Timing is everything and a bit of serendipity never hurts. Just ask Rev. Peter Panagore of East Boothbay. Panagore’s international bestseller, “Heaven Is Beautiful: How Dying Taught Me Death Is Just the Beginning” is development for a feature film.
“Heaven Is Beautiful” is about his first near death experience (NDE) ice climbing the Lower Weeping Wall near Banff in Alberta, Canada, but for now … how about the backstory?
In April 2019, the former Congregational Church of Boothbay Harbor pastor and the fifth and final pastor of First Radio Parish Church’s Daily Devotions broadcast was the guest on the podcast “Buddha At the Gas Pump: Conversations with “Ordinary” Spiritually Awakening People.” The web-based podcast Rick Archer (https://batgap.com) hosts is live-streamed, available on Apple and Google apps and numerous others, and has 61,000 subscribers since it first aired in 2009.
At the conclusion of the two-hour show, Archer asked Panagore if he had anything to offer the show’s viewers. Panagore, who focused on systematic theology and Christian mysticism at Yale Divinity School, talked about his global counseling service for mystics and near-death experiencers. As counselor, he helps fellow mystics understand, talk about, and reflect on their experiences.
The day after the podcast aired, Panagore received a call from producer Andrea Stone of Ananta Productions in California. Her credits include “Lullaby” and “Finding Graceland.” Stone called him to discuss his NDEs, which she had heard on BATGAP, and to share her NDEs because they shared a lot of unusual similarities given their experiences, they’ve heard about other NDErs. They shared several deep phone conversations over months which birthed a unique and dear friendship and then one day…here comes the serendipity.
Stone asked him, “Your writing is elegant. Who’s producing your book?”
“Funny you ask, it’s available,” he said.
Stone saw it as a film and decided to produce it. She said, “I’d love to do this with Cary Brokaw of Avenue Pictures, because it’s in his wheelhouse and he’ll understand the depths of this story and creatively we work seamlessly together.” Those two are already doing a series based on Stone’s NDEs and she thought Brokaw might be interested in a man’s near-death experience and she knew he’d love Pete’s writing. Brokaw’s credits include “Angels In America.” “Closer,” “Wit,” “Path To War,” “Lullaby,” “The Merchant of Venice,” and others.
“Andrea (Stone) pitched the idea to Cary (Brokaw) then she called me back saying he’d like to read my book,” Panagore said.
Brokaw told Stone that he loved Panagore’s writing, too, but he did not feel the book was a film, yet. Andrea shared her vision with Cary addressing his questions, and he said, “That will work,” Panagore said.
“When they called me, we worked through the changes, and found a romantic through line, and other threads to make it more intimate and personal,” Panagore said. “It’s a writer’s dream to have these challenges to work on, working with Cary and Andrea is very inspiring it’s opened me creatively to see things in a new way.”
“In terms of writing, I’m getting an education. I’m learning a new, more emotionally driven, style. My current style comes from combining my background–it’s a hybrid between my storytelling English undergraduate degree and my cerebral divinity degree,” Panagore said. “This is more like emotional writing, writing from the heart. To write like that, I must enter into the emotional state I was in when certain events life happened in my life. I’m mining my experiences and relationships. The film is ‘based on a true story’.”
Brokaw and Stone read Panagore’s first draft fleshing out of Heaven Is Beautiful, and then gave him their notes. Now he is working through those notes on a second draft. Pretty soon the movie will go out to a screen writer.
Panagore expects his film work will be published as a companion book. Simultaneously, Panagore is writing another book, “Knowing God: True Stories” (its latest working title). “It’s my being a closeted mystic. It may be controversial for some. I’m taking another risk by speaking my truth openly about a taboo subject. I want to spark public conversation about a common set of experiences half the people have, according to my research, and none want to claim in public.”
Meanwhile, Panagore is working inside as a Zoom based pastoral, spiritual, and mystical counselor, coach, and mentor.
Panagore’s dream is “to bring the message love to as many people as possible through whatever means are presented,” but he sure didn’t foresee that message being delivered as a film, on the big screen, or TV.
This article has been updated from its original posting.