What does it mean to be innocent? We often talk about it as a precious thing, but surely ignorance and naiveté aren’t worth celebrating. According to eighteenth-century spiritual teacher Emanuel Swedenborg, innocence is much more beautiful and meaningful than that.
In this episode, Curtis, Jonathan, and others provide eight meditations on innocence that correspond to paintings in artist Karen Elder’s “angel series.” Please read along and meditate on these inspirational ideas.
Not many people in our world know what innocence is or what its quality is, and people involved in evil do not know at all. It is, of course, visible to our eyes—something about the face and the voice and the gestures, especially of infants—but still we do not know what it is, much less that it is where heaven lies concealed within us. To make it known, I should like to proceed in order and talk first about the innocence of infancy, and then about the innocence of wisdom, and finally about the state of heaven in respect to innocence. (Heaven and Hell §276)
It is well known that little children are embodiments of innocence, but it is not known that their innocence flows in from the Lord. It flows in from the Lord because he is innocence itself and nothing can flow in except from its source, which is what it actually is, because otherwise it would not exist. I should describe briefly the nature of the innocence of infancy that affects parents. It is evident in their children’s faces and certain ways they move, and from their first efforts to talk. They have this innocence because they are not thinking on any deeper level. They do not yet have knowledge of what is good or bad, true or false, to guide their thinking. As a result they have no discretion of their own, no deliberate planning, and therefore no evil intention. They have no self-image constructed by self-love and love of the world. They do not attribute anything to themselves but credit their parents with everything they receive. They are content with the trinkets they are given as gifts. They have no anxiety about food and clothing, no worry about the future. They do not focus on this world and then crave all kinds of things. They love their parents, their nurses, and the little friends with whom they play innocently. They are willing to be led; they listen and obey. This is the innocence of infancy. (Marriage Love §395)
Some angelic spirits who were above and in front of me talked to me in an angelic language that was not divided up into words. They said their state was one of peace and quiet and that they had children with them too, whose company was a blessing to them. These spirits were also female. They continued by talking about children on earth, and what they said was this: Directly after birth, babies have angels from the heaven of innocence present with them. At the next stage they have angels from the heaven of peace and tranquility, and later, angels from communities devoted to neighborly love. (Secrets of Heaven §2303)
Sometimes the Lord sends children in the other life to children on earth, although earthly children are totally unaware of it. The other world’s children take great pleasure in the children of earth. (Secrets of Heaven §2295)
Several times, little children were sent to me and seemed to be scattered around my head. I noticed that they were not at all afraid of being attacked by devils, nor did they have any worries, because they are unaware of such things. So when someone of faith needs to be protected from devilish attacks, it is little children who are sent to do the protecting. I have been told about this several times, and allowed to perceive it. (Spiritual Experiences §3561)
We have been so created as to be in an outward innocence when we are little, but in an inward innocence in old age, to come to the latter through the former. (Heaven and Hell §278:3)
Most people might assume that children stay children and become angels immediately after death. However, intelligence and wisdom are what make an angel, so as long as children do not have intelligence and wisdom they may be among angels but they themselves are not angels. They become angels only when they have become intelligent and wise. So little children are led from the innocence of infancy to an innocence of wisdom—that is, from an outward innocence to an inner innocence. This latter innocence is the goal of all their education, their whole development. When they reach the innocence of wisdom, the innocence of infancy, which has served as a matrix in the meanwhile, joins together with it. (Marriage Love §413)
The innocence of wisdom is real innocence because it is internal, being a property of the mind itself and therefore of our volition itself and our consequent understanding. (Heaven and Hell §278)
[When we are being regenerated,] we are brought first into the innocence of infancy, which is realizing that we know nothing of truth and are capable of nothing of good on our own, but only from the Lord, and that we long for and seek what is true and good simply because it is true and good. These gifts are granted by the Lord as we advance in age. We are led first into knowledge about them, then from knowledge into intelligence, and finally from intelligence into wisdom, always hand in hand with innocence, which is, as already noted, the recognition that we know nothing of truth and are capable of nothing of good on our own, but only from the Lord. No one can accept heaven without this belief and this perception. It is the prime component of the innocence of wisdom. (Heaven and Hell §279)
Innocence is wanting to be led by the Lord and not by oneself, so that the extent to which we are in innocence determines the extent to which we are freed from preoccupations with our self-image. To the extent that we are freed from this self-image, we gain an identity given by the Lord. (Heaven and Hell §341)
People in a state of innocence do not take credit for anything good, but ascribe and attribute everything to the Lord. They want to be led by him and not by themselves, they love everything that is good and delight in everything that is true because they know and perceive that loving what is good—that is, intending and doing good—is loving the Lord, and loving what is true is loving their neighbor. They live content with what they have, whether it is little or much, because they know that they receive as much as is useful—little if little is good for them and much if much is good for them. They do not know what is best for themselves—only the Lord knows; and in his sight everything he supplies is eternal. So they have no anxiety about the future, but refer to anxiety about the future as “care for the morrow,” which they say is pain at losing or not getting things that are not needed for their life’s useful activities. They never collaborate with friends from evil intent, but only from good, fair, and honest intent. To act from evil intent, they say, is guile, which they avoid like the poison of a snake because it is diametrically opposed to innocence. Since their greatest love is to be led by the Lord, and since they ascribe everything to him, they are kept away from their self-centeredness, and to the extent that they are kept away from their self-centeredness, the Lord flows in. This is why they do not store in their memory what they hear from him, whether through the Word or through preaching, but immediately heed it, that is, intend and do it. Their intention itself is their memory. They appear extraordinarily simple in outward form, but they are wise and provident inwardly. They are the ones the Lord was referring to when he said, “Be wise as serpents and simple as doves” (Matthew 10:16). This is the nature of the innocence called the innocence of wisdom. (Heaven and Hell §278:1–2)
Since innocence is being led by the Lord and not by ourselves, all the people who are in heaven are in innocence, since all the people who are there love to be led by the Lord. . . . Angels are in heaven to the extent that they are in innocence; that is, to that extent they are absorbed in divine good and divine truth, for being absorbed in these is being in heaven. (Heaven and Hell §280)
I have talked a lot with angels about innocence and have been told that innocence is the inner reality of everything good and that therefore anything good is good to the extent that there is innocence within it. Consequently wisdom is wisdom to the extent that it derives from innocence, and the same is true of love, thoughtfulness, and faith. (Heaven and Hell §281)
There are two things at the heart of heaven, innocence and peace. We say that they are at the heart because they come straight from the Lord. From innocence comes everything good about heaven and from peace comes all the delight of that good. Everything good has its own delight, and both—the good and the delight—are matters of love. This is because what is loved is what is called good and also is perceived as delightful. It follows from this that these two inmost qualities, innocence and peace, emanate from the Lord’s divine love and move angels to their very core. (Heaven and Hell §285)
Divine peace is within the Lord, arising from the oneness of his divine nature and the divine human nature within him. The divine quality of peace in heaven comes from the Lord, arising from his union with heaven’s angels, and specifically from the union of the good and the true within each angel. These are the sources of peace. We may therefore conclude that peace in the heavens is the divine nature intimately affecting everything good there with blessedness. So it is the source of all the joy of heaven. In its essence, it is the divine joy of the Lord’s divine love, arising from his union with heaven and with every individual there. This joy, perceived by the Lord in the angels and by the angels from the Lord, is peace. It flows down from there to provide angels with everything that is blessed and delightful and happy—what is called “heavenly joy.” (Heaven and Hell §286)
Since innocence, for heaven’s angels, is the very essence of what is good, we can see that the divine good emanating from the Lord is innocence itself, inasmuch as it is this good that flows into angels, moves their deepest natures, and aligns and adapts them to accept all the blessings of heaven. Much the same happens with infants, whose deeper natures are not only formed by the passage of innocence from the Lord but are also constantly adapted and aligned to accept the good of heavenly love, because the good of innocence acts from deep within, being, as already noted, the very essence of all good. . . . Because innocence is the very heart of all the good of heaven, it also affects minds so strongly that people who feel it—which happens at the approach of an angel of the inmost heaven—feel as though they are not under their own control. They are moved by such a joy, so taken out of themselves, so to speak, that it seems as though all the pleasure of the world is nothing by comparison. I speak of this from having experienced it. (Heaven and Hell §282)
Since heaven’s peace is a divine blessedness that profoundly affects the essential good within angels, it does not come to their open perception except through a heartfelt delight when they are involved in the good of their life, a pleasure when they hear something true that is in accord with their good, and a gaiety of mind when they perceive the union of the two. Still, it does flow into all the acts and thoughts of their life and makes itself known as joy, even in outward form. (Heaven and Hell §288)
Since divine peace arises from the Lord’s union with heaven—and in particular with each individual angel by virtue of the union of the true and the good—when angels are in a state of love they are in a state of peace, because this is when the good within them is united to what is true. . . . Much the same is true of us when we are being regenerated. When a union of the good and the true takes place within us, which happens principally after trials by temptation, we come into a state of delight that arises from heavenly peace. That peace is like the morning time or dawn in spring, when, once the night has passed, all things of earth begin to take new life from the rising of the sun; the dew that falls from heaven spreads a leafy fragrance far and wide, and springtime’s gentle warmth makes meadows fertile and instills its charm in human minds as well. This is because morning or dawn in springtime corresponds to the state of peace of angels in heaven. (Heaven and Hell §289)
To close out the meditations, Karen Elder discusses the inspiration and process for the paintings shown above.
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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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