As we all struggle to adapt to the restrictions and challenges surrounding COVID-19, it has been announced that the 2020 General Convention of the New Jerusalem (aka. Swedenborgian Church of North America) will be held in virtual/online format from Friday, June 26 to Sunday, June 28. The theme will be “Spiritual Vision – Transcending Time and Space”.
This years General Convention had been scheduled to take place at Bridgewater University in Bridgewater, MA, but had to be cancelled due to Covid.
While this may be a challenge for some, it is also an opportunity for Swedenborgians to find new ways of connecting. There will be plenty of mini-courses to attend virtually, and churches will be presenting on their ministries in creative ways.
“Transcending Time and Space”, obviously alluding to the virtual/online nature of this year’s Convenion, also has a special spiritual meaning in Swedenborgian spirituality. It is the notion that while being physically apart, we can be -quite literally- be present with each other on the level of spirit. We can assemble in spiritual societies and interact with associate beings. This speaks to the unique nature of this Convention as being an opportunity to cultivate that deeper connection, which truly transcends time and space, with each other.
As we read in True Christianity §29:
“In the spiritual world, there are no physical units of space or corresponding units of time. Yet there appear to be. Apparent space and time follow the different states of mind that spirits and angels go through there.”*
We will once again have the pleasure of having the Rev. Dr. George Dole as our keynote speaker.
Another way in which this can serve to bring us together in new ways is through inviting folks to attend this virtual Convention online from their homes. This can be an opportunity to re-connect with Swedenborgians and other seekers who are not currently involved in any New Church community. Invite your friends!
Rev. Thom Muller
*Swedenborg, Emanuel. True Christianity. Translated by Jonathan Rose. West Chester: Swedenborg Foundation, 2010.
The Book of Job is said to be a book of the “Ancient Church”. It is full of correspondences such as existed in the writings of the Ancient Church and it is written in accordance with the method of writing at that time (AE §740*). The book of Job is difficult to translate because it has many unusual words and also because of its style, which is the style of writing that existed in the Ancient Church. For this reason translations of it differ widely. However, the book of Job is not properly a book of the Word because it does not have an internal sense which treats solely of the Lord and of his Kingdom, for this alone is what makes a book part of the genuine Word. (AC §3540**)
Nevertheless, it is said to be an excellent and useful book (AE §740), and it is quoted and cited in a number of Third Testament*** passages, such as §AC1992, §AC 9818, and §AR 244****. I find it to offer insights into the problem of human suffering and misfortune – without really giving an answer.
As we read, it starts off with a description of Job’s character and wealth. Satan was among the sons of God who came to present themselves before the Lord. The Lord said to Satan, “have you considered my servant Job who is ‘a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.”? Then Satan challenges God, indicating that if Job were to lose all that he has, he would surely curse God to his face. So the Lord permitted Satan to take all that Job had including his health, as long as he did not take his life. And so Job lost his children and all his possessions and suffered greatly from boils on his skin, but still he did not curse God.
But he did question God as to why all this was happening. Job had three friends, who came to console him. Yet many of their answers as to why this was happening often focused on what Job must have done wrong to bring this calamity upon him. Now, perhaps we have had similar thoughts. When bad things happen to good, blameless people, or when they happen to us, we may wonder, “why is this happening?” What did we do, either individually, or as the human race to bring the present pandemic on us?
Job questioned God, but did not receive an answer to his question. Instead, the Lord questioned Job, saying “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.” The questions that the Lord asked Job humbled Job, even though he did not receive a direct answer his own questions. Job suffered greatly, but he never cursed God as Satan expected him to do. He certainly questioned God, as people undergoing suffering in temptations may often do, but he never lost his faith. And at the end he was rewarded for his faithfulness.
When the Lord was told about the Galileans who were killed by Pilate, his response was “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?” And in reference to the eighteen on whom a tower fell and killed them, the response was similar, “Do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?” The Lord did not put the blame on those who suffered from these natural and human-caused catastrophes. His answer in both cases was, “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”*****
The Lord’s answer was looking beyond worldly catastrophes, and looking to the spiritual and to the eternal. So when he instructed his listeners to “repent or you will all likewise perish,” he was not referring to having a tower fall on you, or a Roman governor kill you, but to perishing as to the spirit, that is, he was referring to our eternal welfare. So his answer was urging his listeners to look to their eternal life and not to the worldly.
His answer as to the causes for worldly catastrophes provided the opportunity for him to talk about eternal life, not worldly life. And so it can be in the present situation. While we definitely ought to be taking appropriate and safe precautions and practices, both avoiding catching the coronavirus ourselves and avoiding spreading it to others, the question now is not so much who is to blame, but what we can do both naturally and spiritually for ourselves and others.
And this leads into our teachings about temptations and Divine Providence. Misfortune, grief, and anxiety, arising from natural and bodily causes, and also sicknesses and diseases of the body, may serve to subdue and break up the life of a person’s pleasures and desires, and determine and uplift the thoughts to interior and religious subjects (AC §762). In that way they may serve as a means for us to lift up our thoughts above the worldly to what is spiritual and eternal.
While the things we are going through now are certainly not pleasant, and unfortunately are likely to get worse, nevertheless they may lead us to some good. We may not be able to see it now, just as Job could not see beyond the misfortunes and sufferings that he was going through at the time.
The workings of Providence are most often seen after the struggles are over, and not at the time we undergoing them. Like Job, we may ask why God is allowing these things, and we may even question God, asking why he is permitting such suffering. Yet, it is a time in which we may turn our thoughts to what really matters in life and beyond this life. The Lord’s response to the murder of the Galileans and the death of those on whom a tower fell was to remind people of eternal life and what was necessary in order to attain it. The Lord was looking beyond the present life to eternal life.
This is the case with the workings of the Lord’s Providence, the Lord always regards a person’s eternal state. He regards the present only in so far as it looks to what is eternal. The Lord looks to what is eternal in everyone, both in the wicked as well as in the good. In the present crisis the Lord is looking out for the eternal welfare of everyone. May we use this as a time to think about our eternal life, our neighbor’s eternal life, and to renew or strengthen our faith in the Lord.
* Swedenborg, Emanuel. Apocalypse Explained. Translated by John Whitehead. New York: Swedenborg Foundation, 1959.
** Swedenborg, Emanuel. Arcana Coelestia. Translated by John Potts. West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 1998.
*** aka. the published theological works of Emanuel Swedenborg
**** Swedenborg, Emanuel. Apocalypse Revealed. Translated by John Whitehead. London: Swedenborg Society, 1940.
***** Luke 13:1-5 , New King James Version. Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Rev. Hugh Odhner has been an ordained Swedenborgian minister for many decades. A bridge-builder between the branches of the Swedenborgian movement, he is an active attendee at the Fryeburg New Church Assembly in Fryeburg, Maine, has preached in many Convention settings, and currently serves the Lord’s New Church in Bryn Athyn, PA.
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