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“Cultivating Resiliency” -Rev. Kit Billings

Suggested Readings: John 15:1-8, E. Swedenborg: Secrets of Heaven §6489

“The nature of the Lord’s Providence is such that it is linked together with Foresight; the one does not exist without the other. For evil things are foreseen, but good ones are provided; and the evil things that are foreseen are constantly being turned towards what is good by means of the Lord’s provident arrangement, since the Divine end, which has good in view, governs everything. Nothing is therefore allowed to happen except to the end that something good may come out of it.”SH §6489

For me, the theme of cultivating resiliency in God is extremely important. I say that because we all can bear witness to the truth that life at times becomes very difficult: we go through cycles of spiritual battles or temptations that test us greatly (coming face to face with selfishness in ourselves requiring courage and faith); we face serious losses of many kinds, and so we therefore go through grief, with all of its layers of pain, sadness and heartache; and we must deal with our own failures at times, which are not easy either.

Resilience is this remarkable power and ability to bounce back from major challenges, stress and disappointments in life.  It is about being spiritually rooted and consciously connected to the Lord and learning how to use spiritual skills when things get thorny and complex.  Using biblical imagery, resilience is like a bruised reed bending to and fro in the wind, but not breaking.  

Why do we not break?  Because we’ve learned to feel, believe in and trust that God Himself is literally holding our hand along the way!  It doesn’t mean we can avoid feeling at wits end at times, and it doesn’t mean we won’t need to do what Jesus did, to bear our own “crosses” in life, and to weep…just as Christ wept one day overlooking Jerusalem who was about to betray Him at the end of His Holy Week before Easter morn.

Spiritual resilience is born out of learning and knowing the living truth of God’s Word this morning, that the Lord is personally keeping us and safeguarding us within His awesome powers of Divine Providence.  It’s about being able to apply the truth that the essential story of Scripture is also our story. 

Yes, my friends, God is personally making sure that no matter what happens to us in life, His Divine Forces of Loving-Wisdom continuously and invisibly are guiding all of our good and bad times toward our eternal good. 

As our theology puts it, the Lord foresees all of the evil and bad things before they strike, and then He moulds and shapes life—ensuring that our painful and trying times are always being “turned towards what is good by means of the Lord’s provident arrangement, since the Divine end…governs everything.  Nothing is therefore allowed to happen except to the end that something good may come out of it.”*

Resilience is God’s way of helping us ultimately not to break under heavy loads.  This is an essential ability for us because much of life involves cycles of temptation struggles, where we choose to either accept things for what they are, or with God’s help and our own deepest determination to overcome life’s problems, discovering amazing courage in the process as the Lord again and again regenerates us in His goodness and truth.

Spiritual resiliency enables us to learn how to navigate our toughest and roughest times in life (going through cycles of temptations) and doing so within real perceptions of high things (also known as “faith”).  And all along the way, as we experience our trials and temptations and as we learn how to be a compassion ally to those in need, God teaches us through layers of meaning in life how to become like our Lord in yet another way:  He teaches us genuine humility.  Resilience blesses us with yet another gift from Heaven, which I refer to as waking up in the morning and actually wanting to get out of bed, because I get to simply show up in the world with love for the Lord and the neighbor.

Dr. Robert Wicks in his great book, Riding the Dragon, tells the true story of a young woman who was in school studying to become a therapist “who volunteered some of her free time to sing and play the organ for funerals at her church. During one such occasion, a small, slender little boy came upstairs to the music loft to see her after the service. For him to come upstairs alone was a little odd since children usually don’t wander around at a funeral. She asked him if he knew where his parents were. He [then] told her in a very matter-of-fact way, “Well, my mommy is downstairs and she said I could come up to see you. But my daddy is over there” (pointing to the casket downstairs). Unbeknownst to her, the boy was the son of the man who had just died. She caught her breath and willed herself not to cry, since she was sure this boy had seen enough tears already.“ **

She could not help but wonder to herself, though, what in the world was his mother thinking to send him up here [to her loft]? Trying to smile, she looked at him and said, ‘Oh.’ As a counseling student she thought there must be something better to say to a seven-year-old boy who had just lost his father. As it turned out, that one word was sufficient. It reassured him and gave him enough confidence to then tell her, ‘That song about eagle’s wings was my daddy’s favorite song; he sung it real loud in church. Now, it’s my favorite song too.’ In response, she nodded her head, smiled, and didn’t say another word for fear of crying.

“The young boy then went over to the balcony rail and looked down at the casket with the beautiful white lace cover over it sitting in the aisle. He turned around, looked at the young woman, touched the organ keys very quickly, and ran down the stairs. As he left, she tried to say goodbye, but he was gone before she could get the words out. Several minutes later the widow came upstairs apologizing for her son’s intrusion. The young woman [organist] reassured her that it was no problem. The boy’s mother proceeded to tell her that her son had not spoken one word, cried, nor eaten solid food since his dad had died. And then she thanked her for playing ‘On Eagle’s Wings’ because it had opened him up.” (pp. 14-16, ibid.)

This poignant experience for that young woman in counseling studies helped her learn an important lesson from that day.  You see, that special experience nurtured her deep inside, because that day, during his daddy’s funeral, she had helped that sad little boy to open up a bit, so that he could begin his own grieving process and begin to start letting go.

In this book, Dr. Wicks shares a lot of very good wisdom for our lives.  He has learned that no matter how bright and intelligent we are, the effects of both acute and chronic stress in life sometimes gets the better of us. 

I have learned the same truth, by the way, that “the trauma, pressures, busyness, and darkness around us are not the only problems. The real difficulty arises when we don’t sit down regularly to take the measure of our lives—whether the times be good or difficult.”  But if we do take the time to reflect about how we felt during our trials, and to open up toward God and consider how did God’s grace provide me with the strength, wisdom and fortitude to make my way forward (in spite of my failures and mistakes).  In doing so, we then help the Lord’s powers of resilience to activate and blossom deep within.

It can be tempting to run away from our dark and difficult times…to “run like hell” away from slowing down and spending time with the Lord in deeper self-reflection.  But, if we choose to run like hell, and take the easy way out, we may well be abandoning crucial moments in God’s Divine-Human Presence, who is the first and best Power available to us to continue our fight for becoming a deeply joyful, sensitive, compassionate person, who is called by the Holy One to not simply live…but rather to LIVE FULLY on our way into our own angelhood while living here on Earth.

Taking time now and then, to sit down gently and lovingly and yet also very honestly with ourselves to turn over the mounds of dirt we all must slog through in life is not only beneficial to our souls, it is crucial upon the pathway of resilience-making in our Lord’s Spirit—which allows God to unleash a steady flow of resilient forces that guide us forward into the good of life our theology teaches.

I’m speaking now about the crucial skill we call “repentance.”  For indeed, some of my life’s serious problems and struggles I go through are ones mostly caused by my own inherited or personally made selfish ways, finding clever excuses for my own wrongdoings.  God needs all of us to be faithfully committed to being brutally honest with ourselves about the things within US that ARE the primary part of a problem we’re facing.  We must be willing, when appropriate, to see the reasons we are causing the hurt, pain and suffering of those around us—and then be willing to reach out passionately toward God for Divine help, mercy and strength to make the changes needed to stop one’s sins in their tracks.

These are the moments when we may actually feel like we are burning up inside from healthy guilt and remorse.  But it is from such willing and needed moments of necessary suffering where God grants us with the blessing of humility, which angels have in abundance. 

In these moments I’ve found myself staring into the darkness of the truth I must face, allowing it to soften my soul from the inside-out.  The ancient Egyptians and then the Greeks and Roman thinkers imaged this ability to rise up out of the ashes of life was best seen as the great Phoenix Bird rising from the ashes.  That’s the amazing bird of fire, the one with fiery plumage that lives up to 100 years.  Near the end of its life, it settles into its nest of twigs, which then burns ferociously, reducing bird and nest to ashes.  And from those ashes, a fledgling Phoenix rises – renewed, resilient and reborn!

In conclusion, the language Christ used to teach His disciples about the importance of cultivating resilience in these ways was that of Him as the Vine and we are His branches.  This great and courageous work of wisely taking time for needed self-reflection was described by Jesus as spiritual pruning work. 

In fact, He says in the Gospel of John, “He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.” (John 15:2)  ***

And so my friends, as we all now find our footing in this New Year 2021, I implore you to immerse yourself in the possibility that anything you struggle with today is something that the Lord is walking through with you, and that it can be used to develop more compassion in you and for others. 

Remember, my friends, whatever is happening in your life, the Lord is meeting you there.  You can learn more skills about resiliency in Christ right now.  I pray that each of us might lean on our God-given church community to remind us of these things, especially when the Lord’s presence feels more distant and when these practices feel more difficult. 

Look upon the faces of those before you now on our screens, and listen with humble appreciation to the voices of those in your phones today, for we each will be used by God’s handiwork providentially to provide the compassionate support we need throughout this year and beyond. 

Amen.

*Swedenborg, Emanuel. Secrets of Heaven. West Chester: Swedenborg Foundation, 2010.

**Wicks, Robert J. Riding the Dragon: 10 Lessons for Inner Strength in Challenging Times. Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2012.

***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.

Rev. Kit Billings, his wife Penny, and their daughter Julia moved to LaPorte, Indiana in 2012, where he is Pastor of the LaPorte New Church, a historic Swedenborgian sacred space.

Kit enjoys ministering with people of all ages, and supporting others in their journey of growth with the Lord.

ODB Mini-Documentary: D. Gopal Chetty and The Saivite Swedenborgians of India

In this video, Eleanor Schnarr, student at the Graduate Theological Union and the Center for Swedenborgian Studies in Berkeley, CA explores the work of Hindu-Swedenborgian theologian D. Gopaul Chetty who synthesized Swedenborgian mysticism and Saiva Siddhanta.

Eleanor is currently working on a project to support the Indian Swedenborgian community, including the establishment of a Swedenborgian book room. To learn more about, and support this project, visit

https://www.gofundme.com/f/2948oob8dc?utm_campaign=p_lico+share-sheet&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_source=customer

Eleanor Schnarr is an artist, poet, and Swedenborgian mystic who lives and works at Hillside Swedenborgian Church in El Ceritto, California.
Eleanor holds an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, a Certificate from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and is currently studying at the Center for Swedenborgian Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

A Seventh generation Swedenborgian, she has been involved in the practice and study of the work of the Swedish mystic since childhood. In her visual work Eleanor uses oil paint on paper to recreate the visionary experiences of the interior world in a language of line and color; an esthetic which evokes the stained glass windows of the cathedral her hometown of Bryn Athyn, PA.

Eleanor’s practice centers around the refinement of the interoceptive sense through Swedenborgian spirituality and meditation, or in other words, the “Yoga of the North”

“Door of My Heart” – Swedenborg and Yogananda

In this piece, Eleanor Schnarr, lifelong Swedenborgian and student at the Graduate Theological Union and the Center for Swedenborgian Studies, explores the synthesis of Eastern and Western mysticism, comparing Emanuel Swedenborg and Paramahansa Yogananda.

Click below for a printable PDF version:

Eleanor Schnarr is an artist, poet, and Swedenborgian mystic who lives and works at Hillside Swedenborgian Church in El Ceritto, California.
Eleanor holds an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, a Certificate from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and is currently studying at the Center for Swedenborgian Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

A Seventh generation Swedenborgian, she has been involved in the practice and study of the work of the Swedish mystic since childhood. In her visual work Eleanor uses oil paint on paper to recreate the visionary experiences of the interior world in a language of line and color; an esthetic which evokes the stained glass windows of the cathedral her hometown of Bryn Athyn, PA.

Eleanor’s practice centers around the refinement of the interoceptive sense through Swedenborgian spirituality and meditation, or in other words, the “Yoga of the North”

ODBLOG: Money, Manifesting, and Spirituality

Rev. David Fekete

Due to some difficult financial issues I am being confronted with, I have been looking at the subject of money from a spiritual perspective.

Some people believe that spiritual powers will bring us prosperity. There are Christian ministers you can see on TV who preach that God will reward believers abundantly. They preach what is called the “prosperity gospel.” Some spiritually-minded people believe in something called The Secret.

This teaching says that if we manifest wealth, it will come to us. We put it out into the universe, and the universe gives us the material wealth that we want.

Jesus Himself said, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it”* (John 14:14).

Luke gives us conflicting messages about wealth. Jesus’ birth story contrasts the wealth of the Roman Emperor with the poverty of Jesus and His family. It is rustic shepherds who see the vision of heavenly glory and the army of angels, not Caesar Augustus, the High Priests, nor the Sadducees. Jesus is born in a barn. Jesus’ parents can’t afford to bring a lamb to sacrifice when Jesus is consecrated to God at the temple.

In John, Jesus does say, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). Finally, Luke’s account of the beatitudes reads, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven” (Luke 6:20).

These considerations make me think Luke is not concerned with material prosperity. But Luke does say that our material needs will be met:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.

Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!

And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”

This comforting passage says that God will take care of our material needs. We need only not wish for extravagant wealth, and we’ll be OK. I’m holding these apparently contradictory passages in tension. I am in a difficult time, financially. My money situation is OK now, but when I look at the future, what I have now won’t be enough.

But then, we don’t know the future, do we? Luke seems to tell me that God will meet my spiritual needs only. Then he says that my basic material needs will be met.

I sure hope that means I’ll be able to keep paying my mortgage, my cable bill, my power bill, and my phone bill. But God knows what we can handle, and I think Luke tells us that we’ll manage whatever comes our way. In fact, we’ll prosper spiritually in whatever comes our way.

*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.

Rev. David Fekete, PhD, is pastor at the Church of the Holy City (Swedenborgian) in Edmonton, Alberta, and senior editor of “Our Daily Bread” at spiritualquesters.org. His passions include literature, ecumenism, music and the arts, as well as interfaith dialogue.

Turn the Other cheek? -Rev. Thom Muller

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)*         

As we enter into the new year, we are invited to reflect on our spiritual state, to “take spiritual inventory” if you will. One of the things many people have been expressing about this past year, aside from the obvious reality of the current pandemic, is that they feel there has been a further increase in tension between people in this country. 

Politically, folks seem as divided as ever, as an extremely controversial and divisive presidential term comes to an end. This seems to also have impacted the socio-cultural realms of life. Group-identity, and a dismissive and often spiteful and aggressive attitude towards people in other “groups”, be they cultural, social, economic, etc. seems to have accelerated. And then there is, of course, the ever-present tragedy of violent conflict, both domestic and international. 

Clearly then, it seems appropriate for us, as we reflect on how we can best continue our regenerative journey to God in 2021, to contemplate how this tension may have impacted us spiritually. How do we deal, externally and internally, with conflict, feelings of anger or even hatred, and how might we cultivate an approach to these that brings us back to the source of everything: Love and wisdom?

In Christ’s request to “turn the other cheek” we are invited o reflect on our reactions to evil when we see it–when we are the victims. Do we clench with anger and coil up, repay wrong for wrong? Or do we have the courage to resist that primal urge and to be merciful instead of vengeful? 

Let me offer a couple of examples to give a context in which to think about this principle of overcoming our native perspective: 

If someone short-changes us at the checkout, it’s easy to assume that person is incompetent. It takes more effort to reflect that the person may just have made a mistake.

If someone lies to us knowingly, it’s easy to insinuate all kinds of negative things about that person’s spiritual character–maybe even say a few of them. It’s harder to open ourselves up to think about the reasons the person lied, and how best to deal with the situation.

If someone insensitively yells at us for something we didn’t do, our natural tendency is to yell back–to make sure he or she knows of the injustice. It takes more courage to explain the error calmly, and to hold no ill will towards the person. The list could go one and on. These things happen all the time…

It makes sense, then, that we sometimes need these words of encouragement, reminding us to rise above our instinctive desire to repay injustice, and instead be moved to think about what’s going on in other people’s minds as we experience our own thoughts and emotions.

It is difficult to counter cruelty with mercy. Christ addresses this by means of the very words He chose during His Sermon on the Mount. The things He asks there intentionally go against our common sense– beyond what we would reasonably expect the to be  asked of us. Think about what it means to “turn the other cheek.” A person slaps you in the face. Such an act is an affront to our selfhood. It is a way of cutting someone to the core–of provoking us to almost certain anger. Yet the Christ, in the Sermon on the mount, says in effect, “Let him slap you again.” 

Our inner life  is the key. Again we are asked to focus on what’s going on in our minds- our intentions, affections, thoughts, attitudes. When someone insults us what happens to our spiritual life? What causes us to react in a merciful or vengeful way? 

A major idea is contained within Christs introduction to His message: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…'” (Matthew 5:38). 

This again is the law of retaliation. It is the exact opposite of the Golden Rule which the Lord spoke of later in the same address: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them”  (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31).  The truth contained within is that one is the law of heaven, while the other is the law of hell. In a state of heaven, people are motivated by mutual love, or charity–they do to others as they want others to do to them (see Apocalypse Revealed §762). 

So on one hand, this is, as much of the Sermon on the Mount, a radical fulfilling, re-imagening and deepening of what we know as the Mosaic law, specifically the law of retribution. “You have heard it said, BUT I tell you…” and yet, there is an even deeper symbolic, correspondential meaning below the surface:

“Who cannot see that these words are not to be understood according to the sense of the letter? For who will turn the left cheek to him who deals a blow on the right cheek? And who will give his cloak to him who would take away his coat? And who will give his property to all who ask? And who will not resist evil? But no one can understand these words who does not know what is signified by “the right cheek” and “the left cheek,” what by “a coat” and “a cloak,” also what by “a mile,” and likewise by “borrowing,” and so on.

The subject there treated of is spiritual life, or the life of faith; not natural life, which is the life of the world. The Lord there opens, and also in this chapter, and the following, the interior things that belong to heaven, but by means of such things as are in the world. The reason why He did so by such things, was that not worldly men, but only heavenly men, should understand.” **

Arcana Coelestia §9049

And that’s where the key lies. Sure, you can understand this stuff to be relating to physical, earthly life. In that sense, one could see it as a dramatic rhetorical reminder. “You know what, when someone strikes you on the face …..!” Yet when we apply a Swedenborgian reading of scripture, we uncover some of the deeper psycho-spiritual meaning behind this discourse.

A “cheek”, to Swedenborg, represents an interior understanding of the truth (see Apocalypse Explained 556:9; cf. Arcana Coelestia 9049:6). When we truly understand the the request to resist vengeful motions, we will see that we are asked to respond from a charitable perspective. 

“Striking the cheek” represents a desire to destroy (Ibid.). When someone steals from us, or is cruel, the Lord asks us not to strike back–not to desire to destroy.  Instead our goal is to respond from that interior understanding which is “the other cheek”-from an interior affection of love towards the neighbor. “love your  enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray     for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43).     

So, this speaks to whenever we are faced with an assault, spiritually a desire to destroy -from within or without.

We can imagine countless examples. Somebody deeply challenges our own spiritual ideas or identities, somebody says or does something to us we consider spiritually harmful, destructive. Often, we might be the victim and the perpetrator at the very same time. 

Where do we respond from? As a spiritual person, who seeks connection with the divine, and our fellow beings? The answer is NOT from earthly point of revenge or retaliation. Not from anger, not from rage, not from the instinctive, animalistic, and distinctly earthly urge to meet violence with violence, destruction with destruction, injury with injury. But instead, we respond from what we know to supercede the natural world, from our inner understanding (as opposed to our outer conditioning). Symbolically, we respond with an assault on our being by means of a re-connection with our true (capital S) Angelic Self, and our constant connection and grounding within the influx of the divine. 

Now, back to reality, this may still seem just as absurd and downright unnatural as turning the other cheek when someone randomly slaps us in the face. We might perceive this as just another unrealistic, saintly scenario, part of what pissed me off about Jesus as a kid. 

And this might be another part where we are invited to reconsider the spiritual dynamics of this whole idea. If we look at this from a Swedenborgian perspective, this is not about living up to some kind of unrealistic high standard. In Swedenborg’s view, there is no angry and judgmental god looking at our actions and deciding to reward or punish us based on how “holy” our decisions are. In fact, there may be times when allowing ourselves to experience our own anger and frustration may be a very healthy experience. 

What this is a reminder of is that, at least according to the old Swede, we choose, my means of our actions, our spiritual associations. If we cultivate the states of anger, revenge, a need for control and retaliation, we are welcome to do so.

But the point of the whole thing is that by doing so, we are essentially moving ourselves away from a loving connection to each other and the great I AM, which has at its very foundation the love and the wisdom we have at our disposal.

*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 Potts. West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 1998.

Rev. Thom Muller is pastor at Hillside, an Urban Sanctuary/Hillside Swedenborgian Church in El Cerrito, California, as well as co-editor of Our Daily Bread.

His passions include the intersection of religion and psychology, interfaith spirituality, comparative Mysticism, 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 at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA.

Wavelengths of Peace in Advent -Rev. Kit Billings

In this Advent message, Rev. Kit Billings, pastor at the LaPorte New Church, discusses how the season of Advent can help us go within and engage the spiritual dynamics of receiving and welcoming the divine peace into our lives.

The Season of Advent is our time of preparation for celebrating Christmas—the birth of Immanuel, “God with us.”  This is a very holy, sacred and spiritually influential time, if we approach this season of giving with depth, warmth and a humble attitude.  Last Sunday we honored Advent as a Season of hope, and today we are so blessed to honor Advent as a Season of…peace.

Like me do you find yourself fairly often in life longing for peace?  Not so much the outward or physical kinds of peace, where worldly strife and wars are no more, but rather, inward peace…when all forms of worry, anxiety and discontent inside ebb and flow away. 

Have you ever felt this kind of deep-down spiritual peacefulness inside?  When you feel whole, closely connected or “at one” with the Lord, when Heaven has somehow descended deep within your heart and mind, and you’re then completely sure that the Lord is more real than your left foot—ever-present, always loving and who has all of life held securely in His Divine Hands.

On this second Sunday of Advent, my friends, let’s settle down and open ourselves up wide inside to let God speak to us now, about peace.  For aren’t we here together right now, in part, to worship the “Prince of Peace”?

During one of France’s wars with Britain in the mid 1800s, a train carrying dispatches to France’s headquarters was compelled to go over sixty miles of very rough track, and reach its destination within an hour.  The engineer was the bearer of the dispatches, and his wife and child were in the coach.  Every moment threatened to pitch the train over the embankment or over a bridge, and, as it rolled from side to side, leaping at times almost in the air, rushing past stations, the few people inside held their breath and often cried out with terror as they sped along.  There was one on that train, however, who knew nothing of their fears and that was the child of the engineer.  Happy as a bird, she laughed aloud when asked if she were not afraid, and looked up and answered, “Why, my father is at the engine.”  A little later, the engineer came into the car to cheer up his wife and, as he wiped the great drops of sweat from her face, the child leaped into his arms and laid her head upon his bosom, as happy and peaceful as when at home.  What a lesson and illustration for the children of the Heavenly Father!

In my experience of ordinary life, we tend to think of “peace” as basically “a lack of conflict.”  As a nation, if we’re not at war people will sometimes say, “Isn’t it good that we’re in a time of peace?”  But on the spiritual wavelength of life, peace is something much more potent and influential.  The power of peace that was coming into our world 2020 years ago was much more active, vigorous and transformational than the cessation of wars on Earth.  At the heart of Life itself, all truly human beings are constantly being invited by God to put aside our common definition of “peace,” where we tend to see it as the “lack of physical conflict,” and instead look at it as the active spiritual effects of non-conflict

The power of peace flowing into us from the Lord is a force drawing things together and unifying them—and these graces are the result of God’s Love regenerating us, changing us, making us more and more into His image and likeness.

The peace of God flows much farther and deeper than our understanding may be able to fathom, as the healing wavelengths of God’s Spirit are God’s perfect love married to His perfect wisdom!  Like me, have you often felt the beginning wavelengths this warm, gentle Divine Force of peacefulness inside whenever you choose freely to enter into a time of worship?  Often I feel the first influence of God’s goodness and peacefulness simply by walking inside of our church.  We feel this inward Force of peace whenever we allow ourselves to be drawn to the Lord, described in our teachings as: “peace in the heavens is the Divine nature intimately affecting everything good there with blessedness.” (Secrets of Heaven  §268)*

Our theology describes the outpouring Divine influence of the Lord as like wavelengths of warmth, goodness and peaceful contentment, which come about also when the desires of our hearts are aligned with what we know is true from God’s Word.  And so, a hallmark of spiritual regeneration is a gradual increase of the Lord’s peacefulness, as we choose to move toward the Lord and His Kingdom of Heaven.  This beautiful movement of God’s Spirit reaches our hearts and minds whenever we choose to engage in the Lord’s Holy Word, not so that we can win Scriptural arguments or try to prove that my beliefs are better than someone else’s, but simply when all I want to do is love others better, to listen more than to speak, to love within the Good News proclaimed on that first Christmas night!

And so, like the shepherds, when I humble myself like a child as they did, wanting the Lord’s angels to lead me back into the simplicity and goodness of Christmas, then the Lord is able to work His wonders inside of my heart and mind. 

As we read in Divine Providence n. 125, “The Lord leads us by inflowing and teaches us by enlightenment.”** (Divine Providence  §165)  In other words, the Lord touches and teaches us from the inside.  He flows into our souls with His Love and enlightens us inwardly with spiritual Light.  As Christ said Himself, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”*** (Luke 17:20-21) 

Indeed my friends, the Lord’s primary work is to change us inwardly.  Advent and Christmas, then, are like an annual re-invitation from God to prepare ourselves for new birthings of internal peace.  This preparation in part requires us to examine ourselves and repent of our evils and sins, which stand in the way of us receiving the Lord anew.  I hear this glorious message echoed in Isaiah’s timeless words when he said:  

“How beautiful upon the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who proclaims peace,
Who brings glad tidings of good things,
Who proclaims salvation,
Who says to Zion,
‘Your God reigns!'”(Isaiah 52:7)***

May your journey into the Light, the heat and the goodness of the Prince of Peace be steady and deeply real for you, full of joy and peace, the way that a little girl or boy warmly embraces their mommy or daddy in the morning at the sun’s new day!

Amen.

*Swedenborg, Emanuel. Heaven and Hell. Translated by George F. Dole, West Chester, PA, Swedenborg Foundation, 2010.

**Swedenborg, Emanuel. Divine Providence. Translated by George F. Dole. West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 2003.

***New King James Version Bible. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Rev. Kit Billings, his wife Penny, and their daughter Julia moved to LaPorte, Indiana in 2012, where he is Pastor of the LaPorte New Church, a historic Swedenborgian sacred space.

Kit enjoys ministering with people of all ages, and supporting others in their journey of growth with the Lord.

Swedenborgianism in India –Eleanor Schnarr

In this piece, Eleanor Schnarr, lifelong Swedenborgian and student at the Graduate Theological Union and the Center for Swedenborgian Studies in Berkeley, CA explores the reception of Swedenbog in India, focussing on the work of D. Gopaul Chetty.

Click below for a printable PDF version:

Eleanor Schnarr is an artist, poet, and Swedenborgian mystic who lives and works at Hillside Swedenborgian Church in El Ceritto, California.
Eleanor holds an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, a Certificate from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and is currently studying at the Center for Swedenborgian Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

A Seventh generation Swedenborgian, she has been involved in the practice and study of the work of the Swedish mystic since childhood. In her visual work Eleanor uses oil paint on paper to recreate the visionary experiences of the interior world in a language of line and color; an esthetic which evokes the stained glass windows of the cathedral her hometown of Bryn Athyn, PA.

Eleanor’s practice centers around the refinement of the interoceptive sense through Swedenborgian spirituality and meditation, or in other words, the “Yoga of the North”

ODB Interview: Swedenborgians in action against racism

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

In this interview, ODB’s Rev. Thom Muller discusses this project and the ways people can be involved, with Rev. Shada Sullivan and Lori Gayheart, who have been instrumental in getting this program started.

What is SAAR? 

L: Originally, it was the title of the newsletter, purposely focused on ACTION, and specifically action AGAINST racism (it’s not enough to just not be racist), united as Swedenborgians in taking this action together, because it’s time for our denomination to take an unwavering stand in defense of our black and brown brothers and sisters against the injustices and iniquities they face in literally every area of life and all over the world. 

It has evolved into something bigger with the Zoom series, and maybe it will continue to grow and evolve to encompass all sorts of anti-racism actions and initiatives by the Swedenborgian church…wouldn’t that be exciting?

What was your inspiration to start this project? 

S: Like many people during the summer of this year, I felt a strong desire to act in concrete ways that would support anti-racism. But sometimes it feels so overwhelming trying to figure out what actions to take, and what actions might do the most good. I knew that I needed to have a community around me dedicated to helping each other with these questions, and to staying accountable to the work for the long-term. 

In addition, I also felt a strong desire to have that community be spiritual community, grounded in the theology and practice of the Swedenborgian tradition. So, I decided to start with what I felt like I needed personally, a resource that would help to sort through information and suggest action, hoping that if it was what I needed then it would help other people too. Then, I totally lucked out by having Lori come on board, for which I am super grateful!

L: This one is all Shada, but I can speak to my reasons for becoming involved in helping with her brain child. I wanted to DO something, to be ACTIVELY involved in anti-racist work, and when Shada floated her idea for a newsletter on Manifold Angels, it sounded like a perfect way for me to get started. I spend much of my time writing – persuasively, informationally, and educationally – for my job. I am an elementary school administrator and I write grants, newsletters, parent communications, policies and manuals, etc. Right out the gate, this was a different type of writing because our intention has been to amplify the voices of those already doing the work, especially BIPOC, not to create content. 

So, the issues I am primarily involved in, what I would call the educational ones, are focused on using excerpts and links to resources to familiarize readers with the current topic, in a variety of formats so they can delve deeper in the way(s) that works best for them.

My goal is to uncover false narratives and challenge assumptions, paradigms, stereotypes, biases, and discriminatory practices and policies that continue to systemically oppress and endanger the lives of people of color, and then provide ways for readers to put anti-racist ideas into action by becoming involved in and/or supporting existing anti-racist efforts. 

What do you see as its purpose? 

L: For me, it is to educate, and give readers the tools and resources they need to grow as individuals, and a direction to go in with their new understandings, passion, and desire to do something. To inspire and support sustained anti-racism activism, and, ultimately, to make a difference.

How has the experience been so far? 

S: It’s been very satisfying, and also challenging–which is good! The response to the newsletter, and also to the discussion series, has been very positive. A key thing that I am reminding myself is that, while part of the point is to act into the moment that is before us, another goal is to create community for the work in the long-term.

How will the church be showing up to the work of racial justice in one year, or two years? I’m hoping the foundational work we are doing now will continue to bear fruit in increasingly productive ways.

L: Very educational for me personally. I’ve learned a lot from the research I have done for the newsletters. I was feeling a little disheartened by the 0 clicks on our issue on Voting Rights and Voter Suppression, and it caused me to question whether we were really reaching people, whether this really was anti-racist activism, whether we really are making a difference. The newsletter statistics at that point in time kind of got me down. The last thing I want to do is work to produce something that feels useful and appears like it ought to be from the outside, that can be pointed to like, look at this, we’re doing this really good thing, but it’s actually not having an impact and creating positive change.

Shada helped me over that hump, and I think she was right, that the timing of that issue coinciding with school (and the country) opening up after locking down since spring might have had something to do with the lack of engagement with that issue. 

Is there a uniquely Swedenborgian way to engage the issue of Racism? 

S: I think there are so many good ways to approach this work from a Swedenborgian perspective. From the perspective of regeneration, we can explore the connection of de-centering our selfhood to de-centering whiteness in society.

So much of personal anti-racism work is about interrogating our own biases and habitual ways of thinking with clarity and compassion, and as Swedenborgians, our commitment to the process of regeneration gives us a good framework, and plenty of practice (hopefully!) at doing that kind of necessary reflection.

From the perspective of usefulness and doing good for the neighbor, we can not only expect that we should show kindness to our fellow human beings when we encounter them, but also that we might put serious thought (and humble listening!) toward the best ways of being useful for our neighbor. One of those ways is certainly dismantling racism! 

From the perspective of the coming of the New Jerusalem, we are all responsible for birthing as much of that reality into the world as we can. And certainly, the holy city will never be fully manifested in a world that relies upon, is built upon, racist foundations. For those of us who firmly believe in the possibility of “on earth as it is in heaven” we can turn our eyes to seeing what in this world is preventing that from happening, and then doing our part to create change.

How does one get involved? 

L: Subscribe to, read, and share the newsletter; pick one thing from each newsletter and take action against racism – start locally, where you live and work and play; join Manifold Angels on Facebook. 

ODB Featured in New “Appearances” Podcast

The Swedenborgian Church of North America has introduced a new video podcase series entitled “Appearances”, hosted by Rev. Kevin Baxter. We were honored to be invited to the first episode of the program, with Rev. Thom Muller, managing editor of Our Daily Bread at spiritualquesters.org, sharing about our work and mission.

We invite you to visit the Swedenborgian Church’s YouTube page, which is regularly updated, and provides great insight into the life of the denomination.

Below is the full conversation between Rev. Baxter and Rev. Muller:

NCBS Introduces New “Swedenborg Reader” App

-Rev. Thom Muller, Managing Editor, Our Daily Bread

Throughout the years, there have been numerous efforts to digitalize the works of Emanuel Swedenborg and to make them available online, free of charge. The Swedenborg Foundation offers free PDF versions of many of their publications, and you may be familiar with “NewSearch” at www.heavenlydoctrines.org. These efforts have now reached a new milestone, with the first official Swedenborg app!

If you are a reader of the Writings, there is a good chance you are already familiar with the New Christian Bible Study project at www.newchristianbiblestudy.org. The website provides easy, searchable access to Emanuel Swedenborg’s published theological works, as well as Bible translations and other relevant materials:

This year, the NCBS team has completed their creation of the “Swedenborg Reader” a mobile app, available free of charge for both Android and Iphone in the respective app store. The great advantage to this tool is offline mobile access to Swedenborg’s works. While the regular website works great for use on your phone or tablet when internet access is available, “Swedenborg Reader” allows you to download and search several translations of the Writings “on the go” while offline. This is a great new tool for folks who are travelling, or do not have reliable mobile internet access.

The app can be easily downloaded and installed. Below is an example, using the “Google Play Store” on an Android device:

First, open the “Google Play Store” app, and search “Swedenborg Reader”:

Download and open the app as prompted:

View materials by clicking on the cloud icon, and download via the green cloud icon on the right:

You can now access the downloaded book offline:

The app allows you to create your own library of downloaded materials:

We would like to thank the NCBS team of scholars and volunteers for their continuing efforts to provide free, easy, convenient access to the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg in the 21st century. There are no fees associated with any NCBS programs and services, and we encourage you to consider making a free-will donation to support this important work.

You can make a contribution by clicking the “donate” button on the bottom of the main website, http://www.newchristianbiblestudy.org