry." That's all I needed to hear.
So, Lennon a saint with whom Sherry could communicate? Yes! Yes, indeed.
And I wrote to her to tell her so.
I eagerly jotted down my story, telling Sherry that I knew her "communion with a saint" was not only possible, it was quite credible. I told her about my prayers, about my request for a sign, and about the fact that a Beatles' song had given me the assurance I needed.
The next morning I received a third message from Sherry. It said, "Jude…You have received the white feather just as I told you that you would!" You see, the name of the song that gave me assurance was 'Free as A Bird.' And it took Sherry to point this out to me. She was right. It was!! In fact, the song begins with the flapping of a bird's wings!
"And furthermore," she added at the end of her note of revelation, "my last name is White."
And there you have it. My tiny world two-dimensional world expanded, grew…became a pop-up book. My limited vision lengthened. A woman I met for only a moment in Chicago gave me a glimpse of heaven and the amazing things waiting there!
The cage of the "here and now" opened, and I, too, was free as a bird.