ARLINGTON >> "Life in the spirit is real; we are not separate from spirit," says Tom Veitch, a former Benedictine monk who is also a poet, a novelist, the writer of popular "Star Wars" comics and now the author of "The Visions of Elias," a non-fiction book which describes the spiritual journey of a man named Elias, recounted on his deathbed.
"Elias challenges the Vatican view that visions came to the saints of long ago but we don't have them now," Veitch said. "Everyone has heard of near death experiences. Elias says that he has experiences like that his whole life. And one of his theories is that it's normal to see into the afterlife. We're not separated. He talks about the difference between a dream and a vision — and he has a lot of visions. He's had an almost total psychological and bodily immersion in what he calls the spirit, which is continuous in the afterlife."
Today Veitch, 74, lives in Arlington. But long ago, when he was a Benedictine in the Weston Priory — from 1965 to 1968 — he met and formed a life-long friendship with Elias (his religious name), a mystic and "a visionary living in profound communion with the Holy Spirit and with the reality beyond death."
Yes. I was a Benedictine at Weston Priory in Weston Vermont for two years in the 1960s. Elias was a Trappist at Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville Virginia. We shared a mentor, Hugh McKiernan, who was abbot at Holy Cross for ten years, then left the Trappists and came to Weston for a few years.
Both Veitch and Elias, who was a Trappist at Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Va., eventually left the monastery, but they remained in touch. When Veitch learned that Elias was dying, he flew to his bedside and convinced him to share the story of his life in the spirit, a journey which lasted over fifty years.
"He was a very private introverted person who wasn't going to tell anyone this stuff," Veitch said. "When he was dying, he decided to tell it all. It reads like a novel to me. It's got a story arc."
Over the course of three weeks Elias talked to Veitch, referring often to a series of journals. Veitch then took the recordings of these talks and turned them into the book he has just self-published under a new imprint, Sky River Books.
Year after year, beginning in his early 20s, Elias found that "The veil between this world and the next was thin to non-existent," Veitch said. "God came to him in dream and vision."
Much of what Elias said was congruent with the writings of Carl Jung.
"Jung discovered, and I verified through personal experience, that if you are honest in learning the language of dreams, ordinary dreaming will flow naturally into spiritual dreaming," Elias told Veitch. "Frozen worlds will thaw and life will spring up where once were deserts. And life-giving dreams can flow into visions and visions can flow into the formless essence of love itself. Dreaming and visions are part of a single great continuum of self-knowledge and healing of the mind and body."
Based on spiritual experiences like these, Elias, who supported himself with the help of an inheritance and later jobs in carpentry and auto repair, came to believe that each person, under everything, is whole and complete.
"And between the conscious mind and that primordial wholeness there are numerous planes and surfaces of mental-emotional conflict that separate us from the purity of our natural state," Elias told Veitch. "But having reduced ourselves to the ego's tight circle of awareness, the fact that we are natively limitless is forgotten."
Elias died in 2014; Veitch is his literary executor.
After living in California, Veitch moved back to Vermont in 1982. In the 1980s he began writing "creator-owned" graphic novels for DC Comics and Marvel/Epic Comics.
In the early 1990s Veitch and artist Cam Kennedy were invited by George Lucas to revive the Star Wars comics. Their award-winning graphic novel, "Star Wars: Dark Empire," has gone through many editions and helped pave the way for the Star Wars renaissance.
"At the time people thought the 'Star Wars' thing was over with," Veitch said. "I said I'm going to write a letter to George Lucas and ask him if he wants to do comics again. I got a phone call three days later. When our comics came out it was the start of a whole new era. They were hoping it would reboot and we helped it. Lucas was planning to do the prequels, but our works were testing the market to see if it was viable, and certainly it was. I was able to buy this house thanks to 'Star Wars.'"
Veitch is now writing a book about "Star Wars."
Veitch describes his experience with Elias as profound.
"People need to know that this book is really pushing the envelope," he said. "There are quite amazing experiences in it. The reason it's published is that Elias wanted this stuff to be out there. He wants to put it on the record. Read it and make up your own mind."
"The Visions of Elias" can be bought through Amazon and skyriverbooks.com. It will also be available soon at local bookstores.
Joyce Marcel lives in Dummerston. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.