Too much has been said about Will Smith slapping Chris Rock, but there is one part of that experience that caught our attention. Will said that Denzel Washington pulled him aside right after the incident and said, “At your highest moment, be careful — that’s when the devil comes for you.”
What did Denzel mean by that?
He recently appeared at a conference with megachurch pastor T.D. Jakes and explained, “When the devil ignores you, then you know you’re doing something wrong.’ The devil goes, ‘Oh no, leave him alone, he’s my favorite.’ Conversely, when the devil comes at you, maybe it’s because he’s trying to do something right. And for whatever reason the devil got ahold of him that night.”
Perhaps a better explanation can be found in Denzel’s recent interview with the New York Times, where he said, “This is spiritual warfare. So, I’m not looking at it from an earthly perspective. If you don’t have a spiritual anchor you’ll be easily blown by the wind and you’ll be led to depression.”
That “spiritual warfare” statement was not connected to Will Smith, but it does point to Denzel’s belief that without a firm foundation, there are forces beyond us that can threaten us.
The notion of “spiritual warfare” seemed to touch on the stories we’re exploring about “what’s beyond,” and it sent us digging into Denzel’s media appearances to see what else he had to say about the supernatural. As it turns out, he’s not the only celebrity who has stuck out for having an unconventional connection to the life of the spirit.
Here are three famous people who have been articulate about how they experienced the mystical side of life.
In that NYT interview, Denzel went on to explain how he grounds his life in prayer — he begins each day with reflection. “You have to fill up that bucket every morning,” he said. “It’s rough out there. You leave the house in the morning. Here they come, chipping away. By the end of the day, you’ve got to refill that bucket. We know right from wrong.”
That foundation of prayer connects him to God, which keeps him focused on a reality greater than himself. “I try to make sure I try to put God first in everything,” he told Religion News Service. “I was reading something this morning in my meditation about selfishness and how the only way to true independence is complete dependence on the Almighty.”
“The Bible says in the last days — I don’t know if it’s the last days, it’s not my place to know — but it says we’ll be lovers of ourselves,” he said. “The number one photograph today is a selfie, ‘Oh, me at the protest.’ ‘Me with the fire.’ ‘Follow me.’ ‘Listen to me.’”
He said that in heaven, “there are going to be two lines, the long line and the short line, and I’m interested in being in the short line.”
At the start of the pandemic, Denzel appeared on an Instagram live interview with A.R. Bernard, pastor of New York’s Christian Cultural Center. There, he talked about an experience at church that changed his life: “I was filled with the Holy Ghost — and it scared me. I said, ‘Wait a minute, I didn’t want to go this deep.’”
The experience began when a friend took him to church one Sunday. In their tradition, the congregation is called to the altar to give their lives to Christ. Here’s how he described what happened:
When it came time to go down to the altar, I said, “This time, I’m just gonna go down there and give it up and see what happens.” And I went into the prayer room and gave it up and let go, and experienced something I’ve never experienced in my life… It felt like I was going up in the air and my cheeks were filled… it was a supernatural, if not once-in-a-lifetime experience, a once in this lifetime experience, that I couldn’t completely understand at the time.
Norm Macdonald was a stand-up comedian and SNL cast member who died in 2021. In many of the appreciations written of him after his death, writers noted that while his comedic instincts were sharp, Norm was also attuned to deeper questions about life — and was humble enough to admit that he didn’t have the answers to them.
Perhaps one of the reasons Norm was interested in big questions is because, even though he dropped out of high school, he read a lot of classic literature. Great literature articulates themes that run deep in the human experience, which is why these books still move us hundreds of years after they’ve been published. Perhaps being tuned into those themes and ideas expanded Norm’s horizons.
At times, the joy that life attacks me with is unbearable and leads to gasping hysterical laughter. I find myself completely out of control and wonder how could life could surprise me again and again and again, so completely. How could a man be a cynic? It is a sin.— Norm Macdonald (@normmacdonald) April 17, 2018
For example, in an exchange with comedian and atheist Bill Maher, Norm dove right into a line of thought straight from Pascal’s famous wager (though Norm’s formulation is articulated much more efficiently): “There’s only two things,” he said. “You’ve got to look at the evidence that God exists. None. That’s not good. Then you go, ‘What’s the evidence God does not exist?’ None. So they’re equal. One of them is for sure right.
“You just have to hazard a guess at that point,” he continued. “So what I do if I have two choices is I go, ‘What do you got?’ The guy goes, ‘When you die, you get to go up and play a harp on a cloud.’ Well, goddamn, I’ve always wanted to play a harp. ‘What have you got? What happens when you die in your plan?’ ‘They put dirt on you.’”
For Norm, anyway, the answer seemed to run deeper than hedging his bets. “Like everyone, I am in search of the true faith, of course,” he wrote. “It’s been a rather long tough journey, for me at least.”
Elizabeth Taylor was a famous actor who notoriously moved from husband to husband during the peak of her film career. During the 1961 filming of Cleopatra, where she was the star, she fell ill in London and was sent to the hospital with pneumonia. As doctors worked to save her life, they pronounced her dead four separate times. On one occasion, she stopped breathing and showed no vital signs for about five minutes. Doctors performed a tracheotomy and started her breathing again with a machine.
During those five minutes, she reported having an out-of-body experience where she was floating above the table where doctors were working — she said it felt like being suspended in “liquid mercury.” She saw a bright, warm light and felt a welcoming presence all around her, but was told that this was not her time and that she needed to fight to live.
When she came to, she found her room filled with flowers and condolence notes. Doctors had posted her apparent death on a bulletin board in the hospital and word had leaked to the press. She went on to live for another 40 years, but had the chance to read her obituary when she was just 29.
Taylor explained that the experience left her unafraid of death — having seen the transition to life after death, and even encountering her dead husband, gave her confidence that death is a doorway to a better realm.