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Concluding our series on eighteenth-century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg’s writings and his understanding of the nature of everything, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose have a look at his travel journal from the spiritual world—Spiritual Experiences.
Jonathan would love to read a practical guide to spiritual practice. Swedenborg writes about prayer and meditation, but he doesn’t talk about exactly how to do it.
Curtis would be especially interested in Swedenborg’s perspective on the modern church—what are we misinterpreting the most? It’d also be interesting to read his thoughts on current events and social questions that weren’t as visible in his time.
Swedenborg Book Club
A headline for Spiritual Experiences might go a little something like this:
“A glimpse at Swedenborg’s intense journey”
“A whirlwind tour of the vast other side”
So what’s inside? Well, since it wasn’t structured like a typical book, there’s no table of contents. But in the translator’s preface, we’re given a look at Swedenborg’s handwriting:
Throughout a lot of his other writings, Swedenborg would occasionally write sidebars or footnotes documenting his spiritual experiences. He conveyed his experiences over a twenty-year period (1745–65), so they undoubtedly informed his theological works, but not all of his journals made it into those other works.
To get a sense of the scope of the material, we’ll take a look at three relevant passages.
There are also spirits who never stop intending harm to truths and goodness, and seek to distort them in ways that are so undetectable to us that if we were told we would hardly believe it. This has surprised me at times, when I noticed truths and goodness being compromised in this way by spirits. But these spirits conceal themselves more than others and are more invisible, so that I was on the verge of believing they were impossible to find. Still, they were found, and some of them were punished and cast out, with a punishment that matched their criminal attempts. 1747, 23 November (Spiritual Experiences §264)
One common theme throughout these experiences are his close and detailed encounters with evil spirits. The book is full of stories like the one above, stories that give us new insights into our relationship with the spiritual world.
We Are Capable of Living in Both Lives at Once.
The human race was created by the Lord with the capability of being simultaneously present in the world and in heaven, our outer self in the world and our inner self in heaven; and therefore being able to speak with spirits and angels as well as with our fellow human beings. We were designed this way so that heaven would be united with the world, and the world with heaven. By the mercy of the Lord, this has actually happened with me—to such an extent that when I would interact with people on earth, I was not at all different from my former self, and no one could tell the difference between me and someone who lacked this ability. But when I was with spirits, I was then in some ways separated from my body, and yet at the same time also still joined to it, because my spiritual self was with spirits—in fact, so much so, that when I wanted to write something like “the other life,” I could hardly tell that it was the other life, the life after death; and the spirits wanted me to write “in this life,” because I was with them. (Spiritual Experiences §722)
Though it seems like Swedenborg’s experiences were strange and unique, he believed that his ability to understand spiritual reality was actually an ability innate to everyone.
I spoke with those who are in the third heaven, and I was granted to understand them at least in part because there was an angel with me at the time. . . . In that heaven, all the angels are acquainted with each other; they all know where everyone is from and what they are like. In that universal heaven, then, even though there are hundreds of millions of angels there, still they are all known by every individual there. They know from their perception what people are like, and what their particular form of goodness, wisdom, and intelligence is; and if they care to, they know what province in the human body that corresponds to. They appeared to me in a flaming and very great brightness. They looked like infants; they were high up in the area toward the front. There was a kind of cloud that opened and they appeared. (Spiritual Experiences §4670)
For those curious about the afterlife and the nature of the cosmos, Swedenborg’s collection of spiritual experiences can provide some essential context and comfort.
During this live show, viewers chatted in their questions. Just click a question to see the answer:
- Did Swedenborg ever question his own sanity when the spiritual world started opening to him?
- Can God or evil spirits cause physical signs?
- I’d like to know about the symbolism of trees.
- What should we read to learn all about the correspondences?
Curtis: Last Judgment
Jonathan: Fall of Man
At the beginning of the episode, we asked which book you’d still like to see from Swedenborg. Here’s what viewers had to say:
- I would want his writing about the different world religions. -Will Linden
- Correspondences of Balaam and his donkey. -Joy Borazjani
- The day to day (if they have days?) life in the afterlife. -Aaron B
- What he knows now compared to what he experienced 250 years ago. -Pete Dawson
- How to get spiritually advanced in heaven. -Mary Richards
- Human life in the Universe. -Robert Bush
- How Jesus did the miracles He did and if people can still heal with energy now. -Pamela Collins
- More about relationships in the next life. -Eternal Spring
- About the current discussion on Social Justice and the afterlife? -mike shiflett
- If he hasn’t already, a book about finding God’s purpose for one’s life, and how to live into it if you feel you are off track. -Carrie Parsons
- More internal sense, the New Testament, Prophets. I know it doesn’t sound exciting but it would be great to have more. -Jon Childs
- A book now to tell us what’s happening in heaven now. -Bonnie Gates
- More about rules/technicalities for women, because Conjugial Love is mostly saying what’s ok (and not) for men. -Heather Fox
- Divine Time and Perception -Carl Godlove
- A book on the collective field. -Michael Bravo
- Swedenborg For Idiot’s . I’d buy in a heartbeat. -Matthew Bush
- About what prophets he met and talked with. I know he talked to a lot of angels. -Angel Shining
- All about the nature of gender; things like the idea that God is both and neither gender. -Virginia Solan
- On Paul, the epistles & the concept of grace, and whether Pauline Christianity is correct. -Kendall M.
- How our physical world truly began – so perfect yet so fragile, why? -JanIB
Thanks for joining us—we’ll see you next week!
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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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