By Morgan Beard
You meet someone and you immediately hit it off. You sit and talk for hours, and after a single day you feel as if you’ve known the person your entire life. Is it possible that you’re connecting on a deeper spiritual level?
Emanuel Swedenborg describes a spiritual world that’s deeply interconnected not only with our souls, but also with our minds—sometimes in ways we might not expect. For one thing, he tells us, the fundamental basis of our spiritual life is love, which impacts not only how we think and react to things (and people!) but also the very nature of who we are in this life and the next.
Swedenborg describes four broad types of love: love of the Divine, love of our neighbor, love of the world, and love of self. The first two types of love are focused on others. Love of the Divine, for example, doesn’t only mean love of God, but love of the goodness that exists in the world because of God, and a desire to embody that goodness ourselves. Love of our neighbor means a sense of good will toward all people, individually or as a whole.
Everyone is our neighbor . . . but to differing extents. A community, whether small or large, is more of a neighbor than an individual is, the country is still more of a neighbor, the Lord’s kingdom still more, and the Lord is the neighbor above all. In the most universally applicable sense the goodness that comes from the Lord is our neighbor, and this means that what is honest and fair is our neighbor as well. So people who do anything good because it is good and who do what is honest and fair because it is honest and fair are loving their neighbor and practicing caring. This is because their actions are motivated by a love of what is good, honest, and fair and therefore by a love for people in whom there is goodness, honesty, and fairness. (New Jerusalem §103)
But the other two types of love are self-focused. Love of the world, for example, means a love for the material benefits we can derive from it—money, power, fame, and so on. Love for the self refers to putting ourselves above everyone else, a type of selfishness that ends up hurting the people around us.
Love for ourselves is intending benefit only to ourselves and not to others unless it is in our own interests. . . . It is also being good to [others] only for the sake of our own reputation, advancement, or praise, so that unless we see some such reward in the good we may do for them we say at heart, “What’s the use? Why should I? What’s in it for me?” and forget about it. . . . As for love for the world, this is wanting to use any available means to divert others’ resources to ourselves, setting our hearts on wealth, and letting the world distract and seduce us away from the spiritual love that is love for our neighbor, and therefore away from heaven. (New Jerusalem §§65, 76)
In other words, the things that we love are our deepest priorities in life. From that perspective, it may be no surprise that the things we love are what connect us to other people. In a spiritual sense, this goes beyond looking for things that we have in common, like interests or background. What we love is what determines our direction in life; it guides what we value and what we strive for. These aspects of our personality also affect who we’re drawn to after death.
When Swedenborg writes about his visionary experiences of the afterlife, he describes a process where people who have crossed over gradually release the things from their lives that weren’t as important to them, until all that’s left is the thing that they love above all else. If that love is focused on others—if a person loves others more than they do themselves—they will enter heaven and become angels. In that angelic spiritual state:
Kindred souls gravitate toward each other spontaneously, as it were, for with each other they feel as though they are with their own family, at home, while with others they feel like foreigners, as though they were abroad. When they are with kindred souls, they enjoy the fullest freedom and find life totally delightful. (Heaven and Hell §44)
On the level of pure spirit, then, when we’ve left behind all of the distractions of our daily lives, we can truly understand who we are and what we stand for. When that happens, we recognize people who have the same nature, and we join with them in communities where everyone works toward a common goal.
All heaven is differentiated into communities on the basis of differences in the quality of love, and every spirit who is raised up into heaven and becomes an angel is taken to the community where her or his love is. When we arrive there we feel as though we are in our own element, at home, back to our birthplace, so to speak. Angels sense this and associate there with kindred spirits. When they leave and go somewhere else, they feel a constant pull, a longing to go back to their kindred and therefore to their dominant love. This is how people gather together in heaven. (Heaven and Hell §479)
When we’re here on earth, though, life is more complicated. We still have lessons to learn, and we still have inner conflicts between our good, loving impulses and our destructive, self-centered ones. Here, it’s not only impossible to truly know where another person is spiritually, but it’s also possible to be confused about our own spiritual state. But if you meet another person and recognize a spirit of love within them, and feel drawn to them because of it—you might just both be angels in training.
For more about how we can form connections on a spiritual level, both in this world and in the next, see our Swedenborg & Life video “How to Change Your Spirit Connections.”
Morgan Beard is the executive director at the Swedenborg Foundation.