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Here on earth, art is a big part of our lives and our spirituality. But will we still need art in heaven? And if we do, what will it look like—and what does it mean?
In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose go on a guided tour through the spiritual experiences of eighteenth-century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg to answer these questions—with a little help from a mysterious package.
The first answer is simple: yes, there is art in heaven.
[In heaven] art itself is there in its art . . . in such forms as no artist in the world can imitate either in painting or sculpture. And what is wonderful, the particulars, even to the minutest particulars, are for use; and everyone who enters sees their use, perceiving it by a breathing forth, as it were, of the uses through their images. (Apocalypse Explained §1191:2)
Like things on earth and the Bible, art in heaven follows the principle of correspondences. In heaven, everyday objects represent spiritual truths, and an object’s spiritual meaning is its correspondence. These spiritual truths are also the source of everything that we see around us on earth, so in a very real sense, art on earth actually comes from art in heaven.
From [the spiritual] heaven several arts in the world derive their laws and harmonies; this is the cause of their various forms of beauty. . . . And because the spiritual heavens correspond to the eyes, there are also in many places paradise-like scenes, rainbow-colored, and appearances of ineffable beauty. (Apocalypse Explained §831:6)
But how does that work? To find out, Curtis and Jonathan set out on a self-guided tour of art in heaven, kindly arranged by the Swedenborg Foundation labs.
On the first stop of their tour, Curtis and Jonathan study sculpture in heaven.
I saw that certain angelic spirits, using the greatest possible care, were making an ornate lampstand, with its lamps and flowers, in the Lord’s honor. For an hour or two I was allowed to observe how hard they worked to make absolutely everything beautiful and full of significance. They felt that the labor was their own, but I was able to sense clearly that they could invent nothing by their own power. Finally, several hours later, they said they had succeeded in making a gorgeous lampstand, with all its representative art, in honor of the Lord, and at this they rejoiced from the depths of their being. (Secrets of Heaven §552)
Clearly, the work of angels is both guided by God and filled with inner meaning. Art on earth reflects that meaning in the care and thought and creativity that the artist puts into creating each work.
In the next stage of the tour, we encounter architecture in heaven, where we learn that the houses of angels are living structures made of love and truth from the Lord. Each house is perfectly suited to its inhabitant; in heaven, a home is truly a home.
Next, they move on to learn about music in heaven. You might imagine that in heaven people can just make music with their minds, but Swedenborg observed that there are instruments and even orchestras in heaven just like there are here. It’s a big part of heavenly life—it connects communities and guides people through their day.
Once again I heard hymnists, or those singing the praise of our Savior. In fact, a number of choirs were heard singing at the same time about a variety of subjects, by means of visual displays and mental imagery. And yet they are one chorus, consisting of very many, and acting at the same time as one, without any confusion from each other, so that one was in the other, or inside of the other, even outside of the other. In this way the whole angelic heaven customarily devotes itself to the praise and glory of the Savior. This is why musical harmony and singing is so delicious to the heavenly ones when the thoughts of a person on earth are concordant with their ideas. I have often experienced in churches, that the heavenly choirs have joined in, with a very deep sense of gladness, unbelievable, and thus unutterable, to anyone. (Spiritual Experiences §491)
Next up, our tour takes us to angelic literature.
Since angels do have language and their language is one of words, they also have written materials; and through those written materials just as through their conversation, they express what their minds are sensing. I have sometimes been sent pages covered with writing, just like pages handwritten or printed and published in our world. I could even read them in much the same way, but I was not allowed to get more out of them than a bit of meaning here and there. This was because it is not in keeping with the divine design to be taught by written materials from heaven, but [only] by the Word, since this is the sole means of communication and union between heaven and earth, and therefore between the Lord and humanity. (Heaven and Hell §258)
Even if we could read it, we’re unlikely to understand any of it. Each letter of each word has an incredible depth of meaning.
Once a sheet of paper was sent down to me from heaven that was full of writing in Hebrew lettering, but written in the way the ancients used to write. Letters that today are largely straight were curved then and had little horns or tips that turned upward. Angels who were with me at the time said they knew whole meanings just from the letters. They derived these meanings especially from the curvature of the lines and of the tips of the letters. They explained what these meant individually and in combination. They said that the letter “h,” which was added to both Abram and Sarai’s names, meant infinity and eternity. They also explained to me the meaning of Psalm 32:2 in the Word on the basis of the letters alone. Taken all together the meaning of the letters was that the Lord is also compassionate to those who do evil. (True Christianity §278)
Looking back on all the different types of art in heaven—and the states of mind that produce them—it’s tempting to try to create heavenly art of our own, but it isn’t that simple.
Walking in accord with the heavenly form and writing in accord with the heavenly form are things no one can learn artificially; if anyone learns something artificially, that person immediately departs from heaven and is recognized immediately, especially one who is walking, and this is recognized from the direction of his face when his feet are going a different direction. (Spiritual Experiences §5583)
In other words, to create heavenly art, you have to have heavenly love and wisdom inside you. Your purpose has to be to spread heaven to others; if you’re doing it for your own purposes, it just won’t work.
In the wrap-up, we’re reminded that the art in heaven is all full of detail and meaning and often even has practical and emotional impact on people in heavenly communities.
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About Swedenborg and Life
In a lighthearted and interactive live 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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