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As I lay dying a voice said: ‘Let’s go’

Howard Storm tells Rory Fitzgerald about the near-death experience that turned him from a cynical professor into a devout pastor

By on Monday, 9 April 2012

Howard Storm and his wife, Marcia

Howard Storm and his wife, Marcia

Howard Storm was an atheist until he had an extraordinary near-death experience. After that, everything changed. Indeed, he is now a Christian minister. His book, My Descent into Death, shot to prominence globally after the novelist Anne Rice called it “a book you devour from cover to cover, and pass on to others”.

She added that “Storm was meant to write it and we were meant to read it.”

Storm recently spoke to me from his home in Kentucky. He recounted going out to San Francisco in 1967, aged 19, in pursuit of the hippy dream.

“We earnestly were going to create a culture of peace and love,” he says, but “because it was so hedonistic and anarchistic it was doomed to failure. We soon began to see our contemporaries being destroyed by the excesses of drugs and sexuality.”

Disillusioned by hippiedom, religion and mainstream American society, he became increasingly nihilistic. He says he turned to “total narcissism: I’m no longer interested in changing the world … I’m going to live for myself.”

Storm rose through academia and took a job as a professor of art in Kentucky where he says that the overwhelming majority of the faculty were atheists and hedonists.

“Being cynical gives you a false and inflated sense of superiority,” he says. “You can look down on all the ignorant fools who go to church and believe in religion.

“The sad part of it is we conveyed those attitudes to our students. Many students came from homes where faith was valued. After a few short years in university they had nothing but contempt for faith. I think it was a horrible thing that we did.”

Storm’s life changed during a field trip to Europe in 1985. One morning, aged 38, he collapsed in his hotel room with a perforated duodenum. No surgeon could be found, and after hours in agony he “knew that it was over” as he fell unconscious.

“I fully expected that to be it: lights out, end of story,” he says. “Then, I found myself standing next to my bed, feeling wonderful. My senses were very heightened. The pain was gone. I tried to communicate with my wife. I thought she was ignoring me. I also noticed an occupant in my bed who bore a remarkable resemblance to me. I knew that person was dead.

“Then I heard people calling me from outside the room, saying: ‘It’s time for you to go. Hurry up. Let’s go.’ They said: ‘We know all about you. We’ve been waiting for you.’ I thought they were from the hospital.”

But when he stepped out into this “hallway” it was “very dim, grey and fuzzy, like a really bad black-and-white television picture”.

He says: “I went in to this hallway and had a very clear sense that the ‘portal’ back into the room was somehow closed. I could never go back. The people led me away, and the hallway subtly became darker and darker and darker over a long period of time. Eventually, I realised that I was in complete darkness, encircled by a crowd of people and overcome with fear. I said to them: ‘I want to go back.’ And they started pushing and pulling at me. The more I fought, the better they liked it. They were biting and scratching and tearing at me, all the while yelling and screaming.

“Later on, I realised that they were people like me, who had rejected God and had lived for their own selfish gratification. Their wish had come true: this is what they had. In the place they inhabit there’s no light, no birds, no joy, no hope, no love… a bunch of rats in a cage.”

They screamed and tortured him for an age, he says. “Eventually, I was too ripped up and defeated to do anything. I was solid pain. The real pain is the emotional pain. They did things that I don’t talk about… degrading things.

“I was lying there, when I heard a voice say: ‘Pray to God.’ I said: ‘I don’t pray. I don’t believe in God.’ Then, it came a second time; and a third: ‘Pray to God.’

“So, tried to think of a prayer. I started to mumble some things. A mention of God came into a few of these phrases. With each mention the people around me became very, very angry, and started screaming at me: ‘There is no God’ and ‘Nobody can hear you.’ It angered them so much that they were retreating from me. The mention of God was unbearable to them.” Encouraged, he mumbled other jumbled half-remembered phrases: “Glory, glory hallelujah, God Bless America, Our Father who art in heaven…”

Eventually, he found himself alone in this dark place. Thinking over his life he found it gravely wanting. He felt he deserved to be where he was.

“I felt that there was some kind of justice in the universe and that if you lead a miserable life you go down the sewer pipe of the universe into the septic tank. And that’s where I was. Yet I knew I hadn’t been flushed down into the deeper part, just yet.

“In that state of hopelessness I had a memory of myself as a child in Sunday school, singing ‘Jesus Loves Me’. I also had a vivid feeling of being a child and feeling that there was a wonderful God-man named Jesus who was my friend and who loved me. With real sincerity, I called out: ‘Jesus, please save me.’ With that, a tiny light appeared in the darkness and it came down over me. Out of this light came two hands. They reached down and touched me, and all the gore and filth that was me just fell away.

“In two or three seconds I was healed and filled with an indescribable love. In this world there is no equivalent to that kind of love. These arms picked me up and brought me into this brilliant light. I was held against the body of this man. I knew that he was Jesus. I cried.

“We were moving straight up, faster and faster towards the world of light. It dawned on me then that everything I had believed in was wrong, and I was going to where God lived. I thought: ‘They’ve made a terrible mistake. I don’t deserve this. I’m garbage.’”

At that thought, “we stopped, and he spoke to me for the first time, and said: ‘We don’t make mistakes. You do belong here.’ He had responded to my thought. He laughed and said: ‘I know what you’re thinking. I know everything you’ve ever thought.’ Then he called out in musical tones and a group of beings of light – angels – who had recorded my life came. They began to show me my life, starting with my birth.”

Storm says they showed him scenes he had no memory of, like being a baby and his sisters playing with him. But as his life unfolded into adolescence and adulthood “things started going downhill”.

“It became painful, because I saw that when I did bad things, I knew that it caused Jesus and the angels actual pain. It hurt them.
“So, here I am hanging in space, between the worlds of light and dark, watching my life. I am being held by Jesus, but I can see that I caused him actual unhappiness. It was just so shameful.”

He says that “the only thing they showed me was how I interacted with people”. They showed no interest in his awards, promotions or other worldly achievements.

“It became evident that the primary thing was how I had loved other people. I had done very poorly. I had failed God’s expectations of what I was supposed to be doing, which was caring for other people.”

As to how long this process took, Storm says that “there was no perception of time”, but “when I try to frame it in our time, I say, it took longer than graduate school, which for me was three and a half years”.

Eventually, he was told he wasn’t ready for heaven and would have to go back to earth. “I was very upset,” he says.

Reluctantly, after some resistance, he accepted his fate. Then, instantaneously, he was back in his body in that Paris hospital, being prepared for surgery.

Afterwards his life changed utterly. He could no longer go back to his old ways. His friends met his story with “rejection, ridicule and scorn”. But he found new friends at Bible study groups. Gradually he became more and more involved in his church, eventually becoming a minister in the United Church of Christ. In this capacity he works closely with Catholic Church in Latin America. He argues that “God sees the Church as one Church” and that “all the divisions are manmade”.

This one Church, he says, “should be out there risking their pretty vestments”, pursuing those lost souls, gripped by the nihilism and atheism, now running rampant across the western world.

For more information about Howard Storm, visit Howardstorm.com.

  • http://profiles.google.com/fightlikecrazy20 Josemaria Lazaro Errazuriz-For

    There’s Only ONE TRUE CHURCH!

  • Lace-cuffs

    re: vestments;how I need to see them!

  • andHarry

    You cannot relate to the hoi polloi in vestments.

  • Andrew

    There is One true God and therefore One Church,we teach the fullness of the faith in Christ.All Christians are united in their belief of Christ but not all churches are united in this belief because of free will.Therefore because of free will we tend to break away and form our belief of  the best way to follow Christ.Only the Catholic church has this fullness of faith,the four pillars of the faith.

  • PeppyO

    Vestments are for the glory of God, not to be though of as finery.  They remind the wearer of what he is doing, and for whom.  Respect for his office, and a reminder to  the faithful, Before air conditioning, they were a real penance!  All leaders dress the role they carry, so too the clergy.or so they should. reminders to all of us as to where we are going. Heaven-ward we pray!

  • Fred franzius

    Howard Storm’s story was far more vivid and clear than your lack of directions – I tried to type and nothing happened.  A simple nudge, “Click here to type” would have shown respect for our time.Howard’s story is so compelling, it can’t be a hoax – He lived to meet Jesus, then be sent ack o us.  God has blessed and will continue to bless him, and through him, more of God’s children

  • Aunt Raven

    I’m the hoi polloi and it helps me relate very well.  I can overlook any flaws or shortcomings in the wearer of the vestments, and appreciate that at the altar, he represents Jesus; and that God is working through him for my good regardless of the worthiness of the minister.  

  • Gods love is my religion

    I’ve read his story 3x and it is still so beautiful. Gods love is beautiful. How can something so right be treated so wrong? Jesus is my best friend. How I long for his Unconditional love, because I am broken, as we all are. Every one. And only his love will fix us. Lord, invite me to your feast and I will not make excuses. You gave us the greatest commandment and the meaning of life: “love one another as I love you”…love xoxoxo

  • Maggie_McC

    I first saw this man on Catholic TV and he was completely sincere and believable. His subsequent life also bears it out.

  • Maggie_McC

    I think some of the comments have been shifted to the wrong site. This is about Howard Storm, not vestments.

  • Joe

    Vestments are used for Holy Mass in the Catholic Church. The Church was one until those who found a practice or principle personally unacceptable decided to start their own church, so that today there are thousands of Christian sects. The Catholic Church does the majority of charitable work throughout the world; vestments or not.

  • John Jackson

    This story is one of the grace of God in Christ. As has been said, it is beautiful.  It is about a man’s life turned around and now working for the kingdom of God rather than against it. All of us should rejoice that God has done a work in this man which is bearing fruit and then be reminded that the Church is “a people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” and though the Church on earth, constituted and organised as a society subsists in the Catholic Church, nonetheless, there are still “many elements of sanctification and of truth…found outside of its visible structure.  These element, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling towards catholic unity.” (Lumen Gentium, Ch.1, 4 and 8) So, perhaps we can just relax a bit and celebrate this man and his ministry rather than getting items in a twist over vestments and other things.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FDKJJUWDA4DD7TR6PUBU3HV3AQ Michael Von dohnanyi

    One can always bank on the self-righteous rad-trad Catholics to miss the entire point.  The Blessed Trinity wants to save every human soul, and the Lord commands all of us to real action to help rescue those whose souls are perishing in front of us.  Arguing about vestments and the meaning of “the true Church” is to pour vinegar into the wounds of our Divine Saviour when what this is about is the reality of punishment after death and the need for every one of us to be willing to sacrifice in order to work under the Holy Ghost’s power to reach and save those who are marching on their own two feet into the Pit.

  • http://www.myspace.com/anthonymascia/ Anthony Mascia

    So why did God bother to save Howard, a Protestant “heretic” at best? And why did a Catholic Priest tell him not to bother becoming a Catholic… he’s doing just fine where he is. ?? It seems that God refuses to be fenced in by our understanding as formalized by religion(s), eh? Perhaps God loves us more than we love each other?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/NAVOGNSWKTP6MA5DZ6AB7J4R2E Benna

    A very fitting story for Divine Mercy weekend.
    It’s what saved him.
    God bless him for sharing his experience with the world,
    regardless of the ridicule he had to go through.

  • Benedict Carter

    Traditionalists don’t spend their time “arguing about vestments”, believe me. We have other, far more important things to think about. 

    The most important thing Traditionalists want is for the Church to again put the Salvation of Souls back at the very top of Her priorities. Not “human rights”, global warming or “Justice and Peace” (so often Marxism by another name).

    Which makes the Traditionalist the true colleague of Pastor Storm, doesn’t it?

  • Benedict Carter

    He wasn’t a heretic at all, was he? He was an atheist. 

    If he was baptised with the Trinitarian formula, then he already was a member of the Catholic Church, but let’s hope that he comes to the fullness of communion with the Church one day. 

    Your post displays astounding ignorance. 

  • http://www.myspace.com/anthonymascia/ Anthony Mascia

    Thanks for your kind corrections. Was the part about “God loves us more than we love each other ” also wrong? Was the part about being advised by a Catholic Priest not to become Catholic also wrong? The lack of theological common sense that “traditional” Catholics commonly employ puts God in chains and “He” obviously refuses to be bound by them.

  • Jean

    Michael, out of all the comments I read, yours completed zapped the joy out of my soul. The market place of ideas is a free place where discussions rarely stay on topic. Catholics are defensive because Catholicism is constantly under attack, evident in your first sentence. What Catholics should do instead, according to their own creed, is to absorb the other’s sin unto themselves and bear it for the sake of the truth.

  • Benedict Carter

    Modern Catholic priests, most formed in the “nu-Church” of the post-Vatican II meltdown, often say very stupid things. 

  • Madyrosess

    beautiful… :)

  • JabbaPapa

    It’s hard to tell, because the advice provided by that priest in vue of their discussion is beyond our knowledge.

    Priests are required not to support candidates for Catholic baptism who may contradict any central teachings of teh Church.

    No matter the circumstances, the Church would be unable to baptise someone denying the divinity of Christ, for instance. I’m not saying that’s the case here — that’s just one example of those heresies that are so great that they would prevent any such baptism.

  • Mikekure

    Gripping and  terrifying too.

  • http://www.myspace.com/anthonymascia/ Anthony Mascia

    I like your point JP so I checked as best I could: In the video at YouTube, “Howard Storm DIED, WENT TO HELL, CAME BACK [11/12]“, at 6 min 57 sec, the direct quote is, “You’re doing fine where you are. Why don’t you just stay where you are?” This would imply that no heresy is involved & seems to be in the early stages of Mr. Storm’s searching. In view of the Sacramental life of the Roman Catholic Church, this would be a distressing comment.

  • http://www.myspace.com/anthonymascia/ Anthony Mascia

    Who decides what the “stupid things” are? For example, some “traditionalists” have decided that the post-Vatican-2 Church is heretical. Is that a stupid thing to say?

  • SARTEP

    TODAY AS IN THE DAYS WHEN JESUS & JOSEPH & MOTHER MARY WALKED THE EARTH THERE ARE PEOPLE MUCH THE SAME AS THE SCRIBES & PHARISEES .THEY HAD LOTS OF RELIGION BUT NOT MUCH TRUE SPIRIT OR UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT GOD REALLY WANTS FROM ALL OF US,WHICH IS TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER AND TO LOVE GOD.SEEMS SIMPLE BUT IT DOESN’T FIT WITH THEIR SIMPLISTIC VIEW SO WRONG IN THEIR RIGHTNESS.HUMILITY,PRAYER,AND A TRUE SENSE OF GRATITUDE TO GOD FOR ALL OUR BLESSINGS & A WILLINGNESS TO HELP THOSE LESS FORTUNATE WOULD BE MORE IN ORDER THAN A GREAT SHOW OF SELF RIGHTEOUSNESS..

  • JabbaPapa

    I’m personally willing to give the benefit of the doubt to both of the parties — Catholic initiation requires willing assent with certain core teachings of the Church ; catechumens do not need and cannot be expected to understand the fullness of the doctrine, but they *do* need to be in a state of overall agreement with it from the point of view of the Church. This is a specifically *religious* requirement ; and neither a spiritual nor a ritual one.

    From a more personal point of view, it took roughly ten years after my own initial conversion from Agnostic to Christian for that conversion to change into a possibility of baptism into the Catholic Church — and a certain number of those ten years for the conscious desire of that baptism to change into its practical religious possibility.

    But then this is no sort of universal rule — some people may be in situations where becoming a catechumen is far easier and quicker for them, and some others may need a Grace of God in the afterlife or may only be baptised on their deathbed or et cetera…

    Bottom line, simply having a relationship with God and Christ is not always sufficient for Catholic initiation — but a priest seeing someone having converted from such atheism to such a Christianity is quite right to both encourage and to rejoice !!

    Beyond that, I am not Mr. Storm, nor am I this priest, and given my willingness to give the benefit of the doubt to both of them, I would certainly not condemn either of them.

  • http://www.myspace.com/anthonymascia/ Anthony Mascia

    A conversion process, as you describe (very clearly, thanks), is one that even a person born into the Catholic Faith should experience. It’s just that being born Catholic then gives the advantage of certain Sacramental “grace” if one’s heart is so disposed… theoretically, anyway. ?

  • Benedict Carter

    To all those (including me) who have been very impressed by this story, let us not forget that we have only his word for it. 

    To use it to beat up the Catholic Church, as some below have done, isn’t very clever.

    Just a couple of thoughts.

  • Benedict Carter

    The Church, per se, cannot be heretical.

    Individual members though most certainly can be; and the post Vatican II era is replete with cases of priests, Bishops and even Cardinals making heretical statements. 

    In fact, one could say that this is a mark of the modern Churchman – to be in full rebellion against the Catholic Faith. 

    Read the book “Iota Unum” and prepare to be educated.

  • joycelen

    Don’t let Benedict get to you. You can read his rage between the lines. He is seems like the older brother in Christ’s teaching on the prodigal son. Hopefully he will be shown by the Lord Jesus what is actually going on inside of his own self. Just pray God blesses him. Unfortunately, brothers like this are one reason the young say they are spiritual not religious. 

  • joycelen

    I think the Pope could help your understanding if you could sit and talk with him. He is a man of deep understanding and true faith.

  • joycelen

    So true!

  • andHarry

    Indeed . While Storm may not be led by the successors of Peter he is nevertheless led by the Holy Spirit, the leader operating with such success in the early church; which was flourishing. 

  • http://www.myspace.com/anthonymascia/ Anthony Mascia

    OK. It’s ordered… no 1 cent copies at Amazon, unfortunately. I have one for you… no cost. “Everything I have written seems like straw by comparison with what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.”(Aquinas as quoted in Sacred Games : A History of Christian Worship (1997) by Bernhard Lang, p. 323). Try this for a meditation before the Eucharist. [Assuming the consecration was valid, of course. There are a few "traditionalists" who insist that the consecration at the New Mass is invalid, eh.]

  • http://www.myspace.com/anthonymascia/ Anthony Mascia

    I appreciate your interest. The great advantage to open discussion and argument is that we can occasionally learn something. The technical/legal workings within the Church spawn occasional irrational outcomes… like the Greek Schism… does anyone really think God cares about the technical subtleties re the Holy Spirit when compared to His Love for us? This may be one of the (few) benefits of Vatican-2: a new awareness of the primary nature of God: Love.

  • Benedict Carter

    Nonsense.

    If he has been baptized according to the Trinitarian formula, he is already a Catholic, though he may not realize it himself. 

  • andHarry

    Nonsense. :-)

    I was processed ‘according to the Trinitarian formula’, but did not become a Christian until I had a religious experience and called upon Christ to save me.

  • A Friend

    These are wonderful words and so true.  I’ve completely lost interest in my Catholic parish where guitar music is played while old women hand out communion, and a sister explains why she votes for Democrats.  I also do not want to drive 30+ miles to attend some trad Catholic setting where I have to dress up and my wife has to wear a hat.  These words remind me that faith is not about those things. 

  • http://www.myspace.com/anthonymascia/ Anthony Mascia

    Sounds like you’re (correctly) describing the normal human condition. Fr. Malachi Martin, in describing the human condition of the churchmen, says in The Final Conclave: “… That is a shadow-game of the real game that is being played. The game of nations’ souls, of salvation for men and women. There is the real game, my Brothers! And there we have been trapped! For our ancient adversary knows the board; and he plots his game one thousand years ahead. And now, our moves are made — and his. We face checkmate. … So we made all the wrong moves on that chessboard. And now there is no saving what we have been building ever since the day Sylvester talked with Constantine, and since Leo 3 kissed the foot of Charlemagne. No saving, I say. No saving! …” [paperback pg 393, 395 in final sub-chapter The Third Session][... published 1978]

    The irony is amazing: with all its faults, the Roman Catholic Church is the greatest living storehouse of knowledge of God and “how to” be in relationship with God. And, where the Church falls short, search the Church of the Internet: Howard Storm, Ian  McCormack, and Marino Restrepo… Restrepo is particularly interesting as he discusses Catholic Theology.Traditional and born-into-the-Church Catholics have [or had... until the recent (subversive) post-Vatican-2 confusion] an advantage via the Sacramental life and clear guidance. This advantage requires a conscious decision to try to “know, love and serve God” to be “activated”… a decision of the heart. While it may seem odd to “Born Again” Christians, the seemingly staid faithful attendance to the Traditional formulation has produced the most extraordinary people in history… A premier example is Joan of Arc… and there are many many others. God honors it. We are invited into the same situation: to be the most extraordinary people in history! The time is right.

  • James H

    If you think he’s lying, come out and say it.

    God gave him the benefit of the doubt, I don’t see why I should do otherwise.

    The snarky comment about ‘vestments’ does sting a bit, but I don’t know what’s behind it. I take comfort in the fact that the priests with vestments are often the ones doing the most for the poor.

  • James H

    Amazing.  I’m loath to disbelieve him, in light of the Unforgivable Sin. It agrees with a some other near-death experiences I’ve read about, most of which have been pretty obscure.

    That bit about “risking their pretty vestments” does sting a bit; we should remember that, good as the art of liturgy is, it’s secondary to the purpose. Far too many of us are too obsessed with how many candles Fr Gruntfuttock has on the altar, or whether Bishop Olé Biscuit-Barrel preaches holding his crozier or not. There will probably come a time when we have to do without all of that. Hopefully by then we’ll have the faith that allows miracles again, and the church will really start to grow.

  • Diane

    I believe him……….it’s powerful

  • Ton de Vent

    Mr Mascia has replied to you with a grace and dignity that I cannot muster. You really are a vile internet troll on this site, aren’t you?

  • Benedict Carter

    No, I don’t think he’s lying. But his word is not the final one in the discernment of spirits. That lies with the Church of course. 

  • A new Catholic

    Amazing. An awesome experience.

  • WSquared

     Who are you to determine what the hoi polloi can and cannot relate to?

    As one of the hoi polloi in the pews, I relate to vestments very well:  they direct my attention to Christ and how He works through the priests He Himself has chosen, as opposed to Father’s shiny, happy personality or crusty grouchiness.

  • baige867

    iloveshopper.com

  • Nicole

     unity will be by the heart. and all christians should not be differentiating one from the other. and no one should be saying “our Jesus, is not their Jesus” things like that. I admire Howard’s HUMILITY in acknowledging and working with his brothers in the Catholic Church. that’s what I call UNITED.

  • Nicole

    Eventually, God will put an end to all the divisions in His Church. The early Christians were one and supposed to be one. At the same time, God wants that those who are under Luther (protestants) return to Peter (the Pope). Since God Himself entrusted the welfare of His lambs and sheep to Peter. (Remember that verse from John 21:15-17 and Matthew 16:18-19) all ministers should respect that authority Jesus entrusted to Peter and recognize that authority — (and Peter’s successor is the Pope); Howard is right in acknowledging the Church’s authority and in working together with the Church to bless other people.