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To wrap up #GivingTuesday week, our expert panel convenes to answer any questions the viewers might have about eighteenth-century spiritual teacher Emanuel Swedenborg and his writings.
The panel members are:
- Curtis Childs, host of Swedenborg & Life
- Chara Daum, Latin consultant for the New Century Edition
- Dr. Jonathan Rose, series editor for the New Century Edition
- Chelsea Odhner, writer for Swedenborg & Life
Questions and answers are summarized below and you can follow the links for the full discussion.
1. How would you describe to someone what being a Swedenborgian is?
Swedenborg himself argued against the term “Swedenborgianism,” referring to his teachings as “True Christianity.” Each member of the panel has a slightly different answer, though all agree that it means they look at life through a Swedenborgian lens. Swedenborg and his ideas serve as a primary reference point for navigating spiritual, philosophical, and moral questions.
2. Are divine love & wisdom part of the Holy Spirit, or distinct from it?
The short answer is “yes,” they are part of the Holy Spirit. Chara sees the different parts of the trinity as one. Jonathan agrees and goes on to say that God is divine love (substance) and wisdom (form) and that the Holy Spirit is the embodiment of love and wisdom in the world. Chelsea mentions how the different parts of the trinity are seen as distinct by the human mind but that in God they are indistinguishable. Curtis likens the Holy Spirit to divine providence, as its expression through our physical form gives us a glimpse into how it interacts with our world.
3. Did Swedenborg say anything about why people gravitate towards evil?
Swedenborg actually has a great deal to say about this topic. Chara talks about how we can inherit evil from our ancestors, and Jonathan explains how it’s a built-in tendency that if acted out can have pleasurable results. Just think about how we sometimes relish in the suffering of others because it’s not happening to us. According to Chelsea, in order for us to move toward God and become heavenly, we must spiritually evolve from a fallen state. And Curtis talks about how even though both heaven and hell are everywhere, we are more closely surrounded by evil here on the material plane, so it’s natural for our first thoughts to be coming from hell. Evil is easy and visible, while heaven can feel invisible even though it’s everywhere. Think about evil as a black mark on a piece of white paper—your eye is naturally drawn to the aberration, rather than to the norm.
4. Can a soul continue to develop skills and new thought patterns in the afterlife?
Yes, the whole panel agrees that we keep on developing and growing into eternity. According to Swedenborg, every stage of our life is just an egg compared to what is yet to come. So why make spiritual efforts in this life if true understanding is what lies beyond? It seems like our time on earth is about developing our heart and defining what we truly love and want, while our minds can grow and change forever even after death.
Interlude: The panel responds to a clip from “The Spiritual Battles of Jesus Christ.“
Why did Jesus take the difficult road that he did? In hindsight, our spiritual battles almost always reveal themselves to be important moments of growth. We struggle against our weaknesses so that we can strengthen that spiritual part in us that cannot be changed. Jesus went through all the miseries that we experience and more, and every challenge had a purpose. While our sufferings may seem meaningless, our spiritual struggles grant us insight into how meaningful they really are.
5. Are there spirits in heaven that operate in our lives in earth and are they different from the angels?
According to Swedenborg, says Jonathan, there’s a hierarchy, which consists of three levels of heaven and three levels of hell that are separated by the world of spirits—where humans go who have recently passed. Chara and Jonathan talk about what Swedenborg means by “angelic spirits.” They are former humans who are very close to heaven but who are still in process. Angels, who are in heaven, help to educate spirits. Chelsea says that we are “angels in training” and that since the levels of our mind map onto the levels of heaven, angels are always influencing us. Curtis notes that on some level the differences between good spirits and angels are artificial, because they represent the stages of any individual’s spiritual evolution.
6. If near death experience proves to be such a positive experience for people then why are we kept in such amnesia for most of our lives?
Chara and Curtis discuss how our confusion here on earth actually gives us the opportunity to have a freely chosen relationship to God. Jonathan and Curtis talk about how many who have near-death experiences can become very frustrated afterward because there is so much they saw and learned but can’t bring back with them. It’s possible that some of the things seen on the other side simply can’t be communicated into the living world, even by one who’s experienced them. Jonathan takes comfort, though, in Jesus’s words to Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29). And finally, Chelsea and Jonathan explore how human history has shown a gradual emergence from our amnesia into places of greater understanding. Little by little we evolve in God’s love and wisdom.
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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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