Archive for October, 2010
Truth or Truths?
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
October 24, 2010
Genesis 25:29-34 John 16:5-16 Psalm 119
Last Sunday many issues came up in our discussion that followed the sermon. People felt that more needed to be said about the subject. This Sunday, I will take up the subject of truth. I will ask the question, “Do we have Truth, or merely truths?”
It was observed that truths with us have changed over time. Things that were held to be true at one time have given way to other truths that are different. So the questions came up, “What is truth?” And, “How do we know what is true?”
These questions are in the forefront of contemporary philosophy. Philosophers note that what society takes to be true has changed over time. In the middle ages, society thought that the earth was at the center of the universe. We now know that this is not true. It was also thought by society that time was always constant. Einstein showed that time can change according to gravity. So philosophers say that since truth has changed over time, that there is no truth at all. They don’t say that we can never know truth, they say that there is no truth at all. All we have is opinion that helps us get through life.
In many ways, contemporary philosophy is not far from Swedenborg’s view of truth. He claims that no one has pure truth. In one particularly pessimistic passage, he claims that our lower mind, called our natural mind, is possessed of many falsities. Not only that, he says that it is hard for our natural mind to grasp spiritual truths.
In the natural man there are knowledges, which are in a great measure derived from the fallacies of the senses, and which, notwithstanding their being false, he believes to be true; there are also things innumerable which the natural man does not comprehend, for he is relatively in shade and darkness, and what he does not comprehend, he believes either not to exist, or not to be so; there are likewise lusts, which are of the love of self and the world, and whatever things favor these, he calls truths (AC 3321).
This passage show how limited our capacity for knowing really is. Swedenborg is saying that it is hard for us to grasp real truth, and that the knowledge we do have is distorted by what our senses tell us. Then there is the persuasion that comes from selfish love and worldliness which impels us to want to believe things that favor those loves. This is a pretty dismal view of our capacity for knowing.
But we are not left in this condition by God. A very important part of our regeneration, or spiritual rebirth, concerns knowledge and truth. Just because we begin in relative shade and falsity doesn’t mean that we must stay there. God takes the things we hold to be true and forms conscience out of them.
with a person there is no pure intellectual truth, that is, Divine truth; but the truths of faith with a person are appearances of truth, to which join themselves fallacies of the senses, and to these the falsities of the desires of the love of self and the world. . . . But still the Lord conjoins Himself with man in these impure things, for He animates and vivifies them by innocence and charity, and so forms conscience (AC 2052).
We need to remember, here, that truth is not an end in itself. Mere knowing is not the final use of truth. Truth serves a purpose. And the purpose of truth is to bring us into love. Truth’s function is to show us how to love God and how to love our neighbor. Last Sunday I quoted Swedenborg about this. He writes,
They who are regenerated, first do good from doctrines, for of themselves they do not know good, but learn it from the doctrines of love and charity; from these they know who the Lord is, who is the neighbor; what love is, and what charity, thus what good is (AC3310).
The doctrines we know may indeed be flawed. They may not be, cannot be, totally true. What matters about our truths is whether they can make us into good people. What matters is whether the truths we know can lead us into good feelings and behaviors. So Swedenborg observes,
But it is to be known that never are any truths pure with a person, not even with an angel, that is, without appearances; each and all are appearances of truth; but still they are received by the Lord for truths if there is good in them (3207).
The many knowledges we have in our memory can serve as building materials for conscience. We start off the regeneration process with knowledge that we have acquired in childhood, from our parents, or from teachers, or from our own life experiences. But initially, these knowledges are merely facts in our memory without spiritual life in them. This is the inner meaning of the stew that Jacob cooked in our Old Testament reading. Stew is a bunch of food all heaped together in one pot. This is the condition of our knowledges as we begin our spiritual journey.
The first state of the man who is being regenerated, or in whom truth is being conjoined to good, is, that first of all in his natural man, or in the store-house which is called the memory, there are heaped together doctrines of truth without any certain order (AC 3316).
So in our younger years we are concerned with learning facts as a goal in itself. Our minds are that storehouse of facts in our memory. As we saw above, many of these facts are false, and some are tainted with fallacies from our senses. Then our thinking may be controlled by our worldly ambitions and our self-interest. We begin our spiritual journey by using what we know to guide our life. As we progress in life, we may find ourselves changing our outlook on things, or favoring other truths than those we began with. This does not mean that we are making up our own truths. This does not mean we are blowing here and there according to whims. What it does mean is that God is guiding us. God takes the truths we know, and leads us by them. And God’s leading is from what is less true into what is more true. God can’t stick absolute truth into our heads. What He does is to work with the truths we have learned and shape them into purer love and truer truth.
The truths of conscience are various, that is, they are according to every one’s religion; and these, provided they are not contrary to the goods of faith, the Lord is not willing to violate, because the person is imbued with them and has placed holiness in them. The Lord breaks no one, but bends him (AC 2052).
The Lord breaks no one, but bends him. This means that the Lord little by little bends us closer to purer loves and into truer truths.
So we come to the question, “How do we know what is true?” Here, I think we need some humility. We need to acknowledge that we don’t have total truth, and never can have total truth. Perhaps contemporary philosophers aren’t mistaken when they say all we have is opinion that helps us to get along in the world. For this is just what our truths do. They show us how to live. They show us who the neighbor is, how to love the neigbor, and how to love God. But all of these things are qualified. Truth teaches us who the neighbor is, how to love the neighbor, and how to love God according to our best lights. We will only know truth according to our best lights. It takes humility and trust to recognise this point. It takes humility because we have to admit that we may not be right. And it takes trust because we have to trust that God is leading us into purer love and truer truth. The fact that we have abandoned truths we held years ago does not mean that everything is relative. It means, rather, that we are in a process. It means that we are growing. It means that we are regenerating.
But the question of relativism is a very real question. If no one has total truth, does that mean that anything goes? I say no. There are sufficiently clear social norms that we can all agree on, such as the 10 commandments. But we need to be very careful of how we use truth in our dealings with others. Recall Swedenborg’s words. “The truths of conscience are various, that is, they are according to everyone’s religion; and these . . . the Lord is not willing to violate, , because the person is imbued with them and has placed holiness in them.” We need always to remain respectful of the religious views of others. If God is not willing to violate them because the person has placed holiness in them, we, too, must not violate the beliefs of others. We may discuss religion with others, but we may not denounce their beliefs. The truths we have are our truths; the truths others have are their truths.
We find ourselves testing truth as we live our lives. We may well find that one way of doing things doesn’t work very well. We may find that truths we lived by at one time are not as effective as truths we acquire later in life. The final answer to the question, “How do we know what is true?” is, “What teaches us to love?” The way we show love is a measure of the truths we know. We need to remember that we are in a process. We need to remember that we are regenerating. We need to remain humble and trustful in our understanding of truth. What we take to be true may change over time. But this does not mean that our search for truth is aimless. It simply may mean that we are in God’s guidance.
What Is Truth?
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
October 17, 2010
Deuteronomy 30:11-20 Mark 4:30-32 Psalm 86
Today I thought we would reflect on what faith means. To some, faith means to believe what the church teaches without question. Even in doctrines that are hard to understand, or even can’t be understood, one is told to believe on faith. Another way faith is viewed in the Christian tradition is the belief that Jesus bore our sins on the cross. If we believe that He bore our sins, that belief is faith. We look at faith differently than this. For us, faith is the same as truth. Whatever is true is faith. Faith is the sum total of all we hold to be true. Swedenborg writes, “All the elements that constitute faith are truths. Faith, then, is nothing but an array of truths shining in our mind” (TCR 347). This means that we must understand truth. Faith is not a part of our minds and our souls unless we understand it and can make it a part of our lives. Blind acceptance has no part in Swedenborg’s definition of faith. So we are encouraged to question, to explore, and to find truths that make sense in our lives.
Truth teaches us how to walk in God’s ways. These are the commands mentioned in our Old Testament reading. Moses tells the Children of Israel,
See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep his decrees and laws; then you will increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess (Deuteronomy 30:15-16).
Faith is all those decrees and laws that Moses tells the Israelites to keep. While some of these decrees are oriented to life in the first millennium B.C., all we need to be saved can still be found in God’s Word, including the Old Testament. Swedenborg in many places stresses the importance of turning to the Bible to find the truths we need for salvation. He tells us,
Truths need to be taken from the Word, because all the truths that make a contribution to our salvation are there. These truths are genuinely effective because they have been given by the Lord and have been engraved on the entire angelic heaven. As a result, when we learn truths from the Word, without our knowing it we come into contact and association with angels (TCR 347).
And in the New Testament, we heard God’s kingdom compared to a mustard seed. The mustard seed starts our very small, but grows into the largest of the garden plants. This tells us that faith grows and increases. Our faith grows according to how many truths we learn and integrate into our lives. In True Christian Religion, Swedenborg affirms this idea, “Faith is perfected according to the abundance and coherence of truths . . . for then one thing strengthens and confirms another” (TCR 352). As we are on the path to heaven, we begin with a few truths that we may have learned when we were young. But if we seek God and His Kingdom, we continue to seek out new truths and greatly expand our array of truths. One truth then supports, illustrates and confirms another. And from some few truths, we become fortified with many more truths that strengthen our faith and show us ever more clearly the way to walk in God’s path.
We need to learn truths because we are not born with them. Babies know nothing and must learn everything they need to live. They learn to walk. They learn to talk. They learn to read and write. And as they grow and mature, a young person learns how to conduct themselves in life. We are born equally ignorant of spiritual truths. I just saw a movie about the founding of Facebook. Its creator is now the youngest billionaire. But along the way he alienated himself from his best friend–in fact, he alienated himself from everyone. He was smart enough to make a multi-billion dollar company, but was appallingly dumb in the spiritual truths of friendship, trust, loyalty, and love. We all start from different places in our spiritual journey, but we all need to learn truths that will guide us into heaven. So Swedenborg writes,
With the good of life from doctrines . . . the case is this: they who are regenerated, first do good from doctrines, for of themselves they do not know good, but learn it from the doctrines of love and charity; from these they know who the Lord is, who is the neighbor; what love is, and what charity, thus what good is (AC3310).
But learning truths isn’t the whole story. What really matters is what we do with those truths. Swedenborg describes the process by which truths turn into spiritual life. Spiritual life progresses in us by means of a twofold process. We acquire the truths that tell us how to live a heavenly life, and while we are learning truths, God flows into our minds and hearts with love. This process happens by degrees. We have higher and lower aspects to our minds and personalities. The lowest part of our mind is mere knowing alone. So knowledge is the lowest part of our mind. In this part of our mind, we store knoweldges in our memory. Then the next higher realm is our rational mind. It is our rational mind that makes decisions. We judge and choose by means of our rational mind. Then a still higher level of our mind can perceive and see that a truth is true. Swedenborg lists these levels of our minds,
Truth learned is one thing, rational truth is another thing, and intellectual truth is another; and these succeed one another. Truth learned belongs to knowledge; rational truth is truth learned confirmed by reason; intellectual truth is conjoined with a perception that a thing is so (AC 1496).
And above this is our spiritual degree where we love heavenly life and see spiritual truth. We progress from knowledge in the memory to life in the spirit. We learn truths ourselves. And as we learn truths, God flows into our memory and lifts up the truths that are genuinely spiritual and that can be filled with love. The truths that are then enlightened form our rational mind. This is a selection process whereby some truths are not lifted up into our rational mind, and some are not. This is because not everything we learn is true. We also learn things that are false and that do not conduce to heaven. Swedenborg describes how heavenly light enlightens the knowledges that are in our memory,
Divine good with a person flows into his rational, and through the rational into his natural, and indeed into its outward knowledges, or the knowledges and doctrinal teachings therein . . . and there by adaptation it forms truths for itself, by which it then enlightens all things that are in the natural mind (AC 3128).
After truths have been lifted up into our rational mind, then love flows into our rational mind and fills our hearts with heavenly affections for doing good and for loving God. Swedenborg describes the order in which our spirituality develops,
When a person is being instructed, the progression is from knowledge in the memory to rational truths, afterwards to intellectual truths, and at last to heavenly truths (AC 1495).
So it looks as if we raise ourselves up by how we progress in relation to truth. It looks like we learn knowledges, confirm them by our reasoning abilities, and then see their truth from inner light. But what is really going on is different. What is really going on is that spiritual love and wisdom are flowing down from God, through heaven and into our minds. This inflowing love and wisdom is forming the lower reaches of our consciousness so that it conforms with heavenly realities. So the real process isn’t us lifting ourselves up, it is God forming our minds to receive Him.
Order is, that the heavenly shall flow into the spiritual and adapt it to itself; the spiritual will thus flow into the rational and adapt it to itself; the rational will thus flow into the knowledge and adapt it to itself (AC 1495).
Truth actually has its origin from love, or what Swedenborg calls the heavenly degree. So not only are our minds formed by heavenly love flowing down into our minds, but truth itself is formed by that same heavenly love. Truth is living truth when it is filled with heavenly love. Truth has no other purpose than to teach us how to be loving Christians, and how to love wisely.
The truth has not any life from itself, but from the heavenly which flows in. The heavenly is love and charity; all truth is therefrom; and because all truth is therefrom, it is nothing but a kind of vessel. . . . [In heaven] truths are never regarded from truths, but from the life which is in them; that is, from the heavenly things which are of love and charity in the truths (AC 1496).
So it is incumbent on us to learn all God’s decrees and laws, in order for Him to flow down from heaven into our minds and illuminate the truths there. It is important for us to learn those decrees and laws so that we will know how to love, who to love, and how to live spiritually. It is the natural progression for those on the heavenly pathway to respond to the inflowing heavenly power that is adapting our minds to receive it. By remaining open to that inflowing heavenly life, our truths grow and support one another. Our faith grows as the mustard plant, so large that birds can perch in its shade.
The Foreigner’s Praise
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
October 10, 2010
Leviticus 23:33-36, 39-43 Luke 17:11-19 Psalm 118
Our New testament story is so typical of how things can be with us. When we are in distress, we call out to God. Then, when things are going well, we can forget all we have to be thankful to God for. And once again, the New testament author shows the spirit of true thankfulness through the foreign and despised Samaritans. Ten lepers appeal to Jesus to be cured. He sends them to the priests and they are cured. Only the Samaritan alone comes back to thank Jesus and praise God. I have talked about how the Samaritans were viewed by the Israelites before, but some brief review may help us to understand the story better.
The Samaritans were foreigners who settled in northern Israel after Assyria had conquered it. They were largely of Assyrian origin. Their scriptures were not the ones used by the Israelites in Judah. And they constructed their own temple on Mount Gerizim, as a rival to the one in Jerusalem. So the Jews in Judah, the Jews that Jesus lived among, saw the Samaritans as heretics, and even enemies. But true worship of God transcends place and sect. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well, “A time is coming when you will worship the Father neighbor on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. . . . A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:21, 23). And it is a heretical foreigner–a Samaritan–who shows us all the spirit of thankfulness.
Our reading from Leviticus concerns one of the three great agricultural festivals. They are Passover, the Festival of the First Fruits of the Land, and The Feast of Tabernacles, also translated as the Feast of Booths. We heard about the Feast of Tabernacles. It was celebrated in the autumn when all the crops had been harvested and gathered in. And in a society that depended upon the year’s harvest for its very survival, it is only natural that the autumn harvest festival would also be one of thankfulness for the year’s crops.
So we have two themes of thanksgiving from our Bible stories. One is thanksgiving for bounty–the Old Testament story. And the other a theme of thanksgiving for deliverance from distress and for healing–the New Testament story. Both these stories are ours.
Let’s begin by considering thanksgiving for bounty. We all have so much to be grateful that we cannot enumerate everything. Sure we gripe about not having enough. Sure we struggle to make ends meet from pay check to pay check. I struggle and gripe. But dwelling on what we don’t have only gets in the way of our peace. Instead, we can look at all the things we do have. When we do that, we will find that our cup truly flows over. Last year I bought a new car, which added a rather high car payment to my monthly expenses. What shall I look at? Shall I complain each month about the car payment? Or shall I be grateful each time I’m driving my car that I now have reliable transportation? Each time I find myself in that car, I am buying peace of mind and confidence with that car payment. We can even get more basic than that. I have a roof over my head. My apartment meets all my needs. I am dry when it rains. I am warm inside when it is cold outside. I have room for my bed, and in addition I have room for my electric piano and my bookcases. I have food. I have enough food and good food to keep me healthy. And my health gives me the ability to fulfill my uses in this world. I have clothes. I have all the clothes I need. I have shorts and t-shirts for the summer. I have long pants and long-sleeved shirts for the autumn. I have warm jackets for the winter. I even have enough money for an occasional trip to the ski-hill in the winter to cheer me up in Edmonton’s cold, dark winters. I have the love of a dear friend whom I love back with all my heart. We have here a healthy and loving faith community. We have a place where Swedenborg’s inspired theology can be proclaimed and heard. We have a place where people can explore spirituality as God is leading them without condemnation or judgement. We have a place where people care for one another and friendships blossom. And we can get even more basic than this. There are some sombre lines from Walt Whitman that I’ve always liked. He writes, “It seems to me that everything in the light and air ought to be happy;/Whoever is not in his coffin and the dark grave, let him know he has enough” (“The Sleepers,” 79-80). What I am talking about is called a “gratitude list.” It is a list of all the things we have to be grateful for. A mind filled with gratitude is happy. It is fitting that we take one day out of the year to think about all we have to be thankful for. For it is too easy to forget as the year passes by, and we find ourselves worrying about what we don’t have. We can carry the spirit of Thanksgiving into the year that follows. We can give thanks for the blessings we all have. We will find life more blessed and happy when we dwell on all our many blessings.
On a spiritual level, we can give thanks to God for His continual work of salvation. Through all the challenges and trials we experience in life, God is with us. God is ceaselessly lifting us upward toward him. God is ceaselessly lifting us upward into heavenly joy. God is ceaselessly elevating us out of worldly and selfish loves and into spiritual and Godly joys.
This is both an active and a passive process. Sometimes we feel deep anguish and pain, and we cry out to God for help and deliverance. We cry out of our misery like the lepers cried out to Jesus. I think you all know that poem about the footprints in the sand. A man is walking on the beach and there are two sets of footprints. His own, and those of Jesus who is walking next to him. It happens that the man falls into deep despair and finds only one set of footprints on the beach. He cries out to Jesus where were you then? Jesus responds, “Those footprints were mine; I was carrying you.” God is with us in our moments of trial and despair. God hears our prayers, and answers. Inevitably, our trials come to some resolution. We may find ourselves in a new frame of mind. We may find ourselves on a new spiritual plateau. Rarely do we ever come back to the same place we were before our trials. And this new spiritual place may be God’s answer and healing that we cried out for. But our life eventually levels out; our distress eases. Our life then should be a constant prayer of thanksgiving. But is it? Do we remember to give thanks to God for His deliverance? Whom are we like–the Samaritan, or the other nine lepers? I have been describing God’s help as an active process so far–when we cry out for God’s help and we find deliverance.
But there is also a passive process to God’s salvation. Sometimes we go about our lives for a long while with no serious challenges or trials. We go to work; we live out our family life; we visit with friends. And yet, all the while, God is working in the background. We look back over the years, and we see how different we are from the person we were in the past. In fact, this is one reason why the Buddhists say there is no self at all. When we wonder when the change occurred, we can’t say; we can’t put our finger on when the change happened. But happen it did. Through all the events in our life in the world, God was working on our soul. God was lifting us upward. Lifting us so subtly and so gently that we weren’t even aware of His work. It was as if we were carried along in the powerful current of Providence, as in a river.
Both of these processes are the workings of God’s Divine love. It is out of love that God is continually bringing us toward Himself. Every lover wants to be close to his or her beloved. And God is love itself. So it is only natural that God would want to be close to us. It is only natural that God would want to bring us close to Him. And for God’s love, we can give thanks with our whole heart. As we thank God, we are returning the love He lavishes on us. We can return God’s love by being loving in our own lives. Jesus tells us, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love . . . This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:10, 17). Obeying Jesus’ commands; loving each other; these are the ways to truly show gratitude and thankfulness to God. As we enjoy the Thanksgiving feast and the love of family and friends, let us keep in mind that Thanksgiving Day is both a spiritual holiday, and an earthly holiday. Let us remember to give thanks to God for our bounty and for God’s help and deliverance. Then, Thanksgiving Day will be on earth as it is in heaven.
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
2 Kings 5:1-14 Matthew 9:1-8 Psalm 103
God has given each of us the power to transform ourselves. And Jesus tells us that we need to be reborn in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Being reborn means that a new self needs to be born out of the self we have inherited by birth. Some churches teach that when a person accepts Jesus as their personal savior, that they are then reborn in an instant. We see things differently. Accepting Jesus as a person’s savior doesn’t make one into a different person. We see the process as one that involves true personality development and personality change. Perhaps accepting Jesus as one’s savior begins the process of personality change. But changing into another person, or another personality, takes place over time, and by means of countless processes.
Swedenborg describes this process by borrowing images of birth from nature. We are reborn in a manner analogous to the way we were first born. There is first conception, then gestation in the womb, birth, and growth into adulthood. “This formation is like conception, gestation, birth, and education” (TCR 583). The process of gradual birth from a seed into maturity is echoed in other natural processes. Swedenborg uses the Latin term regeneration, which means rebirth.
That a person can be regenerated only by successive steps, may be illustrated by the things in the natural world, one and all. A tree cannot reach its growth as a tree in a day; but first there is growth from the seed, next from the root, and afterward from the shoot, from which is formed the stem; and from this proceed branches with leaves, and at last blossoms and fruits. Wheat and barley do not spring up and become ready for the harvest in a day. A house is not built in a day nor does a person attain to his full stature in a day, still less to wisdom (TCR 586).
The spiritual rebirth that Swedenborg describes is one that opens us up to greater and greater love and wisdom. It brings us closer and closer to God, and lets God’s Spirit enter more and more fully into our hearts and minds. It thus makes us love deeper and understand with greater clarity. So there are levels of spiritual development.
We can tell clearly from the angels of the three heavens that there are levels of love and wisdom. Angels of the third heaven so surpass angels of the second heaven in love and wisdom, and these so surpass angels of the farthest heaven, that they cannot live in the same place. Their levels of love and wisdom mark them off and separate them (DLW 179).
In Swedenborg’s system, angels are not a different class of being. They are all humans who have developed themselves spiritually. They have developed themselves by means of the process of spiritual rebirth. This is what brings them into such intense heavenly light and warmth. Swedenborg describes the kind of light that angels are surrounded with, and tells us that it is so intense that it is beyond any light we can see in this world.
As for the spiritual light that surrounds angels, I have been allowed to see this with my own eyes. For angels of the higher heavens, the light is so brilliant that it is indescribable, even by comparison with the brilliance of snow; and it also has a glow that defies description, even by comparison with the radiant glory of our world’s sun. In short, this light is a thousand times greater than the light at noon on earth (DLW 182).
People who have been through near-death experiences often comment on this light.
And we all can come into this brilliant light and vernal heat by the spiritual cultivation called regeneration, or spiritual rebirth. This is because we are essentially spiritual beings clothed with a material body. When we lay aside our material body, we are clothed with a spiritual body, and we live as angels.
a person is born spiritual as to his soul, and is clothed with what is natural, which forms his body. When this body, therefore, is laid aside, his soul comes clothed with a spiritual body into a world where all things are spiritual, and is there associated with his like (TCR 583).
But what does all this talk about spiritual rebirth mean? I think that it means that we cannot be content with the status quo. It may well be that the life we are living isn’t our true birthright. It may well be that we need to develop, change, and grow into a different person than we were from birth, and now are.
We may not know this. We may not see this. I have spoken with some people who have told me that they are completely whole, do nothing wrong, and think that their life is going fine. I find this uncritical way of life hard to understand. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. And only by looking in the mirror, or by turning within, will we see the need for development and growth.
But by what measuring stick will we evaluate our lives? This is where spiritual education comes in. We need to educate our minds in order to see whether there are growth areas we need to cultivate. For Swedenborg, the first step in the process of rebirth is to educate the mind. Our minds are what tell us whether we are on the right track or not. There are two general aspects to our personality that Swedenborg describes: the will, and the understanding. The will is our whole emotional component. It is what we love. It is what we enjoy. It is what we want. The understanding is our intellectual component. It is everything we know. It is everything we understand. It is everything that we believe. The process of spiritual reformation begins by enlightening our minds, our understanding, to see where we are going in life.
Therefore, that a person may be regenerated, it is necessary for this to be done by means of the understanding . . . and it is done through the information that the understanding receives, given first by parents and teachers, afterward from reading the Word, from preaching, books, and conversation. The things that the understanding receives from these sources are called truths . . . For truths teach a person in whom and in what he should believe, also what he should do (TCR 587).
We need to form our minds first, in order to see whether we are on the right track. This assumes that we do not know what is true and right from birth. I can go along with this assumption when I look around at the world in which I live. We don’t live in a world like the middle ages. Then, great cathedrals stood in the middle of cities. Everywhere one turned, there were images and writings about spirituality. Fiction and art all surrounded sp concepts. Today, it seems to me that society teaches that materialism, profit, wealth, and power are the values one should strive for. And yet Jesus teaches humility, and the wealth of spirit. The messages of spirituality are vastly different from the messages from our society. This is why Swedenborg tells us that our minds need to become spiritually educated by, “parents and teachers, afterward from reading the Word, from preaching, books, and conversation.”
Our enlightened minds, then, look at our will, our emotions and our loves, and tell us if we are in harmony with spiritual laws or material laws. Here, we may encounter some struggle. One may have the notion that one’s own way of doing things is the way everyone should do things. We may have prejudices against people who are socially or economically different from us. Our sense of self-importance may cause us to try to control others, or boss them around. We may not have that love in our hearts for the whole human race that Jesus so beautifully taught. I can’t list all the ways we may be blocking the love and compassion that spirituality teaches. I can only suggest that there is some merit to Swedenborg’s claim.
The final step in spiritual rebirth, or self-transformation is to train ourselves to act in accordance with spiritual principals. We need to actively remove the character defects that block God’s inflowing love. We need to do this ourselves, and not wait for God to do it for us. For as I said at the very beginning of this talk, we have the power of self transformation. God has given us this power, and when we exercise it, we are working together with God. And working together with God conjoins us with Him. Swedenborg writes,
the power to act right is from the Lord, and the will to act from this is as it were a person’s; for he is in freedom of will, and from this can act together with the Lord and thus conjoin himself (TCR 576).
Some churches teach that human effort can contribute nothing to salvation. This is true to a certain extent. But when it is realized that God has given us the power to transform ourselves, then we are not using human effort at all. Swedenborg illustrates this in an amusing story.
A person must purify himself from evils and not wait for the Lord to do this immediately; otherwise he may be compared to a servant with face and clothes fouled with soot and dung, who comes up to his master and says, “Wash me, my lord.” Would not the master say to him, “You foolish servant, what are you saying? See; there are water, soap, and towel. Have you not hands, and power in them? Wash yourself.” And the Lord God will say, “The means of purification are from Me; and from Me are your will and ability; therefore use these My gifts and endowments as your own, and you will be purified (TCR 436).
Remember our Old Testament story? The general Naaman didn’t want to wash himself in order to be cured from leprosy. He wanted Elisha to wave his hand over the spot where the leprosy was and cure him. But when Naaman did wash himself, he was cured. And in the New Testament, the healing of the paralytic is related to the forgiveness of sins. Healing symbolizes spiritual purification.
Self-transformation, purification, spiritual rebirth–all these amount to the same thing. And that is, we cannot accept the status quo. There is so much, much more that lies in wait for those who seek God with all their heart. Our souls can grow and progress to eternity. We can open our inner self to those high heavens in which are the spiritually advanced angels. And we, too, can become as advanced as they are. All angels are from the human race, and it is our birthright to become one–even in this life unconsciously, and then in the next consciously.