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In eighteenth-century spiritual teacher Emanuel Swedenborg’s travels through the spiritual world, the Lord’s Prayer was one of his most powerful tools.
What made it so powerful for him, and what can we learn from it to apply in our own lives? In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose look into the Lord’s Prayer and its connection to both our physical and spiritual lives.
Swedenborg’s take on the Lord’s Prayer was controversial in his time. He asserted that Jesus and the Father were one and that understanding this union was essential to the Christian faith.
The whole of the Lord’s Prayer from beginning to end concerns this time; that is, the time when God the Father will be worshipped in human form. This appears when this prayer is rightly explained. . . . The Lord cannot enlighten anyone with his light unless he is approached directly and acknowledged as the God of heaven. (Invitation to the New Church §§37–38)
Having a personal relationship with God depends on his humanity as Jesus. As a refresher, here’s the prayer:
Our father in the heavens: Your name must be kept sacred. Your kingdom must come. Your will must be done—as in heaven, so also on the earth. Give us our daily bread today. And forgive us our debts, as we too forgive our debtors. And do not put us to the test, but free us from the evil one; because the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. (Matthew 6:9–13)
Every word in the prayer has layers of deeper meaning that can unlock spiritual flow into our mind. Think of it as a sort of spiritual multi-tool.
Whenever I said the prayer, my thoughts opened up toward heaven, and countless ideas flowed in. As a result I noticed plainly that the ideas I gleaned from the contents of the prayer were filled in from heaven. Some of what was poured in was by nature incapable of being verbalized, and some was beyond my comprehension, so that I merely sensed the resulting general emotion. Surprisingly, the inflowing thoughts and feelings were different every day. All this enabled me to see the following: The contents of the Lord’s Prayer hold more than all heaven is capable of understanding; the more we open our mind toward heaven, the more the prayer holds for us; and conversely, the more we close our mind, the less it holds. In people with closed minds, nothing more is visible in the prayer than the literal meaning, or the meaning closest to the words. (Secrets of Heaven §6619)
Swedenborg describes the Lord’s Prayer as a means of opening the way to some deeper personal insight and of becoming closer to the Lord.
Whenever I have read the Lord’s Prayer, I have had a clear sensation of being raised up toward him by a sort of magnetism. My mind was then receptive, which brought about contact with certain communities in heaven. I was aware of the Lord’s inflow into every word of the prayer and therefore into every single thought sparked in my mind by the prayer’s message. This inflow did not occur the same way one time as another but in indescribably varied ways, which showed how infinite the content of each detail was. It also showed that the Lord was present in all the details. (Secrets of Heaven §6476)
He also says that the prayer works as a way of acquiring spiritual wisdom.
The Lord is in no wise the cause of evil, and consequently does not drive away evil by means of evil, but He wipes out evil by means of goodness. . . . These thoughts were given to me in the Lord’s prayer, while I was praying it today. (Spiritual Experiences §1878)
So what was Swedenborg’s trick?
Well, there isn’t a secret way to pray, but there is one approach that he found helpful: saying the prayer with a humble openness. This allows the spiritual truth to flow into you, while overthinking the words will distract from the truth.
Another way Swedenborg used the Lord’s Prayer was to test the spirits around him.
He could tell what was in their minds based on how they reacted to and influenced his understanding of the prayer.
For it was once again portrayed to me what their thought was like, apparent also from other things, namely, that they receive in simplicity what is being said, not particularly in an outer meaning, nor in an inner one, but still in a way that enables the angels to extract inward mental images from it. This is how the spirits were whose thought was shown to me at the time when I prayed the Lord’s prayer. For the nature of any number of spirits and angels can be found out by the saying of the Lord’s prayer, that is, what kind of mental images they have at that time. These have been portrayed to me now and then at such a time. (Spiritual Experiences §1731)
In his travels, he also learned more about the thoughts of children in heaven with the help of the Lord’s Prayer.
I was also shown the nature of their delicate understanding. When I was saying the Lord’s Prayer and they were flowing into my concepts from their own comprehension, I noticed that their inflow was so delicate and gentle that it was almost nothing but a feeling. At the same time, I noted that their understanding had been opened to the Lord, for it was as though what was coming from them was flowing through them. In fact, the Lord flows into children’s concepts, primarily from the deepest ones. Nothing has closed these off, as happens with adults—no principles of falsity closing them off from true understanding, no life of evil closing them off from accepting what is good and thus from being wise. (Heaven and Hell §336)
It actually shows the path to spiritual growth that all people follow.
All the individual parts of the prayer follow each other in a series that forms a kind of pillar widening from top to bottom, containing in its interiors the earlier parts of the series. The first part is at the core, and all the succeeding parts add themselves to the core one by one in order. That is what makes it widen. What is at the core reigns supreme in all the surrounding layers, or in all the individual parts, because it provides the essential reality behind the existence of all the rest. (Secrets of Heaven §8864)
This same pattern is reflected in “The Hero’s Journey”—a ubiquitous structure that is found in basically every story:
- The Ordinary World
- The Call to Adventure/Refusal of the Call
- Meeting the Mentor
- Crossing the Threshold
- Test, Allies, and Enemies
- Approach to the Inmost Cave
- The Ordeal/The Reward
- The Road Back
- The Resurrection
- Return with the Elixir
There must be something about this process that follows the divine design, because the Lord’s Prayer actually follows this same path.
Altogether, the Lord’s Prayer is an extremely powerful tool that can help us hone our personal intuition and spiritual wisdom, while bringing us closer to God with an inflow of insight from heaven. Even its very structure teaches us something about our spiritual journey.
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About Swedenborg & Life
In a lighthearted and interactive webcast format, host Curtis Childs from the Swedenborg Foundation and featured guests explore topics from Swedenborg’s eighteenth-century writings about his spiritual experiences and afterlife explorations and discuss how they relate to modern-day life and death.
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When we wake up in heaven, Swedenborg tells us, angels roll a covering from off of our left eye so that we can see everything in a spiritual light. The offTheLeftEye YouTube channel uses an array of educational and entertaining video formats to look at life and death through an uplifting spiritual lens.
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