Reviews Of Two Memoirs About Ghosts
In my last hub I reviewed two novels about ghosts. These reviews are about nonfiction books dealing with ghosts. In the last hub in this series, I'm going to talk about two ghost stories from my family.
Holy Ghosts: How A (Not So) Good Catholic Boy Became a Believer in Things That Go Bump In The Night by Gary Jansen
I saw this book standing on top of the staff recommendation shelf at the local library, and the title and cover art intrigued me. The sub-title explains the book well: this memoir is written by a man whose spiritual experience has taken place inside the walls of Roman Catholicism, a faith system which he clearly respects and leans on, yet finds at times frustrating. Perhaps it might be more accurate to say that he seems to be a person who finds the life of faith itself frustrating, and he looks to the structure of this ancient Church for stability. Whatever the case, for all Jansen talks a fair amount about going through difficult times in his faith, he has spent a good deal of his life focused on Christian, and specifically Catholic, topics. He earns his living as an editor of religious books. He wrote two books before this one, one about the rosary, and another titled Exercising Your Soul: 15 Minutes A Day To A Spiritual Life. In the next few years he plans to enter a training program to become a lay leader in the Catholic Church.
This memoir takes place when Jansen has bought the house he grew up in from his mother, and moved his own young family there. He and his wife have a toddler, both work, and they are expecting another baby. Then his wife’s miscarriage adds tension to an already stressful life. Over the next few months, so many strange things happen that Jansen becomes convinced that the house is haunted. His main sticking point in believing the problem is a ghost seems to be his Catholic faith. He looks to the Church for guidance, but haunted houses are not exactly kosher (pardon the term) for Catholics.
A friend helps out at this point by connecting Jansen with Mary Ann Winkowski, a devout Catholic who can see ghosts, and helps people clear their homes of these troublesome guests. Winkowski’s commitment to Catholicism wins Jansen’s confidence, as does her down to earth demeanor. With her help, he decides the house is indeed haunted, and comes to his own conclusions about why the ghost attached itself to him. He takes action to solve the problem (with a little research he believes he has discovered the ghost’s identity, and the reason it is harassing him), and the strange happenings in his house stop.
I found this book very interesting as the story of someone grappling with a serious problem, which his belief system at first seems to deny. Though Jansen defines himself early in the book as a less than perfect Catholic, one who has gone through several rough patches in his religious life, he clearly very much wants to solve this problem in a Catholic context. Winkowski, as it turns out, is the perfect person to help him.
When Ghosts Speak: Understanding The World of Earthbound Spirits by Mary Ann Winkowski
Reading Holy Ghosts got me interested in Mary Ann Winkowski. I was curious about a devout Catholic immersed in a world more commonly frequented by New Agers. I think it is unusual for a person who regularly has paranormal experiences to remain in something as traditional and conservative as the Roman Catholic Church, but Winkowski seems perfectly comfortable with both aspects of her life.
When Ghosts Speak is part memoir, part guide to the world of ghosts as Winkowski has experienced them. She has been seeing ghosts since she was very small, three years old or so, and her grandmother recognized this ability because it runs in the family. Mentoring from her grandmother resulted in Winkowski feeling comfortable with her ability, and learning to interact with ghosts from the time she was small.
Down-to-earth is the best way to describe Winkowski. She is the first to say she sees only ghosts, not angels, demons or any other spirits, and she can only see them from the time they leave their bodies until they “go into the light.” She doesn’t claim to know what happens after ghosts walk into the light, and can’t communicate with them once they are gone. Neither does she offer an explanation of what the “light” is. She describes ghosts as really quite ordinary: they don’t know more than they did when alive, and have the same personalities. She says most ghosts remain on earth for a few days after death, then move on. These are rarely a problem for the living: it’s the ghosts who stay after that who cause hauntings. They can have any one of a gamut of motives, from a desire to protect their loved ones to a thirst for revenge. Although some have positive motives, Winkowski says the presence of a ghost is rarely helpful to a living person, and will much more likely disturb the person’s life or even cause illness. When she talks to ghosts, she always encourages them to move on. Although she repeatedly says she doesn’t know what happens after they walk into the light, she obviously feels strongly ghosts ought to take this step. It is better for everyone involved, both the living and the dead.
Both of these books are quick reads, and very interesting stories. The understanding of the nature of ghosts certainly seems plausible, even downright practical. Neither book attempts to answer any of what one might call “the big questions of life.” Ghosts here are pretty much like us, they don’t have any superpowers, and they sometimes get confused, lost, or fall prey to fearfulness. Both books treat being a ghost as the last (and usually brief) phase of a person’s earthly life, rather than the beginning of the life beyond this world.
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