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Reverend Peter Panagore, M.Div (Yale) has had two near-death experiences, the first while ice climbing in 1980 and the second in 2015 due to a heart attack. He recounts these in his book Heaven Is Beautiful: How Dying Taught Me That Death Is Just the Beginning, an Audible Best Seller available globally in nine editions. His best-selling second book, Two Minutes for God: Quick Fixes for the Spirit, is a collection of original inspirational devotional stories, many of which he told for 15 years on a daily TV show reaching 30 million viewers annually in Maine and New Hampshire. Previously, he served as a United Church of Christ minister and pastor in Maine and Connecticut. He published 150 sermons and many prayers in Homiletics, a leading clergy journal. He now runs a global spiritual counseling service for “closet mystics” and travels nationally as a public and inspirational speaker and teacher. He has been practicing Zazen/Centering Prayer and Kundalini/Kriya Yoga for forty years.
Websites & Background Information
Heaven Is Beautiful: How Dying Taught Me That Death Is Just the Beginning (2015)
By Peter Baldwin Panagore
When Peter Baldwin Panagore died on the side of a mountain, his life was forever changed. Decades later, the intense spiritual journey continues, with a story that combines the thrills of a wilderness adventure with the awe-inspiring elements of a paranormal novel.
In March of 1980, college senior Peter Panagore went ice climbing on the world-famous Lower Weeping Wall, along the Ice Fields Parkway in Alberta, Canada. His climbing partner was an experienced ice climber, but Panagore was a novice. On their descent, they became trapped on the side of the mountain. As the sun set, he was overcome by exhaustion and hypothermia. He died on the side of that mountain. And in those minutes on the other side, he experienced hell, forgiveness, and unconditional love. Heaven was beautiful.
Panagore’s death experience changed his life and resulted in an intense spiritual journey that has continued for decades. It impelled him to pursue a master’s degree at Yale Divinity School, focusing on systematic theology and Christian mysticism. His educational background coupled with 30 years of meditative practice and 20 years of professional work with the dying and grieving has given him unique insight, language, and perspective on heaven, God, death, life, love, beauty, and hope.
Two Minutes for God: Quick Fixes for the Spirit (2007)
By Peter Baldwin Panagore
Heartfelt and humorous stories about work, family, loss, and love bring god into everyday life in this unique and quirky devotional.
You don’t have to pray for hours a day — all God asks is that you keep the holy spirit in your heart. In three hundred words (or less), Peter B. Panagore can help you build a strong relationship with God, while reminding you of what is truly important in life.
From childhood pet ducks to fixing a house foundation, Two Minutes for God features anecdotes from Reverend Panagore’s own life as well as those of the people and world around him to illustrate how pieces of the sacred live within everyday events. Encompassing many cultures and a wide variety of religions, Panagore does not exclude anyone from his perspectives on spirituality, prayer, and God’s relationship to the world around us. Covering contemporary but timeless topics such as love, loss, healing, work, bullying, mythology, celebration, and family, Two Minutes for God provides a daily infusion of faith that will last all year long.
The Man Who Visited Heaven Speaks
Peter Panagore was a college student ice climbing on his spring break when mistakes on the mountain caused him to die from hypothermia. His first-person account of his journey to heaven — and back — was featured in Mysterious Ways, and the subject of the first book in our To Heaven and Back 3-book set. We asked Peter some questions about the aftermath of his near-death experience, or NDE…
How does your journey to heaven and back continue to affect your life?
Every moment of every day God is present to me. I feel less isolated, but there are times that I know that my thinking and eccentric behavior makes me the strange one. I like to be out in nature, because out in nature, the purity of God’s spirit pervades all things, plants, water, sky, stone, and animals. Out there, I feel most at home.
One day when I was in Manhattan for a few days of work, I went out for a long walk and I prayed. I began to feel the spirit of peace, of contentment and presence that I feel when I walk in the woods and I realized that it was coming from the people around me on the sidewalks. They were nature and radiating the presence of [God] as a tree would, as stone might, as a songbird’s song does. I walked for hours through the mass of humanity as if immersed in the wilderness where the spirit of God is strongest.
How has your experience in heaven influenced your prayer life?
After I came back from my NDE, the Catholic charismatic prayer group that I had been a part of was not enough any more. I practiced meditative prayer everyday for decades until my prayer became burned into my mind so deeply that it now it plays as an endless loop inside my subconscious. Sometimes it rises up on its own and I find my mind in prayer without my intention making it so.
In this way, as Paul said, I have learned to pray ceaselessly. Prayer is my only way back to God while I am here on earth. Prayer is my refuge and my strength. My NDE drove me in desperation to find a way or ways to let more light in, to create more space for God inside me, to sit as close to God as I could.
Can you share a story from your work as “midwife to the dying”?
There was a man, the father of one of my daughter’s friends, who contracted Hepatitis C. He was a rough man, but loving to his family, and not a churchgoer at all. One afternoon the hospital called me, because I knew the whole family, and because he was dying. I met with the family in the hospital’s waiting room to speak with them about their grief.
A nurse popped into the waiting room and asked me to please come with her. I went and she closed the waiting room door behind us. She asked me to put a gown on, a mask and gloves, because the man was convulsing with fear and pain. He asked for me. He was afraid of death, of God.
He leaned up against me, and he was saying how he had been a bad a man, how he’d done awful things, and that he knew that he was dying, and feared judgment. I quieted myself in prayer, and whispered into his ear, that God loved him, and already knew all and everything about him, nothing was hidden, and if he was remorseful, which he was, and carried that remorse with him when he died, that surely God would welcome him home and forgive him.
I calmed his fears, he relaxed and quieted down, and believed me. He died with a look of peace upon his face.
Have you experienced a dream or event that you believe was a message or messenger from heaven?
One Friday, night I was an on-air auctioneer on Maine Public TV’s annual fundraiser broadcast until close to midnight. I drank a lot of coffee off camera all night long, which means that when I finally go to bed around 2 a.m., I could not sleep a wink. The next morning, when the whole family got up around 7 a.m., I got up, too, and in order to be civil, I drank more coffee, even though I was exhausted.
The kids were doing homework at the kitchen table with my wife and I went to lie down on our sofa in our sunroom and closed my eyes to meditate and many rest a little. As soon as I began my prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” my soul was plucked by God and taken from body. I was taken into a level of heaven.
I don’t know what else to call it, but I was just like I had been when I was dead, only this time I was moving rapidly toward the light of God above. This heaven was full of music, of cosmic sound, of the choir of angels; it was the most beautiful sound that I had ever heard — an incredible beauty.
The whole thing took about three hours, and when it was over, I was lost in this world again, just like that night on the mountainside when I had first come back and was dangling on my harness. I saw my wife standing in the door, but I did not know who she was. My wife saw my disorientation on my face and in my jangled body movements and she said, “Your name is Peter Panagore. I am your wife. You are in your home.”
Later on in the day, when I was more myself in this world, she said that she knew something was going on and that she was concerned because there were times during those three hours I was unresponsive in a way that indicated that I was not asleep.
How have your relationships with other people, family members, spouse, been impacted by your journey to heaven and back?
I asked my wife to help answer this question, and she said that on the positive side I see more deeply into the complexities of emotions and psychologies that make up individuals, and am from her point of view much less judgmental of the motivations and sins of others. From my point of view all sins are equal when compared to the majesty of God, so who am I to judge another? And who knows what private pain had driven them to make the choices that they made?
She also said that my years of work with the homeless and the poor arise from my seeing humanity very simply. We are all souls equally encased in bodies and all are beloved of God, and those who suffer the most need the most care. I see the rich and the poor with the egalitarian eye of my heart. No one is greater or lesser, and I am no better and no worse then the best or worst of humanity.
On the negative side, I live life with what are generally considered eccentricities because I see what isn’t seen by others. For instance I insist on keeping part of our yard as a micro-habitat in which birds, bees, insects, wild flowers and mammals can thrive. My neighbors only see an un-mown lawn.
The biggest negative is my non-attachment to time. I see all things, even relationships, as temporary, because, in the end we all die and go home.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Throughout my life, I kept reflecting on what happened to me that night and in those reflections God keeps unfolding more truth and understanding to me, about what I experienced. And yet it made me rebellious against God after my NDE. God gave me the choice to come back or stay but in choosing to come back here, I lost myself, I lost my own life, or the life that I would have had had I not died.
With the gift of the NDE came the curse of being separate, estranged from, and outside of all humanity (except, I later learned, from those like me who have had an NDE.) I could never explain to anyone what I was feeling, or how I thought, or what I experienced. And then I wrote this book, and it was a healing process to finally get it out of me.
I expect that there will be more learning for me, more truth to come, and more understanding. All in all, I am gratified that I came back. I have beautiful and loving children, and a tolerant and loving wife who has long endured my strangeness, my eccentricities, my distance, and my otherworldliness.
But mostly, I see now that my calling, my “not living my own life,” is to do my best to point at God and in my own small way try to point the way home for those with ears to hear, and a heart to seek. Speaking about God’s eternal love and reality is all that I want to do here in this life.
I live life seeking fun and adventure as distractions, as thrills, with the blessing of knowing that in the end I get to go back to where I came from, thanks be to God who was, who is, and who shall be evermore and eternally, love.
“If you’re pining to have a near-death experience… I would say don’t! This is not what you want. It may seem like a blessing but it is often a curse, as it is a blessing. It leaves one disassociated. It leaves one depressed. I went through a long period of depression. I live a life of non-attachment, not detachment, but non-attachment. My connectivity is to the other side, not so much here.” (58:34-59:08)