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No Justice, No Peace (Part 2: “The Sword”) -Rev. Hugh Odhner

Micah 7:1-9      

Matt. 10:16-23, 32-40; Luke 12:51-53

E. Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia §10490

(see readings below the message)

Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” -Matthew 10:34

In the recent piece entitled “No Justice, No Peace”, I noted the relationship between justice and peace, namely, that the effect of justice will be peace. I pointed out that justice is described by the second of the two great commandments, that is, treating others as we ourselves would like to be treated.

Now we read the words of the Lord in Matthew that He did not come to bring peace on earth but a sword. And in the Gospel of Luke, the Lord said, “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.”  

The Lord said these things, but isn’t He the Prince of Peace? Didn’t he also tell his disciples to have peace with one another? (Mark 9:50)

He greeted his disciples saying “Peace be to you.” (Luke 24:36) He told them, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” (John 14:27) And also, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

So which group of the Lord’s statements are we to believe? Are we to believe His statements about peace, or His statements about sowing division and bringing a sword?

Perhaps we can  sympathize with the Lord’s disciples sometimes being confused by what the Lord was saying. For example, listen to this conversation between the Lord and his disciples from the gospel of John:

(The Lord said) “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.”
Then some of His disciples said among themselves, “What is this that He says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?”

They said therefore, “What is this that He says, ‘A little while’? We do not know what He is saying.” Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, “Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’?
“These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father.
His disciples said to Him, “See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech! Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.”
  (John 16:16-18, 25, 28-30)

Yet despite what the disciples said, they did not fully comprehend what the Lord was saying to them. They did not really understand what He was saying about going to the Father, nor could they. Everything that the Lord said was in the form of a parable. It had a deeper and often hidden meaning.

As it is written in Matthew, “All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: ‘I will open My mouth in parables….'” (Matthew 13:34-35) Even to his disciples the Lord spoke mostly in parables or figurative language. In a few places, he spoke openly and plainly, such as when he told them that “I and the Father are one,” (John 10:30) and that “he who sees Me sees the Father.” (John 14:9). But even these plain statements contain deeper levels of meaning and truth. Everything the Lord said holds a deeper meaning. So also with the Lord’s teachings about bringing a sword and division and not peace. This was explained most clearly in the Arcana Coelestia 10490.

To summarize those teachings: spiritual combats or temptations are being treated of, thus the contentions arising in person between the evils and falsities which are with him from hell, and the goods and truths which are with him from the Lord. The passage tells us that:

He who does not know that such things are signified by “man” and “father,” by “daughter” and “mother,” by “daughter-in-law” and “mother- in-law,” must believe that the Lord came into the world in order to take away peace in homes and families, and introduce dissension; when yet He came to give peace and to take away dissensions…. 

That the dissension of the internal and the external man is described in this passage, is evident from the signification in the internal sense of “man” and “father,” of “daughter” and “mother,” and of “daughter-in-law” and “mother-in-law,” in which sense “man” [homo] denotes the good which is from the Lord; “father” denotes the evil which is from man’s proprium (love of himself); “daughter” denotes the affection of good and truth; “mother” denotes the affection of evil and falsity; “daughter-in-law” denotes the truth of the church adjoined to its good; and “mother-in-law” denotes falsity adjoined to its evil. 

Because the combat between goods and evils, and between falsities and truths, with a person is described, it is also said that “a man’s foes shall be those of his own household,” for by “those of his own household” is signified the things that belong to a person, thus which are his own; and “foes” in a spiritual sense means the evils and falsities which assault goods and truths.

-AC 1490

The Lord was illustrating the dissensions and combats within a person in terms of dissensions and combats within an apparently dysfunctional family. And these are the dissensions and combats taking place within a person who is being regenerated by the Lord. This is why the Lord referred to bringing a sword and division and not peace. For by means of the sword of truth – and a sword represents truth combating – a person may be gradually regenerated by the Lord.

The dissension and combat are those taking place within the mind and soul of one person. If we are following the Lord and being regenerated by Him, that dysfunctional combative family is the family of our mind. It’s all there, taking place within us.

We are both the good man and the evil father; the good being what is from the Lord with us, and the evil being the proprium or love of self with us.

The daughter is the affection for good and truth within us, while the mother within us is the affection for evil and falsity. Likewise the daughter-in-law and the mother-in-law all signify states of good and truth was also states of evil and falsity within us. And these opposing states are at war with each other – – in spiritual combat. 

But how do we know this? We know this and may choose to believe this because the Third Testament tells us so. Without  the Third Testament as a guide, we like the disciples, would likely also be questioning what the Lord is saying, and when seeing contradictory sets of teachings, say to ourselves, “we do not know what He is saying.” But then, when we read the descriptions and explanations in the Third Testament of difficult passages like this one in the New Testament, we may say to ourselves “see, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech!”

But let us approach our knowledge and understanding of the Word with a sense of humility. Keep in mind that in all three Testaments of the Lord’s Word there are levels within levels of meaning. There are always parables containing deeper truths. So what we see is like a drop of water within an ocean.

But how do we know if that drop is true? It is taught that we shall know the truth and the truth shall make us free (John 8:32). And how do we know if that truth is in fact true? The whole passage gives an answer: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Abiding in the Lord’s Word, means living according to the Lord’s Word as we understand it. This is all that the Lord really asks of us. Abide in His Word, live according to it, and the Lord will lead us to spiritual peace and freedom. 

Amen.

LESSONS

Micah 7:1*

Woe is me! For I have become like one who,
    after the summer fruit has been gathered,
    after the vintage has been gleaned,
finds no cluster to eat;
    there is no first-ripe fig for which I hunger.

The faithful have disappeared from the land,
    and there is no one left who is upright;
they all lie in wait for blood,
    and they hunt each other with nets.

Their hands are skilled to do evil;
    the official and the judge ask for a bribe,
and the powerful dictate what they desire;
    thus they pervert justice.

The best of them is like a brier,
    the most upright of them a thorn hedge.

The day of their sentinels, of their punishment, has come;
    now their confusion is at hand.

Put no trust in a friend,
    have no confidence in a loved one;
guard the doors of your mouth
    from her who lies in your embrace;
for the son treats the father with contempt,
    the daughter rises up against her mother,
the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
    your enemies are members of your own household.

But as for me, I will look to the Lord,
    I will wait for the God of my salvation;
    my God will hear me.

Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy;
    when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be a light to me.

I must bear the indignation of the Lord,
    because I have sinned against him,
until he takes my side
    and executes judgment for me.

He will bring me out to the light;
    I shall see his vindication.

Matthew 10:16-23, 32-40

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 

When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 

Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.“ …

Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Luke 12:51-53

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter, and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

E. Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia §10490**

Anyone who does not know that brothers, companions, neighbours, and further names describing human relationships serve to mean the Church and heaven’s forms of good and truths, or their opposites, which are evils and falsities, cannot know what is implied by very many places in the Word where those names occur.

These verses refer to spiritual conflicts, which are the temptations that those who are to be regenerated must undergo. Thus they refer to the strife a person experiences at that time between the evils and falsities which come to him from hell and the forms of good and the truths which come to him from the Lord. Since those conflicts are what is described here the declaration ‘whoever does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me’ is made, ‘cross’ being used to mean a person’s state during temptations. Anyone who does not know that these kinds of things are meant by ‘man and father’, ‘daughter and mother’, ‘daughter-in-law and mother-in-law’ will suppose that the Lord came into the world to remove the peace in households and families and to introduce strife, when in fact He came to bring peace and remove strife.

The fact that strife between the internal man and the external is described in those verses is clear from the meaning in the internal sense of ‘man and father’, ‘daughter and mother’, and ‘daughter-in-law and mother-in-law’. In that sense ‘man’ (homo) means good which comes from the Lord, and ‘father’ evil which springs from a person’s self; ‘daughter’ means an affection for goodness and truth, and ‘mother’ an affection for evil and falsity; and ‘daughter-in-law’ means the Church’s truth linked to its good, and ‘mother-in-law’ falsity linked to its evil. And since the conflict that takes place between the forms of good and the evils residing with a person, and between the falsities and truths, is described in that manner those verses also contain the declaration ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household’.

By ‘those of his own household’ the things that reside with a person are meant, thus those which belong properly to himself, while ‘enemies’ in the spiritual sense are the evils and falsities that attack forms of good and truths. The fact that such things are meant by ‘man’, ‘father’, ‘daughter’, ‘mother’, ‘daughter-in-law’, and ‘mother-in-law’ has been shown in various places in the explanations.

The Rev. Hugh Odhner is minister at the Lord’s New Church Philadelphia Society. A bridge-builder between the different Swedenborgian branches, he has preached at several Convention ministries, including the Church of the Holy City in Washington, D.C., and has been a regular attendee and lecturer at Fryeburg New Church Assembly for many years. He lives with his wife Denise in Bryn Athyn, PA.


*New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

**Swedenborg, Emanuel. Arcana Coelestia. Translated by John Elliott. London: Swedenborg Society, 1990.

“Looking Back, Looking Ahead, Looking Within” -Rev. Ken Turley

A group of scientists discovered a way to create life.  They claimed they had created life from nothing.  And of course this caused quite a stir.  They made headlines in the news, they were famous all over the world, they won the Nobel Prize.  They began to say they were just like God in that they could create life.  

Needless to say God was watching.  Finally God decided to have a chat with these fellas.  So one day the scientists were in their laboratory and God appeared in their midst and said, “Hey guys, I understand you can create life.”  

They were a little shaken of course, but they were scientists and were very good about staying objective,  And after all they had created life.  So one of them screwed up his courage and said, “Yes, that’s right.  We’ve created life just like you.”  

God said,  “Really, just like me?  I’d really like to see this.” 

“All right”  they said.  So they set up all their equipment, all their test tubes and Bunsen burners, they put on their protective clothing.  One said to God, “You might want to step back a couple of feet.”  And when they had everything prepared they said to God,  “All right, if you’re ready,  here we go.”  So they reached down into a container they had handy and grabbed a handful of dirt and poured into a large glass container . . .

“Hey! Wait a minute,” God said, “”Get your own dirt.”

It’s a silly joke, but it contains a very important truth for all of us, no matter what it is we are doing.  Whether we are at work or play, deepening on our own inner spiritual growth and well being, volunteering somewhere to make the world a better place, or trying to make our church a warm and vibrant community, a safe home for free thinking lovers of God and the neighbor, what we are working with was created by God.  We can be creative or destructive, we can be innovative or traditional, we can be cooperative or go our own way, but there is nothing that at its essence, is not created by God. 

The best we can do is play around with the raw materials.  It is important we remember this, because what we are so invested in is not ours, it is God.  The talents and insights we bring to the table, are not ours, they are gifts from God.  The life we live, the world we inhabit, the church we love, these are not ours, they are gifts from God.  We can nurture, we can help them to grow, assist the transformation into new life.  Or we can keep them for ourselves, we can restrict their growth and life.  We can even kill and destroy.  But whatever it is are engaged in, and whatever we contribute, whatever we treasure, while we can help make better, or help make worse, we can never own, because whatever is good and true is from God. 

We can think we own our cars and our houses and all our possessions, and relation to other people and the earthly laws maybe we do, but in relation to God and the essence of life, they are not ours.  We can think we own our own lives and the things we do and by all out appearances that may seem true, but in relation to God and ongoing life, they are not ours.  We may call this church our church, and it may be our spiritual home, and we may care deeply about its well being, and that is well and good, but it is not “ours”, if anything we belong to the church.  For it is God’s and at the fundamental essence of life, we belong to God. 

We may choose to believe otherwise. We may fight against that and create all kinds of hell on earth, but we belong to God.  And everything that is good and true all around us and everything good and true that comes into the world through our own minds and hearts and hands, is not of our own making, but from God.

If this realization does not humble you. Then you don’t get it.  If this thought does not make you grateful to the bottom of your soul, they you don’t get it.  If this concept does not make you determined to do your best not to screw it up but to help recognize and support and nurture and grow the love and wisdom of God in every moment of everything we do, you are not getting it.

Every single moment of everything we do is a moment of creation and God’s hand is at work.  And our part is to help God’s love and wisdom manifest in new and beautiful and joyful and healing life. 

We are free to try and restrain growth, we are free to try and keep it the way we want it, we are free to be fearful or cynical or hopeless or depressed.  And we are free to try and stop what God is trying to make new.  But while we will have our impact in the end whatever we do to separate ourselves from God’s Divine Providence will just fade away.  On the other hand whatever we do in the flow of love and wisdom to further Divine Providence’s manifestation of the Second Coming becomes a part of heaven on earth.

You understand I hope, that I cannot tell you what to do.  I cannot tell you what choices to make.  I can only encourage you to remember that it is God’s dirt.  That whatever process your are involved in come from a place of loving wisdom.  Whatever you choose to do let it serve what is loving and wise.  Get your self out of the way.  Let your values and your needs be part of the picture, but do not let them become the most important thing for they are not the most important thing, they are a part of God’s creation.  

In this world today, in our church, in your church, and in our own lives, we are faced with unstoppable change and immense challenges.  We can call out to God to keep us humble and aware that everyone around us is a child of God and a vessel for God’s love and wisdom, just as we ourselves are.  We can cry out to God to never let us forget that we are only a small part of a big picture and that what we have to offer is of use and importance, but that this is so for everyone around us as well.

To the degree that we try to make our lives our own, that we believe we control our own destiny and we are responsible for the good outcomes we are part of,  to that degree we separate ourselves from the truth and goodness of God.  It is hard to find your way in this world.  You must look behind and know your history.  You must look ahead and follow your hopes and dreams. 

But you must look within and know yourself, that where you are coming from and where you are trying to get to can become one path within the flow of Divine Providence…

Rev. Ken Turley, now retired after 30 years as parish minister and serving as president of Convention, and his wife Laurie, live in Bridgton, ME. While she continues her career as a public school music teacher, Ken devotes his time to composing music, producing music videos, gardening and keeping house. Performing and rehearsing have ground to a halt with the isolation required by the virus, but the  more solitary aspects of his life continue unabated. 

“Things Heard and Seen – Swedenborg, Netflix and Necromancy” – Pt. II

In PART II of our Blog Series “Things Heard and Seen”- Swedenborg, Netflix and Necromancy”, Rev. Thom Muller, senior editor of spiritualquesters.org explores the theme of “haunted houses“.

When people think of ghosts, spirits, and demons, the idea of “hauntings” and “possession” often come to mind. Hollywood has capitalized on the disturbing concept that spirits can and do reside in specific places in this material world (including “taking over” or “residing in” specific people, requiring some kind of exorcism, seance, or other ritual to be banished. Swedenborg does not share this “magical” view of the more subtle realms of spirit. As mentioned above, to Swedenborg, spirits are constantly present with us in a way that resembles multi-dimensionality. But the spiritual world is not bound to material time and space. 

The notion of a spirit being “stuck” in an early realm quite simply does not make sense within Swedenborg’s cosmological system. Rather, it is us who are constantly occupying spaces within the spiritual world, since our inner selves already reside there, parallel to our earthly existence. We inhabit various spiritual communities, both heavenly and hellish, at all times subconsciously, based on our thoughts and affections. In other words, a person who is caring for others is, on a deeper level, in spiritual community with angels who enjoy the same kind of activities, emotions, and thoughts as we do in that moment. Someone engaging in hurtful or selfish thoughts, emotions or actions is also in the presence of the spiritual communities and beings who share those affinities:

“People have around them a number of auras from the spiritual world that mirror their life and place them in company with spirits of a similar emotional makeup.” 

Secrets of Heaven §5179*

The process of spiritual growth, or “regeneration”, in Swedenborg’s view, entails our cultivating our spiritual associations, “making ourselves at home”, by our own choosing, in spiritual abodes which correspond to our true inner desires, loves, and pleasures. Heaven and Hell are not places of reward or punishment, but of radical self-realization. Once our physical body dies, we then continue to dwell in these communities permanently. 

This framework does however offer insight into the phenomena that appear like hauntings and posession (as in, spirits residing within the material world, rather than vice versa) which so commonly seem to be experienced by people across cultures. One of the primary features of the “natural” world is the appearance of, and preoccupation with physically limited space and linear time. It’s how earthy humans conceptualize reality. This (useful but ultimately inaccurate) appearance becomes less and less pronounced the further one’s consciousness is raised into the realms of spirit, at whose center and source (aka God) they are completely transcended:

“God is infinite because he existed before the world, before space and time came into being. The physical world has time and space. The spiritual world, on the other hand, lacks actual time and space, although it does have apparent time and space. Time and space were introduced into both worlds for the sake of distinguishing one thing from another, large from small, many from few – one quantity from another, and one quality from another. […]

Apparent space and time follow the different states of mind that spirits and angels go through there. The units of spiritual time and space match the desires of their will and the resulting thoughts in their intellect. Apparent space and time, then, are real – they are predictably determined by one’s state of mind.”**

-True Christianity §29

Because the concepts of time and space are so fundamental to our natural state, which is much more coarse and limited than the realms of spirit, it makes sense that we would conceptualize encounters with spirits within the limits of our ability to conceptualize. A classic example of this would be the human idea that heaven and hell are dwelling places we occupy after we die, in a somewhat abstract place which is clearly distinguished and ordered by the process of physical death. Another would be the notion that particular spirits reside within particular physical locations on earth. So while our legitimate spiritual experiences bear the appearance of being bound by time and space, they are in reality a result of inner processes. One might say that it is really us who are doing the haunting…

Take a “haunted house”, for example. Many completely sane and credible people have reported encounters with spiritual beings which seem to directly correlate with specific places. We may wander through a Victorian mansion, for example, contemplating its history and thinking of the people who once inhabited it. Suddenly, we have an otherworldly seeming experience, in which their presence seems to become tangible. This may vary from slight emotional or physical responses to auditory and visual appearances. It is logical, based on Swedenborg’s worldview, that we would conclude that a “spirit” has intruded into our material space, is somehow permeating it, and possibly “stuck” or “bound” to this location. In reality, he would argue, we are, by means of our thoughts and emotions, on a subtler level than that of materiality, entering their spaces, and getting a natural glimpse of what is already occurring within. The real encounter happens in the spiritual world, not in the natural world, but parallel to it.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of our blog: “Swedenborg and Spiritualism”!

Coming up next week!

*Swedenborg, Emanuel. Secrets of Heaven. Translated by Lisa Hyatt Cooper. West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 2008.

** Swedenborg, Emanuel. True Christianity. Translated by Jonathan S. Rose. West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 2010.

Rev. Thom Muller is pastor of Hillside, an Urban Sanctuary, in El Cerrito, California, as well as senior editor of Our Daily Bread. His passions include the intersection of spirituality and psychology, interfaith theology, and the Western esoteric tradition.

Rev. Muller was ordained into the ministry of the Swedenborgian Church of North America in 2016, upon receiving his theological education at Bryn Athyn College of the New Church and the Center for Swedenborgian Studies / Pacific School of Religion at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA.

Swedenborgian Convention’21: Registration Open!

The Swedenborgian Church of North America invites you to its 197th Annual Convention, which will be held virtually. There will be an array of excellent lectures, seminars, mini-courses, services, as well as business meetings of the denomination.

This is an excellent opportunity to see what’s happening in the Swedenborgian Church, as well as gaining an insight into our various physical and virtual ministries!

A highlingt will be our guest lecture by writer Gary Lachman, one of today’s most popular writers on esoteric and alternative spirituality and author of “Swedenborg: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas”, and his new book, “Introducing Swedenborg: Correspondences”!

Registration is free of charge, and can be completed here:

https://convention2021.swedenborg.org/register/

We will be sharing materials and info here on our web page during and following Convention. We hope to “see” you there!

“Things Heard and Seen”: Swedenborg, Netflix and Necromancy (Part I)

On April 29, Netflix released a brand new horror movie entitled “Things Heard and Seen”, starring oscar-nominee Amanda Seyfried (known from blockbusters such as Les Miserables, Mean Girls, and Mamma Mia!), written and directed by Shari Springer Berman and based on the novel All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage.

The film follows a college professor and his family, as they move into a new home in rural upstate New York, which is haunted by spirits, including a Swedenborgian ghost named Mrs. Smit, who had been murdered by her husband upon building the house.

The film begins with a quote from Swedenborg’s Spiritual Experiences §5685:

“This I can delare, that things that are in heaven are more real than things that are in the world”*

While it may seem like the stereotypical “haunted house” flick with the usual tropes, the film is unique in its explicit engagement with the mystical teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, particularly as they relate to the afterlife and communication with spirits. The title itself is a reference to Swedenborg’s most popular published work, Heaven and Hell (1758), and its original full title Heaven and its Wonders and Hell, from Things Heard and Seen (“De Caelo et Eius Mirabilibus et de inferno, ex Auditis et Visis”), in which the Swedish sage describes his countless journeys to the spiritual world and encounters with the various beings residing there. 

Throughout the movie, uniquely Swedenborgian spiritual and metaphysical concepts are mentioned, and his life, work and followers are depicted, which make for a unique, fascinating, and entertaining, albeit often inaccurate engagement with his spiritual system.

Things Heard and Seen appears to already be the most popular and well-known film inspired by Swedenborg (aside from 1998’s What Dreams May Come, starring Robin Williams, which has a more more indirect connection), and offers an opportunity for contemporary pop culture to discover and explore “New Church” spirituality and the actual richness of insight it provides when portrayed and approached properly, beyond the dramatic, flashy and provocative imagery of the movie.

Rather than being a review of the film, this blog series is meant to shed light on its underlying Swedenborgian principles, and explore the connections between Swedenborg, the paranormal, and popular culture. 

HOW ACCURATE IS THE FILM IN ITS PORTRAYAL OF SWEDENBORGIANISM?

While the film does a decent job at hinting at several uniquely Swedenborgian metaphysical ideas, such as the constant presence and influence of spirits in our own inner lives, the notion that spirits are drawn to like-minded individuals, and a general sense of a benevolent overall spiritual and cosmological structure, both the notions of “hauntings” and the summoning or contacting of specific spirits of deceased people are not concepts which are emphasized in Swedenborgian spirituality, neither is the idea of people being “damned” or “bound” to specific physical locations, as the film insinuates. 

While there is certainly an openness towards, and interest in such phenomena as Near Death Experiences, Spiritualism, and practical mysticism, Swedenborgians are not known to hold seances seeking out communication with specific spirits. This may be by far the most notable inaccuracy of the film, and one that is bound to worry actual Swedenborgians, who have a long history of rightly attempting to distance themselves from the spooky, strange, and otherworldly aura popular culture has sometimes associated with the great mystic. 

DIDN’T SWEDENBORG TALK TO DEAD PEOPLE?

It is absolutely true that one of Swedenborg’s major claims, and sources for his writings, were his alleged conversations with “angels and spirits”, all of whom, he writes, used to be human beings who have deceased and are now living in the fullness of the spiritual world, which is intimately connected to our “natural” conscious state. Arguably, his mystical writings constitute the largest, most extensive record of communication with the dead known to scholars, making the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the Seth Material look pale in comparison as far as volume is concerned. 

At the same time, he presents his encounters as experiences and realms he was led to as part of an overall revelatory process about the nature of spirit, rather than a specific “seeking out” of particular entities, something that distinguishes him from other mediums and mystics. The objective, for Swedenborg, was not to learn earthly information from specific beings, but rather a holistic experience of the subtle realms of consciousness, which to him, are intimately connected to the spiritual world. 

One reason why Swedenborgians have not been known to practice channeling is Swedenborg’s explicit warnings about the matter, claiming that while communication with spirits is certainly possible, it is not advisable for most people, and likely to have problematic outcomes: 

“It is clear how dangerous it is on this planet, when spirits speak with people, or people listen to spirits operating in them, if they do not have faith in the Lord. If they have faith, it does no harm, for the Lord liberates them; but if they do not have faith . . . they are not only persuaded that it is the holy spirit [speaking], but are also aroused and incited toward wicked acts.”* 

-Spiritual Experiences  §3781

According to Swedenborg, the spirits with the greatest interest in such activities are exactly the ones that are better avoided…

It seems important to note, however that there are exceptions to Swedenborg’s general approach toward communicating with the spirits of deceased people, which is to focus on being led by the divine by means of connections with benevolent spirits, and inquiring about universal spiritual truths from both angels and demons, rather than invoking the presence of specific beings.

Perhaps the most famous example of explicit “Necromancy” (“the supposed practice of communicating with the dead”**, generally associated with an active and intentional seeking out or invocation of specific spirits) is his supposed encounter with Queen Louisa Ulrika of Sweden in 1761. As the story goes, Queen Louisa requested that Swedenborg contact her deceased brother, Prince Augustus, who had died in 1758, and to relay a private question to him. Swedenborg is said to have returned to her a few weeks later, providing the Queen with Augustus’ answer to the question, which she claimed could have only been known by her brother, confirming Swedenborg’s successful contact. 

Just a year earlier, Swedenborg had supposedly been asked by yet another lady of high status, the widow of a deceased French diplomat, to contact him regarding the location of an important receipt which had been missing, the location of which only her late husband would know. Upon Swedenborg’s inquiry in the spiritual world, he appeared to his widow in a dream, and informed her, accurately,  of the location of the document. 

While these anecdotes are often used as examples of Swedenborg’s “evidential mediumship” and prominently touted by his followers as confirmation of his supernatural abilities, they present a challenge to those who try to disassociate him from the practice of necromancy. Be that as it may, his message to the world about talking to specific deceased spiritual beings can be most easily summed up as “Better not to mess with it.”

There are other examples of Swedenborg seeking out and encountering the spirits of specific personalities, including in his published theological works, such as prominent philosophers and theologians, in the worlds beyond, although he maintains that “special permission” was granted to him in order to convey particular spiritual ideas and principles, and that generally, important popular figures are not inclined to be easily contacted by “mortals”, and are better left alone...

Next Week: “Part II – Swedenborg and Haunted Houses

* Swedenborg, Emanuel. Emanuel Swedenborg’s Journal of Dreams and Spiritual Experiences. Translated by C. Th Odhner. Bryn Athyn, PA: Academy Book Room, 1918. 


** Oxford English Dictionary. Accessed May 7, 2021. https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/necromancy

Rev. Thom Muller is pastor of Hillside, an Urban Sanctuary, in El Cerrito, California, as well as senior editor of Our Daily Bread. His passions include the intersection of spirituality and psychology, interfaith theology, and the Western esoteric tradition. He was ordained into the ministry of the Swedenborgian Church of North America in 2016, upon receiving his theological education at Bryn Athyn College of the New Church and the Center for Swedenborgian Studies / Pacific School of Religion at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA.

ODBLOG: “Zoom Out, Zoom In”

Rev. David Fekete contemplates botht he vastness and intimacy of he divine in this reflection…

Readings: Isaiah 40:21-31, Mark 1:29-39

God is above the universe, before the universe. God is cosmic. God made the billion galaxies with their billions of stars. And as Isaiah says,

He who brings out the starry host one by one

    and calls forth each of them by name.

Because of his great power and mighty strength,

    not one of them is missing. (Isaiah 40:21)

God made them all and God’s mind is infinite, so God knows how many stars there are and calls them all by their billions of billions of names. 

I have a friend who doesn’t believe in God. He doesn’t believe in God because the universe is much, much too big for any one Being to have made it and keep it in order. But God is omniscient. That means “all-knowing.” That means that God’s mind is infinite. And an infinite mind can make the universe with its billions of galaxies and billions of billions of stars and keep track of it all and keep it in order. That is what

infinity is like. We say the word infinite, and we don’t stop to think what it means. Infinite

means that the whole universe can be known, created, and kept in order by such a consciousness. It’s that big. And we could go sub-atomic, too. Zoom down into the atoms and sub-atomic particles and acknowledge that God knows each quark and neutrino by name and made them all and keeps them in order. This is the magnificent God in the clouds of glory where we often place God. God is this. But when we put God in the clouds of glory, God can become impersonal. God is also

intimate. God comes to each one of us in our hearts. God doesn’t only number the galaxies, stars, quarks, and neutrinos, God also numbers the hairs on our head. God doesn’t only know the stars by name, God knows us each by name. And God cares about us. God cares more than our mothers. Infinite applies here, too. God’s love for us is infinite. Here, we can say omnipresent. That means “all-present.” That means that God is present everywhere. Even cosmic Isaiah says,

Why do you complain, Jacob?

    Why do you say, Israel,

“My way is hidden from the LORD;

    my cause is disregarded by my God”?*

Our cause is not disregarded by our God. God knows our cause. God knows our needs. God knows our wants. God knows what will make us happy. And God gives us what will make us happy.

I don’t think enough attention is given to God’s intimacy. Of God’s omnipresence. Of

the God who sits next to Simon’s mother-in-law and holds her hand. To make my point, I’d like to share a story about my own recent understanding of God. It relates to healing. 

Recently, I’ve undergone Rieki healings. I tried Rieki healing because Carol had gone to a practitioner and told me that it relieved her stress. Feeling a lot of tension, including muscle stiffness and joint soreness, I thought I’d try Reiki. I was skeptical at first, but was open-minded. I was, in fact, surprised what a marvellous healing happened. It went way beyond my body into my mind and soul, healing my consciousness and clearing my mind. Reiki healing is done by the healer laying her hands on my forehead, shoulder blades, heart, abdomen, knees, and feet. You wouldn’t think this would do anything. But it does. Then there is another healing practice that works through the ether over distances. So the healer is at home and I am in my home and the healing energy flows through the ether to me over distance. Recall that Swedenborg says that distance is an illusion and in the spiritual world there is no distance at all. Space is an illusion.

To receive the healing energy, one asks the Creator to come and let you into the healing sphere. Here, I ran into a conceptual problem. Just what kind of Creator do I ask to let me in? This healing process was all new to me, and I think its origins are in Shamanism. That suggested to me an Indigenous Creator. But I’m a Christian. And I’m getting to the point I’m trying to make.

I thought that Jesus is the Creator for me. I wasn’t sure about mixing up Christianity with Shamanistic healing practices. But there’s only one God, one Creator, and for me, that is Jesus. So when I prayed to the Creator to let me into the healing energy, I pictured Jesus sitting next to my bed, laying His hands on my forehead like my Reiki healer.

At first I recoiled at this idea. Swedenborg suggests we picture God like a human shining in the center of the spiritual sun. That’s a pretty cosmic image of God. But what about God sitting at my bedside laying His hands on my forehead? It almost seemed blasphemous. But why? Didn’t Jesus sit at the bedside of Simon’s mother-in-law and take her hand? Yes, He did. There was nothing special about Simon’s mother-in-law—she was an ordinary woman. Then they brought everyone who was sick to Jesus. Jesus no doubt took them by the hand, or otherwise touched them. These were ordinary people whom God loved and healed and touched. So I concluded that I could imagine Jesus at my bedside laying His healing hands on my forehead.

That is the Divine Human this church preaches. God’s soul is infinite but God has a

human body made divine. So that Human and God are One. It is central to the Swedenborgian Church that God and Human are completely united in the one person of Jesus. We say this; we profess this; we believe this. But do we realize this? Do we realize how intimate this makes God? I still hesitate when I think about Jesus sitting at my bedside laying His hands on my forehead. Should I?

John 1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory.” And the Bible and our doctrines tell us that Jesus rose flesh and bone. And Swedenborg tells us that Jesus appeared to him in a tavern and told him not to eat so much.

The infinite cosmic God who sits above the universe sits by the bedside of Simon’s mother-in-law and holds her hand. The infinite cosmic God who sits above the universe and numbers the hairs on our head. The infinite Cosmic God who sits above the universe sits at my bedside and Lays His hands on my forehead. That, I think, is what the doctrine of the Divine Human means.

*New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. 

“No Justice, No Peace” -Rev. Hugh Odhner

Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
    and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
The effect of righteousness will be peace,
    and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.
My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,
    in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.
*

-Isaiah 32:13-18

As the threat from Covid-19 appears to be gradually subsiding in this country – not that the threat of the pandemic has gone away; it is still with us, with new and perhaps more deadly variants showing up, but after a year, and after many of us have received vaccinations – attention is turning or being turned to other issues. One of these is the almost daily demonstrations taking place against the police. The slogan “no justice, no peace” is being heard and seen more and more often. The slogan is not particularly new; it became associated in the nineteen-eighties with protests against police violence in New York City. It has had a resurgence now, not because the underlying issue ever went away, but because increased attention is now being given to it. 

Almost fifty years ago, Pope Paul VI delivered a message for the World Day of Peace on January 1, 1972. He said, “If you want peace, work for justice.”* These words were true then and are just as true today. Without justice it is not possible to have true lasting peace, not in the world, not in our country, not in our local communities, not in our church, and not in ourselves. The mere absence of civil and social conflict is not an indication of genuine peace. For it may be imposed by political, societal or religious forces and customs which mask over deep-seated problems, and they will remain covered over until such time as the forces and powers are weakened. And then the disturbances which lay hidden underneath are exposed and come to view. While this upsetting and disruptive, know that disorders and evils cannot be dealt with until they come out into the open (Divine Providence §278). This is true both for an individual and as well as for a larger or smaller society.

The connection between justice and peace is evident from many passages in the Word of the Lord. Isaiah 32 states that the effect of justice will be peace. Psalm 85 verse ten states that righteousness (or justice) and peace have kissed each other. Arcana Coelestia 3574 tells us that this signifies their conjunction together. Consider for a moment that if we do not treat others with justice, that is, with fairness, as we ourselves would like to be treated, there is not likely to be a peaceful relationship. And this is true both for individual relationships and for society in general. To return to Isaiah 32, notice that the effect or work of justice not only is peace, but also results in tranquility and trust. Where justice and fairness are not practiced, a sense of trust will be absent.

The connection between justice and peace is like that between the two Great Commandments. Just as the first commandment relates to love to the Lord, and the second to love to the neighbor, so also “peace” relates to the Lord, and “justice” to the neighbor. We cannot be in one without the other. Peace in the highest sense signifies the Lord Himself. In the prophecy in Isaiah 9:6-7,  the Prince of Peace is the Lord. 

Concerning peace we read this in Arcana Coelestia §5662:

… peace in heaven is like spring on earth, or like the dawn, which does not affect us by sensible changes, but by a universal pleasantness that flows into everything that is perceived, and fills with this pleasantness not only the perception itself but also the individual objects.***

At the present day scarcely anyone knows the meaning of “peace” where it is mentioned in the Word, as in the benediction, “Jehovah lift up His faces upon you, and give you peace” (Num. 6:26); and in other places. Almost everyone believes peace to be security from enemies, and also tranquility at home and among companions. Such peace is not meant in this passage, but a peace which immeasurably transcends it – the heavenly peace just now spoken of. This peace can be bestowed on no one unless he is led by the Lord and is in the Lord, that is, in heaven where the Lord is all in all; for heavenly peace flows in when the lusts arising from the love of self and the love of the world are taken away. 

These are what take peace away, for they infest a person’s interiors, and at last cause him to make rest consist in unrest, and peace in annoyances, because his delight is in evils. So long as a person is in these he cannot possibly know what peace is, indeed, during that time he believes that such peace is nothing; and if anyone says that it becomes perceptible when the delights from the love of self and the world are taken away, he laughs, because he makes peace consist in the delight of evil, which is the opposite of peace.  

We read further regarding what peace is like and also what takes away peace:

(Peace) is like dawn on the earth, which gladdens minds with universal delight; and the truth of peace is like the light of the dawn. This truth, which is called “the truth of peace,” is the Divine truth itself in heaven from the Lord, which universally affects all who are there, and makes heaven to be heaven; for peace has in it confidence in the Lord, that He directs all things, and provides all things, and that He leads to a good end. When a person is in this faith, he is in peace, for he then fears nothing, and no solicitude about things to come disturbs him. A person comes into this state in proportion as he comes into love to the Lord.*** (AC §8455)

On the other hand:

All evil, especially that of self-confidence, takes away a state of peace. It is believed that an evil person is at peace when he is in gladness and tranquility because all things succeed with him. But this is not peace; it is the delight and tranquility of intense desires, which counterfeit a state of peace. But in the other life this delight, being opposite to the delight of peace, is turned into what is undelightful, for this lies hidden within it. 

In the other life the exteriors are successively unfolded even to the inmosts, and peace is the inmost in all delight, even in what is undelightful with a person who is in good. So far therefore as such a person puts off what is external, so far a state of peace is revealed, and so far he is affected with satisfaction, blessedness, and happiness, the origin of which is from the Lord Himself.***  (AC §8455)

When we see those signs that say “no justice, no peace,” let us raise our minds above the political message being displayed, and see the truth of the heavenly message that lies within. Where there is no charity toward the neighbor, where there is no regard for treating others as we ourselves would wish to be treated, which is at the core of justice, there can be no love to the Lord who is the source of all peace, who is peace itself. That slogan printed on the sign, while perhaps meant to be a political message, is actually a spiritual message that we can take to heart and soul, for at its core, it embodies the teaching of our Lord.

*New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

**Pope Paul VI, “Speech at World Peace Day 1972”. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Vatican City, 1972.

***Swedenborg, Emanuel. Arcana Coelestia. Translated by John Potts. West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 1998.

The Rev. Hugh Odhner is minister at the Lord’s New Church Philadelphia Society. A bridge-builder between the different Swedenborgian branches, he has preached at several Convention ministries, including the Church of the Holy City in Washington, D.C., and has been a regular attendee and lecturer at Fryeburg New Church Assembly for many years. He lives with his wife Denise in Bryn Athyn, PA.

Swedenborgians in Action Against Racism: New Online Seminar May 10

With an increased interest in, and awareness of the issues surrounding racism in our society, Swedenborgians in Action Against Racism has been an initiative within the Swedenborgian Church which aims at addressing these issues from a New Church perspective.

Join Swedenborgians in Action Against Racism for a one-off evening Zoom program at 7pm ET aimed at helping us all navigate talking about race and racial justice with our families, friends and co-workers. Such conversations can often feel overwhelming and fraught, but like with many things, practice, familiarity and knowledge helps. Participants will gather together for a brief introduction and then self-select into the following discussion groups according to interest.

  • Unpacking Microaggressions: how some comments and questions land, and why they are so harmful.
  • Sorry, not sorry: how to apologize in a healing fashion, either immediately or way after the offense.
  • Actually, some questions are stupid and that’s okay: a safe place to ask what you’ve been afraid to say.*
  • Conversational Techniques: how to preserve civility and keep the peace without backing down, and how to rebound if hostility prevails.
  • The Vocabulary of Social Justice: what are you talking about?

*We invite those registering for this discussion topic, and any others who would like to participate, to use this link to submit a question you would like to ask. 

Leaders include: Rev. Shada Sullivan, Rev. Robert McCluskey, Page Morahan, Lori Gayheart, Kurt Fekete, Elise Genzlinger and Rev. Dr. Jim Lawrence.

Click this link to register. for the program by May 8th.

Questions? Email Central Office at manager@swedenborg.org or call (617) 969-4240 M-F 12pm ET to 4pm ET.

To find out more about SAAR and its vision and mission, check out ODB’s interview with Rev. Shada Sullivan and Lori Gayheart: https://spiritualquesters.org/?p=1471

ODBLOG: “The Truth Shall Make You Free” -Rev. Renee Machiniak

“Heavenly intelligence is a deeper intelligence arising from a love of what is true-not for the sake of any praise in the world or any praise in heaven, but simply for the sake of the truth itself, because it is profoundly moving and delightful. People who are moved and delighted by the truth itself are moved and delighted by heaven’s light; and if so, then they are also moved and delighted by divine truth and actually by the Lord himself, since heaven’s light is divine truth, and divine truth is the Lord in heaven.”*

-Emanuel Swedenborg, Heaven and Hell §347

Would you agree that we are in times that are anxiety producing, distressing and unsettling? Of course we are. It might feel like we are a ship in the wind without an anchor. Every day, we hear things in the news that are supposed to be facts and then we don’t have any way to evaluate them and what they will ultimately mean. We feel rudderless. 

What’s missing is to hear from people who value the truth for its own sake and who want to stick to that. People who don’t want to embellish, don’t want to exaggerate, don’t want to just get close to the truth, they want to say it just as it is, which then, by the way, points to probabilities in the future. That’s what gives us more meaning and a strong sense of where we are led and where we’re at, and where we need to go. That’s what’s missing today, and has been missing for a long time, the truth. Plain and simple. 

Then, we will all stop acting like Pontius Pilate who said “What is truth?” as Divinity stood right before his eyes. He was one of the Lost ones. He didn’t sense goodness. And the Lord was silent because he knew Pilate didn’t want to know the truth it takes courage to see and speak the truth because we may not always be popular or acceptable when we do. 

If we lose our appetite for the truth, for its own sake, we begin our journey into a lost, lifeless place. Valuing truth for its own sake gives us integrity. It orients us to reality, to what is real, and the Lord is the very real. Valuing Truth for its own sake, psychologically, keeps us in touch with ourselves at various levels of our being, and then, we can be in touch with each other, truly. 

Now moving to another aspect of truth, which is that at relevant times, in our own lives, it’s critical that we speak truth, in appropriate ways, or life gets out of order and chaotic. Sometimes gradually, and sometimes an obvious life-changing ways…

For example, when a friend hurts your feelings, you don’t talk with them about what happened and how you feel, and the friendship cools off. Over time, you call each other less and less often and when a life tragedy hits there is no one to go to. Love is sacrificed then. Love is one of the first casualties when truth is set aside. 

Perhaps the highest spiritual practice is to face reality as it is, or another way to say this, to face into the Lord who is reality itself. When we do this we are truly free we are free. So how do we do this? How do we face the truth, even when it hurts or upsets us? Jesus said, “open your hearts and open your eyes”. Do not worry about opening your mind because your mind would automatically be opened if you open your heart and your eyes. See what is before you, what is actually being shown to you, and let your heart teach your mind. 

All the secrets of the universe, God’s universe, emerge from the faithful and loving heart. Swedenborg guides us about the truth saying that we live in this world understanding varying degrees of truth or appearances of Truth. 

The closer we are to god, the closer we approach the truth, absolute truth which is only glimpsed here in time and space, so the most effective and efficient method of acquiring truth is to build our relationship with god.

*Swedenborg, Emanuel. Heaven and Hell. Translated by George F. Dole. West Chester: Swedenborg Foundation, 2000.

Rev. Renee Machiniak has been the minister of the Royal Oak Church of the Holy City for the past 25 years, serving as a staff chaplain for both Beaumont Hospice and Oncology for 9 years and now a volunteer chaplain with Beaumont’s Ovarian Cancer Support Group and the Royal Oak Police Department. She resides in Royal Oak Michigan with her husband, Joe, her parents, Rev. John and Sharon Billings, and dog Gertie.

“The Psychologist and the Mystic” -Rev. Hannah Hill

In this essay, Rev. Hannah R. Hill discusses the subtle and not-so-subtle influences of the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg on the ideas and works of the great psychologist William James, author of The Varieties of Religious Experience.

Click below for a PDF version:

The Psychologist and the Mystic – Rev. Hannah Reynolds

Rev. Hannah R. Hill is an ordained Baptist minister through a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. She has been an active wedding officiant in the Atlanta area for four years; marrying the straight, the queer and all those who love each other.

Hannah completed her undergraduate studies at Bryn Athyn College, where she fell in love with Swedenborgian theology. She graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary in May of 2017, and has been a student at the Center for Swedenborgian Studies in Berkeley.

She has several blogs, has served as a research assistant on a published paper and in general likes talking about books. She has a two-year old named Steven.