Archive for September, 2009
Reach Out from the Inside
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
September 27, 2009
Ezekiel 37:1-14 Matthew 23:25-28
Last Sunday I talked about church services and what’s in it for us. Among the things I mentioned was that church stimulates our internals. I didn’t say anything about the internals and what they are, though. And church will stimulate our internals only if we have them. Today I’m going to talk about what our how internals are and how they are formed.
We are not born with an internal level. We are first born with our earthly level, which communicates with this material world. Our earthly level takes care of all those earthly concerns we have such as food, clothing, housing, and income. But this does not serve our spiritual life. It is our internal levels that make us into spiritual beings.
In order for us to become raised above the earthly level and to become spiritual, our internal level needs to be opened. This is the same as saying that our internal level needs to be formed. Our Bible readings for this morning talk about this. The dry bones we heard about in Ezekiel come to life when God breathes into them the breath of life. We might also think about the creation of Adam, into whom God also breathes the breath of life. The in our reading from Matthew, we hear Jesus telling the Pharisees that they need to make clean the inside of the vessel. All of these passages refer to the formation of our internal person.
At first, when I approached this topic, I had the idea that our internals are formed by learning spiritual truths. This is indeed true to a certain extent. Swedenborg tells us that,
. . . in order to become intelligent and wise he must learn many things, not only those which are of heaven, but also those of the world—those which are of heaven, from the Word and from the Church, and those which are of the world, from systems of knowledge (HH 351).
This passage speaks to the cognitive, or mental aspects of our internal persons. We need to learn truths about heaven that the church and theology teach. In our quest to become wise, we also need to learn knowledges from this earthly world.
But learning knowledge alone isn’t enough to open our internals, or the spiritual level of our personality. What I found in my research for this talk is that opening the spiritual degree of our soul has a significant emotional aspect. It is love for the neighbor and love for God that are the driving forces behind the opening of our spiritual degree.
There are two levels to our internals: the spiritual and the heavenly. Swedenborg’s terminology gets a little confusing here, since he calls the first level of our internal person the spiritual level. The second level is called the heavenly level. Then he calls both these levels the spiritual degree. So he uses the same word for the internal person itself and also for the first level of the internal person. So the internal level, called spiritual, consists of spiritual and heavenly levels. The spiritual level is the first one that we open. It is opened by a love for performing useful services to our neighbor.
When we are born, we come first into the earthly level, which gradually develops within us in keeping with the things we learn and the intelligence we gain through this learning, all the way to the summit of intelligence called rationality. This, by itself, though, does not open the second level, the one called spiritual. This level is opened by a love for being useful that comes from our intelligence; but the love for being useful is a spiritual one, a love for our neighbor (DLW 237).
So it is love that primarily opens up the spiritual level in us. But it isn’t love alone. Notice that Swedenborg says that it is “love for being useful that comes from our intelligence” that opens up the spiritual level. So it is a combination of both love and also intelligence that opens this level. Again from Swedenborg’s book Divine Love and Wisdom: “Love alone, or spiritual warmth, will not do it, and neither will wisdom alone or spiritual light alone. It takes both together” (253).
We need that union of love and wisdom to advance spiritually. Our love for our neighbor gives us the impetus to act well with our brothers and sisters. But we need also to know how to live in a spiritual way. Wisdom teaches us how to live.
Our understanding does not lead our volition, or wisdom does not give rise to love. It merely teaches and shows the way. It teaches how we should live and shows us the way we should follow (244).
So it is both our head and our heart that lifts us up into heaven and opens our spiritual level. We need both. Have you ever found yourself wanting to help in some situation, but you didn’t know what to say or do? That would be an example of love without the wisdom to carry out love’s desires.
There is another internal level that is higher and more internal than the spiritual level. It is called the heavenly level. And again, the driving force in the opening of the heavenly level is love. In this case, we open the heavenly level by love for God. So we progress upward and inward in the progress of our spiritual level until we reach the highest level called heavenly.
In the same way, this level [the spiritual] can develop by incremental steps all the way to its summit; and it does so by our discovering what is true and good, or by spiritual truths. Even so, these do not open that third level that is called heavenly. This is opened by a heavenly love for being useful that is a love for the Lord; and love for the Lord is nothing but applying the precepts of the Word to our lives, these precepts being essentially to abstain from evil things because they are hellish and demonic and to do good things because they are heavenly and divine (237).
So living a good life, out of love for God, is what opens up the heavenly level.
We can see in this process the two great commandments that Jesus taught. Jesus told us that all the Old Testament is summed up in two great commands: love the Lord above all, and love the neighbor as your self. Loving the Lord is the highest form of love and loving the neighbor is just below it. Loving God opens the highest level called heavenly, and loving the neighbor opens the lower level called spiritual.
It is possible, however, that one can live out their life and not open up either of these levels. There are those “whose spiritual level has not been opened but is not yet closed.”
The spiritual level is not opened in us but is still not closed in the case of those who have led somewhat of a life of charity and yet do not know much real truth. . . . if we do not know the real truths that constitute wisdom or light, love cannot manage to open that level. All it can do is keep it able to be opened (DLW 253).
So we need to do all we can to learn about God and what is good. In another place, Swedenborg tells us that our faith is perfected by the abundance of truths that we know. And we saw just above that love needs teachings to tell it how to act.
I don’t want to judge, and the Bible, in fact, tells me that I can’t. But I wonder if society is more and more going in this direction. I see the people coming here for weddings, and many of them don’t have a church of their own, which is why they come here. But the church symbols don’t seem to affect them. There’s a feeling I observe that I can only call a lack of reverence. Reverence is a difficult word to define, but I don’t get the feeling that the people I’m talking about feel moved by the church structures. I’ve just come back from a National Council of Churches meeting in New York. One thing that they commented on for all the churches in the membership was how secular society is becoming. There was a shared feeling that even on Sundays, society is becoming more and more secular. At first I felt this as a problem for churches in terms of church numbers. But now, I feel it as a problem for the people who are not interested in spirituality. I think for their own welfare, they would do well to take church and religion more to heart. Finally, I see so many people who look to me to be perfectly good people, but have no use for spirituality or church. I’ve always wondered about them, and why they don’t feel the call for higher life.
For when a person has cultivated the spiritual level in their personality, there are many blessings and profound joy. We feel these blessings only dimly here on the earthly plane. But in the next life, we feel them manifestly.
Earthly people whose spiritual level has been opened do not realize that their spiritual minds are filled with thousands of love’s joys as gifts from the Lord. They do not realize that they will begin to participate in this wisdom and joy after they die (DLW 252).
We can feel some of these spiritual gifts when we are moved by the symbols of the church service. We also feel them in our work life, if we are doing what we love. But in order for us to be touched by the symbols of religion, we need to have begun the process of opening our spiritual level. Then we worship in spirit and in truth.
Church: What’s in It For Me?
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
September 20, 2009
1 Kings 8:62-66 John 2:13-22
Jesus says that “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). I think that when people come together in God’s name, a very special kind of community is formed. I feel that there is a great value in attending church services, which I would like to discuss.
However, I think that the idea of church services has fallen out of favor in culture at large today. We are still feeling the effects of the outright assault on organized religion that happened during the ‘60’s. I recall a rock group I listened to then called Jethro Tull. They had a song called, “Wind Up.” In the song are the lines, “I don’t believe you; you have the whole damn thing all wrong. He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sunday.” Then there is the John Lennon song that asks, “Imagine there’s no religion,” which he takes to be a good thing.
Many people my age are spiritual but they don’t think they need church. Some will say that they find God perhaps in a sunset. Or perhaps out in nature. They have the idea that God can be found anywhere, any time and that they don’t need to go to church to find Him. This is true. God is everywhere and can be found whenever we call out to Him. But I still feel that there is value in attending church, where people come together collectively to seek God.
Have you ever noticed that different venues bring out different aspects of our personality? Let me illustrate this by giving you some examples from my own life. I like football, and a few weeks ago I went to an Eskimos game. The football game brought out my competitive side. I shouted and cheered and stood up when the Eskimos scored. As it turns out, the Eskimos that night blew a 14 point lead to lose by 1 point. That brought out a side of my personality, too. I was mad for a few hours. Then there are those times when Carol and I play gin rummy together. It’s a fun loving time. A time for shared intimacy and mutual affection. We are happy when each other gets a particularly good hand. We congratulate each other when someone gets three aces. It’s affectionately competitive, too. We play for a stuffed monkey that I won at Capitol-X. The winner gets to display the monkey in their home. It’s like the Stanley Cup. Then there are the Tai Chi classes I go to twice a week. It’s a good aerobic workout. But it also calms my mind, and removes stress. I come home with a still mind and a tingling body, with the chi that I cultivate at these classes.
So different people, and different environments bring out different things in us. And I think that when people come together in God’s name, something precious is brought out. I think of places like Paulhaven. A deep bonding happens to everyone there—both campers and staff. The love and joy we all feel is deeply missed when we have to say goodbye. Tears flow freely and especial memories and connections are created.
Swedenborg calls these memories “remains”.
As to remains, they are not only the goods and truths which a man has learned from the Lord’s Word from childhood up . . . but they are also all the states derived thence; such as states of innocence . . . states of love towards parents, etc. . . . states of charity towards the neighbor, and also pity for the poor . . . in a word, all states of good and truth. These states with the goods and truths impressed on the memory, are called remains; which are preserved in man by the Lord and stored up . . . in the internal man (AC 561).
Places like Paulhaven generate remains. Not only that, but some environments block remains. In some worldly environments, remains cannot show through. In other places, though, remains open up and we feel the spiritual states associated with them. Church is one such place. It is a spiritually safe place where remains can come to the surface. Not only that, but church creates more remains. So one use of the church is to allow remains to shine forth and also to create more of those states of innocence and love called remains.
Another use of church is to help form our spiritual life. Swedenborg distinguishes between internal worship and external worship. Internal worship is in our hearts and consists in love and charity. External worship are the rituals we associate with church services. And external worship is of great value.
A man is continually in worship while he is in love and charity: external worship is merely the effect. The angels are in such worship, and therefore there is with them a perpetual Sabbath . . . .
But man, while in the world, ought not to be otherwise than in external worship also, for internal things are excited by external worship, and by it also external things are kept in holiness so that internal things can flow in; besides that man is thus imbued with knowledges, and is prepared to receive heavenly things; and also is gifted with states of holiness, of which he is unaware, which are preserved for him by the Lord for the use of eternal life . . . (AC 1618).
We are brought into a spiritual state of mind in worship. Sometimes I will come to church with a problem or some anxiety from the world that I want an answer for. Yet I find that after the service, my problems seem not so important. My worries dissolve and I see the greater picture of things. The problems of the world are put into perspective. They don’t seem so all important. So another value of church is to create a space of holiness where spiritual feelings and thoughts can flow in. It also puts things in perspective. Church can play an important role in forming our spiritual life.
Church also gives us a check against the messages with which society continually bombards us. A friend of mine was looking through a magazine that featured expensive homes furnished and decorated extravagantly. He told me that magazines like that keep him focused on his goals. For this person, material acquisition was his goal. Society also teaches us that self-interest is good. We are encouraged to be “self-made men.” We are taught to climb the corporate ladder and to claw our way to the top. It’s the CEO’s that are gods to the world. Still other messages from the world plaster popular magazines. There we find pictures of girls so skinny that some develop eating disorders to try to emulate these unnatural body types. Church reminds us that these are only worldly goals. God is the true CEO. Church teaches us to stay humble and realize that without God, we are nothing. It keeps our ego’s in check. Church teaches us that helping others, not stepping on their heads in order to get ahead, is what we should strive for. Where else than in church are we going to find a corrective to the messages the world preaches? So another value of church is to provide a corrective to the messages the world sends out.
Finally, church gives us a community that can’t be found elsewhere. At its best, church is like a second family. We should be able to depend on our church for support and love in what is often a cold, alienated world. In church, our deepest feelings are nurtured. Our very spiritual life is fostered in church. Our feelings about God run deep in our souls. Only in the spiritual community of church do we share our most intimate experiences of God and spirituality. That is why conflict in the church community is so painful. We can only really be hurt by those we care deeply about. People with whom I share my ideas and feelings about God are precious to me. When discord arises in the church community, we are touched in the deep recesses of our souls. We need to be especially sensitive in our church community. We need to realize that others care as deeply about God and the spiritual life as we do. We want to be there for others and care and support them in our mutual pilgrimage on earth. So church is a precious second family we can turn to for support and caring on as deep a level as we experience on earth.
So church fills a very important role in our spiritual life. It fulfills a role that can’t be found elsewhere. In church our hearts and minds are elevated to God and the heavenly life. Church puts our worldly concerns in perspective. Church is a safe place for our remains to open up. In church we build new remains that serve our spiritual condition. In church we find a corrective voice to the messages we receive all over from the world around us. Finally, in church we have a spiritual family. Our spirituality is nurtured in church, and we find a level of care we can’t find elsewhere in the world. Church is that special place where we join together in God’s name with others. Church brings out the best in us. Church is good for our souls. “O, come, let us worship and bow down.” Amen.
The Meaning of Holy Communion
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
September 13, 2009
Exodus 24:3-11 Luke 22:7-20
We take Holy Communion on the first Sunday of each month, here in Edmonton. Yet how often do we reflect on what the sacrament means? I thought that I would talk about the meaning of Holy Communion today.
First, let us consider communion from a Biblical perspective. We heard in Exodus about blood being sprinkled upon the children of Israel in order to consummate the covenant between them and God. It was called blood of the covenant. After this ritual, there was a sacred feast in which Moses and the elders of Israel ate in God’s presence. Then, in the New Testament reading Jesus talks about blood of the new covenant. He broke bread and served wine and called it the blood of the new covenant. The language used in the New Testament referred to Jesus passion on the cross. He refers to the bread as his flesh broken for humanity, and He refers to the wine as blood that he sheds for humankind. So the Biblical imagery of the Holy Supper is a remembrance of Christ’s passion on the cross.
Traditional Christianity teaches that by Jesus’ crucifixion we are redeemed from sin. They see the crucifixion as a sacrifice of atonement. The atonement sacrifice comes from the book of Leviticus. The Jews thought that if a person had committed a sin, they could sacrifice a lamb and the sacrifice would take away their sin. So traditional Christians see Christ’s crucifixion as a sacrifice for the sins of all humanity. If one believes that Christ was sacrificed for our sins, then one is saved.
But Swedenborg’s theology differs greatly from traditional Christianity. We do believe that Christ saves us, but we emphasize the risen, glorified Christ. It is Christ resurrected that fills us with His spirit of love and wisdom. To the extent that we receive Christ’s love and wisdom, we are in Christ and Christ is in us. This is salvation because the very atmosphere of heaven is God’s Spirit emanating from Himself. We are in that Divine atmosphere when we let God into our hearts and minds. So for us, salvation is not a matter of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, but rather a matter of us allowing Christ’s spirit into us.
This brings us to a consideration of Holy Communion. Holy Communion derives its power from the power of symbols. Here on earth, we have both a material body and a spiritual body. Our material body takes care of our earthly needs. We are not conscious of our spiritual body, but it is living in the spiritual world all the while we are on earth. The spiritual world is connected to the material world. Our material bodies have life because they are filled with life from the spiritual world. The connection between the spiritual world and the material world takes place through symbols. The symbols that particularly bring spiritual life to us are the symbols in the Bible.
The Bible is God’s Word. As such, God is present in the words of the Bible. We don’t see the Bible as a historical document. Instead, we see it as a set of symbols. The imagery we read in the Bible conjoins us with the angels in heaven, and ultimately with God Himself. So when we read about heat in the Bible, for instance, the angels understand love. And when we read about light, the angels understand truth. So the spiritual world is connected with our material life here in this world according to symbols.
The power of Holy Communion is based upon this symbolic connection between the spiritual world and the material world. Like the words of the Bible, the symbols in communion connect our material world with the spiritual world. The bread of Holy Communion symbolizes God’s love, and the wine symbolizes God’s wisdom. When we live a life of love, and when our minds are perfected by truths of wisdom, then we are conjoined with God. When this is our nature, the symbols of the Holy Communion come alive. God is actually present in the symbols of Communion, and the ritual serves to bring us into God’s presence.
Perhaps I can make this clearer by a consideration of how symbols function in our lives. We have various rituals in our society that have symbolic power. Rituals are physical acts that stimulate spiritual states. By spiritual I mean the psychological part of our makeup, the emotional and mental aspects of our persons.
If you think about our social symbols, you can see that physical acts play an important role in our emotional life. Consider the handshake, for instance. When we want to express affection, or to let another know that we are glad to see them, we shake their hand. This physical act forms a bond between two people. We could just say, “Hi, it’s great to see you,” and leave it at that. But in our soul, or in our internalized social symbols, we want to shake hands to signify our friendship. Meeting someone has greater significance when we shake their hand. The physical act of shaking someone’s hand evokes an emotional response of friendliness.
Or consider the act of holding a door open for someone. As we look back at the person we are holding the door for, there is exchanged a brief pleasantry; there is an exchange of affection. By holding the door open, we are affirming the humanity of the other person. We are, in fact saying, “I care about you.” The physical act of holding open a door, communicates a brotherly love for another person.
Then there are symbols that communicate anger or rage. When people get into a serious argument they almost inevitably resort to symbolic language. When people have shouted at each other enough, and the argument concludes with a remark like, “I hate you.” Then they slam the door. Closing a door separates the two people from each other, even as their anger has thrown a wedge between them. But just closing the door, doesn’t contain the same symbolic power of slamming the door. Slamming the door behind a person says so much more than the mere words, “I hate you!” It is a symbol that contains all the emotion of the whole argument and finishes off communication with a powerful emphasis.
So physical acts can elicit emotional responses. Certain signs stimulate our psychological states. I have been discussing social symbols, and we all can see the power they have. But if social symbols have so much power, how much more do religious symbols have! Religious symbols, or rituals, bring out deep spiritual states in us. Spiritual symbols open up our souls and the religious affections we have cultivated over the years. But the power religious rituals possess depend on our spiritual condition. Religious rituals only work if we bring the internal mindset and heart to them. Religious rituals depend on whether we have been taught to respond to them by our religious upbringing and our life.
Eating a meal with someone is an intimate act. When we eat dinner with someone, we are sharing their home, their food, and their company. We are taking in nutrition that will feed our bodies. Eating the food of Communion is dining with God. It is like that sacred feast we heard about in Exodus, and it is like the feast of Passover that Jesus ate with His disciples. When we taste the bread and wine, our bodies respond to the sensual stimulation. Our souls also respond to the stimulation from our bodies. If we are conscious of God’s inflowning life, then God can flow into us through this particular set of symbols. But the bread and wine don’t plant God in us through magic. It is the way we live that gives the physical act of eating and drinking their symbolic power. If we are hateful and deny religious truth, then the bread is just bread and the wine is just wine. Eating the bread and drinking the wine doesn’t give us God’s love and wisdom. Rather, the ritual awakens the love and wisdom we have incorporated into our lives. And eating and drinking also brings our consciousness into God’s presence. The communion opens our souls, and stimulates these spiritual powers. If our life has been an encounter with God, then the material symbols of Communion bring God to us through our souls. Communion is a complete joining of our bodies and our souls. Our bodies take in the bread and wine, and the spiritual world that is running parallel to the material world fills our soul with God’s presence.
The physical act of eating the bread and drinking the wine has the power to bring God’s presence for those who have asked God into their lives. As with all ritual, the power of the sacramental symbols of the Holy Supper are only available if we approach the Lord’s Table with the proper internal mindset. But ritual does have spiritual power. The physical act we do in communion brings heavenly communion and actually brings God’s presence to us. If we approach holy communion with a holy life, then God is present as He was to the Israelites when the blood of the covenant was sprinkled on them and they ate the sacred feast in God’s presence. If we approach communion with a holy life, then God is present as he was with the Apostles at the last supper. Ritual is powerful. Doing a symbolic physical act brings to bear our whole emotional complex in a special moment. As with a handshake, a smile, or a wedding vow, taking the Holy Communion opens our souls to heaven, to God. When approached with the proper mindset and heart, communion brings God to us.
Guilt and Feeling Guilty
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
September 6, 2009
Isaiah 43:15-25 Matthew 11:20-30
The past few Sundays I’ve been talking about unhealthy states of mind, like worrying and stress. In that light, I thought I’d talk about guilt today. That seems like a good candidate for unhealthy states of mind.
There are two ways to look at guilt. There is guilt, and there is feeling guilty. One can be healthy and the other is very unhealthy. By guilt, I mean the honest admission that one has done something wrong, perhaps regret over it, and the commitment to avoid doing that again. That is healthy. By feeling guilty, I mean a cloud that descends on one’s consciousness of negative feeling. It’s a strange feeling that one is bad, unclean, wrong somehow but not knowing just how, and the feeling that one should do something one wants to do but doesn’t do. I’m not too good at describing feeling guilty because I don’t feel it all that often. Swedenborg doesn’t have much to say about guilt. I looked up guilt in the Concordance and there is less than a page on guilt.
I think a lot of guilt comes from bad religion. I’m going to start by my impressions of a Catholic church I went into last year. I don’t mean to criticize Catholicism, because there is much I admire about it. I mean to be understood about only my personal impression of this church. The story I’m telling occurred when I was in the States at a peer supervision seminar. We took a break and were walking through La Porte, Indiana on a beautiful spring morning. We passed a Catholic church on the way, and it had its doors open, as they often do. One of our ministers had been a Catholic priest, and we walked into the church to meditate. I was immediately struck by a huge, larger than life sculpture on the wall behind the altar of Jesus hanging on the cross. I found this sculpture very disturbing, and not conducive to peaceful meditation on my part at all. I got up and walked around the church. All around the inside walls were the stations of the cross. These are scenes of Jesus suffering and crucifixion. One is a scene of Him being tortured by the Romans, another is Him carrying the cross, another is when He fell carrying the cross, and the stations of the cross end, I believe, with the tomb. The message, clearly, was Christ’s suffering. Another minister I know told me about the stations of the cross. He, too, was a former Catholic. He said that as a boy, he was told that all those stations of the cross in which some aspect of Christ’s suffering were depicted were each and every one because of the sins that this boy had committed. He said that he found it hard to understand how what he did today could have made something happen 2,000 years ago. He also said it made him feel guilty. The larger than life crucifix and the stations of the cross seem to me to inspire that unhealthy kind of guilt. The overriding message was Christ’s suffering. Seeing Christ suffer as a result of my sins would give me a diffused kind of guilt that I would carry around with me wherever I went, no matter what I did.
In my Swedenborgian faith, I was taught to worship the risen Christ. The whole purpose of the incarnation was for Christ to come to the human race who had lost their way. And the power of the risen Christ was that now God in His Divine Humanity could reach us as a Human in our own humanity.
A diffused, general guilt for something way back in the past clouds over the real, useful kind of guilt we need to recognize. I need to own up to my actual wrongs, and make a commitment to avoid them in the future. And even in this, I need to be realistic as to what I want to pay attention to. For instance, I don’t feel guilty when I eat a chocolate bar, or drink a milk shake, or even when I eat a bacon double cheese burger. Though, perhaps, maybe I should feel some kind of guilt over that bacon double cheese burger. But if I let my lower nature motivate me, it may be a good idea to exercise some restraint. It may be time to pray, and to get a handle on my behaviors.
Sometimes we can become conscience hounds. We become conscience hounds especially if we tend toward being a perfectionist. Then, we can imagine that we are the worst people who have ever lived. There is a good story I heard a rabbi tell about conscience hounds which I would like to share with you.
A rabbi moved to a farming province in central Russia. From a high hill, he could look over the whole landscape and note the different farms of the people in his synagogue. He was puzzled, however, by one piece of land that didn’t seem to have any crops growing on it. All the land around it had fertile soil, and the rabbi couldn’t understand why this one plot of land wouldn’t produce crops. He decided that he would pay the farmer a visit. He went to the farm, and found the farmer on his hands and knees. He looked down and saw that the farmer was picking up each seed and cleaning it off and placing it back in the ground. He would go up and down the whole plot of land, pulling each seed out of the ground and cleaning it off, and putting it back. He was so obsessed that he didn’t sleep well. The rabbi grabbed him by the shoulder and said, “Get up! You need sleep! Come, let’s go into the house and get you to bed.” But the farmer said, “No, I have all these rows of seed to plant. I can’t take time off to sleep.” The rabbi insisted, and finally got the farmer into bed. He left him to sleep. The rabbi took a few steps, then turned around and shook the farmer and said, “Are you asleep yet?” The farmer said, “No.” The rabbi then turned to leave, took some more steps, and turned around and shook the farmer and said, “Are you asleep yet?” “No,” said the farmer. He did it again, shaking the farmer and asking him if he were asleep yet. I don’t know how many times the rabbi did this, but eventually he did leave. Exhausted, the farmer quickly fell asleep. He awoke much later, worried about his crops. He went to the door and looked out, and there in his field were little sprouts coming up through the soil.
This story illustrates how unhealthy we can be about our guilt. We can study our behavior under a microscope and fill our minds with what we should do and what we shouldn’t have done. We can over examine ourselves to the extent that we become paralyzed with guilt. Swedenborg tells us that the hells love to torment us by bringing up memories of bad things we have done in the past. Swedenborg writes, “When a man is tempted . . . evil spirits call up only his evil deeds that he has done . . .and accuse and condemn him” (AC 751). To us, it feels like we are the ones accusing ourselves, but, in fact it is the influence of the hells that bring up those deeds from our past, along with the accusation that we are no good and guilty.
We need to be reasonable when we evaluate our deeds. We need to accept our frailties with grace, and recognize that we are only humans, and we will make mistakes. We also need to recognize the goodness of heart we also have in us from God. Swedenborg tells us that if our hearts are good, then the evils we commit don’t condemn because they reside on our outer personality, not our inner intentions.
Healthy guilt is open admission that we may have been wrong. We accept this; we don’t condemn ourselves for it; make amends, and get on with our lives. Imagine we are walking down a residential block, looking for a friends house, and the house numbers are getting higher when we want them to get lower. What do we do? Do we feel guilty and continue walking in the same direction? No, we recognize that we are walking in the wrong direction, turn around and go visit our friends. This is what I mean by healthy guilt.
Feeling vaguely bad accomplishes nothing. And even worse than that, it can get in the way of the healthy guilt that will bring about self-improvement. We are all walking up the mountainside. We are all shedding unhealthy attitudes and mindsets and taking on more healthy and loving personalities. Healthy guilt in one step in this process. We can even feel good about guilt when it is healthy self-improvement. Perhaps the word I want to use isn’t even guilt at all. Perhaps appraisal would be a better word choice. The main point I want to make today, is that there is a healthy way to grow, and an unhealthy way to feel bad about ourselves. We can use whatever words we want to for this. I have chosen the pairing of guilt and feeling guilty and I’m not going to feel guilty for my choice of language.