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Experiencing the Mountain Top
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
February 14, 2010
Exodus 34:29-35 Luke 9:28-36 Psalm 99
There are two aspects to the Old Testament and New Testament stories that tie them together. One is the glowing faces on Moses and Jesus. The other is the mountain top where each one communed with God. There is a further connection between these stories and our Valentine’s Day celebrations today. In Swedenborg’s system of correspondences, mountains symbolize the holy things of love. They represent love for God and love for each other. It is no coincidence that when Moses’ face shines from his encounter with God; and when Jesus’ face shines through a union with His divine origins, they happen on a mountain top. The Mountain top is where union with God is represented. And union with God means an intense feeling of love—for God is love itself.
We can understand why mountains might represent a close connection with God. When we are in the mountains, we feel a special sublime feeling. I recall when I was at a Swedenborgian church camp in Maine. There were mountains all around us. And one day we had an outing when I and some of the teens climbed a tall mountain nearby. I was younger then, and enjoyed the climb. But when we got to the top, there was the wonder of the view that appeared before me. We saw down to the valley, and across to other mountain tops, and tiny houses and villages. The view was breathtaking. It was not the kind of thing one saw very often. There was a kind of sacred awe I felt as I surveyed the depths below me and listened to the air blowing by me. It is this kind of feeling that led the ancient peoples to think that mountains brought one close to God. I felt the same way when I went to the mountains here in Alberta. Carol and I went skiing in both Banff and Jasper. I had been camping in Banff before we went skiing there. And seeing the mountains for a second time, I recognized some of the peaks. Being in the mountain valley, looking up, I felt that special wonder again that mountains give me. Then when we went skiing, we took the lift way up the mountain to the top of the ski run. We looked across the valley to the peaks on the other side, and stood up there in the still, quiet mountain air. The view of the other mountains across the valley, and the look downward into the valley itself, made the skiing all the more delightful. And when I got down to the bottom of the ski hill, I wanted to go back up not just to ski some more, but because I wanted another look at the view from the mountain top.
These feelings are behind the Biblical use of mountains as a place where one can meet with God. When Moses received the tablets of stone with the Law on them, he met God on a mountain. And his encounter with God shone in his face. When Jesus was transfigured upon the mountain top His face shone like lightning. In the transfiguration, Jesus was in union with God the Father who is Jesus’ soul. When the Father had so filled Jesus with his presence, Jesus shined with His innate divinity. This union with the Father came and when throughout Jesus’ life on earth, and was fully completed forever with the resurrection.
We experience union with God from time to time in our lives. There are those rare mountain-top experiences when we feel really close to God. But most of the time, our union with God is a gradual process in which throughout our lifetimes we grow inward into greater love and upward into clearer thought.
There is a direct connection between our relationship with God and our love for our wives, husbands, or life-partners. As God is more fully in our hearts, our love for our partner grows more deeply. This is because as we receive love more deeply, and as we act more wisely, we have the ability to express that love and wisdom with another person. And love and wisdom are both given us by God, and depend on our relationship with God. In his book on marriage, Swedenborg writes,
Love for the sex and marital love come by an influx of good and truth from the Lord. Good and truth, we have said, are the universals of creation and so are in all created things, in each according to its form. Good and truth also proceed from the Lord not as two but as one. It follows that a universal marital sphere pervades the universe from first to last, from the angels to the lowest forms of life (CL 92).
Marital love also comes of this sphere, because in humans and angels this sphere flows into the form of wisdom. The human being can increase in wisdom to the end of his life in the world and afterward to eternity in heaven. As wisdom increases, his form is perfected. This form does not receive love for the sex, but love for one of the sex. With her he can be united to the inmost, in which is heaven with its happiness, and this union is one of marital love (CL 93).
Our relationship with God is compared to a marriage. God is the groom and the whole church, or those who are spiritually united to God are the bride. This marriage of God as groom and church as bride is the source for the love that lovers feel for each other.
We also deal at this point with the marriage of the Lord and the Church, and its correspondence, because without knowledge and intelligence on this subject one can hardly know that marital love is holy, spiritual, and heavenly in origin and is from the Lord. . . . In order to place the relation in some light of the understanding, we give a separate chapter to that holy marriage, which is with and in those who constitute the Lord’s Church; these and no others have true marital love (CL 116).
Our marriage to the Lord also bears offspring. Of course the idea of offspring is a correspondence, too. With the union of love and wisdom that come from God, a person comes into truth and good, and these qualities of the soul grow and grow to eternity. This truth and good are the offspring that are born from the marriage of God and the Church.
The spiritual offspring, born of the marriage of the Lord and the Church, are truths, from which are understanding, perception and all thought; and goods, from which are love, charity and all affection. Truths and goods are the spiritual offspring which are born of the Lord and the Church, for the reason that the Lord is good itself and truth itself, and these are not two in Him but one, and because nothing can proceed from the Lord except what is in Him and He is. . . . The human being has understanding, perception and all thought by truths, and love, charity, and all affection by goods, for the reason that all human life is referable to good and truth (CL 121).
It only takes a little reflection to see that if a person is filled with love, and acts wisely, his or her relationships will be better, more tranquil, and more harmonious. The actual capacity to love is given us by God. The more we have let God into our hearts, the more we will be able to express and feel the delights of love. Paul gives us one of the most memorable statements about love that western culture has. He tells us ,
1If I speak in the tongues[a] of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,[b] but have not love, I gain nothing. 4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 13)
How much more satisfying will be our loving relationships if we have the kind of love Paul talks about. We will not be boastful, proud, rude, or self-seeking—the kinds of things that block love, or make a loving relationship difficult. We will keep no record of wrongs, nor rejoice in evil. What Paul is talking about here is forgiveness, which is essential for us fallible humans. Swedenborg tells us that God gave us marital love in order to make us the happiest we can be. I think that when relationships are at their best, we do find that life is happy, perhaps the happiest we can know. In his own way, Swedenborg gives us another beautiful statement about love. It isn’t as famous as that of Paul, but I think it is equally beautiful and I will close with it.
The states of this love are innocence, peace, tranquility, inmost friendship, full trust, a desire in mind and heart to do the other every good; and from all these blessedness, satisfaction, joy, pleasure, and in eternal fruition of these, heavenly happiness (CL 180).
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