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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!


*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, 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 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 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,

Experiences of the Spiritual World -Julie Conaron

In this reflection, lifelong Swedenborgian and interfaith minister Julie Conaron discusses experiences of the spiritual world from a Swedenborgian angle.

Click below for a pritable PDF version of the message:

Julie Conaron is an Interfaith and Swedenborgian minister, after more than 20 years as a microbiologist. Now officially “retired,” she served as a Hospice Chaplain for 8 ½ years, an occasional minister for 5 years, and a volunteer in a local hospital in Pastoral Care and Hospice for 2 ½ years. She now provides short, virtual services for 2 facilities and others until she can provide actual services again.

“Applying the Science of Correspondence” -Rev. David Fekete

Click below for a printable PDF version of this article:-

One Sunday, I consulted the Revised Common Lectionary to determine the weekly readings for church, as do Christians around the world. The passage that week was from Exodus, about liberating the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  I thought to interpret the passage in the light of Swedenborg’s correspondences.  

In many places, Swedenborg interprets Egypt to mean “memory knowledges”.  Following this line of thinking, I intended to discuss the possibility of becoming caught up in knowing alone, and thus enslaved in the lowest form of intellect.  But when I researched the correspondences of Egyptian slavery, I discovered that there are different meanings in Swedenborg.  The idea that Egypt means “memory knowledges” is not the whole story.  So correspondences themselves now became my interest. This article is the product of my reflections on correspondences.

I think that correspondences can be problematic.  I grew up with an understanding that correspondences were a kind of translation: “This means that”.  My understanding was that in Swedenborg, the Bible is a set of fixed symbols.  Each image in the Bible stands for some spiritual reality: “This means that”…  

For instance, the sun stands for God, or for love; the moon for truth, flowers for the beginning of regeneration or rebirth; a tree stands for a person; the leaves of a tree stand for knowledge; gold stands for celestial good; bronze for natural good; the earth stands for the natural person; the Holy Land for the regenerated person; and so on.  I believed that part of Swedenborg’s revelation was to explain what each thing in the Bible stands for.  Swedenborg seems to say this in The White Horse.  The idea that a Biblical image corresponds to a spiritual reality is thus called “correspondences,” because every Bible image “corresponds” to a spiritual reality.  This means that.  The first indication that my understanding needed modification came from George Dole.  In an introductory class way back at the Swedenborg School of Religion, he told us to put aside our Orphan Annie decoder rings when we think about correspondences. 

Swedenborgians can be rather tedious and simplistic in the way they approach correspondences.  Some even call it the “science of correspondences” as if it were some empirical discipline one could apply to the Bible.  This simplistic approach Swedenborgians sometimes use to interpret the Bible may have figured in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s criticism of Swedenborg.  Emerson wrote a lengthy essay called, “Swedenborg: Introducing the Mystic.”  Emerson praises Swedenborg lavishly in the beginning of the essay, only to turn almost angry with Swedenborg toward the end.  One of Emerson’s complaints against Swedenborg’s system of correspondences is that symbols are too fixed to ideas.  

“This design of exhibiting such correspondences, which, if adequately executed, would be the poem of the world, in which all history and science would play an essential part, was narrowed and defeated by the exclusively theologic direction which his inquiries took. His perception of nature is not human and universal, but is mystical and Hebraic. He fastens each natural object to a theological notion;- a horse signifies carnal understanding; a tree, perception; the moon, faith; a cat means this; an ostrich that; an artichoke this other;- and poorly tethers every symbol to a several ecclesiastic sense.”*  (I was unable to find any references to ostriches or artichokes in Swedenborg.)  

Emerson liked the idea of Bible symbols and nature corresponding to spiritual realities.  What he didn’t like, is  a formula that dictated what each symbol must mean spiritually.  I don’t like that either.  And I’m not even sure that’s what Swedenborg intended.  Emerson’s Swedenborgian acquaintances in the 19th century may have influenced his understanding of correspondences.  And we still teach that method, today.

Consider what it could look like to try to apply Swedenborg’s correspondences to liberation from slavery in Egypt.  First, Egypt is usually associated with a certain kind of knowledge.  Swedenborg uses the Latin word scientia for the kind of knowledge represented by Egypt.  The green Standard Edition of Swedenborg’s works translates that Latin word with the abominable English word, “scientifics.”  I’m not even sure that is a real English word.  And it is a problem because it gives the impression that Swedenborg is talking about scientific things, which he is not.  Another translation is “memory knowledge.”  That’s a whole lot closer to what Swedenborg means, and you can see that it is not about science.  Finally, John E. Elliott has maybe the best translation, “factual knowledge.”  So Egypt stands for factual knowledge.

In the Arcana Coelestia, Swedenborg talks about what enslavement in Egypt could look like.  He says that we can get too tied up in factual knowledge, or in facts that we store in our memory.  Facts are of all kinds.  They are historical data, technology, literature, religious doctrines can be factual knowledge, too, and science.  We start our learning by acquiring facts.  Children memorize all sorts of facts, such as sports heroes’ statistics.  For some reason, I memorized the heights of mountains (the Matterhorn is 14, 780 feet high).  Every Bible verse we memorize is factual knowledge.  Every doctrine we learn is factual knowledge.  Every homespun saying we learn is factual knowledge, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”  The fact that Sir John Alexander Macdonald was the first Prime Minister of Canada is factual knowledge.  Without these facts, we have no foundation for reasoning.  We have no foundation for making decisions.  We have no beginning in wisdom.

But we can get stuck in facts.  We can never progress beyond them.  We can devote our lives to mere knowing, not even to independent thinking, still less to wisdom.  We can also get stuck in factual knowledge that doesn’t help us spiritually.  We can, for instance, devote ourselves to science, as Swedenborg did.  He had a real psychic crisis when he tried to reconcile his interest in science with religion.  He called scientific knowledge sensual.  He had devoted his entire life to science.  In his mystical vision, Swedenborg saw the room he was staying in crawling with frogs and slithering with snakes which signified his sensual, scientific factual knowledge.  These facts don’t tell us how to become spiritual.  They don’t tell us what matters eternally, versus what dies with this world.  They don’t lead us to heaven.  Even religious doctrines can be mere facts.  So liberation from Egyptian bondage means release from a craving for facts.  It means drawing on inspiration, on intuition, it means figuring things out for ourselves, it means making choices from spiritually inspired wisdom.  Swedenborg does say this, and says it extensively, in the Arcana Coelestia.  

That’s one application of correspondences.  But it’s not all there is to it.  Swedenborg uses the correspondence of deliverance from Egyptian slavery in a different general sense and in several specific senses that do not deal with factual knowledge at all.  

One correspondence Swedenborg uses is general liberation from the slavery of sin.  By this, Swedenborg means the very broad concept of becoming spiritual from our natal condition of natural and worldly life:

“‘Who caused you to come up out of the land of Egypt’ means which led them. This is clear from the meaning of ‘causing to come up out of the land of Egypt’, when those whose interest lies in external things and not in what is internal are the subject, as being self-led; for ‘the land of Egypt’, when they are the subject, means slavery, while ‘causing to come up’ means leading themselves out of it. [. . .] In reference to the latter, those words mean being led by the Lord, thus being raised from the natural man to the spiritual man, or from the world to heaven, consequently passing from slavery into freedom.” (AC §10409).

A second correspondence for liberation from Egyptian bondage is deliverance from molestation from hell, which is a form of spiritual captivity:

“’Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slaves’ means deliverance by Him from hell. This is clear from the meaning of ‘bringing out’ as deliverance; from the meaning of ‘the land of Egypt’ as molestations by those from hell, dealt with in §7240, 7278; and from the meaning of ‘the house of slaves’ as spiritual captivity, dealt with in §8049. The reason why ‘the house of slaves’ means spiritual captivity and also hell is that being held captive by those in hell and being led by them is slavery, whereas being led by the Lord is freedom…” (AC §8866).

A third correspondence of deliverance from Egyptian slavery is liberation from falsity by Jesus’ incarnation in the world.  Swedenborg explains this correspondence in a discussion of the three feasts that God instituted in the Jewish calendar.

“Furthermore, the feasts which had been instituted among those people, three a year, are also said to have been instituted in remembrance of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, by which in the spiritual sense is meant in remembrance of deliverance from molestation by falsities through the Lord’s Coming into the world” (AC §7093).

A fourth correspondence of deliverance from Egyptian slavery is acquisition of celestial good and truth after temptation.

“‘And afterwards they will go out with great acquisitions’ means release, and that they will possess celestial and spiritual goods. This is clear from the meaning of ‘going out’ as being released, and from the meaning of ‘acquisitions’ as celestial and spiritual good, for this is what those people acquire who suffer forms of persecution and undergo forms of temptation, oppression, and affliction or slavery.” (AC 1§851).

A fifth correspondence of deliverance from Egyptian slavery is the second coming of Jesus into the souls of people of the New Church.

“[. . .] by ‘visiting to visit you,’ in the sense of the letter, is here signified liberation from slavery in Egypt, and introduction into the land of Canaan; but this is not the spiritual content of the Word, but the natural. The spiritual of the Word treats of the Lord, of His kingdom and church, and of love and faith; and therefore by “visiting to visit” in the spiritual sense is meant liberation from falsities, and thus initiation into what is of the Lord’s church and kingdom, thus the coming of the Lord in love and faith with those who will be of the new church” (AC §6895).

None of these five correspondences of deliverance from Egyptian slavery are about factual knowledge.  They are variations on the general theme of liberation from slavery—which could mean a lot of kinds of deliverance.  It means deliverance from all kinds of evil.  This could mean deliverance from addictions to substances, or from unhealthy behaviors like argumentativeness, or from more serious sins like lying and addiction to conspiracy theories, and all manner of worldly attachments and sinful cravings.  Liberation from slavery symbolizes all kinds of spiritual advancement, moving from one lesser state of soul to a more advanced one.  That is what the Sunday benediction means, “May the Lord bless our going out and our coming in.”  Going out means going out of a lesser spiritual state and coming in means coming into a higher spiritual state.  This is regeneration: going out of natural life and coming into spiritual life.  This, too, is what liberation from Egyptian bondage corresponds to.

Now, an unreflective application of Swedenborg’s correspondences could rest in the idea that slavery in Egypt means preoccupation with factual knowledge only.  One could think that if Egypt means factual knowledge, liberation from Egypt is only intellectual.  Overcoming addictions would not be in the story.  Nor would the other ways of going out and coming in be considered.  It would all be about knowledge and worse, about science, and that would be all there is to it.  This is the kind of tediousness that made Emerson so mad at Swedenborg.  Probably due to his encounters with members of the Swedenborgian church, Emerson got the idea that Swedenborg’s system was that slavish.  Emerson said that “The slippery Proteus is not so easily caught.”  And I think a good reading of Swedenborg shows that Swedenborg doesn’t fix Proteus so methodically.  Liberation from Egyptian slavery can also mean breaking the bonds of a slavish reliance on “the science of correspondence.”

The problem with a slavish dependence on the science of correspondences is that it does violence to Bible stories; it tears them apart.  For me, interpreting a Bible passage begins first with prolonged meditation on the Bible passage.  I let the story speak to me, inspire my thinking.  I ask questions like, “What is a leading theme in this story?” or “What’s this story about?” or “How do the characters interact with one another in this story?” or “What is the emotional/spiritual center of gravity in this story?” and/or “How do these themes relate to my life experience?”  

I find that the Bible speaks to me more when I meditate on the story and open my mind and heart to influx, than it does when I dismantle the story and reassemble it according to the science of correspondences.  I may or may not consult what Swedenborg has to say about the imagery in the story.  Remember, Swedenborg gave correspondences for only Genesis, Exodus, and Revelation.  We’re on our own for the other 63 Bible books.  And if we want to use Paul, we’re clean out of luck.  I do consider Bible stories in the light of general principles of Swedenborgian doctrine such as regeneration, or uses, or heaven and hell, or the emotional life called lusts or affections in Swedenborg, or God’s relations with humans, or the life of charity, or any of the other general principles in Swedenborgian theology.  Swedenborg writes that when a person devoutly reads the Bible, God enlightens the mind and kindles the heart with warmth.  Does God do this when we take the story apart and reassemble it according to the kind of factual knowledge we might find in The Dictionary of Correspondences?  

So, I do not use, nor do I think it appropriate to use, the “this-means-that” method of Bible interpretation, which some people call “applying the science of correspondences”.  My Orphan Annie decoder ring is now only a cast-off collectible relic.  I think that the internal sense is largely what happens in a person’s heart and consciousness when she or he meditates on a story from the Bible.  This, I believe, opens the soul for influx.  But attacking scripture with facts stored up in the memory, as I think is the case in a slavish application of the science of correspondences, might not.

*Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Swedenborg: Introducing the Mystic. London: The Swedenborg Society, 2010. 

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

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 His passions include literature, ecumenism, music and the arts, as well as interfaith dialogue.

Swedenborgians in Action Against Racism – Virtual Seminars

Swedenborgians in North America and beyond are engaging the subject of systemic racism and ways to counter oppression and inequality within our own lives and organizations, as well as our society and culture as a whole.

Swedenborgians in Action Against Racism is offering several immersive Zoom seminars aimed at educating, contemplating, and taking action, from a New Church perspective.


The events are free of charge, and scheduled as follows:

OCTOBER 12thWATCH PARTY: “‘What Is Anti-racism?’ -Why We Need to do More Than Just Not be Racist

7pm EST (6pm CST, 5pm MST, 4pm PST)

Guiding theological principle: “The life of religion is not just to be good but to do good.” (based on Life §1) 

OCTOBER 26th: “What is Unearned Privilege and How Can it be Put to Good Use?

7pm EST and 7pm PST

Guiding theological principle: “The Lord is with us in our self-examination and is present both in our grief and our hope, knows that repentance is hard and complicated work sometimes, and is the essence of forgiveness.  Let us have courage and equanimity in this work.” (based on TC §539)

NOVEMBER 9th: What is Systemic Racism? How Did We Get Here and What Can We Do About It?

7pm EST and 7pm PST

Guiding theological principle: “We are used to looking at the inter-relatedness of the Grand Human and only associating it with heaven.  However, evil and falsity can work in concert as well.” (based on DP §302)

NOVEMBER 23rd: “‘What Does This Have to Do With Us?’ -Racism and the Church

7pm EST and 7pm PST

Guiding theological principle: “Sometimes we are tempted to just be content with surface examination, especially when we are examining institutions that we respect and love. But, often times evil resides deep inside what we love, or hijacks our desire to protect something that we love.” (based on TC §529)  

DECEMBER 7th: Dismantling Racism: in Ourselves, in Our Communities, in Our Church, and in Our World

7pm EST and 7pm PST

Guiding theological principle: “It is important to have empathy (goodwill) and it is important to have an allegiance to true ideas (faith) but neither has any true reality until they are embodied in our actions.” (based on TC §375-377).

To register by October 9 please email

or call (617) 969-4240 M-F 12pm ET to 4pm ET. 

ODBlog: It’s My Life – Or is it? -Rev. Jonathan Mitchell

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will itprofit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Orwhat will they give in return for their life?'”* -Matt. 16:24

For those of us who think of ourselves as followers of Jesus, there, in a few words, is the challange before us. Do we dare to accept it? Let us ask first: What is the life I stand to lose? And what is the life I stand to gain? In the Swedenborgian tradition it is held that no one ever dies. Though, mind you, Swedenborgian theology is not claiming that I have an eternal, imperishable soul. Rather, the inflow of the Divine Love and Wisdom has sustained me moment by moment throughout the life that has unfolded for me thus far.

The only thing eternal and imperishable in my unfolding life is God’s love for me. The Swedenborgian belief is that God will continue to sustain the conscious of unfolding of my life after my bodies dies, though from then on in the spiritual world.

So let us ask again: What is the life we stand to lose? And what is the life we stand to gain? The Greek word used in this passage is “psyche.” In Greek, theword means the mind, spirit or soul, and is the source of the word “psychology”, and other words that begin “psych-“. “Psyche” by itself has entered English usage. To understand someone’s pyche is to know how they think and feel.

At a deeper level it seems that the root meaning of “psyche” was something like the breath of life, an inhabiting spirit which thinks, feels and animates us. If you were to compare different Engish translations of this passage you would find that, while the NRSV translation which we just read translates “psyche” as “life” throughout, other translations alternate between “life” and “soul.”

For instance the King James version translates verse 16 (once you inclusivize the languate) as:
“For what is a person profited, if they shall gain the whole world, and lose their own soul? or what shall a person give in exchange for their soul?”**

Are there then levels of depth to our lives? Can we lose a deeper experience of life and its rewards by clinging to a superficial understanding of what we live for?

This is a theme that runs through the writing of Thomas Merton to the degree that it hard to choose a particular quote, but here is one:
“There is an irreducible opposition between the deep transcendent self that awakens only in contemplation, and the superficial, external self which we commonly identify with the first person singular. We must remember that this superficial “I” is not our real self. It is our “individualtiy” and our “empirical
self” but it is not truly the hidden and mysterious person in whom we subsist before the eyes of God.It is my superficial life that I will lose, I take it, if I try to hold on to it. It is the deeper life in God that I stand to gain.” ***

I think of my life as mine and I want to be the one who decides what I will do with it. This is a place where we I think it is important to practice self honestly as deeply and courageously as we can. Our consciously held spiritul beliefs are one thing; the implied attitudes revealed by how we actually live our lives can be something very different.

I believe—or at least I like to think I believe—that there is a life that God wants me to lead. And I believe that the life God would have me lead is the life I would find the most deeply satisfying. I even believe that if asked God how I should live, I would hear the answer. And yet and yet, I must have a stubborn soul. It is my life and I want to do what I want with it.

I wouldn’t be confessing all this if I thought I were alone in this. And this reflection has no good way of ending. So I leave us with a quesstion:
What if our lives belong not to us but to God and neighbor? What if we took up the cross? What would our lives look like if we lived them as though they belonged to God and neighbor? I think one of the deepest and most powerful forms of prayer is to simply put a question out there. To put it out there without trying to force an answer, but simply to put it out there, and hold it out there, and hold it out there. . .

So I ask again: What would our lives look like if we lived them as though they belonged not to us, but to God and neighbor?

May the Holy One grant us the courage of that question.

*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.

**The Holy Bible: King James Version. Dallas, TX: Brown Books Publishing, 2004.

***Merton, Thomas. (2007). New Seeds of Contemplation. New York: New Directions Books.

The Reverend Jonathan Mitchell, a New England Native and long-time Swedenborgian minister, is currently serving both Los Angeles ministries of the Swedenborgian Church: Wayfarer’s Chapel in Ranchos Palos Verdes, CA and The Garden Church in San Pedro.

His passions include Buddhism, Christian Mysticism, and social justice work.