Archive for November, 2009
Choice and Rationality
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
November 29, 2009
Malachi 3:1-18 Luke 12:13-34
There is an important aspect to our spiritual life that goes by the name “rationality.” Rationality is the ability to make good decisions. And very much of our adult life is making decisions. The Existentialist philosophers say that we are nothing but the sum total of the choices we make.
Our rational mind develops over time. Swedenborg tells us that children lack the ability to make decisions based on their own understanding of truth. He claims that their decisions are based on the authority of their leaders, be they parents, or teachers, or other valued authority figures. But upon reaching adulthood, we start to make decisions based on our own understanding of truth. And it is when we start making our own decisions, from our own understanding of truth that we truly become our own persons. Our identity is founded on the things that our rationality favors. We are individuals according to the choices we make—thus according to the rationality we have cultivated. Until we make our own decisions, we have no real personality, or identity. We are essentially children—even if in adult age.
Our rationality is founded upon truths that we acquire. We find truths everywhere. We learn truths from our parents, from teachers, from reading, from conversation, and from experience. Experience is perhaps the hardest, but the best teacher in many instances.
Some people think that rationality is only how much we know. And our society does value people who know a lot of things. But until these knowledges form a foundation upon which we can make wise choices, the knowledge is useless. Furthermore, the individual does not develop his or her own personality. Swedenborg describes such people. He writes,
I have spoken with some who believed . . . that a person is wise according to the extent of his memory, and who had enriched the memory with many things and spoke almost from it alone, and thus not from themselves but from others, and had gained no rationality by means of the things of their memory. Some of them were stupid, some blank, not at all comprehending any truth, whether it be true or not, and seizing upon falsities which are passed off for truths by those who call themselves educated; for from themselves they can see nothing rationally when listening to others (HH 464).
I can relate to that passage from my own experience. When I was in my Ph.D. program, I was learning a lot about different religions. I learned about Hinduism, and Buddhism, and the history of Christianity from the early Church Fathers through the Reformation. And I was studying contemporary philosophers. I had a lot of knowledge about religion in my memory from graduate school. But I was really lost in all that knowledge. I was reading so much, so fast that I didn’t have time to assimilate the knowledge I was learning. Then, on top of all that, there were certain ways of thinking that were popular then. There is a myth that universities encourage free thinking. But that is not true. Inquiry according to the systems of thinking that are in vogue is really what goes on there. We were taught to be open minded to all religious systems. And with that mindset, it was indeed fun to study different religious systems. But we weren’t supposed to believe any of it. In the university, studying religion is an objective, cultural study.
That point of view came from modern philosophy. There is no truth, according to contemporary philosophy. There is only wanting. There is only what I want to be, what I want to do. And I am completely free to choose what I want. I can’t be guided by any eternal truth because there is no eternal truth. I remember one of my professors in the university who had written a book about God. In that book, he claimed that God is a unique term that brings liberation to the texts in which it appears. That was all he could say about God. That’s where many in contemporary universities are now. And that’s where I was in graduate school, and when I graduated.
I was spiritually lost. Maybe spiritually dead. I was just like those learned people Swedenborg talks about. I had “enriched the memory with many things and spoke almost from it alone, and thus not from themselves but from others, and had gained no rationality by means of the things of their memory.” I thought that I wanted to stay in the university, so I applied to schools with the aim of teaching. But teaching didn’t come through for me. There was just too much competition. But what did happen ended up being the best thing that could have happened to me. I had to move down to Florida, to live with my parents until I could get back on my feet. I’m not saying that this was the best thing that could have happened to me because it landed me in Florida. No, there were other reasons. First of all, there were no universities in the small, retirement community I had landed in. There was no intellectual stimulation at all. I used to stare around me in disbelief when I looked at the scraggly beach and bar crowd I was stuck with. I had no one to sharpen my mind with, no one to debate philosophy with, no one to intellectualize with. At first, I really missed the intellectual stimulation of the university. Then, when I did find full-time work, it was in the mental health field. With many of the individuals I worked with, reasoning wasn’t their strong suit. I found that I was working with my heart and not my head. As mental health workers, we were mostly concerned with the mood of our individuals, and when we did talk about their mental activity we primarily assessed how lucid they were, not whether they understood Plato or Aristotle correctly. And, as I was working for a state institution, we were not allowed to talk about religion. I was about as far from the university as I could be.
And that’s just what I needed. God had a vision for me that I couldn’t see. Swedenborg tells us that,
The rational faculty from these truths is not formed and opened by a person’s knowing them, but by his living according to them; and by living according to them is meant loving them from spiritual affection. To love truths from spiritual affection is to love what is just and equitable, because it is just and equitable, what is right and sincere, because it is right and sincere, and what is good and true, because it is good and true (HH 468).
By cutting off my head, and emphasizing my heart, God was bringing me into a place where I could begin to be affected by all those religions I had studied. I was free from the intellectual trends that dominated the university. And I could sift through all that I had learned and from my heart find what truths agreed with my spiritual loves. In short, I was beginning to choose for myself which truths fit with my best understanding of spirituality. I was forming a rationality of my own. I was becoming a fully functioning spiritual person of my own.
But all that education was not thrown away. Swedenborg tells us that “faith is perfected according to the abundance and coherence of truths” (TCR 352). The more truths we have to work with, the more deeply we understand God and the things that belong to a heaven-bound life. Our beliefs have more to support them, and we understand the world better; we understand heaven better; and we understand God better. We understand what is good in life and we can aim for it. So Swedenborg also writes,
True faith, by abundance of truths coherent as it were into a bundle, also becomes more lustrous, perceptible, evident and clear; it also becomes more capable of conjunction with the goods of charity (TCR 352).
He uses several metaphors to illustrate what faith enriched by an abundance of truths is like. One that appeals to me is this one, “The exaltation of faith by an abundance of truths, may be illustrated by the uplifting of sound and likewise with the melody of many musical instruments played in concert” (TCR 353). Our world-view is formed by the truths we have learned. Our life is lived more wisely by the amount of truth we have to work with.
Without learning truths as we go on in life, we may remain stuck only with the knowledge we acquired in our childhood from our families or neighborhoods. This is particularly tragic when a person comes from a troubled background, and from a rough neighborhood. Without truth’s cleansing power, such an individual is almost destined for a troubled life. Then there are those who simply live by what they knew growing up. This can make for a limited world view, even a crippling one. Robert Frost wrote a poem about this. He talks about an annual ritual when he and his neighbor walk side by side to rebuild the wall between their properties. His neighbor keeps reciting a proverb from his father, “Good fences make good neighbors.” But in this case there is no need for a wall, there are no cattle wandering around to get into each other’s property. His neighbor has never thought about why good walls make good neighbors. He only recites what he remembers from his father. Frost writes,
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
His neighbor has never thought about the reason for walls. As Frost writes,
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Truth is liberating. It liberates us from limiting world-views. And it liberates us from unhealthy and destructive behaviors we may have learned growing up. There is no doubt, we need to continually learn truths to build up our rational mind. We need to make choices that further God’s kingdom and our own well-being. Without a well-formed rational mind, we are a victim to our environment. We are blown here and there according to society or our own whims. But with a strong rational mind, formed by an abundance and coherence of many truths, we find countless ways to live a good life that God wants for us. Our faith will lead us into heavenly love, and we will know the blessings promised in the Malachi reading from this morning, “Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it’” (3:10). With a well-developed rational mind, we will be truly an individual, and we will know how and when to be true to ourselves.
A Most Precious Vessel
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
November 22, 2009
Haggai 2:1-9 John 6:45-63
From a literal reading of our Old Testament and New Testament passages, one wouldn’t see a connection between them. Yet from the internal sense of the Bible, there is a connection. In the Haggai reading, God says that He will “shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory” (2:6-7). The house God is talking about is the temple in Jerusalem. It had been destroyed by the Babylonians, and was now going to be reconstructed by Zerubbabel and the remnant of Jews who returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. God says further that His Spirit remains among the people of Israel. Then in John, Jesus says that He is the living bread that came down from heaven. He is the bread of life. He says further that if a person eats His flesh and drinks His blood he has eternal life. These two passages from the Bible are united in their emphasis on God giving us eternal life. Jesus promises eternal life if we eat His body and drink His blood. And in shaking the heaven and earth and in rebuilding the temple, the prophet Haggai speaks symbolically of regeneration, or spiritual rebirth.
In Haggai, God says He will shake the heavens and the earth. The heavens and the earth refer to the natural level of our personality. We have higher and lower levels to our personality. Basically, there are three levels: the natural, the spiritual and the heavenly. The natural level of our personality is the lowest level, and it is the level that we all have from birth. It is called the natural level because it is formed from nature, or from biology. In the natural level is our hereditary dispositions we inherit from our parents. In the natural level are also all the survival skills we need to survive in nature. For most of us, surviving in nature doesn’t mean surviving in the wilds like Survivor Man on TV. Surviving in nature means surviving in the society we live in, and in the world around us. So our natural level is concerned with preserving our own life. In the natural level is all our knowledge of how to make a living, how to succeed in our work, how to take care of ourselves, and how to make a name for ourselves in the world. The natural level is interested in preserving the self and in the riches of the world.
We are born into the natural level of our personalities. It is a necessary level to develop so that we can function in the world, and not be dependant on others. In the natural level is the love of self and the love of the material world. Again, we need this level as a beginning point. But spiritual maturity means growing beyond this level of our personalities. If we fail to grow up spiritually, we remain concerned only with what we want. We fail to open our minds to our fellows and to God.
Now I need to back up a little. I need to consider the very source of our life. For none of us live by our own power. There is only one life, one source of life, and that is God. From the moment of conception, God begins to flow into our highest soul with life. In the inmost, highest chamber of our personalities, our soul is a vessel that receives life from God. As our bodies develop, and then our natural level, this highest soul still allows God’s Spirit to flow into us with life and with the ability to judge, reason, and make decisions. Our natural level is not conscious of this highest level, this inmost soul. The inmost soul would be in our unconscious mind.
But we have the capacity to open up, or to raise up our consciousness toward that inmost soul that is always receiving life from God. That is what spiritual growth is about. This means to change our thinking so that we are not just self-interested, but we begin to become interested in our brothers and sisters, and in the good things of God’s kingdom. This is the opening of our spiritual level. But our natural level rebels against this upward movement. The survival instinct of self preservation, and our interest in receiving the world’s riches weigh heavily on our minds. The natural level has to be shaken up before the spiritual level can begin to become operative in us. This is what is meant in Haggai by God shaking the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. The earth, the sea, and the dry land symbolize our natural level. Since we had first learned how to serve ourselves, we need to break up all those survival mechanisms that are based upon self-interest. Furthermore, there are hereditary pleasures from the world that cloud heavenly joys. We need to grow out of them, too.
The strongest belief system in the natural level that has to be shaken up is the notion that we live by our own power. The natural level thinks that it lives by its own power, that it accomplishes its goals by its own power, that it is the master of its own destiny. This mindset is the source of all evil. For when we are interested only in our own ends, we care nothing for others. We care nothing about stomping on the heads of anyone who gets in our way.
So this mindset has to be broken up. For some, this may happen gently by meditation and by spiritual education. But I think for most of us, this mindset is broken up by hardship and tragedy. When we don’t get what we want, when our dreams are broken, we begin to discover that we are not the agents of our own destiny. We begin to become less and less attached to our selfish wants. We begin to step out of the way and look to the welfare of those around us. We begin to search for what is truly good, not just what is good for ourselves.
This stage of development is symbolized by the building of the temple in Jerusalem. Building the temple means building up our spiritual life. Building the temple only happens when the earth has been shaken up. Then the temple rises in its glory, and we begin to bring God’s inflowing love and wisdom into our lives. ‘
The path of spiritual maturity is one of inward to outward. First, the spiritual level of our personality is formed in our thinking. Then our hearts become active and we want to live out the spiritual life our minds have seen to be good and right. We need to bring the spiritual life in our highest minds into the lowest level of our personality. When we are advanced in our spiritual development, the love and wisdom that has formed our inner personality is brought down into the natural level of our personalities. Our outward behavior then is one with the higher aspirations of our spiritual level.
We are now in the place where we are eating Christ’s body and drinking His blood. Only by receiving Christ in our hearts, and then bringing this Christ Spirit into our behavior can we be said to live spiritually. Everyone has God in their deepest soul. But the question is how much this Christ life is integrated with our natural behavior—into our outward life. When we say the Lord’s prayer, we pray for things to go on earth as they are in heaven. This is an image for advanced spiritual life. We live spiritually when God’s kingdom isn’t just a thought, a dream, or a belief. We live spiritually, when God’s kingdom is brought down and integrated into our natural level. Then we don’t need to be elevated out of our natural level to find communion with God. Rather, we bring God into our lives in the world. We bring heaven to earth.
I have been talking as if we are the agents of spiritual growth. But actually, we are partaking of Jesus’ body and blood. When we are advanced spiritually, then Jesus is acting in our lives, and our own will has yielded to God’s will. We have put ourselves in the flow of God’s care. It is God who has given us the power to reach this spiritual level. And we are now being led by God’s Providence. We retain our individuality, but we are vessels of God. When our natural level has been shaken enough, God can flow through our personalities. We will be aglow with spiritual light and filled with spiritual warmth. God is infinite, and each individual human is one reflection of God’s essence. When our natural level has become yielding to our spiritual level, then we show the unique aspect of God we were created to manifest. Then, as it is said in Haggai, God’s Spirit remains among us. Then we have internalized Christ’s body and blood. Then we have eternal life. So Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:53-54). Until we let Christ’s love and wisdom into our lives, we have no spiritual life. But when we bring heaven to earth in our own souls, then we live, or should I say, God lives in us.
Faith and Works
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
November 15, 2009
Leviticus 19:9-18 John 15:1-12
Swedenborg steers a narrow course between two pitfalls in Christianity. Those two pitfalls are the doctrines of “faith alone” and meritorious works. They are represented by the Protestant churches and the Catholic church. Protestants teach the “faith alone” doctrine. It says that we are saved only by believing that Christ died for our sins. So it is by holding this faith that we are saved. The classic Biblical text for faith alone is in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. There, we read,
a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Christ Jesus. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified (Galatians 2:15-16).
Paul says this general teaching in several places, such as Galatians 3:14, “by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” When Paul says we are not justified by observing the law, Protestants take this to mean all good works. They go further; they say that no amount of good works, or good deeds contribute to our salvation. They teach that doing good is trying to reach heaven by human effort. This doctrine they again find in Galatians. “After beginning with the Spirit, are you trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 3:3). The works that Protestants denounce are the many commands that we find in the Old Testament. We heard some of these commands from the book of Leviticus in our reading this morning. Leviticus in Latin means “the law.” And it is those commands that Protestants take Paul to be referring to. So following the law would be the commands like not stealing, not lying, not deceiving one another, and even loving the neighbor. None of these good works conduce to salvation according to the Protestant doctrine of faith alone.
Catholics say just about the opposite. They teach that it is by good works that we are saved. This means that the deeds we do give us grace, and that grace is what saves us. The good works they talk about are things like helping the poor, attending mass, participating in charities like soup kitchens, and in extreme forms, withdrawing from the world into convents or monasteries and fasting, mortifying the body, and saying ritualized prayers. At the time of the Reformation, the good works that Catholics emphasized got out of hand. They taught that buying indulgences would get your loved ones out of Purgatory, and that going on pilgrimages would give yourself grace. The problem with these good works is that Catholics would say that one merits salvation by doing these works. It is as if one could get points in their Book of Life by doing enough good works. The temptation was to take credit for the good works that an individual does. Swedenborg is in between these two doctrines.
At times I think that Swedenborg tried to harmonize these two doctrines. Then at other times I think that he tried to go in between them both. In any event, neither Catholics nor Protestants affirmed Swedenborg’s teachings. In fact, the Lutheran Church of Sweden declared Swedenborg a heretic and forbad him to publish in his home country.
It is clear that Jesus teaches us to do good works. All through the Gospels, he is teaching us to be good, to be peacemakers, to be humble, to be pure in heart—in fact he even says, “be perfect, therefore, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). In this morning’s New Testament passage, we heard more teachings about doing good works. Jesus tells us to bear fruit. And says, even further, that if we do not bear fruit we will be cut off from God’s kingdom,
I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he trims clean so that it will be even more fruitful (15:1-2).
Jesus clearly teaches than loving Him means following His commands, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love” (15:10). Paul, himself, calls one to perform good works. “But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Galatians 5:13). Paul, like Jesus, talks about bearing fruit, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (5:22). So clearly, for Jesus and for Paul, works matter.
But we must do good in such a way that it will be acceptable to God. If we take credit for the good we do, and think that we then deserve heaven, then the good we do is defiled. So Swedenborg writes of this, “The evil of merit is when a man attributes good to himself, and supposes that it is from himself, and therefore wants to merit salvation” (AC 4174). This is where Swedenborg’s mysticism enters the picture. When we do good that is really good, it is actually God working inside us. This Jesus teaches in the passage from John we heard this morning. He says, “apart from me you can do nothing” (15:5). And in the metaphor of the vine and branches, Jesus implies that it is through a mystical union with God that we bear fruit, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit;” (15:5). His teachings about the mystical union between us and Him are said more clearly, “Remain in me and I will remain in you” (15:4).
By fully realizing this mystical union between Jesus and us, we are able to do good works in such a way that we do not take credit for doing good. This realization is extremely important. For it is our ego, or what Swedenborg calls proprium, that blocks God’s influx. All our lives God flows into our souls with life, love and wisdom. We are vessels that receive this inflowing life. We grow spiritually to the extent that we receive in deeper and deeper ways God’s inflowing love and spiritual life. We receive this love and life by looking to God, and turning away from self. If we take credit for the good we do, and think that we do good by our own power, then self, or proprium, dominates our consciousness. So Swedenborg writes,
If when a person arrives at adult age, he confirms it in thought, and completely persuades himself that he merits salvation through the good which he does—this evil adheres and is rooted in, and cannot be amended; for they claim to themselves that which is the Lord’s, and thus cannot receive the good which continually flows in from the Lord; but, when it flows in, they at once divert it to themselves, and into their own proprium, and accordingly defile it (AC 4174).
For Swedenborg, we are saved to the extent that we are lifted out of proprium. We are saved to the extent that God is operating in us transparently. When we are filled with God, we are most happy and we are then in heaven. So to take credit for the good we do is to take God’s gifts and turn them into self aggrandizement. It is to make self the issue, not God. To put it more simply, IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT ME! It’s about God.
It’s not hard to do good in such a way that it is acceptable to God, and such that it is saving. That is to emphasize the good itself. God is Goodness itself. When we love God, we love what is good. Then we do good because we love what is good. This is loving God. When we do good with this mindset, we are not thinking about ourselves. We are thinking about the good itself. We are not then walking around thinking ourselves to be such wonderful and good people, because we are not thinking about ourselves at all. A minister I knew as a teen put it this way. We begin by thinking, “Look at the good I’m doing.” Then we say, “Look at the good I’m doing.” Finally we arrive at a place where all we say is, “Look at the good.”
So Swedenborg either steers a course between faith alone and meritorious good works; or he harmonizes both. Faith is certainly there, as we believe that God is the true agent of our good actions. Without a belief in God, none of this is possible. Works are there too, as we love doing what is good. And without good works, or should I say, without God’s Spirit acting in us, we would not find salvation. This is because we are saved to the extent that God is in us and we are lifted out of self. This happens when God does good through us. As John puts it, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit” (15:5). It is through that mystical union that all this happens. That mystical union is what Swedenborg is talking about and what Jesus is talking about when He says, “apart from me you can do nothing” (15:5). Without God in us, we can do no good. And when God is in us, nothing will be more delightful than to do what is good.
Love in Act
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
November 1, 2009
Deuteronomy 10:12-22 Luke 12:35-44
Our Old Testament passage this morning talks about serving God, and loving God. So the question arises, how do we serve God? What is meant by serving God? We have a related passage in our New Testament reading this morning. It also speaks of service. Jesus tells us to be ready for our master to return from a wedding banquet. The very master will serve his servants when he comes back, if they are up waiting for him. We are told to always be ready to meet Jesus, for we don’t know when He will call upon us. “You must always be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Luke 12:40). I like this New Testament passage because of its reference to the wedding banquet. Scattered throughout the New Testament are references to a wedding. The wedding symbolizes a state in which a person is “married” to God, or united with God in a bond of love. Recall that line in Revelation, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (19:9). When we are united with God in a loving bond, we are always ready to meet Him. So both the Old Testament passage and the New Testament passage talk about being united with God in love and in serving God.
Before I discuss the topic of serving God, I need to clarify some of the Old Testament language. Several times people have told me about their difficulty with phrases like “fear of God,” as we heard this morning in Deuteronomy. God does not want us to fear Him. And there is a higher meaning to fear of God than what we normally take fear to be. Swedenborg talks about holy fear. He writes,
But holy fear is not so much the fear of hell and damnation, as it is of doing or thinking anything against the Lord and against the neighbor, and thus anything against the good of love and the truth of faith (AC 2826).
I take this to mean the fear of causing offence. Even in our common conversations with one another, we can find ourselves saying, “Well, I don’t want to offend you, but . . .” Isn’t this a kind of fear? A fear of offending someone or putting them off. And in our general encounters with other people, we are careful not to say offensive things, or to offend. Isn’t this a kind of holy fear? It is a respect for others, and a desire not to hurt their feelings. It is a fear of causing offense, and we all have it with one another. This is how I understand fear of God. We love God so much that we don’t want to stray from the path of love or offend against the Holy Spirit. Of course God doesn’t get offended with us. But I think all of genuine love has a quality of holy fear in it, in that we care for others and want to remain in mutual love. We have a holy fear of not breaching the love and trust we have for others. This is also true for God. Then there’s the aspect of awe. I think there’s a kind of holy fear in the feeling of awe. And in the presence of infinite love, and infinite goodness; in the presence of the Source of all life, I think we have a feeling of awe, and holy fear.
So we can now come back to our question about serving God. Here we come across a difficult term in Swedenborg. Swedenborg talks in many places about what he calls “uses.” So he says, “Serving the Lord is performing uses” (AC 7038). And uses are the very source of heavenly joy. Everyone in heaven has a use. And we find our joy here on earth by performing uses.
It is easy to take the word use in a narrow sense. We often say to lazy people, “Make yourself useful,” which means that they should get up and do some work. Or when we think of being useful, we think of plumbers, or auto mechanics, who do some concrete service for society. In fact, it is easy to think of use as being only an occupation, or some form of work.
However, I think Swedenborg has more in mind when he talks about use. I looked through the Swedenborg Concordance to find the range of meaning for uses, and I also looked at the Latin word and its Indo-European root. Some translate the Latin usus as service. That is included in the meaning of the word. But there is much, much more than that. I decided to stay with the term use for this discussion. When I went to the Latin, I found some interesting things. First of all, the Latin word is one of those general terms that has a lot of meanings associated with it. The very first definitions given for usus are wide ranging. It is defined as, “use, practice, employment, exercise, enjoyment” (C. T. Lewis, Elementary Latin Dictionary.) We do indeed find employment here. But the word branches off into practice, and some exercise. This is more like a deed—any deed. Then what are we to make of the definition, “enjoyment?” So in Latin, usus ranges from employment to enjoyment.
Then I looked up its Indo-European root and found something even more interesting. The root AV means “delight, desire.” So the root of the Latin word is entirely emotional. It is a form of delight and desire. You see how far away from employment we are now with just the Latin root for use.
So serving God through uses has very much an emotional component to it. Swedenborg employs the word in keeping with these emotional connotations. He writes, “What is love unless there is something that is loved? That “something” is use” (DLW 297). So we see that use is the object of our loves. In general, uses are those things we do to express our love for the neighbor or for God. Use is love taking form in action. So we find Swedenborg saying, “Goods are goods in act, that is, the goods of charity, which are uses” (HH 391). The good things we do are uses. The performance of some deed of love, then, is also use.
The man who is led by the Lord, is in freedom itself, and thereby in enjoyment and blessedness itself. Goods and truths are appropriated to him; there is given him affection and desire for doing good, and then nothing is more delightful to him than to perform uses (AC 6325).
See how affection, desire, blessedness and enjoyment constitute what use is.
Use is connected with charity. Charity for Swedenborg means more than building children’s hospitals, or giving to the poor—the traditional meanings of charity. Charity for Swedenborg is all the acts of love that we perform anywhere, any time. We find Swedenborg saying that uses are the acts of love that we perform, or deeds of charity.
Those who are in charity, that is, in love to the neighbor, from which is all living enjoyment of pleasures, do not look to the enjoyment of pleasures except on account of their use. For there is no charity unless there are works of charity. Charity consists in work, or in use. He who loves the neighbor as himself, perceives no enjoyment of charity except in its exercise, or in use; and therefore a life of charity is a life of uses. Such is the life of the whole heaven; for the kingdom of the Lord, because it is the kingdom of mutual love, is a kingdom of uses. Every pleasure, therefore, which is from charity, has its enjoyment from use. . . . some looking more directly, and some more remotely and indirectly, to the kingdom of the Lord, or to the Lord (AC 997).
In this passage we find that heaven is a kingdom of mutual love, and so it is a kingdom of uses. So again, use is tied to love, enjoyment, and pleasure.
But occupations are not excluded from Swedenborg’s application of the term use. The work that we do to benefit society is certainly a use. But uses are not limited to occupations.
That serving the Lord is performing uses, is because true worship consists in the performance of uses, thus in exercising charity. . . . uses consist during a person’s life in the world, in every one’s discharging properly his duty in his station, thus in serving his country, society, and his neighbor from the heart, in dealing sincerely with his fellow, and in performing kind offices prudently according to the quality of every one. These uses are especially works of charity, and those whereby the Lord is mainly worshipped (AC 7038).
We find here that uses are discharging the duties proper to one’s station. But this statement also includes being sincere. Would we normally call sincerity a use? It is. Then there is that line saying that uses are, “performing kind offices prudently according to the quality of every one.” So use is also being nice and kind.
I think we can say, then, that uses are love being expressed in act. If we love God and our neighbor, we will be performing uses in everything we do.
With a person . . . in proportion as he lives According to Divine order—thus in proportion as he lives in love to the Lord, and in charity to the neighbor—in the same proportion his acts are uses in form, and are correspondences, through which he is conjoined with heaven (HH 112).
Every good deed we do when we love God and the neighbor conjoins us with heaven. Then we are those alert servants who waited for their master to return from the wedding banquet. Then we are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb. Then we are serving God.