A Venture in Immortality, by David Kennedy, is a 1973 memoir about a series of after-death communications from the author's wife. The book is out of print and available only from used booksellers. I'd never heard of it until it came up on Michael Sudduth's Facebook timeline; Dr. Sudduth seems to have a good opinion of the book, so I decided to track it down. I'm now about 60 pages into it, and I agree that it's well worth reading.
David Kennedy was an engineer who, in middle age, became a minister. He and his wife Ann were intelligent, well-educated people whose idea of an enjoyable evening was to read passages from Plato to each other. They regarded each other as soulmates, and their happiness persisted despite Ann's chronic health problems, stemming from an incurable heart condition. After Ann passed away, David was understandably grief stricken, but before long he began to receive some remarkably evidential messages via mediums.
What makes the book so worthwhile, beyond the author's obvious intelligence and sincerity, is that both he and his wife had a longtime interest in psychic phenomena and life after death. They were thoroughly familiar with the investigations of the Society for Psychical Research and had plowed through back issues of the SPR's journal from 1906 forward. As a result, Kennedy is in a good position to evaluate the evidence that comes through, distinguishing between solid hits and more neutral statements that might apply to any number of people. He is also open to the hypothesis that mediums rely on telepathy and clairvoyance rather than communication with the dead, and he is always on the lookout for communications that would strain the ESP hypothesis to the breaking point.
Here are two interconnected episodes found early in the book that especially impressed me.
Sunday, 15 March was my Communion Sunday and in the Church of Scotland Communion or the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper is only celebrated twice or three times a year in most churches. It can mean two long and exhausting services, each lasting for 1 1⁄2 hours with interviews between each service and a hasty snack in the church. One may arrive at the church at 10 a.m. and return home at 4 p.m. literally exhausted and depleted of nervous energy.
Normally, when my wife was alive, I would stretch out on the sofa and sleep deeply in total exhaustion for about an hour and a half. Then at about 5:30 p.m. Ann would come through from the bedroom and awaken me in preparation for going out at 6 p.m. for my evening service.
On this particular Sunday, March 15, I came home as usual at 4 p.m. exhausted. Rather foolishly I lay down on the sofa and in minutes I was deeply asleep. So deeply asleep that I am certain I would have slept for hours blissfully removed from the prospect of an evening congregation assembled and no minister arriving to conduct the service. I was deeply asleep. Gradually I became aware of the intrusion of a bell continuing to ring. The ringing continued and I slowly awakened to the fact that the telephone was ringing.
I staggered from the sofa, still half-sleep, picked up the telephone and heard a woman's voice say, "Is that the Reverend David Kennedy? My name is Mrs. Lexie Findlater. I am telephoning from Grangemouth (a town 40 miles away). Your wife is impressing me so strongly that I have to telephone you now. I have tried to write a letter and put off this feeling but I am being told that I must telephone you now, now, she is so insistent, yet I have no idea why. Your wife is simply saying, 'Get out now and use the old notes'. I don't know what it means but I had to do this."
Now Mrs. Findlater, it will be remembered, was the medium whom I had met in the two private interviews described earlier, the first one two weeks after my wife's death. She only knew my name and not my address. She had to find my address and telephone number from directory enquiry. It took amazing confidence and courage to telephone a person who was almost a total stranger and then say that she did not know why she was telephoning except that my wife was impressing her that she had to do this.
I thanked Mrs. Findlater for telephoning and explained to her that if she had not telephoned me at this moment I would have slept right through the time of my evening service – it was 6 p.m. when she telephoned. I just had time to grab the notes of an old sermon, rush into my car and arrive at the church, get into my robes and 'make it' for the 6:30 p.m. evening service.
Now here is a case where my wife claimed that she saw me sleeping deeply, likely to miss my evening service. It was her habit to awaken me. There was only one way to get me to my church in time. She could not herself impress me, so she impressed strongly a more sensitive person, this woman 40 miles away, and got the thought across that she must telephone me. In other words, Ann managed to do for me what she had always done, awaken me on this particular Sunday. I had always relied on her to do this. If there is a better example of loving concern and intervention from our dear ones on the other side, it would be difficult to find.
Yet this is not the end. Three days later Albert Best [another medium, who, unlike Mrs. Findlater, was a personal friend of the author – MP] telephoned me and after an amazing message from my wife, concluded by saying "And Ann says, 'For heaven's sake get an alarm clock and don't sleep in again at the end of the week'."
Now comes the amazing evidence of that telephone call from Albert Best. Before the telephone rang I was in the middle of the kind of job a man has to learn to do for himself when he is living alone. I decided that my yellow pullover was in need of washing. I knew the general rules about washing woollens carefully and gently in warm water and soap flakes. I'm afraid I was overindulgent with the soap flakes. Anyhow, in a short time I had the basin overflowing with soap suds in a rich lather while I squeezed away at my yellow pullover.
Just then the telephone rang. Albert Best on the other end. "Are you shampooing, I mean not your hair, something woollen? I see lather, suds overflowing and something woollen in the basin. Your wife is saying that she was watching you doing this." I told Albert that I was actually washing a pullover in soap suds when he interrupted me. He replied, "Well, your wife is saying, 'Put in the black pullover while you're at it, the one with the egg stains on it, it needs washing badly'." Then followed the remark about getting an alarm clock which I have already referred to. Needless to say there was a black pullover, with egg stains, which I had forgotten about and which badly needed washing.
What does one make of this? Is it a fantastic form of telepathy in which an ordinary ex-postman has powers which would make him a fortune on stage or television? In which he knows not only exactly what I am doing, but the contents of my linen cupboard? Or is it the more reasonable explanation that my wife, who was always fussy about my dress and appearance and also insisted on doing these washing jobs right to the end, is still close and still aware and still concerned and because of the unique situation of my being in touch with a gifted medium, is able to show that same concern from beyond the barrier of death? [Pages 44-46, 1987 trade paperback edition]