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Church of the Holy City

Archive for October, 2009

Oct 26th, 2009

True Love and True Joy
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
October 25, 2009

Isaiah 51:1-11 John 3:27-35

Only through spirituality will we find true joy. There are many things that make us happy, and there are many things that give us pleasure. But true joy comes from the loves and affections of spirituality. Ultimately, from love to God and love for our neighbor, we find what is truly blessed in life.
Our joys derive from what we love. When we are able to do what we love we find joy. And the quality of our joy is according to the quality of our love.
Every one may know very well that there is never any life without some love, and that there is never any joy but what proceeds from love; and the quality of the life and of the joy is as the quality of the love. . . . True love therefore is love to the Lord, and true life is the life of love from Him, and true joy is the joy of that life. There can be but one true love, and therefore one true life, whence flow true joys and true blessings, such as those of the angels in the heavens (AC 33).
Loving God brings us the most profound experience of joy that we will ever know. Love for God and the neighbor is shown in the way a person relates to others. Those who love God and the neighbor wish to share their joy with others, while those who love only themselves and the world want to take all the happiness and pleasure to themselves. The love of giving, is a reflection of God’s very nature. God wishes to give all He has to make the whole human race as happy as we can be.
Love to the Lord and love to the neighbor wish to communicate all their own to others, for this is their enjoyment; (HH 400).

Love to the Lord is such, is because His love is the love of communication of all that He has with all, for He wills the happiness of all. Similar love is in every one of those who love the Lord, because He is in them; hence there is a mutual communication of the enjoyments of angels with one another (HH 399).
Loving God does not mean that we need to spend all our time in prayer, or contemplation of God’s attributes. We show our love for God in the way we live. If we are honest, sincere, caring, and giving, then our lives are a continual prayer. Then we are continually loving God.
We also show our love for God by being useful to society and to others. Lending a hand when others are in need, or just sharing a joke to lift someone’s spirits are ways of loving God also. We love God best when we are doing good things in the world we inhabit.
Without an active life there can be no happiness of life, and that rest from activity is only for the sake of recreation, that one may return more eager to the activity of his life. . . . angelic life consists in performing the good works of charity, which are uses, and that all the happiness of angels is in use, from use, and according to use (HH 403).
The happiness of angels derives from their activities. Angels, like people on this earth, all have functions and occupations they perform. We find ourselves most happy when we are actively pursuing something we love to do. For some lucky people, their occupation is work that they love to do. In this way they are serving society while they are doing something they love. This is the closest image we have to heavenly life and joy. Frost expresses such a happy conjunction of work and play in his poem “Two Tramps in Mud Time.” In this poem work, which is activity done out of need, becomes one with avocation, which is play:
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.
This poem contains one of Frosts rare references to heaven as a reality in life. When love and usefulness combine, the deed is done for heaven’s sake. Frost attended Swedenborgian Sunday school, and his mother was a Swedenborgian, so this poem might be one of those places in which Frost’s Swedenborgian roots shine through.
So Swedenborg claims that joy is truly found in some useful activity that flows from love. He contrasts this view with the notion some have that heavenly joy consists in eternal rest. Some think that heavenly joy will be eternal rest and somehow breathing in joy—possibly from the air. This notion arises when people think that heaven is somehow dramatically different than life here, and that the laws of life we find here are somehow broken in the next life. Instead of finding joy, those who live in idleness get bored and lose their alertness of mind.
Some spirits from an opinions conceived in the world, believed heavenly happiness to consist in an idle life, in which they would be served by others; but they were told that no happiness ever consists in abstaining from work and depending on this for happiness . . . Such a life would not be active but idle, in which the faculties would become torpid . . Those who had the idea that heavenly joy consists in living a life of indolence, and of breathing eternal joy in idleness, were allowed 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).
Admittedly, sometimes we come home from work just exhausted, and crashing on the couch is all we can do. That is something we do to rest and recharge our batteries. But if you’re like me, after some time, you’ll want to get up and do something. Crashing on the couch only means something when we are working at something else. The joy of activity can be seen in any of the seniors I know. They have retired, and could lie on the couch all day. But most of them tell me that they are busier in retirement than they were when they were working.
Swedenborg tells us that we only feel heavenly joy dimly here. What waits for us, he tells us is beyond words. Swedenborg tells a short story about heavenly joy that delivers a powerful message about how great heavenly joy is.
There were certain spirits who desired to know what heavenly joy is, and it was granted them to have perception of the inmost of their own joy, to such a degree that they could bear no more; and yet it was not angelic joy—scarcely equal to the least angelic joy . . . So slight was it as to be almost cold; and yet being their inmost joy, they called it most heavenly. . . . when one receives his own inmost joy he is in heavenly joy, and cannot bear that which is more interior, but it becomes pain to him (AC 543).
When I hear this passage I have mixed feelings. First, I like the phrase that the spirits were in so much joy that they couldn’t bear any more. Wow. But then, a disturbing voice comes into my mind from my American Capitalist roots. We are told that their joy was not even angelic joy, and so slight as to be almost cold. Well I want the most joy. I don’t want to be fooled by feeling a low degree of joy and thinking it is the greatest joy I can have. Thinking this way, is, of course, silly. Joy is so subjective, what we feel as joy is joy for us. There is also a cautionary note that we find in Swedenborg. He tells us,
He who aspires to the least joy in the other life, receives from the Lord the greatest, and he who aspires to the greatest has the least, also that in heavenly joy there is nothing at all of preeminence above another, and that in proportion to the desire for preeminence, there is hell; also that in heavenly glory there is nothing whatever of worldly glory (AC 1936).
The last shall be first and the first shall be last. Our society teaches us to be the best, the greatest, and to shoot for the top. However when it comes to spiritual matters, these values do us no good. It is the meek that shall inherit the earth. It strikes me as amazing that a man such as Swedenborg would say what he does about the desire for preeminence. With his ponderous intellect, his genius, his noble birth, and relations with the Queen of Sweden, he must have been tempted sorely to feel preeminent over others—because he was! Yet this great genius tells us that looking down on others with contempt or feeling preeminent are sins to be avoided. In spiritual matters, we need to develop an attitude of humility, not ambition. Ambition for spiritual things can be a dangerous paradox. We need rest with the confidence that when it comes to our eternal happiness, God is preparing a place for us. And in that place we will be as happy as we can bear.
Let us not wait for the next life to find heavenly joy. We can find a reflection of it here by being useful to those around us. That includes in our work life. Whenever we can share our joys with others, whenever we can make someone else’s life a little happier, whenever we can bring heaven to earth, then we will find heavenly happiness. And as we bring heaven to earth, we can hope for good things to come in the next life.

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Oct 19th, 2009

Spiritual Journeying
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
October 18, 2009

Genesis 35:1-15 Matthew 2:13-23

We rarely reflect on our psychological states—the various moods we feel or our mental processes. Yet the states of mind we go through are what make up our spiritual life. Actually, when Swedenborg talks about our states, he means more than the passing emotions we go through throughout the day. I think he means more like the general personality we have and how it changes through our lifetime. And this general personality is what our spiritual life is made out of.
Our Bible readings are all about journeys. The stories in Genesis are filled with journeys. I picked a segment out of Jacob’s journeys. In our reading this morning, God tells Jacob to go to Bethel and settle there. This journey is cyclical. Jacob had been living in Bethel earlier, then he traveled all the way to Paddan Aram in Mesopotamia, where present day Iraq is. Then he returns to Bethel, where he has a vision of God, just as he also had a vision of God during his first visit. But with all the experiences Jacob had between visits, when he came to Bethel for the second time, he was a different person that he was at his first visit.
Likewise in the New Testament story, we hear of Jesus’ family leaving Israel to go to Egypt. They remain in Egypt until Herod dies, whereupon they return to Israel. So in the New Testament story, too, we have an account of a cyclical journey. And no doubt spending however long they spent in Egypt must have had a profound effect on the family. They must have returned changed from when they left.
I chose these travel stories, because our spiritual development is a kind of journey. In Swedenborg’s Bible interpretation, all the journeys of the Biblical people and the places they go are symbolic of spiritual states. In life and in the afterlife, our states will undergo changes. Our souls are on a journey through different spiritual states. Swedenborg writes,
The changes of state in the other life are as the times of day in the world, morning, midday, evening, and night, or twilight, and again morning. It is to be known that in the spiritual world there are perpetual changes of state, and all who are there pass through them (AC 8426).
So in our spiritual development, we will be led through various states.
By journeying through different psychological states, we learn and develop as individuals. Swedenborg tells us that the states we go through perfect us. So the leading idea here, is that we are constantly being perfected. Heaven is not a static place, we continue to grow and develop there, as we do here on earth, too. Here is where Swedenborg’s theology is so different from traditional Protestants. He really emphasizes the perfection of the soul. And in this, he may be closer to those yoga traditions of the East that emphasize clarification of the spirit through meditation. Swedenborg’s system is not one of meditation, but his emphasis on the real project of spiritual perfection is just as radical and rigorous.
It is to be known that in the spiritual world there are perpetual changes of state, and all who are there pass through them. The reason is, that they may be continually perfected, for without changes of state, or without variations continually succeeding one another in order, they who are in the spiritual world are not perfected. . . . When it is morning, then they are in love; when it is midday, then they are in light or in truth; but when it is evening, then they are in obscurity as to truths and are in the enjoyment of natural love (AC 8426).
The changes of state that we go through in our spiritual journey reflect the levels of our soul. As we have seen just a few Sundays ago, we have inner and outer aspects to our personalities. We have actually three levels, in Swedenborg’s system. The lowest level is called natural, and concerns life in this world and the cares of the body. Then there is the spiritual level, which is internal. Finally, there is the heavenly level which is the highest and inmost. We are brought through these levels in succession. We find our consciousness sometimes in spiritual heights and sometimes in worldly concerns. The best part about this process of alternating states, is that all the levels we find ourselves on are things we love. We love God and heaven, but we also love the world and the things of the body. So the changes we go through reflect these differing aspects of what we love. Notice that in the quote I just cited, in the lowest state we are in the enjoyment of natural love. Through this cyclical journey from the spiritual heights to the natural lows, we become more and more keenly aware of the delights given by God and more and more keenly aware of the negativity of pleasures of ego.
The different states we have gone through remain impressed upon our soul’s memory. And in the next life, they all return. We will experience the innocence of childhood, the excitement of learning from youth, the adult desire to make a contribution to society, and old age’s calm and serenity.
. . . every state of a person, from his infancy to extreme old age, not only remain in the other life but also returns, and this just as they were when he was living in the world. Not only do the goods and truths of memory thus remain and return, but also all states of innocence and charity (AC 561).
The return of these states and their alternation are how we are perfected. Swedenborg does not just assert that we are perfected, he also describes the process. Our states of evil return too, but they are modified and softened by the states of good that we have been through.
And when states of evil and falsity or of malice and fantasy recur—which also remain and return, every one of them to the least particulars—then these states are tempered by the Lord by means of the good states (AC 561).
As an interesting aside, Swedenborg describes the theological terms evil and falsity as malice and fantasy. This leads me to think we can replace some of the perhaps outworn theological terms in his writings with more contemporary ones. Malice and fantasy sound more descriptive and are perhaps more acceptable to the modern ear than the terms evil and falsity.
We can’t really control this process. And it’s a good thing. God leads us imperceptibly through the different states of our spiritual journey. We can’t see where we are going all the time, but God’s Divine Providence can see just what our spiritual growth requires.
Providence continually regards what is eternal and continually leads unto salvation, and this through various states, sometimes glad, sometimes sad, which a person cannot at all comprehend: but still they conduce to his life eternal (AC 8560).
Borrowing Paul’s terminology, Swedenborg describes the process by which we die to the old self and are resurrected into the new self. Paul writes,
Put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new iun the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-23).
The purpose behind the states we go through is to break up the passions of the world and ego and let in heavenly affections. So like Paul, Swedenborg talks about the old self dying and the new self being born,
The new man is altogether different from the old; for the new man is in affection for spiritual and heavenly things, and these make its enjoyments and blessedness; but the old man is in affections for worldly and earthly things, and these make its enjoyments and pleasures. . . . When a person, therefore, from the old man is made new, that is, when he is regenerated, it is not done in a moment, as some believe, but during many years, and indeed, during the man’s whole life, even to its end. For his lusts are to be extirpated, and heavenly affections to be implanted; and the man is to be gifted with a life which he had not before, and of which indeed he scarcely knew anything (AC 4063).
We are led out of worldly passions into heavenly affections by God’s Divine Providence. It is a journey that will be glad at times and sad at times. But we need to trust in God, that what we are living through will conduce to our spiritual progress. I like that phrase in Swedenborg that says, “man is to be gifted with a life which he had not before, and of which indeed he scarcely knew anything.” People in AA often say that if they had made a list of what they wanted when they first came into the program, they would have shorted themselves. We have no clue what beauties lie ahead of us in our journey. We can’t know how delightful heavenly affections will feel until we have been brought into them. What we wanted when we were in a lower spiritual condition seemed good to us then. But as we grew into a more elevated condition, those delights paled before the new joys we discover. The road we walk may be at times one of sorrow, doubt, even despair. But those of us who have the gift of years most likely can look back on their life, and see a more profound joy and clearer thinking than they knew in earlier years.
I wish you all well in your spiritual journeys. We all start from different places, we all are different people, and we all have different journeys. But we are all united in this, we are following the steps of Christ Jesus. And we are all, as children of Christ Jesus, striving to live the heaven-bound life.

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The Offering of Thankfulness
October 11, 2009
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete

Leviticus 7:11-15 Luke 17:11-18

In our reading this morning from Leviticus, we heard about a special kind of sacrifice. It is called a fellowship offering in the translation I used. This sacrifice is different from the other sacrifices because it is a spontaneous offering of thankfulness. Other sacrifices are commanded either by the church calendar or by the commission of sin. But the fellowship offering could be done at any time, whenever the person wanted to express his feelings of thanks to God. In Leviticus 16:5, God says, “And if you offer a sacrifice of a fellowship offering unto the Lord, you shall offer it at your own will.” This sacrifice, then, is not to put the person back into favor with God, but is a celebration when a person is already in relationship with God. It is a free outpouring of the heart of thanks for God’s love and a person’s recognition of God’s role in his life. The Israelites performed this sacrifice in some of the great events of their history when they were especially grateful and happy. They performed a thank offering on Mount Sinai, when they first made their covenant with God. They performed it at the consecration of Aaron as Yahweh’s priest, and at the consecration of the tabernacle. They performed it at a solemn covenant renewal performed by Joshua in the promised land. They performed it when they anointed their first king Saul. When David brought the ark to Jerusalem, amid great festivity, they performed the fellowship offering. When Solomon completed the Temple they performed the fellowship offering.
And in the New Testament reading, we hear of ten lepers being healed by Jesus. Only one returns to thank Jesus. That one was from the religion that the orthodox Jews thought were heretics—the Samaritans. This is just one of many references in the New Testament in which the social outcasts are used to show true faith.
The healing of the lepers is symbolic of God’s constant providence that lifts us up into a higher and deeper faith life. This God does sometimes despite us. God knows what we need in order to love Him better. And we, ourselves, sometimes don’t know what we need. Sometimes, indeed, we even act contrary to what is best for us. Yet for all our misguided efforts, for all our shortcomings, God ceaselessly and gently draws us upward toward Himself. And for that, we all can be exceedingly grateful.
We can start to contemplate God’s gifts to us at the most basic level. We can thank God for our very life. God is Life Itself. And He gives us the life we call our own. In the youth of my spiritual development, I couldn’t understand what Swedenborg meant when he said that God gives us life. It felt to me like the life I had was mine. I couldn’t grasp the idea that the life I thought was mine, was actually God flowing into me. It took me years of experience, prayer, and study for me to begin to see that my life is a gift from God. From that insight all of real spirituality begins.
Recognizing that our life is a gift from God takes the ego out of our life. It removes the idea of “I”. It erases the concept of self. The Buddhists teach that there is no self. And when you take away the idea of self, then greed, lust, violence, and hatred all fall away like dead fall leaves.
When we acknowledge that the life we have is a gift from God, then everything we do afterward becomes charged with spiritual life. No longer can we take credit for the good things we do. No longer can we take credit for the spiritual advancement we make. No longer can we take credit for the love we share and the joy we feel. This is the beginning of a true faith life. It means that we can do good, and not think we deserve credit for it. Then the good we do shines with divine rays and is not tarnished with selfish conceit.
We then are filled with a feeling of thankfulness. We are thankful to God for allowing us to do the good that we do. We thank God for allowing us to work with Him to bring heaven to earth. Doing good feels good. Doing good is a joy. And all this is a gift from God.
In our earthly lives, too, we have much to be thankful for. In these difficult economic times, we can become overwhelmed with a feeling of loss. Our retirement investments may have dropped. Some have lost their jobs. And instead of feeling thankful, we rather feel lost and abandoned by God.
It is in these times of difficulty that spirituality can be all the more necessary. When we are deprived of our worldly comforts, we can turn to spirituality for consolation. It is all too often the case that we don’t pray from the depths of our heart until we are brought to desperate times. When we are comfortable with the way things are going, it is all to easy to become complacent, and forget about our utter dependence on God. Sometimes it takes sorrow and difficulty for us to reach out to God and to reestablish our connection with Him. Often when things are most difficult for us, God seems to come closer.
When I have had hard times, I get down to the very basics in my life. Do I have a roof over my head? I give thanks for that. Do I have enough food to eat? I give thanks for that. Do I have a jacket for the winter? I give thanks for that. Do I have people around me who care for me? I give thanks for that. Am I one of the fortunate ones who have a job? I give thanks for that. When I make lists like this, I see just how much I have and how much I have to be thankful for. Then there are the extras. Do I have reliable transportation—that might mean a bus ride or a car? Do I have a stereo I can listen to music on for free? I give thanks for that. Do I have clothes to wear? When I break things down to the basic level, I have countless things to thank God for giving me. Life looks rich and joyous when we take the time to count all the little things we have that we take for granted.
On Thanksgiving Day most of us will be enjoying a feast with family and friends. This is one of those special days out of the year when we make time for family and friends. It is a time to renew bonds of love and to show one another how much they mean to us. We need these special days, because in the rush of our work lives we don’t always show our loved ones how we feel for them. We rush from home to work; we clean the house on our days off; we go grocery shopping; we perform countless chores and rush through life. So on days like Thanksgiving Day, and other holidays, we slow down and enjoy those whom we love. Days like Thanksgiving Day make us stop the hustle and bustle of our work lives and look around us. And especially don’t forget to thank the people who worked so hard to cook everything!
There are those unfortunates, however, who are unable to celebrate as we do. There are some who have fallen through the cracks of society and can’t seem to make their way. I think of the many homeless for whom Thanksgiving Day might mean a special meal at the shelter, but not the warmth of home and family. A large number of the homeless suffer from mental illnesses, and for one reason or another haven’t received proper treatment, or haven’t found government subsidies to support them. Some, indeed, are victims of drug addictions; some come from difficult or abusive family environments; some, it seems, just haven’t gotten the proper start in life that we all take for granted. When we say our Thanksgiving grace, I suggest that we also say a prayer for those who have been left out of society for whatever reason.
Let us all remember the countless blessings that have come into our lives. Let us remember the blessings of daily living we often forget. Let us rejoice and give thanks for our families and loved ones. Let us especially give thanks to God for His constant care and His constant work of salvation that His grace provides. Let us not be like the nine lepers who were healed by Jesus, but didn’t think to give thanks to God. Rather, let us be like the Samaritan who returned to Jesus, bowed down and gave thanks. Let Thanksgiving Day be for us a free will offering of gratitude to God in the joy of this holiday.

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Internal and External Worship
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete

1 Kings 8:1-14 Matthew 15:8-20

Last Sunday we considered the opening of the internal person. After talking about the internal person, we got into a discussion about how the church service relates to the internal person. To some, we sounded a little judgmental about those people who don’t go to church. Today I will talk at greater length about the relation of the internal person to church services.
I will try to walk a tightrope here. I’m going to try to say that a person doesn’t need to go to church to be saved, and yet at the same time I’m going to try to say that there is value for spiritual people in going to church. So I will begin with the first part of my claim. A person does not have to go to church in order to be saved. Going to church is called the external of worship. Loving God and the neighbor is the internal of worship. And loving God and the neighbor is what really counts in a person’s worship life.
Internal worship, which is from love and caring, is real worship; and that external worship without this internal worship is no worship (AC 1175).
To claim that only people who go to church are the saved is to make external worship the be all and end all of worship. Swedenborg cautions against such reasoning.
To make worship of the form without its essential, is to make internal worship external—as for example, to hold that if one should live where there is no church, no preaching, no sacraments, no priesthood, he could not be saved, or could have no worship; when yet he may worship the Lord from the internal (AC 1175).
So let’s be clear on that. A person may love his or her neighbor and love God inwardly and still not go to church.
At the same time, however, I do think that church is valuable in a person’s spiritual development. People have told me how much better they feel when they attend church. I think that that is because the internals of these people find a place where they can open up in the church service. One hour concentrated on God fills a person’s heart with God’s very Spirit. Furthermore, there are spiritual states of mind that arise in church services. Finally, hopefully a person learns spiritual truths in church—although these can also be learned outside the church. So Swedenborg writes,
But a person, while he is in the world, ought not to be without external worship also. For by external worship internal things are called forth, and by means of external worship the external things are kept in a holy state, so that the internal things can flow in. And besides a person is thus imbued with knowledges, and prepared for receiving heavenly things, and also gifted with states of holiness, though he knows it not; which states of holiness are preserved to him by the Lord for the benefit of the eternal life; for all the states of his life return in the other life (AC 1618).
Then a person brings out into the world the spiritual nurture that he or she receives in the church building or from a church service.
As our internal level develops in us, we also need to have it grounded in an external. This is one function that church serves. It is similar to our soul’s development. To be whole people in this world, we need a soul and a body. So church is like the body for our internal person.
Nevertheless with everyone who is of the church there ought to be both, namely, an external and an internal; otherwise there is no spiritual life with him, for the internal is as the soul, and the external as the body of the soul (AC 8762).
Spiritual people will find value in attending church, but they don’t make going to church the essential thing. In fact, those who think that going to church is the only thing that matters, are making what is external to be the essential thing. So Swedenborg says,
Let it be also supposed, for example, that men place the very essential of worship in frequenting churches, going to the sacraments, hearing sermons, praying, observing feasts, and many other things which are external and ceremonial, and persuade themselves that these, with talking about faith, are sufficient—all of which are formal things of worship. . . . They indeed who make worship from love and caring essential, do these things likewise . . . but they do not place the essential of worship in these things. In the external worship of such men there is something holy and living, because there is internal worship in it; but in the external worship of the former there is nothing holy and nothing living (AC 1175).
A friend of mine talked about her childhood and how, as she puts it, the church guilted her into attending. Rather than going as an act of love and free will, her sense of guilt and obligation made her go. Even to this day, there is at times a struggle with her when she gets the slightest feeling of obligation about church. When it works, church is a free expression of love for God and a place of spiritual refreshment. It is a place where one can bring their feelings for God and share them with others. It is also a place for community as ones feelings for other people can be safely expressed. Any sense of obligation and guilt about attendance would stifle these freely expressed joys. Such worship would become external as the internals of love can’t survive in an atmosphere of compulsion.
The states of holiness that a person can find in church are God’s very dwelling place in a person’s soul. As we mature spiritually, we sometimes let go of some of the things we learned in childhood. But our spiritual maturity is a very gradual process and we need to respect the forms of worship that others know. Something that appears quite evident to us may conflict with the beliefs that others have grown up with. And special sensitivity needs to be observed when we discuss faith issues with others. We want to preserve the faith others know, as we respectfully state our truth. Gandhi once said, “Whenever you have truth, it must be given with love, or the message and the messenger will be rejected.” Swedenborg comments on this,
The Lord by no means wishes to destroy suddenly, and still less in a moment, the worship implanted in any one from infancy; for this would be to tear up the root, and so to destroy the holiness of adoration and worship, which is deeply implanted and which the Lord never breaks, but bends. The holiness of worship, rooted from infancy, has this nature, that it does not bear violence, but a gentle and kindly bending (AC 1992).
I try to be respectful when discussing my beliefs with others. But it’s not always easy. I can be very convinced of my own truths, and there is a side of me that has a delight in argument. I recall with dismay one of our Spiritual Discussion nights. One of the people there that night mentioned the devil. At once, another member of the group said, “Swedenborg doesn’t believe in the devil.” Then the Garden of Eden came up, and the serpent, and the long and short of it was that this person’s childhood beliefs were attacked in one night. I regret that incident. That isn’t a Christian attitude to take with regard to the beliefs of others. However, I must add that usually our discussions are delightful and characterized by mutual respect.
The worship in a church building, as I have said above, is for spiritual refreshment and the expression of love. The way a person lives outside the church building will determine what a person brings into a church building. Living a loving life makes all that a person does holy.
A person is in worship continually when he is in love and caring; external worship is only the effect. The angels are in such worship; with them, therefore, there is a perpetual Sabbath (AC 1618).
If a person is open to it, church can give us joys and delights that we just can’t find elsewhere. And we can carry that joy into all aspects of our life.
We may find a great benefit in going to church. The formal things of worship may excite the internals of our souls and we may feel spiritual refreshed when we return home Sunday morning. Church may keep our external person in line with the loves and truths of our internal person. But going to church is not the essential thing in our spiritual life. The essential thing is what lies in our hearts. The essential thing is how we relate with our neighbor and how we relate with God. Is our life characterized with love and care?
But we need to realize, too, that others who don’t go to church may have an inner love for God and their neighbor also. We don’t want to make the externals of worship the main thing. So we are left in that ambiguous position of affirming church for ourselves, but not making it the main thing of worship.

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