Between the 1840s and World War I, people struggled across the world. Many died in wars and, due to a lack of sanitation and advanced medical treatment, many were dying of sickness. More specifically, children were dying of diseases that are now typically present only in developing countries.
“There were no antibiotics, there were no emergency rooms or advanced surgeries,” said the Rev. Elaine D. Thomas, spiritual counselor, medium and teacher based in the Lily Dale Assembly in Western New York. “Children shouldn’t be dying before their parents do, and yet they did and they still do. And the gift of mediums and the message that spiritualism has brought, and continues to bring to the world, is the evidence that there is survival after the change that we call death.”
As the first Spiritualist ever to speak on the interfaith platform, Thomas continued Week Five’s interfaith theme, “Chautauqua: Rising from the Ashes of the Burned-Over District,” Wednesday in the Hall of Philosophy with her lecture, “Spiritualism’s Role at Its Inception and Its Relevance Today.”
Thomas began with a short story about her grandfather, her mother’s father, who died when she was 5 years old. After his death, Thomas’ mother would talk at the breakfast table about the things she and Thomas’ grandfather would talk about in her dreams.
“I wanted to say, ‘Mom, when are you going to get it? Grandpa’s really there. It’s not just a dream,’ ” Thomas said. “He started appearing to me mostly when I was out with my friends … and he was never judgmental. He always came with love and, whether I heard his voice or not, he’d give me one of those looks where I knew I had a choice to either follow his guidance or not.”
Thomas said she never questioned whether seeing her grandfather was a good or bad thing. Since she was raised Jewish, and the devil played a minor role in Judaism, she never thought it could have been a negative experience.
“I never gave a thought to the fact that it might be something negative because he came in love, and love is the binding force throughout the universe,” Thomas said. “It’s the only thing we can take with us when we leave this planet. We can’t take our investments; we can’t take our accomplishments. We can take the love and leave the residue of love that we’ve shared and other people have shared with us.”
The inception of modern Spiritualism is threaded within the fabric of many changes during the 19th century, and those changes continue to affect the world, Thomas said.
By the end of the Civil War, 750,000 people had died. As a result, the mediums of the 19th century served as a comfort to those mourning and provided them with evidence that those who passed away were still alive and well in another dimension with God, Thomas said.
“There is comfort, there is consolation,” Thomas said. “All religions talk about it. Spiritualism has the unique approach that (mediums) demonstrate and are able to give this evidence and this comfort and consolation.”
Thomas had studied with the late Edith Sandy Wendling. Her mother died before she was 6 years old, and her father spent a lot of time traveling. In England, she was raised by a nanny, a housekeeper and a sister. When Wendling was about 8, Thomas said, her sister told her that she was going to take her to the neighbors’ house to give the nanny and housekeeper a break.
“Their next door neighbors were Sir Arthur and Lady Conan Doyle,” Thomas said. “She was his second wife, and she was a trans-medium.”
When Wendling’s sister took her to the neighbors’ house, she sat Wendling on the couch and told her to behave herself. The sister wanted Wendling to take naps, but Wendling was curious as to what the married couple was doing in the room near where she was sitting. After six months, the couple allowed her to join them in the next room, where they held their meditation group. After many years, they all remained in touch, even when Wendling moved to North America.
“They (visited) her in Lily Dale,” Thomas said. “As they were leaving, Sir Arthur took (Wendling) by the shoulders and said to her, ‘Promise me something, Edith. Promise me you’ll always be a student of life, and a student of your work and your mission.’ ”
Thomas said that Wendling was a vital force in her own life, and it was thanks to the couple who welcomed a child into their meditation group that Thomas had the opportunity to meet her.
“The Bible calls us children of light, and whether we believe in a literal interpretation or we believe that the Old and New Testament were written by inspired people,” Thomas said, “it’s been my experience and it’s my belief that we are children of light and our culture.”
Through her work as a reading specialist for children, Thomas said she found that all of the children she worked with had intuitive mediumistic or psychic experiences. Working with adult students, Thomas said that no one loses that experience, that connection with the divine. It is always within us; it simply recedes with lack of use.
“Somebody once said, ‘Wherever we look, we see what we’re looking for,’ ” Thomas said. “In other words, the world that we give our attention to is what becomes our reality.”
Thomas said that by training in ancient techniques and mixing them with accelerated learning tools, one can “reclaim what they had as children.” Children pay attention instinctively to what modern adults ignore. By returning to this observant behavior, it can be used practically in life, Thomas said.
This mental training is also how one connects to someone who has died.
“What our intuition and communication with those who have gone on, who don’t have a physical body, have to offer us is a broader view and an insight and the love which they had for us when they were here, which can still reach across what some people call the veil to communicate with us, to be of service in the same way that people are of service here today,” Thomas said.
Thomas said it is taught in Spiritualism that everyone is responsible for their own unhappiness and happiness, and the divine is always available to people. And, by taking the time to focus on how one lives and how one works on their spiritual growth, one will be able to find divinity within themselves, allowing them to connect to the divine.
So, Thomas asked, why is this important in our lives?
“It gives people hope that we will meet those that we know and love here on this Earth when we pass into another dimension and leave this life,” Thomas said. “Knowing that they can reach across what the dimensions are and touch us makes a difference in our lives today.”
Thomas said the concept of spirits is a universal idea. The Bible talks about gifts of the spirit, Thomas said. Thomas believes the world will one day outgrow a religion based on the ideas of Spiritualism.
“Its message for over 150 years has been to bring to the Earth, to bring to people, that not only does life continue, but it continues in a way where we can communicate with one another, where comfort and validation are there for everyone, not just a few,” Thomas said.
Thomas said that some people do misuse the powers of Spiritualism, but that is a small minority. In general, the wisdom of the creator is available to each one of us, Thomas said. And, this opportunity should encourage people to improve their lives on a personal level and reach out to improve the lives of those they touch and, ultimately, try to make the world a better place for everyone.
“It’s not about powers, it’s about service,” Thomas said. “And it’s about healing. … That is the gift of mediumship, the gift of healing, the gift that all the knowledge, that all spiritual religions teach that life is eternal and love can reach across the veil that we seemingly call death. And it’s as relevant today as it was a hundred years ago or a thousand years ago.”