Mystical Encounters in Aotearoa New Zealand


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The Luminous Nun

A true life story

by Kerryn Levy

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Or buy direct from Attar Books
While recovering in hospital from a collapsed lung, Kerryn Levy was unexpectedly visited by a nun who glowed from within. When the nun mysteriously disappeared, Kerryn needed to know who she was. Discovering the nun resembled an Italian saint from the eighteenth century, she found herself embarking on a life-changing odyssey of spiritual discovery.

Inspired by the nun’s appearance, Kerryn decided to convert to Catholicism, but the uncanny events continued. A biography on the nun inexplicably disappeared, then reappeared; she had visions, such as a Māori war canoe from another era gliding across the harbour; inquisitive birds came calling; and curious synchronicities repeatedly occurred.

Attempting to gain control of what was happening , Kerryn consulted widely. She developed her psychic sensitivity through Reiki training and by working with teachers who possessed a range of spiritually-related skills. She was also drawn to symbols as she sought to make sense of her numerous apparently inexplicable encounters.

Kerryn Levy’s spiritual memoir is engagingly honest, sparklingly funny in places and sobering in others, as she describes her struggles to remain open to new experiences in the midst of sometimes outrageously unbelievable situations. This is an entertaining and highly readable account that reflects the travails of being a spiritual seeker in New Zealand today.
112 pages, 6 x 9 inches / 129 x 152 mm
ISBN Paperback: 9780995120402. Hard cover: 9780995120396. Ebook: 9780995120419.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kerryn
is passionate about writing, painting and all things spiritual. Her first completed manuscript was selected as a finalist in the Unpublished Manuscript category of New Zealand’s Ashton Wylie Awards for work in the genre of mind, body and spirit. Kerryn has a Postgraduate Diploma in Business and a Master of Management from the University of Auckland. Her Masters thesis explored symbols, a topic that continues to fascinate her. The Luminous Nun is her first book.

A conversion to Catholicism was just the beginning of an extensive spiritual search by author, Kerryn Levy. In her elegantly crafted memoir, she employs Tarot cards as symbols which manifest in her spiritual and mystical practices. The Luminous Nun is a compelling and inspirational read which will open minds and doors.

— Joan Rosier-Jones, novelist, playwright, non-fiction writer, teacher
READ OPENING CHAPTER
THE CALLING

HELL, I THOUGHT TO MYSELF. Who was it? What was it? I struggled to accept what I was seeing: a nun who radiated pure, white light from deep within. I watched as she crossed the room to the foot of my bed. She was opaque, breathtakingly beautiful, had soft, enchantingly dreamy eyes—and was illuminated by a mysterious inner light!

Was she from another place and time? She looked like she could be. She definitely wasn’t one of the modern nuns who visited the Intensive Care Unit. Dressed head-to-toe in a full-length white habit, and wearing a winged headpiece, she might easily have flown in from the set of the 1960’s television series, The Flying Nun.

Without uttering a word, she smiled sweetly as she inspected my medical chart. Was she a nun and a nurse? Before I could gather my thoughts to ask, she walked back past me, left the room, and gently shut the door.

I immediately leapt out of bed and scrambled to the door, dragging behind me the large bottle attached to the hose the nurse had carefully inserted into my chest. At that moment there was nothing more important than finding out if other people had seen her too. Maybe she was going to a fancy dress party after work? Maybe that was why she was in full costume, ready to go? Or perhaps she was from an old and eccentric order that insisted its members wear antiquated clothing? There had to be a plausible explanation. Yet, even if one of these unlikely scenarios was correct, it wouldn’t explain her inner illumination.

I swung the door open and quickly scanned the sparsely populated corridor. There was no sign of her. Two nurses sat at their desks, but didn’t look like they’d just seen a nun from another century. They were bewildered to see me lurking in the corridor looking like I’d just seen a ghost. I decided to retreat to my room before they asked me what I was doing.

Shortly afterwards, a nurse visited to check my vital signs. I longed to ask her about the old-fashioned nun, but I didn’t because I was afraid she would ask, “What nun?” At which point I would have to reply, “The young nun from another century with light shining out of her!” I knew how absurd that sounded.

* * * *

It was four days since the visit to my doctor that landed me in a North Sydney Catholic Hospital. I had initially persevered with severe pain, but over the weekend it became progressively worse. Early on Monday morning I went to the doctor’s surgery. Because I couldn’t breathe properly, I was seen straight away. By then the pain was so bad that with each inhalation I felt a sharp pain in the middle of my back. After a brief examination, the doctor sent me across the road to the radiology department. Chest X-rays revealed a lung had collapsed. Despite my pain, I was relieved. All I could think was: I don’t have lung cancer! The doctor told me I had to go straight to hospital. I didn’t even have time to go home to pick up my toothbrush. Panicked, I said I wanted to go to the Catholic hospital up the road.

That particular hospital had made a big impression on me. I had recently left my job to study figurative oil painting at a local art school. To help pay the bills I worked as an office temp. My last assignment was as personal assistant to the executive director of the Catholic hospital. While there I felt something I had never experienced before.

One day, during my lunch hour, I went outside to get fresh air. It felt good to get out of the office. I found myself standing before a statue of Jesus Christ that was located in the garden at the entrance to the hospital. I don’t know why, but I felt an urge to talk to this imposing figure. In my mind, I said: Who are you really? You sure left your mark on the world. Some people say you weren’t an ordinary man. They say you’re the son of God, you’re divine. You’re a stranger to me, yet I find you so fascinating. At the time Jesus didn’t respond. But days later, while working with the nuns, I saw something I had never seen before. I saw light behind their eyes.

* * * *

Within half an hour of leaving the doctor’s surgery I was being admitted. The nurses were amazed I hadn’t needed a stretcher and I could walk in on my own. One of the questions the admissions form asked was regarding my religion. The fact was, I didn’t have one. Until just two months before I had believed nuns and priests were wasting their lives. Then I worked with them and saw their mysterious light.

The thoracic surgeon was a woman. The hose she inserted into my chest cavity was linked to a one-way valve system, which allowed fluid to drain from my collapsed lung. This gave me considerable relief. As she organised it, the surgeon said something that made me feel much better. She said she had made an incision in my chest but, in case I wanted to wear low cut tops, it wouldn’t leave a scar. She expected I would survive. Thank God for female surgeons! However, a few days later my lung had still not inflated and the medical staff were now speaking of surgery. Oh hell, I thought. I’m an asthmatic with one functioning lung. I still might die!

After being brought to the Intensive Care Unit, I hadn’t managed to get much sleep. This was because in the next bed was an extremely ill priest, Father Gregory. He had nightmares and shouted obscenities in his sleep. During the day several of his priest buddies visited. They lounged around in their long, dark robes, drinking coffee and talking quietly. Two elderly, quirky nuns also visited twice daily. They wore standard modern nun’s uniforms: cerulean skirts, matching blazers, white blouses, flesh-coloured tights, and sensible low-heeled black lace-up shoes, which made them look more like nurses than nuns. Only the tiny gold crosses pinned to the lapels of their jackets suggested otherwise.

Did they pray for both of us? I wondered, because I was no longer afraid. I felt peaceful and comforted, like I’d be able to cope with whatever happened next. Truth be told, I probably wasn’t ever close to death. But I was near enough to receive a huge wake-up call. It was there, while lying in the hospital bed, that in my mind I called out to God to spare my life. I even vowed that if He did, I would devote the rest of my life to serving Him, although I was never sure whether He would hold me to it or not.

A few days later my lung started to inflate, just like a balloon. To my relief, I was transferred to my own room. It was bright and airy, and smelled of fresh paint. The hospital had been rebuilt on the site of the old hospital. It was a contemporary, state-of-the-art facility, not the type of building you would associate with hauntings. To think anyone could be visited there by a nun from a previous century was unfathomable. She was completely out of context. But perhaps the most remarkable thing was her timing. I’d just picked up the Bible for the first time in my life. I’d found it in the top drawer of my bedside cabinet and had started reading it because there was nothing else to do. That was the moment she entered the room.

With my lung now inflated, the drainage hose was removed from my chest. Father Gregory was recovering, too. I discovered he‘d been transferred to a private room close to mine. Wondering if he had seen the luminous nun, I decided to ask him. Surely, a priest, a man of God, was far more worthy than I was to see someone so magical?

I knocked gently on Father Gregory’s door. Nobody answered. I slipped into his room without stopping to consider whether he wanted a visitor. I found the old priest sitting in an armchair next to his bed. His eyes were closed and he didn’t acknowledge me.

When he had finished meditating he opened his eyes. He was startled to see me. He probably wasn’t at all pleased I had barged in, but he didn’t show it. In fact, he was very pleasant—until I told him about my encounter with the nun. At that point he looked horrified and said that if my story was true, then it was most definitely the work of the Devil!
Contrary to what Father Gregory said, my encounter with the nun had such a profoundly uplifting effect on me that I didn’t want to leave the hospital. Nor did I want to return to my former life. I find it difficult to say why, but I think it was because during my time in the hospital I was immersed in a feeling of total serenity.

After I settled back at home, I made an appointment to see the local Catholic parish priest, Monsignor Paul. I was relieved that he didn’t laugh or look shocked when he heard my story about the nun. Nor did he make me feel like a fool. He just listened intently, then told me he believed that God looks into our heart and doesn’t judge us according to some rule book. He said he believed that heaven and hell begin while we’re still alive.

I told the Monsignor my concerns about the Catholic Church, of which there were many, such as its condemnation of gays and divorcees, saying wives should obey their husbands, and, worst of all, proclaiming animals don’t have souls. I definitely found the right priest for me that day, because Monsignor Paul said the Church didn’t want its parishioners to blindly follow like sheep. It was okay to have views of my own. At that time I had no knowledge of religion and spirituality. But I did have a lot of questions.

I was only thirty-one years old, and apart from having asthma I’d never been ill in my life. Nonetheless, I had recently been faced with my own mortality. Why did I experience such a serious and strange health affliction when I was young and fit? Why did recent events lead to me to a religious hospital? Then the negative self-talk started. Your collapsed lung was due to all those deadly cigarettes you smoked socially in your twenties, during that never-ending stream of parties and work functions. In the late 1980s, when I worked in the advertising industry, and later for a French fashion house, the champagne had flowed like fizzy water.

* * * *

Much to the amusement and surprise of those who knew me, I converted to Catholicism. None of my friends said what they must have been thinking: Why would anyone want to convert to such an unfashionable religion?

It was because I wanted to know more about God. And as an artist and total romantic, I found Mass a deeply moving experience. I loved the beautiful rituals: the incense, candles, music, saints, and Mary and Jesus. However, even after I started attending Mass regularly I still felt like I didn’t fit in. I sensed that if I shared with my fellow churchgoers my story of seeing a spooky nun from another century, I would come across as a little odd. To say the least.

As the months passed I started thirsting for information about the supernatural side of religion. Christianity is founded on supernatural events: Jesus was born of a virgin, brought a dead man back to life, changed water into wine, walked on water, and more. These days, while it is acceptable to experience inexplicable miracles and credit them to Jesus, it is certainly not okay to reveal you have seen anything mystical with your own eyes, or heard voices in your head!

I began reading about the visions experienced by people in the Bible. Frustratingly, I found nothing to explain my own. The Bible describes visions that many prophets and saints had: Joseph, son of Jacob; Joseph, the husband of Mary; Solomon; Isaiah; Ezekiel; Daniel; Peter and Paul. These were long ago. Yet it seems God still uses visions and dreams to communicate with us, including those who have little or no connection to the Gospels’ message.

I wondered if seeing the luminous nun just after I had picked up the Bible really was my cue to becoming a Catholic. If so, then I was truly blessed. Yet why did it happen to someone so undeserving? During this period I deeply connected with the words of Amazing Grace, written about a conversion: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

But what if I was wrong? What if seeing the otherworldly nun as I picked up a Bible was merely a coincidence? Just because I couldn’t explain who or what she was didn’t mean she was divine. Perhaps I was deluded. Maybe I was being a complete fool.

* * * *

The Fool has a significant history. I had studied archetypes, so I knew there were two sides to the Fool. An anonymous Catholic priest who wrote on the Tarot from a mystical Christian perspective stated that the archetype of the Fool “can be understood in two different ways: as a model and as a warning. For on the one hand, it teaches the freedom of transcendental consciousness elevated above the things of this world, and on the other, it clearly presents a very impressive warning of the peril that this elevation comprises—lack of concern, inadequacy, irresponsibility and ridicule—in a word, madness.”

Living as authentically as the Fool, we’re able to take huge risks and feel the exhilaration of not knowing the outcome. Although this may be the way to find lasting peace and happiness, out of fear we often struggle to travel into unknown territories. While living an inspired life is our supreme state, to get there we need to take a leap of faith.

The Fool in the Tarot deck represents God, infinity, and unlimited potential. It is represented by the numbers 0 and 22, the first and last cards of the Tarot’s Major Arcana. While being a fool isn’t generally regarded as a good thing in daily life, because it implies one is naive, unintelligent, even ridiculous, even so we often envy the Fool for following her heart. The Fool frequently leads an inspired life.

My interest in symbols had begun years earlier, during my university Master’s programme, when I carried out an experiment based on visual versus verbal stimuli. The initial phase involved designing a questionnaire that contained twenty-five universal symbols, then asking respondents for their top-of-mind response about what each represented to them. I found the study fascinating because it showed that symbols are extremely subjective.

For example, an image of a snake can represent health to some and the Devil to others. An image of a bluebird represents the bluebird of happiness to some, beauty to others, and potato chips to those who associate it with a brand name. This makes the bluebird a multi-dimensional symbol. In contrast, the heart is a one-dimensional symbol, universally accepted to represent love.

A newly converted Catholic, I never thought I would end up studying the Tarot. However, during this period I realised over half the symbols I had selected for my Masters’ study were inadvertently taken from the twenty-two Major Arcana cards in the Tarot deck. I felt compelled to explore the symbolism of the Tarot to find out how this had happened. That’s when I discovered that once the archetypes of the Major Arcana are lined up numerically they tell a story, a story that starts and ends with the Fool. In fact, it’s a template that can be used as a framework for everyone’s life. I was hooked!

Joseph Campbell’s mythological study, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, explores the same idea. According to Campbell, all myths start with heroes who, at the end of their quest, return to their home villages to tell the story of what they experienced—the loop must be closed so the cycle can continue.

In my experience, a complex idea can be communicated via a single still image. Symbols take the form of an object, a situation, a place, or even a person—like the nun who visited me in the hospital. I believe she was my guardian angel, and also a symbol of hope and new beginnings. She was profound evidence more is going on around us than we discern with our physical eyes. What I didn’t know was that this experience was just the beginning of what may be best described as a series of mystical events.