I once read an article about ghosts in, of all places, a respected theological journal. It was written by a man who works in an old library that is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a previous librarian. Other librarians claim to have seen this ghost in action; moving chairs around, knocking books off shelves, and making loud, scary noises in the night. The article is a serious reflection on the possibility of such a haunting. The writer says he is often asked by children if the library really does have such a ghost. I’ll tell you his answer later.
I can believe that many children ask about the ghost. Thinking back to all the years I taught confirmation classes, that is perhaps the one question I was asked most of all. “Do you believe in ghosts?” they would always ask. This curiosity is fed by a steady stream books, movies, and television programs about ghosts (some of which are really good). And, the question comes from a natural human curiosity about all things strange and supernatural. So how do I answer these curious confirmands? I will tell you later.
How about you? Do you believe in ghosts? You should believe in at least one ghost. Every single Sunday morning in church, everyone used to say in the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe in the Holy Ghost.” Now we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” which is a probably a better translation for today. But for many centuries, the New Testament Greek word ‘pnuema’ was translated sometimes as ‘spirit,’ and oftentimes as ‘ghost;’ in the Bible, in the prayers of the church, and in the Creed.
But that is not really what the kids are asking about. What they are wondering is if there are any other ghosts. And the answer to that question is related to our belief in the Holy Ghost. But I’ll get to that later.
We should begin by asking where we might look for an answer to this question about the existence of ghosts. I suggest three possible sources of information: books on the subject, personal experiences, and, most importantly, the Bible.
I am not an expert on ghost research, so I cannot tell you much about books on the subject. I read a few books on ghosts when I was in junior high school, but not many since. I do know from looking around in bookstores, which I often do, that you can find books that say there are ghosts, and books that say there are no ghosts. I will leave it at that.
The second possible source of information would be personal experience. And I have heard some pretty convincing ghost stories from people I trust and believe. The best one was told by my grandfather. It happened before he even owned a car, so probably sometime before 1920. On a dark, stormy night, (when else?), grandpa was on his way home from town in his horse-drawn buggy. Not far from his farm, he was surprised to see a lady standing by the side of the dirt road. It was storming, so he stopped and asked if she needed a ride. She said nothing, but ‘floated’ up onto the seat next to him. Grandpa was used to seeing people step up into the buggy, so seeing her just glide on up like that made him a little uneasy. After a short distance, still in the middle of nowhere, the lady put her hand up, motioning for grandpa to stop. He did, she floated off of the seat, and then– vanished. My grandfather was a down-to-earth, practical, no nonsense farmer, and this sort of thing was new to him. He did not know what to make of it. So he came to the conclusion that he imagined the whole thing, and decided not to say a word to anyone, ever, lest they think he was crazy.
However, a couple weeks later grandpa was visiting with his neighbor and good friend, Arnie. Arnie said to grandpa he thought he was going crazy. Arnie went on to describe to grandpa that very same experience with the vanishing woman on that very same spot in the road. So word got out and then both men would talk about it. Grandpa had no explanation or interpretation. He just told the story. And I have no idea either what that was all about. Also, not far from that road, there was a well-known haunted house with many strange occurrences in the 1920’s, witnessed by many people, even during the day, and, by newspaper reporters. But that’s another story.
I had my own opportunity to try and meet a ghost back in the early 1970’s when I was a student at Bethany College in Mankato. The boys’ dorm in those days was the third and fourth floors of the Old Main Building. There was also a fifth floor, which in the 1930’s was the girls’ dorm, but for decades had been used only for storage. It was full of old furniture and dust and spider webs, and looked like something out of a Harry Potter movie. The story was that many years ago a girl named Lenora died on that fifth floor, and from then on her restless ghost had been roaming the long corridors.
I lived with some noisy guys on the third floor and we always had friends stopping in. That was fun, but there was no chance of ever getting any studying done. So I asked for, and received, permission to use one of the abandoned rooms on the fifth floor. The room was at the end of a long, dark, hallway; one of the areas that Lenora had reportedly been seen. I wasn’t worried. Even though over the years some students said they saw her, no one was ever harmed; and I did not believe the stories anyway. But I couldn’t help but keep my eyes and ears open when I walked down that hallway.
For that whole year, I was on that haunted floor more than anyone, and I never once saw or heard anything of Lenora. That’s how it is with ghost stories. Some have more credibility than others. There was never any real evidence for Lenora, and I later read an account of how the rumor was started. But I still do wonder what my grandfather saw. (continued…)