In 1999, orthopedic surgeon Mary Neal was kayaking on a river in southern Chile when she got trapped under a waterfall and apparently drowned. In the thirty minutes she was "dead," she says, she experienced some incredible things, which she finally described in her book Heaven and Back: A Doctor's Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again (Waterbrook).
The book has been on the New York Times best-seller list for over two years now. It is accompanied by two other near-heaven experience books: Todd Burbo's Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, which has been there since 2004, and Eben Alexander's Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife (Simon & Schuster), which was published in October.
In the cover story in the current issue of Christianity Today(available to subscribers immediately; or click here to subscribe to get access), I try to understand why these experiences fascinate us so, and how we might understand them theologically. I begin that article by summarizing Mary Neal's experience. But I also wanted to hear her tell her own story, and ask her a few questions about it.
Let's get right to the point: What happened to you?
As background, my husband and I are avid outdoors people and very athletic. We've been kayaking for many, many, many years. We have kayaked on rivers throughout the United States, and we've kayaked internationally. So we decided to go to Chile to kayak with friends who are professionals—they run a raft and kayak company in the United States, and during the winter, they run trips in Chile for Americans. We decided to kayak a section of a river that's ...