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To kick off the new year, we’ll be going through the works of eighteenth-century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg. In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose go live to explore one of Swedenborg’s most influential works, Secrets of Heaven.
Jonathan sometimes feels like the thoughts or ideas that seem to pop into his head out of nowhere must be coming from some spiritual force. Sometimes they’re positive, sometimes they’re negative, but they definitely feel like they’re coming from outside of him.
Curtis thinks of Swedenborg’s assertion that heaven and hell are always close by and affecting our minds. Understanding this helps him notice how and when his mind is under spiritual influence.
Swedenborg Book Club
When Swedenborg learned about the spiritual world, he did his best to capture and share everything he learned. He put this all in a huge volume called Arcana Coelestia, which translates from Latin to mean Secrets of Heaven.
The fundamental premise of this work is that the Bible contains hidden spiritual meaning. This meaning can actually reveal much about the true nature of the spiritual world and our reality. Through “correspondences,” which are living symbols for spiritual truths, almost everything can be understood through the Bible.
Secrets of Heaven was his first published theological work, written from 1749 to 1756.
In it, Swedenborg provides detailed analysis of the books of Genesis and Exodus interspersed with his own spiritual experiences and his high-level understanding about God and the universe. He even offers the reader the essence of the book in its very first lines:
The Word in the Old Testament contains secrets of heaven, and every single aspect of it has to do with the Lord, his heaven, the church, faith, and all the tenets of faith; but not a single person sees this in the letter. In the letter, or literal meaning, people see only that it deals for the most part with the external facts of the Jewish religion. The truth is, however, that every part of the Old Testament holds an inner message. (Secrets of Heaven §1)
To get a closer look at what Secrets of Heaven has to say, we’ll do a deep dive into three key passages that explore some of its recurring themes. The first idea is that spirits and angels have a strong connection to our own human experience.
The source of perception, inner dictates, and conscience needs to be understood. Because no one these days knows anything about it, let me say a little. It is entirely true that the Lord governs us through spirits and angels. When evil spirits start to take control, angels put their effort into deflecting evils and falsities, and conflict results. This conflict is what we sense by means of perception, an inner dictate, or conscience. From these three sensations, and from the trials we are going through, we would see clearly that spirits and angels are present with us if our focus were not thoroughly physical. Such a focus prevents us from believing anything we hear about spirits and angels. Body-centered people could experience those conflicts a hundred times over and still claim that an overactive imagination or some kind of mental illness lay at the root of them. I myself have had the opportunity to experience conflict and its vivid sensation thousands upon thousands of times—almost continually now for several years. I have been able to learn what spirits were involved, what they were like, just where they were, at what moment they approached, and what time they left, and I have been allowed to speak to them. (Secrets of Heaven §227)
Another concept that Swedenborg brings up quite a bit is the phrase “as of self,” which refers to those times when you feel that you’re doing something on your own when in fact it is coming from the Lord.
Spirits newly arrived [in the spiritual world] absolutely rack their brains trying to understand the idea that we cannot do what is good or think what is true on our own but only from the Lord. They believe that this would make them machines, incapable of anything, and that if so, they may as well drop their hands and let themselves be pushed around. “No,” they are told, “you really have to think, will, and do good on your own. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to develop a heavenly sense of autonomy or heavenly freedom. But you still ought to acknowledge that what is good and true comes not from you but from the Lord.” All angels, they are taught, make this acknowledgment and even live in the perception that it is so. The more keenly they sense that the Lord leads them and that they therefore live in the Lord, the freer they are. (Secrets of Heaven §2891)
Think of this like moving your arm. You will your arm to move, but you don’t know all the inner workings and muscles that make it work. Goodness and truth flow through you, but you have to let them flow.
Finally, Swedenborg does a good deal of redefining and contextualizing commonly accepted terminology. In the case of worship, he upends what we usually take it to mean.
The most genuine way of worshiping the Lord consists in a life of neighborly love, not a life of religious devotion without a life of neighborly love. Living a devout life and not a charitable life means wanting to consult one’s own welfare alone, not the welfare of one’s neighbor. Living a devout life and at the same time a charitable life means wanting to consult one’s own welfare for the sake of one’s neighbor. The former type of life is based on love for oneself; the latter, on love for one’s neighbor. (Secrets of Heaven §8254)
During this live show, viewers chatted in their questions. Just click a question to see the answer:
- What does Swedenborg mean when he says “the Word”?
- How should we pray to be effective?
- How can Jesus be sitting on the right hand of God and be God himself?
In a brand-new segment, Curtis and Jonathan explain Swedenborgian concepts in just one minute or less.
At the beginning, we asked when you felt spiritual things were influencing you. Here are some of the answers.
- Yes, 2015 began and hasn’t stopped since. – Divine Alchemy Consulting
- Nope, I’m pretty desensitized to those things. But it is apparent after it happens. -Tacitus
- I almost died a couple times and it was like a miracle that I survived and I just knew that God had did this to save me. – Mary Richards
- All the time, but without any idea as to how to interpret it. – Sean Smith
- Yes, all the time. – Jennifer Atwell
- I have felt spirit touches sometimes when I meditate or have important questions in my mind. – Pamela Collins
- I had a psychosis decades ago and had the chance to talk to spirits in that time . . . and I explored bad and good ones, that’s the reason why I love Swedenborg so much. – Liquid Gargoyle
- Always! Under spiritual influence – it has intensified over the past three years and OTLE/ES has played a significant role in that. – Carl Godlove
- When plans change and it’s always for something better is when I get an inkling of spiritual influence. – Jen Blossom
- Yes, a couple of times. When I was missing my parents (both of them passed away), the song “see you again” came out from a random radio station. – Chenyi Zhang
- All the time. The more I read Swedenborg the more I notice. – Matthew Bush
- I notice that when someone I know dies I am flooded with memories; their smile, sound of voice, etc., like seeing their true selves. – Jon Childs
- I have had it through visions, whether it was for my own correction/instruction or a message to be given to another. – Sheila Montgomery
- All the time. Having things occur to me that are so far beyond chance coincidence, it’s done in such a way that it was not only influence, but a wink to let me know I am being watched over. – The Salvation Navy
- Once, as a child of 6, I was lying in bed and heard the most heavenly choir singing off to my left. When I looked I saw through the wall small childlike “beings” peeping at me and singing. – Pete Dawson
- Yes, often. On one occasion I experienced events in my life being “shown” to me as lessons or messages. I knew as the events were happening that I should understand them that way. – Earlnn
- I have had a few encounters in my life where a spiritual voice enlightened me about events that I needed to turn away from, one in particular would have caused me to not exist. – Nik nik
- I’ve had conversations with people where lots of wisdom came out but it definitely wasn’t anything from me. – Asher Raymond
Thanks for joining us—we’ll see you next week!
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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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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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