A Transcendent Light

A Transcendent Light September 9, 2022


The First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in a photograph that was taken in 2018: President Russell M. Nelson, center; first counselor, President Dallin H. Oaks, left; second counselor, President Henry B. Eyring, right. All three are sustained by faithful members of the Church as prophets, seers, and revelators.


I don’t know how much longer this can or will go on, but he is, quite simply, astounding:

“President Russell M. Nelson Celebrates 98th Birthday: Prophet spends the day participating in meetings at Church headquarters in Utah”


Jorge Cocco's First Vision
A depiction of the First Vision by the Argentinian Latter-day Saint artist Jorge Cocco Santángelo.
I have, incidentally, made an effort to discover the copyright status of this image, but have been unable to be certain of it. I’m assuming that my employment of it here constitutes an example of “fair use.” Authoritative communications to the contrary would be welcomed. I would like Jorge Cocco’s work to be better known in the Latter-day Saint community.


I’ve just completed reading William J. Peters (with Michael Kinsella), At Heaven’s Door: What Shared Journeys to the Afterlife Teach About Dying Well and Living Better (New York City: Simon and Schuster, 2022).  I picked it up last Saturday at the annual meeting of the International Association for Near-Death Studies.  Here are a few of the passages that I marked during my reading:


shared death experiences.  These are experiences that occur when an individual feel that they [sic] have somehow shared in a dying person’s transition from this life to whatever lies beyond.  (233, italics omitted)

Then I found myself hurtling toward a brilliant, luminous gold light. . . .  I pleaded with the light, which I identified as God . . .this warm, loving, all-knowing, living light (11)

In that moment, the building seemed to open from above, and he watched as a silhouette of Randy’s body rose through a column of light.  The nonphysical Randy looked back at them, younger, healthier, and more vibrant than the newly deceased body below, and thanked each of them.  Then he ascended into the light and was gone.  As he disappeared, the cascading cylinder of light dissipated.  (15)

Transcendent Light: Bright, illuminating light that appears to be significantly different from either sunlight or the artificial light of a light bulb.  It takes many forms — experiencers frequently describe it as luminous — and it doesn’t have a single, identifiable point of origin.  (45)

And I saw her go toward this bright light.  (55)

That’s when an amazing thing happened.  I woke up and the room was just filled with light, extreme light.  I looked over at my husband.  I was sure that he must’ve woken up because of this light.  I thought maybe there were road workers outside putting lamps on our windows, but then it dawned on me that this was a light that I’d never seen before, not even at a concert with the lights all shining on you.  It was very strong.  It was like it was there to tell me, “You have to wake up and take notice.  This is serious stuff.  Just wake up.” . . . She slowly went upward.  Behind her, I could see this being of light that was shining in the room, that was making the room shine. . . .  [There was] an overwhelming feeling of love.  I felt it was just a being of complete love, complete knowledge, complete compassion.  It was all those things.  This love that I felt in this room with these two, it was immense.  It was filling up every pore in my skin.  I acknowledged that it must be a divine being of some kind.  For me, it was God.  (59-60)

There was this blinding light that filled the room for me.  It was so bright, I couldn’t open my eyes.  And I felt an incredible sense of light and peace and love.  (70)

Scott describes the light as an “all-encompassing, hugely bright light.  Everything around you just exudes the light of the universe.”  (81)

And so we’re walking side by side, and I took him to the light.  And as we got close to the light, there was like a doorway with the luminosity coming out, it was unbelievable.  (91)

And in the nothingness was this glowing archway of light.  It didn’t hurt to look at.  It wasn’t painful.  It had depth and it had character to it.  It wasn’t like just one constant sort of brightness.  It felt like there were different qualities to the light, parts of it were whiter, and parts of it were yellower, and it was definitely not static at all.  It was very dynamic the way this light was moving. . . .  I think . . . the defining characteristic that really stands out to me is the feeling of awareness.  That that light was conscious.”  (92-93)

She recalls, “We were in that white light, incredibly bright light, stronger than any light that you’d look at from the sun, but you could see it.  It didn’t hurt your eyes.”  (97)

And I remember seeing the tunnel, and out of the corner of my eye, I could almost see this incredibly intense white light.  And I knew that white light was really good.  I knew everything was okay, because of this intense white light.  (179)

the appearance of a brilliant and transcendent light (237)  [25% of those reporting shared death experiences claim to have seen “transcendent light” (238)]


In reading such passages, I couldn’t help but think of some of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s descriptions of his own experiences, which seem to me to be strikingly consistent with those related above:


1832 account of the First Vision:

a pillar of light above the brightness of the sun at noonday came down from above and rested upon me. I was filled with the spirit of God, and the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord. . . .  My soul was filled with love, and for many days I could rejoice with great joy. The Lord was with me, but I could find none that would believe the heavenly vision. Nevertheless, I pondered these things in my heart.


1835 account of the First Vision:

A pillar of fire appeared above my head. It presently rested down upon me and filled me with joy unspeakable. A personage appeared in the midst of this pillar of flame, which was spread all around and yet nothing consumed.


1838 account of the First Vision (Joseph Smith – History 1:16-17):

I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. . . .  When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air.

1838 account of the appearance of the angel Moroni (Joseph Smith – History 1:30-32, 43):

I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor.  He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen; nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant. . . .  Not only was his robe exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person. When I first looked upon him, I was afraid; but the fear soon left me. . . .  After this communication, I saw the light in the room begin to gather immediately around the person of him who had been speaking to me, and it continued to do so until the room was again left dark, except just around him; when, instantly I saw, as it were, a conduit open right up into heaven, and he ascended till he entirely disappeared, and the room was left as it had been before this heavenly light had made its appearance.


Account of the First Vision in the 1842 Wentworth Letter:

I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision and saw two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in features and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noonday.



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