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Living from Love
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
December 11, 2011
Isaiah 61:1-4, 6-11 Luke 1:39-55 Psalm 126
Today we consider the third of Swedenborg’s “3 R’s”. The three “R’s” are repentance, reformation, and regeneration. This Sunday we look at regeneration. Swedenborg’s terms can be a little confusing because he uses the same word for two ideas. Regeneration in a general sense means the whole process of rebirth, which takes a lifetime and even continues into the next life. But regeneration in a specific sense means the third of the three “R’s”. In its specific sense, as the third of the three “R’s,” regeneration means a final state which we achieve in our spiritual growth. It is when our struggles are over. It is when we act from love freely. It is a time when temptation ends and we are at peace. We live eternally in heaven’s joys, no longer burdened with vexations from the world and our lower selves. When we reach the stage called regeneration, then God is fully born in our hearts. The coming of the Lord is complete.
Our Psalm reading captures the happiness we know when we are fully regenerated. It is a time, when, as the Psalm says, “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.” We fully acknowledge that God has worked salvation in us, and we say, “The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”
The stage of regeneration is also captured in our reading from Isaiah. The prophet speaks for us all when he says,
I delight greatly in the Lord,
my soul rejoices in my God.
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels (Isaiah 61:10).
When we have reached the stage of regeneration we have been saved. So we are clothed in garments of salvation. We are filled with love for God, so we rejoice greatly in the Lord. Filled with holiness and heavenly loves, Isaiah captures our regenerated condition, “You will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God.” Priests and ministers mean those who are filled with heavenly love and whose minds are filled with heavenly wisdom.
The processes of repentance, reformation, and regeneration go like this: First, we see sin in ourselves. We fully recognise our shadow and accept that it is in us. This is the process of repentance. Second, we learn the path that God would have us walk. We gather truths from many different sources. We learn teachings that instruct us about who God is, and what the heavenly life is. Then we work on our thoughts, our emotions, and our behaviors, and bring them in line with the way we have been taught. This is the stage called reformation. Finally, a great shift takes place in our personality. Instead of acting from what we know, we act from what we love. In this stage our heart takes the first place, not our thinking. We have trained ourselves to feel heavenly loves, and these are all we desire. Now, thought becomes subordinate to love. From what we love, we know what is true. Our hearts can feel truth when we hear it. We no longer have to figure things out with our minds. We have so learned what heavenly love is like that we instinctively do it and follow our hearts. We no longer need our minds to tell us what to do. As Swedenborg says, “the first is a state of thought from the understanding, and the second a state of love from the will” (TCR 571). This is the stage called regeneration.
I found this process well illustrated in a passage from Confucius. He describes this process excellently. In his analects, he writes,
The Master said, At fifteen I set my heart upon learning. At thirty, I had planted my feet firm upon the ground. At forty, I no longer suffered from perplexities. At fifty, I knew what were the biddings of Heaven. At sixty, I heard them with docile ear. At seventy, I could follow the dictates of my own heart; for what I desired no longer overstepped the boundaries of right (Confucius, Analects, Book II, no. 4).
The Master begins his faith journey with a desire to learn. Learning the Way and how to walk in it is the beginning. This is at the age of fifteen. Then, learning all the while, it isn’t until he reaches the age of fifty that the Master can say, “I knew what were the biddings of heaven.” He has spent his life learning what the ways of heavenly life are. His faith journey implies struggle in applying what he knows about heavenly life to his own life. It isn’t until the Master gets to sixty that he hears the biddings with a docile ear. I take this to mean that he hears heavenly truth without resistance from his lower self and the ego and selfishness that can sometimes dominate our lower self. Then at the age of seventy, the Master enters the stage that Swedenborg would call regeneration. Confucius can follow his heart freely. He can do this because he has learned the biddings of heaven first. Then he has implemented them into his life and formed his life around what he has learned. Then, after training himself to love what he has learned about heaven, he can follow his heart. He says, “At seventy, I could follow the dictates of my own heart, for what I desired no longer overstepped the boundaries of right.”
So the stage of regeneration is a stage of love. We act from love, not from teachings about love. The stage called regeneration is also a stage of freedom. For we act freely from our hearts with no constraint or compulsion. We are no longer restraining our dark side, because we have overcome it. We are no longer compelling our feet to walk in God’s commands because we do them willingly. Our minds no longer tell us what to do. Rather, our hearts tell us what to think. We love doing what is good. And from our good feelings, we see what it true. Swedenborg writes of this process as follows,
When this latter state begins and is progressing, a change takes place in the mind; the mind undergoes a reversal, the love of the will then flowing into the understanding, acting upon it and leading it to think in accord and agreement with its love; and in consequence so far as the good of love comes to act the first part and the truths of faith the second, man is spiritual and is a new creature; and he then acts from charity and speaks from faith; he feels the good of charity and perceives the truth of faith; and he is then in the Lord, and in peace, and thus regenerate (TCR 571).
Love, after all, is the primary thing of religion. We do indeed seek out teachings and religious truths. But for Swedenborg, the point of spiritual truth is only to lead us into love and into a good life. He even says that truths fall away from us and dissolve like fall leaves if we haven’t incorporated them into our lives. For Swedenborg truth serves one function only–to lead us into love.
Ralph Waldo Emerson took issue with this aspect of Swedenborg’s theology. Emerson admired Swedenborg’s mind and intellect. He was impressed with Swedenborg’s philosophical and scientific accomplishments. And he was also impressed with how rational Swedenborg’s theology is. He felt that Swedenborg cheated his own mind by subordinating intellect to feeling–mind to heart. And as a philosopher in his own right, Emerson wanted mind to be preferred over heart.
I see so much humility in Swedenborg to make this statement. Here was a man who is credited as one with the highest of geniuses in the history of the western world. And yet, this ponderous genius claims that intellect can only go so far. He lays aside his intelligence in favor of a loving heart. He lays aside all his knowledge, to valorize a good life as the goal of knowing.
I think that our society, sadly, agrees for the most part with Emerson. I think that we value intelligence too much. We flatter a mother’s child when we say that he or she is smart, or intelligent. We look up to smart people. But how often do we praise others for being loving? Do we give kindness and gentleness the same praise we do intelligence? Would a mother be as flattered should someone say of her child, “He or she is so loving and kind.”
But love is where it’s at. Jesus tells us this plainly and simply, “My command is this: Love each other” (John 15:12). I am reminded of a story that one of the ancient church Fathers told. It was about the Apostle John. John was very advanced in years. He was so old that he had to be carried wherever he went. On one occasion he was asked to speak at a dinner of early Christians. All he said was, “Little children, love one another.” Someone spoke up, “Is that all you have to say? I have heard you before and that is all you ever say.” John replied, “That is all I remember, resting my head on Christ’s breast, and if you do that, it is enough.” Love is where it’s at. Little children, love one another.
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