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How do you think of gardening? Is it a relaxing hobby or an exhausting chore? Or could it be a direct symbolic correspondence to spiritual reality?
In this episode, host Curtis Childs and featured guests explore what eighteenth-century Christian mystic and philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg learned about gardens during his mystical explorations of the spiritual world. Join in as they discuss how the human mind is like soil in which both spiritual and earthly truths can be planted like seeds and can multiply without end.
The Spiritual Origin
Anyone who’s spent any time in a garden might have felt the spiritual side of gardening. Dr. Kristin King discusses the resurgence of gardening as a hobby and the connection between natural growth and spiritual growth. Throughout history, gardens have been cultivated as separate spaces, made distinct from the dangers of the wilderness and associated with the idea of paradise, or a heavenly space.
In correspondence with these all things that appear in the natural world have been created; and for this reason like things exist there, with this difference, that these like the others are from a spiritual origin, but at the same time from a natural origin. This natural origin is added that they may be at the same time material and therefore fixed, and this to the end that the human race may be procreated, which can be done only in ultimates, where there is fullness; and further, that from the human race as a seminary the inhabitants of the spiritual world, who are angels may exist. (Divine Wisdom §12:5)
Physical gardens correspond to angelic gardens, and angelic gardens manifest the qualities of the Divine proceeding. As such, gardens are reflections of God’s love and wisdom. Because of this, the human mind is like a garden in which our memory functions as the soil where spiritual truths can grow.
At this point in the show, Curtis encourages viewers to send in short clips about how they have been inspired by any of the Swedenborg and Life episodes. In the first clip, Karin Childs shares how weeding her garden informs her spiritual growth.
The Life Cycle of Plants
According to Swedenborg, the life cycle of plants is in itself a microcosm of the interplay between love and wisdom.
If there is to be perfect order, heavenly truths, and spiritual ones, must take root in truths of nature. But it should be noted that the knowledge and mental imagery of the angels are incalculably more profound than the mental imagery of [people still in the physical world], yet are nevertheless rooted in truths of nature; and so truths follow one after another, and correspond. (Spiritual Experiences §1531)
Each stage of a plant’s life cycle has meaning.
When we are being reborn, or planted, we start with love and goodness, and we end with them too. In between come faith and truth, which spring from a loving goodness as their seed and are always looking to a loving goodness as their final goal . . . (Secrets of Heaven §7690)
Reverend Frank S. Rose joins the show to discuss how fertilization works, explaining the process of flower reproduction. From there, he goes on to explain how fertilization corresponds to conjugial love. Unpacking the correspondences of fruit and seeds uncovers how entire gardens can spring from one person.
In the beginning, our first rationality resembles immature fruit, which gradually ripens, until it finally places seeds inside itself. When it reaches the stage where it starts to separate from the tree, its state is complete . . . Our second rationality, though, which the Lord gives us as a gift when we have been reborn, resembles the same fruit in good soil, where the flesh surrounding the seed rots. The seed sends roots shooting out from inside itself, and above ground a sprout, which grows into a new tree. The new tree gradually develops until at last it produces new fruit, then gardens and whole parks, all in keeping with the urge for goodness and truth that it receives. See Matthew 13:31, 32; John 12:24. (Secrets of Heaven §2657:4)
Engulfed in the sound of cicadas, Chelsea Odhner explains how compost can feed a garden in the same way that adversity can help us grow spiritually.
Did you know that Swedenborg was an avid gardener? Dr. Kristin King explores the climate of the botanical world in the eighteenth century, providing the historical context for Swedenborg’s garden.
Dr. Jonathan Rose discusses how Swedenborg began gardening in the same year that he started to have spiritual experiences; in fact, evil spirits actively tried to interfere with his gardening.
Karin Childs talks about a time she accidentally nurtured a weed that she should have removed, realizing “what a good trick on the part of that weed that it fooled me into taking care of it.” This is something we often do in our spiritual lives, confusing good and bad characteristics of our personality.
Celestial Growing Conditions
We’ve looked at gardens on earth, but what are gardens like in heaven? Dr. Kristin King discusses how heavenly gardens are not the restful places they are on earth. According to Swedenborg, they are a manifestation of people’s engagement in a fruitful life.
The whole spiritual world is just like the whole physical world, the sole difference being that things there are not static and stable the way they are in a physical world because there is nothing of nature there. Everything is spiritual. . . . [Everything] is happening concretely around angels and around angelic communities. It is as though these things were being brought forth or created by them. They persist around them without fading away. You can tell that they are apparently brought forth or created by the angels because when an angel goes away or when a community relocates, these things are no longer visible. Then too, when other angels arrive to take their place, the appearance of everything around them changes. The trees and fruits of the parks change, the blossoms and seeds of the flower beds change, the herbs and grasses of the fields change, and so do the kinds of animals and birds. The reason things occur and change like this is that everything occurs in response to the angels’ feelings and consequent thoughts. (Divine Love and Wisdom §§321, 322)
Everything in heavenly gardens changes according to angelic activities and uses. These gardens help them learn and understand important ideas, just as they do for us.
Curtis encourages us to seek our own insights in nature. Dr. Kristin King discusses how Greek botany and gardens may have helped foster open thought, which can happen in gardens today.
Such paradisal [gardens] exist in the first heaven, on the very threshold of its inner depths. They are representations that filter down from a higher heaven when angels in the higher heaven discuss religious truth among themselves with real understanding. The language of the angels there is based on spiritual and heavenly images, which serve as word forms for them. Their talk consists in an unbroken series of representations, which are so beautiful and delightful that there is no way to express it. The beauty and charm of their words is what is represented as paradise gardens in the lower heaven. (Secrets of Heaven §4528:2)
Swedenborg wrote about how travels through gardens helped him better understand the love of marriage. Karin Childs discusses how not feeding negative urges can help to weaken them. Feeding positive urges can be a much more powerful experience.
- How can we talk about Swedenborg to other Christians?
- Do certain types of flowers have biblical meanings?
- Will this reproduction happen over and over again forever?
- So what about things that ruin a crop? Is this evil winning that round?
- Does our own spiritual development follow the four seasons?
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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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