By E. Kent Rogers
When I was reminded after the Christmas break that I needed to write a piece for the Foundation’s “Spirituality in Practice” blog, my mind drew a complete blank. I took it to mean there was something out there needing to be discovered and written about, and until I found it, my mind would remain unsettlingly empty. In my new book, Seven Days of Spiritual Evolution: The Genesis of Personal Transformation, I wrote about the spiritual evolution process that takes place within an individual. What finally caught my attention and said “Write about me” was the idea of aggregate societal and global spiritual evolution: “the ultimate purpose of creation is a heaven from the human race” (Divine Providence §323).
The vast majority of the time, we perceive and understand ourselves as solitary persons—independent autonomous units. This is the cognitive heritage into which we are trained by our individualistic culture. It seems to me that most of us rarely peek out of this frame of reference. I’ve been blessed to have lived in the more collectivistic society of Nepal, where people address one another not by name but by their relationship to each other (e.g., one might say, “Thulo ama,” which is the equivalent of Maternal-aunt-who-is-older-than-my-mom-and-is-as-a-mother-to-me). As you can see, their social roles are very specifically defined, revealing the importance of relationship in the Nepali worldview.
I believe there is a great deal of power to having such a mindset. Though we do evolve as individuals, we also evolve as societies and as a global whole. The reason there is a “me” and a “you” is because there is an “us.”
By his divine providence the Lord gathers the [affections] of the whole human race into a single form, which is a human form. . . . This is a pervasive feature of the Lord’s providence. (Divine Providence §201)
As a global society, we are facing an egregious threat—environmental collapse. Though this prospect is terrifying when considered narrowly in its own light, I believe it will resolve into good—even if only after a great deal of pain and loss. I have witnessed, continue to witness, and have come to place my trust in the “pattern of patterns”—the unstoppable evolution that is one and the same as divine providence. We all are part of the irrepressible expression of divine love. Love and truth flow through and animate humanity as the very life of our being. These operate as primary life forces, and we are recipients of these forces. Love and truth are the Holy Spirit within the human race, and these cannot help but cause our society to evolve. Indeed, our fear of the looming environmental collapse serves as a driver of the love that motivates us to action.
As Seven Days of Spiritual Evolution describes, darkness is the necessary first state from which evolution begins; the current environmental crisis may be that which awakens us from the slumber of our greed and materialism. We are living an untenable and highly destructive ideology of materialistic consumerism, one that devours the very mother that sustains us, Earth. We have lost track of the spiritual meaning and purpose that all things and all people possess. Yet the consequences of this deluded state are catching up with us and will be a part of our reawakening. We will awaken to spirit and to the honoring of spirit’s presence within nature and within one another. I fully believe this, because divine love and the spirit of truth are real and are present within humanity; and being more primary and powerful than we are as individuals, they cannot help but evolve us away from individualism and materialistic consumerism. Knowing that darkness is a tool in the hand of God’s light, what is there to fear? Love will prevail.
In his divine providence the Lord is constantly letting [evils] come forth so that they can be withdrawn. (Divine Providence §296:13)
I see a similar pattern in the church organization for which I will soon be a pastor. The Lord’s New Church has been through hard times that nearly caused its death. And yet the remaining core of members who survived the trauma are all the more eager for church health and all the more aware of the value of their church. I have been extremely blessed to enter into such a social atmosphere of hope, resiliency, and sense of purpose. It’s an exciting place to be, and the sky’s the limit for what we can achieve together, as a whole. If the traumas had not occurred, there would most likely be that stagnant satisfaction with the status quo into which so many social structures fall.
Some of the current economic and political power holders in our society are pushing against the growing tide of ecological concern. Environmental trauma is occurring, but I believe the results will bring about a new dawn of old wisdom—that the natural world is a gift within which God is revealed, and we are to be good and responsible stewards of this blessing. Experiencing this trauma may be the only way by which that wisdom can reawaken into our hearts. The awakening has already begun.
Aggregate evolution reveals the deeper truth about ourselves—that we exist by and for relationships with others. Relationships are where love exists in actuality, and love is where God exists in actuality. Thus, our role as individuals is to be vessels for the Lord’s love so that it might exist among us. The Master said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34). We exist that love might pass through us. Personal evolution first allows us to awaken to this and then allows us to participate in this flow of love and partake of its joy. This in turn drives aggregate evolution, which circles back and also drives personal evolution, for progress in societal enlightenment brings light and love to the individual, facilitating his or her unique spiritual journey. Yet the different forms of evolution, from the physical evolution of the universe, to biological evolution, to individual spiritual evolution, to societal evolution, are all driven by love, are determined by love, and are for love’s sake—that love might be reified and in that reification bring joy to all. This love is God.
The Lord makes a unified whole out of . . . varying individuals. . . . Every whole which has any specific character is made up of varying parts which are brought, as if through agreement and harmony with one another, into such a state of unanimity that they all present themselves as a unified whole. In heaven the unified whole which results or rather the process of being unified is effected by means of love and charity. (Arcana Coelestia §5962:3)
E. Kent Rogers graduated from Bryn Athyn College with a BA in religion in 1995, and he earned an MS in mental health counseling from the University of Massachusetts in 2012. In 1999, he moved to Nepal to set up an orphanage under the auspices of the Loving Arms Mission. In 2002, he married coworker Shovha Budhathoki. As the permanent parents to the home’s ten children, they have a total of thirteen. Kent has worked as a psychotherapist and professor, and he is now a theological student at the Lord’s New Church in Bryn Athyn, PA. He is also the author of 12 Miracles of Spiritual Growth: A Path of Healing from the Gospels, published by the Swedenborg Foundation.