In this sermon, Rev. Robert McCluskey explores the Swedenborgian inner meaning of “blindness” in the Word. How can the spiritual concept of blindness found in Swedenborg’s interpretation of the Gospels help us grow spiritually and become more fully receptive of Divine light, even amid troubling circumstances?
Click below for a printable PDF-version of Rev. McCluskey’s message:
Why did the Corona Virus happen? Perhaps, correspondentially it has to do with our weakened overall health and immune systems (spiritual health), especially as related to the lungs (understanding). In general I would say this is more of a medical question than a spiritual one, however. Why do things happen? Wrong question! The spiritual question is, what can we learn from what is happening, or how can we use what is happening for good?
Chaos and Order
For things to reemerge on a higher level, first there has to be a breaking down of the old ways. When we are ready, though we may not feel it, we have to let go of the way things have been and flounder a while, until we find a new order. The Israelites had to leave Egypt behind and wander in the desert for 40 years before they could find the Promised Land.
What can we learn collectively from this experience to improve our world? What do we need to leave behind? Can we become more compassionate toward those with the disease, their families, those out of work, and those countries and communities of color and low income who are hit hardest by this, as they once again take the worst of the economic, environmental, and health consequences of global affairs? Can we become more tolerant, less divisive and more unified? Belden Lane, wrote “What we’ve never been able to confess together in creed, we’re now able to pray together in need.” A crisis that affects all of us can bring us together.
Death and Rebirth
How does this affect each one of us individually. Easter is all about Death and Rebirth. Old habits, ways of relating, being, and living have to die, to be released, before we can be reborn into a new way of living. How are you using this time to reorder your own life? I hear stories of some people overeating, overdrinking, and watching TV all day. Others are using this as a time to reflect and reexamine their lives, to think how they want to come out of this a new or better person.
Crisis and Opportunity
At Mosswood Hollow all of our workshops have been canceled for at least four months. Although we are worried from a financial point of view, we are choosing to look at this as an opportunity. There are so many things we have not had time for while hosting workshops. We are clearing decades of collected papers, books, clothes, and unnecessary and unwanted junk, making our living environment cleaner and more sacred. We even took everything out of the first floor of our house and had our floors refinished. We are putting together a green house and planting a large garden. We are taking a break from alcohol after years of overindulging. We are turning off the TV and talking and reading more. I am taking long walks through uninhabited woodlands and watching spring come, as it will, blissfully unaware of the pandemic.
The natural world is almost unaffected, in some aspects better off, as the air quality improves as a result of less burning of fossil fuels.We don’t choose or cause everything that happens to us, but we do choose how we are going to respond. As our daughter, Hilary, wrote in a recent email, “The virus is clearly contagious, but so is panic, fear, hysteria, care, love, enthusiasm, kindness, joy, levity… I’m doing my best to take all responsible precautions while choosing wisely from that list.”
Recovery or Rebirth
Perhaps the most important question is whether we will simply recover or be reborn? Will this be remembered merely as a sickness we all endured, before recovering and getting back to our old routines and ways of life? Or we will we emerge from this as a different world, a different country, and different people? This is quite a powerful and profound opportunity to examine our lives and our relationships to each other, to our communities, to our world, and to the earth.
Let us choose this Easter to be reborn!
Rev. Paul Martin is a minister in the Swedenborgian Church of North America, and, together with his wife Sandra directs Mosswood Hollow Retreat Center outside of Seattle, Washington, of fulfilling a longtime vision of providing a space for people to comoute to for learning, healing and renewal. Rev. Paul is also involved at Swedenborgian Church of Pudget Sound.
Religious people may have mixed feelings about the Covid-19 virus. In addition to the strange new restrictions on our social life, the growing numbers of sick, and the death toll, religious people may want to force meaning onto this pandemic.
I think that we are in a kind of state of shock as we try to understand what is going on. Religious people may ask why this is going on. But asking theological questions while in a state of shock, or panic, is not wise.
The first thing that Swedenborgians would assert is that this is not punishment from God. God doesn’t punish. From one way of looking at it, you could say that God can’t punish. God is good and can do only good. God can do only loving things. God does only loving things. God does only good to us. Consider this quote from Swedenborg,as He wills only what is good he can do nothing but what is good. . . .
“From these few statements it can be seen how deluded those are who think, and still more those who believe, and still more those who teach, that God can damn any one, curse any one, send any one to hell, predestine any soul to eternal death, avenge wrongs, be angry, or punish. He cannot even turn Himself away from humanity, nor look upon anyone with a stern countenance.” (True Christianity n. 56).
So Swedenborgians would say that the pandemic is not punishment from God. The pandemic is not a sign of the Last Days. The Book of Revelation talks about a plague coming in the Last Days. Swedenborgians say that the Book of Revelation is about what goes on inside us. The battles and plagues and earthquakes are symbolic of our spiritual struggles. After all, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God does not come visibly. Neither will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is.’ For the kingdom of God is inside.”
There have been several “plagues” in my lifetime. There was h1n1, swine flu, and the sars virus. Either one of these could have been called the plagues pointing to the end times. Then there was the Black Plague of the middle ages. That happened in the 14thcentury. People then thought that they were in the end times. But we got through all these plagues and forgot about them and the end times. And we will get through this.In these hard times, more than ever, we need to think about our neighbor.
We need to practice social distancing to protect ourselves and our neighbors. Many of us will experience financial hardships. Those of us who are fortunate financially are in a position to wisely help out when they can and as they are able. I don’t mean to minimize the difficulties we will go through in the months ahead. But we will get through it.
Now, more than in times of prosperity, neighbor love is needed. As we all struggle through the uncertainty, fear, and hardships, love will get us through. And though we practice social distancing, we are not alone. God is going through this with us. “Behold I am with you always.” Let’s be with one another, too, always.
While my clothes were in the dryer at the laundromat, I continued reading the Analects of Confucius. I have been reading Confucius over the past few weeks. Much of his sayings I can’t understand. But I do understand a portion of them. However, pondering each saying–or should I say wrestling with each saying–puts my mind in a sacred space. Confucius is emphatically about virtue. His sayings make a person think about virtue.
Reading Confucius and wrestling with the meaning of his sayings disposes a person’s heart toward virtue. I didn’t expect my psyche, my mood, to enter a sacred space when I read Confucius. I was surprised when I put the book down. I looked at the dryers, and I felt good about doing my laundry. “This is a pleasant way to spend my time. It is a useful and good activity for me to do,”
While my clothes were in the dryer at the laundromat, I continued reading the Analects of Confucius. I have been reading Confucius over the past few weeks. Much of his sayings I can’t understand. But I do understand a portion of them.
However, pondering each saying–or should I say wrestling with each saying–puts my mind in a sacred space. Confucius is emphatically about virtue. His sayings make a person think about virtue. Reading Confucius and wrestling with the meaning of his sayings disposes a person’s heart toward virtue. I didn’t expect my psyche, my mood, to enter a sacred space when I read Confucius. I was surprised when I put the book down.
I looked at the dryers, and I felt good about doing my laundry. “This is a pleasant way to spend my time. It is a useful and good activity for me to do,” I thought. This feeling was remarkable. Previously, laundry had been a drudgery. So, I was surprised to find myself feeling good about doing my laundry today. Reading Confucius elevated my spirit.
Generally, I find that sacred scriptures of world religions have that effect on me. My Swedenborgian background taught me to pay attention to my psyche when I read the Bible. Swedenborg writes that reading the Bible, “Enlightens the mind and warms the heart.” He’s right. The Bible also makes me feel spiritual and spiritual peace. Other sacred scriptures have an analogous effect on me. When I read the Koran, which I have to ponder deeply at times, I am uplifted. Also, the Tao Te Ching transports me, difficult as it is. Even the Rig Veda, with the catalog of Gods and Goddesses it lists, and its vocative verses seems to lift me.
Sacred scriptures are records of humanity’s interactions with the Divine. My interactions with sacred scriptures give me a personal experience of spirituality. I feel different when I read sacred scriptures. This is a kind of evidence for me. I am not a Muslim, a Taoist, a Hindu, or a Confucian. So why would I respond to their sacred texts? But I do. These texts point toward the Divine. And I think that there is something there. Why else would they affect me as they do?
I don’t live in the spiritual world now. Or at least I’m not conscious of it. So I also read literature from this world. We are given birth without an instruction manual. We make our way through this world as best we can figure out. I think that great literati are sages with suggestions about how to negotiate our way through this world. We certainly get enough of this world. Everywhere we turn, we get this world–making a buck, hustling, doing our job, raising a family, watching reality TV. But part of life in this world is interaction with the Divine. And though I love to read Hemingway and Thoreau, they don’t do for me what the Analects of Confucius does for me.
I will continue my reading and wrestling with sacred texts and my hustling for virtue. My contact with the Divine. That feeling of serenity, peace, and love that spiritual texts give me suggest that they’re onto something. Someone once told me that he didn’t see enough evidence to make him believe. I wonder if he’s looking. I’ll fully admit that there’s no proof I can put before him. But my personal experience has encountered evidence that makes me believe.
Rev. Kit Billings of LaPorte New Church in LaPorte, IN, shares a message of hope and faith amid the global COVID-19 crisis. How can a Swedenborgian image of an endlessly and indiscriminately loving God help us in times of challenge?
Rev. Sage Cole and her team at Swedenborg Chapel in Cambridge, MA, right by Harvard Square, continue their exciting and proactive work establishing the Helen Keller Center Spiritual Life Center, to be housed at the Chapel.
The Center will celebrate and continue on the legacy of one of the most notable and well-known Swedenborgians: The activist, writer and thinker Helen Keller (1880-1968), who stands out in American history as an embodiment of the Swedenborgian ideals of useful service and active faith through her passionate advocacy for women’s rights, disabled rights, racial and social equality, and non-violence, among other causes.
The Helen Keller Spiritual Life Center will provide a space for spiritual growth programs, education, non-profit and social justice work, and hopes to become a hub for many kinds of active service in the spirit of Helen Keller.
Here’s a video with a recent update, and an invitation to join the effort:
Check out Our Daily Bread’s interview with Sage below:
If you are interested in hearing more about the Center and Rev. Sage’s work around Helen Keller, you can catch her at one of her presentations! Here are some upcoming dates:
Friday, March 27th 2020 7:00 pm at the Lord’s New Church 1725 Huntingdon Rd. Huntingdon Valley, PA 19006
Sunday, March 22nd 2020 2:00 pm Church of the Holy City, 1118 N. Broom Street Wilmington, DE 09806
Wednesday, April 14th 7:00 pm Swedenborg Memorial Library at Urbana University 579 College Way, Urbana OH 43078
Time TBD May 18-21 2020 Institute on Theology and Disability at Western Theological Seminary 101 E. 13th St. Holland, MI 49423
Of course, you can find more information at the Center’s website at
Birrell Walsh, PhD is a writer and scholar of comparative religion and mysticism. He has written several novels, as well as poetry and the book “Praying for Others”. He is a regular contributor to “Our Daily Bread”.
Birrell is an active member of the Swedenborgian community at Hillside, an Urban Sanctuary, in El Cerrito, California, where he lives with his wife Nancy.
In this sermon, Rev. Kit Billings discusses the essential Swedenborgian concept of angelic beings, and how they form an integral part of spiritual reality, which effects us deeply in our own inner (and outer) journeys.
Click below for a printable PDF version of Rev. Kit’s message:
In this sermon, delivered and recorded at the San Francisco Swedenborgian Church on January 5, 2020, Rev. Junchol Lee explores the depth of symbolism in biblical and mythological narratives from a Swedenborgian angle.
Rev Junchol Lee – “The Raven and the Dove” (Jan 5, 2020):
Rev, Junchol Lee is pastor at the historic San Francisco Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco, CA. He enjoys integrating Eastern and Westerm philosophy and spirituality, eriching his community with deep insight into the teachings of Daoism and Buddhism. He lives with his family in San Francisco.
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