Archive for February, 2009
The Mystical Marriage
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
February 15, 2009
Hosea 2:14-23 Revelation 19:4-9
In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I would talk about love this Sunday. And the love I will be talking about is that love between two people who have devoted their lives to one another. What is surprising, is that very few theologians talk about interpersonal love. Whenever they talk about love, they tend to want to talk about what the Greeks call agape. Agape is a spiritual love to all of humankind and is characterized by selfless giving to others. For many theologians, this form of love is the only form that theology should deal with. Love between two individuals, which we celebrate on Valentine’s Day is called in the Greek language, eros. Eros is best translated as desire. And theologians think that this isn’t all that important for religion.
But mutual love between couples finds a central place in Swedenborg’s theology. The special relationship between lovers is found in his very first works and his later works. He calls it “the fundamental of all good loves, and as it is inscribed upon the very least things of a person” (CL 68). Due to the time in which he lived, Swedenborg’s discussion of romantic desire is treated within the context of marriage. But the principals he describes can be applied to all couples, whether formally married or not—provided that they have made a commitment to one another.
In various places in the Bible, the relationship between God and the church is compared to a marriage. We heard this today in both our Old Testament reading and our New Testament reading. In the passage from Hosea, God says to the people of Israel, “In that day you will call me ‘my husband’” (2:16). And further in the same reading, God says, “I will betroth you to me forever” (2:19). And the passage we heard from Revelation speaks of marriage between Jesus and the Church. A mighty voice is heard saying, “the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready” (19:7). And the angels say to John, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb” (2:9).
The marriage between God and the Church is more than just a symbol, or metaphor. The intimate union in love between God and the Church is the origin of love between married pairs, or between those who have made a commitment to one another, whether formally married or not. As the Apostle Paul says of this mystical union, “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:32). And Swedenborg talks about this mystery in his book Marriage Love. In that book he develops a complex theology of marriage love that I would like to begin to discuss this morning. With the Bible, Swedenborg asserts that the source for love between couples is God’s union with the church. There he writes,
The correspondence of this love is with the marriage of the Lord and the Church. That is, as the Lord loves the church and desires that the church shall love Him, so husband and wife mutually love each other. It is known in the Christian world that there is a correspondence between them; but what it is is not yet known. . . . marriage love is heavenly, spiritual, and holy, because it corresponds to the celestial, spiritual and holy marriage of the Lord and the church (CL 62).
When Swedenborg talks about the church, and I think this goes for the Bible as well, he means everyone who is conjoined with God. Another way to put this to say the church is the community of believers. Or, everyone who is seeking a relationship with God according to their notion of religion. The church is God’s dwelling in the soul of each person, and collectively in the souls of all who are in relationship with God. Those who are in a relationship with God are in that mystical marriage between God and the church.
We can say that a person is in the church if he is in relationship with God; or we can say that the church is in him or her. Whenever a person is doing good according to what he or she knows about good, then a person is in the church, or the church is in him or her. Swedenborg calls this the marriage of good and truth. “The marriage of good and truth is the church in a person; for the marriage of good and truth is the same as the marriage of charity and faith, since good is of charity and truth is of faith . . .” (CL 62). So when a person is doing good according to what he or she knows to be right, then God is in them.
According to Swedenborg, God is infinite love and infinite wisdom. From love comes what is good and from wisdom comes what is true. So when a person is doing good according to truth, then God’s love and wisdom is in that person. And since God actually is love and wisdom, God is actually in that person. Thus when a person does good according to what he or she knows to be true, God is in them, and they are in that mystical marriage of the Lord and the Church.
That is the theology Swedenborg constructs around romantic love. And as the marriage of God and the church, or the union of good and truth, is what salvation is all about, the love couples feel for one another is absolutely central in Swedenborg’s theology. As with so much in Swedenborg, no matter where you start, everything comes together when you follow his ideas through. And here in his discussion of love, all the essentials about the relationship between God and humans come together. But Swedenborg doesn’t just discuss love from its theological basis in God, he also discusses the feelings of love. And for most of us, that is what Valentine’s day is all about.
Since romantic love is based on the union between God and the church, it is the most fundamental love of all loves. The love couples feel for one another is one of the most powerful feelings we can experience.
In this love are gathered all joys and all delights, from first to last. . . . Now, as marriage love is the fundamental of all good loves, and as it is inscribed upon the very least things of a person . . . it follows that its delights exceed the delights of all loves . . . For it expends the inmost things of the mind, and at the same time the inmost things of the body, as the delicious current of its fountain flows through and opens them. . . . all the states of blessedness, satisfaction, delight, gratification, and pleasure that could ever be conferred on people by the Lord Creator are gathered into this love (CL 68).
The only other love that compares to the intensity of romantic love is that between parents and children, and this love is bound up in married love.
In love between couples, all the essentials of what it means to love are found. In a true loving relationship, giving happiness to the other person is at its heart. This is the case with divine love, as well. God wants to give the human race as much happiness as we can bear. And to do this, God gives us the mutual love between couples.
. . . . as love is such that it desires to share its joy with another whom from the heart it loves, yes, to confer joys upon him and from thence to take its own, infinitely more then does Divine Love—which is in the Lord—towards humans, whom He created to be a receptacle both of the love and wisdom proceeding from Himself. . . therefore He from the inmosts infused into humans marriage love, into which He might gather all the blessedness, happiness, joys, and pleasures that together with life proceed and flow in only from Divine Love through His Divine Wisdom . . . (CL 180).
It is fitting that we take one day a year to celebrate this wonderful gift of God to the human race. In the society of ancient Greece, love was considered a god. We are not far from that idea in Christianity. Our God is also the God of love. And as we let God’s love into our hearts, we cannot but love others, as God does. And especially, when we find someone who has captured our heart we feel an exquisite joy in relationship with that one special person. Feeling that marriage love, is just about the same as feeling heaven’s joy,
The states of this love are innocence, peace, tranquility, inmost friendship, entire confidence, and mutual desire of heart and mind to do each other every good; and from all these come blessedness, happiness, joy, pleasure,–and from the eternal fruition of these, heavenly felicity. . . (CL 180).
On Holiday Every Day
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
February 8, 2009
Exodus 16:11-30 Luke 22:24-30
As you know, I have just returned from holidays in Florida. The weather was beautiful, and my vacation was relaxing and fun. I saw old friends, swam with the dolphins, went to the beach for sunsets, and sunned by the pool and hot tub. But maybe most important, all the stresses and pressures of my work were forgotten. We woke up when we felt like it, and took each day however we felt.
Then I got home and had a power bill to pay, a Blue Cross payment, and auto repair bill, and a phone bill. My pension money came from the United States, so I had to open up a mutual fund account. I had to catch up on my phone messages and emails, and there was a wedding coming up the upcoming week end. And the February newsletter needed to be written up, as well as preparing the regular worship service. And sometime in all this I needed to unpack and get my laundry done.
Although there may have been a lot of things waiting for me upon my return, we wouldn’t want a life only made up of holiday time. King Henry the IV in the Shakespeare play says, “If all the year were playing holidays to sport would be as tedious as to work; but when they seldom come, they wished for come.” There is a spiritual side to this view of holidays that I would like to explore with you this morning.
I read from the New Testament a passage about heaven. Some people form their ideas about heaven from that passage. In it, Jesus says, “you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 22:30). From this passage, many think that the eternal life will be non-stop feasting or sitting on thrones judging everyone. Then there is the Old Testament passage that points directly to the issue of holidays. Moses calls the Sabbath day a day of rest. From this, and other passages, some get the idea that heaven will be a place of eternal rest—perhaps reclining forever in paradisiacal gardens. Holidays forever.
But common sense tells us that resting forever would soon come to boredom, maybe even misery. Don’t get me wrong—I wouldn’t have minded a few more weeks in Florida. But having lived there for 12 years, I am well aware that the fun in the sun becomes commonplace after a while. Believe it or not, you quit going to the beach. A friend of mine that I visited this holiday said he hadn’t been to the beach in a year. Yes, even the beautiful Florida beaches become commonplace after some time. So Swedenborg astutely observes,
Those who had the idea that heavenly joy consists in living a life of indolence, and of breathing eternal joy in idleness were suffered to perceive . . . what such a life is; and it was perceived that it was very sad, and that all joy thus perishing, after a short time they would loathe and nauseate it (HH 403).
In one of his visionary experiences, Swedenborg talks about those who think heaven is reclining forever in beautiful gardens. He meets these people who have been in a paradisiacal garden for seven days, and they already have become sick of it. I’ll let Swedenborg tell the story, which has a note of humor in it. The spirits he meets say,
It is now seven days since we came into this paradise. When we entered our minds seemed as if elevated into heaven, and admitted to the inmost happiness of its joys. But after three days this happiness began to grow dull and to decease in our minds and become imperceptible, and so it came to nothing. And when our imaginary joys thus ended we feared the loss of all the delight of our lives, and became doubtful about eternal happiness, even whether there is any heavenly happiness. . . . Here we have sat for a day and a half; and as we are without hope of finding the way out, we have been resting ourselves on this bed of roses and looking around us at the abundance of olives, grapes, oranges and lemons; but the more we look at them the more our eyes tire with looking, our smell with smelling, and our taste with tasting. This is the reason of the sadness, lamentation, and weeping in which you see us (CL 8).
Swedenborg’s visions of heaven and hell tell us that life there is much like life here—only inexpressible. When I’ve talked with some people about the traditional ideas of heavenly joy—ideas such as singing hymns forever, reclining in paradisiacal gardens, eternal rest, feasting with the Patriarchs and Apostles—I ask them if that wouldn’t become tiresome after a while. Then they come back with statements like, “everything will be different there and we will be totally transformed into something different.” In other words the laws that govern ordinary human life wouldn’t apply there. With ideas like that, any reasonable picture of heaven is thrown away and anything goes—rational or irrational. A poet once said, “What if heaven were more like earth than on earth is known?” And what gives us the greatest joy here, will give us the greatest joy there.
Holidays are fun and relaxing, and they even serve an important use in our lives. Holidays serve a purpose by refreshing our spirits, literally recreating us—so holidays are also called recreation—and rejuvenating us. They make us ready and fit to return to our vocational callings. In Heaven and Hell, Swedenborg observes, “it may be known to all that without an active life there can be no happiness of life, and that rest from this activity is only for the sake of recreation, that one may return more eager to the activity of his life” (HH 403).
Another use of holidays is to lift our consciousness above all those cares of the world. Holidays are carefree. This, again, can point to a spiritual use of holidays. They lift us out of worldly considerations. That is if you can forget about hotel bills, the cost of eating out, and the price of souvenirs. I am happy to say I did forget about all that. I had so much money to spend and I spent it freely and had a ball.
When I came home, all those worldly affairs came crashing down on my head. But it occurred to me that I don’t need to fill my head with all that. I paid my bills and got back to work, a vocation that I love. I’m not saying, though, that I wouldn’t have enjoyed another week in Florida. But when we got back to Edmonton, I said to Carol, “Why don’t we pretend that we’re still on holiday?” Why can’t a person keep that carefree mindset of holiday time? Sure we all have worldly affairs to deal with, but once we attend to them, do we need to dwell on them? Do we need to fill our minds with what I have to do next, or tomorrow? Do I need to worry now and today about what I have to do tomorrow or in the future? Do we have to pollute our minds with “things I have to do?” Do we need to calculate how much money we have in our bank accounts? Do we need to worry about bills that are coming due in the future?
This is what Eckhart Tolle has in mind when he talks about living in the now. Forgetting about worldly concerns can be very hard. Some people find that they need formal meditation practice to keep their heads clear. It isn’t as easy as I may be making it sound to live on holidays all through life. Yet there is a spiritual dimension to this issue as well.
To the extent that we are obsessed with material concerns we block spiritual concerns. We are citizens of two worlds—the material world and the spiritual world. Jesus says this plainly—“Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s.” On this plane of existence, we do have material needs to fulfill; we can’t totally ignore the material world. But at the same time, we can’t ignore the spiritual world. After we render to Caesar his requirements, we can free our minds for God’s Spirit.
Our life in the material world, and our material concerns actually dampen our sensitivity to heavenly joys. During special moments—perhaps watching a sunset, or looking up at the starry sky, or while on holiday—we may feel a peace and tranquility that is truly heavenly. But all to often, and I don’t think this has to be the case, all too often we are filling our minds with worries about worldly concerns. This doesn’t mean we are bad—it just means we are covering over the joys of the spirit. Swedenborg tells us,
A man who is in love to God and in love toward the neighbor, as long as he lives in the body does not feel manifest enjoyment from these loves and from the good affections which are from them, but only a blessedness that is hardly perceptible, because it is stored up in his interiors, and veiled by the cares of the world (HH 401).
“The world is too much with us,” says the poet Wordsworth, we are obsessed with “getting and spending.” The composer Beethoven commented on the spirituality of his music, and what was required of his listeners. He said,
well I know that God is nearer to me than to the others of my art; I associate with Him without fear, I have always recognized and understood Him, and I have no fear for my music;–it can meet no evil fate. Those who understand it must become free from all the miseries that the others drag with them.
I think that this is what Swedenborg may be speaking about. Beethoven’s lofty tones require that we forget those miseries that pull us down from heavenly blessedness. Beethoven saw his work as truly a spiritual ministry. On another occasion, he exclaimed, “There is no loftier mission than to approach the Divinity nearer than other men, and to disseminate the divine rays among mankind.” There are times when his music doesn’t make much of an impression on me, and I find that I am usually stressed and worrying about those miseries we can carry with us. Then, sometimes Beethoven’s music can lift me up out of my worldly cares and into the joy and spirituality he himself felt when he wrote.
So it may take a holiday, or a regime of meditation, or maybe just a moment to pause and take in God’s handiwork all around us in order to lift us up and out of the cares of the world. Then, we may be able to feel that almost imperceptible heavenly joy stored deep within our personalities. As soon as I made that remark to Carol, I, myself, started to fill my mind with tomorrow and bills and cares about the future. But I still think that it is possible to keep my mind as if I were on holiday every day.