The Will and Understanding Work Together Like the Heart and Lungs


A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Washington – March 16, 1997

Desiring in my thought to learn about the marriages of the most ancients, I looked now at the husband, now at his wife, and in their faces I observed the unity, as it were, of their souls. So I said, “You two are one.” The man replied: “We are one; her life is in me and mine in her. We are two bodies but one soul. The union between us is like the union of the two tents in the breast which are called heart and lungs, she being my heart and I her lungs. But here, by heart we mean love and by lungs wisdom. Thus she is the love of my wisdom and I am the wisdom of her love. Therefore her love veils my wisdom from without, and my wisdom is in her love from within. Hence, as you said, the appearance in our faces of the unity of our souls” (CL 75:5).

Both in the church and in society at large, people today are struggling to answer the questions that they have about the proper relationship between what is truly masculine, and what is truly feminine. To cover our embarrassment for our confusion we even joke about men and women being from different planets. The Writings have clearly taught that in regard to this, as well as to every other subject, confusion sets in when we try to think from “person” to “essence”, that is, when we think about what we observe in others and what we ourselves like to do, and then try to come up with principles to support our behavior. The correct way is to attack the problem top down, by thinking from essential doctrines and then drawing conclusions about our behavior based on what we know to be true because it is from the Lord in the Word.

We all love to go to weddings, because as each young couple bravely steps forward to begin their exploration of the interior love between husband and wife that we call “love truly conjugial,” we are reminded of how different men and women are, and yet how wonderful it can be when they come together, each complimenting the other’s strengths and capabilities; how each longs for the other because of those things that are missing in each of them. We say that a married couple are actually one, one angel, because neither is truly complete without the other. The wife represents the will and the husband represents the understanding, the two elements that together make up the human mind. We often use this relationship of will and understanding to describe how a husband and wife should share their strengths and responsibilities in an ideal marriage. And yet, “will” and “understanding” are as abstract concepts as are “husband” and “wife.” As it is a principle of the Heavenly Doctrines to illustrate abstract and spiritual concepts with things that are tangible and familiar, we will examine what the doctrines have to say about the heart and lungs to illustrate the relationship between the will and understanding. This in turn should shed some light on the ideal relationship between husband and wife, and perhaps give us some guidance on how we should act while in this world to strengthen conjugial love within our own marriages, or, for those who are not as yet married, to prepare themselves for the conjugial relationship yet to come.

We are told that the whole of the mind relates to the will and understanding, and that the whole of the body relates to the heart and lungs in a similar way. If we reflect on the workings of our own minds, we will quickly agree that everything that happens in our minds has to do with either our thought processes, or our emotional processes: we either think, or feel, or both, but there is no other, third, activity of the mind. For the purposes of our discussion today, all those things that have to do with the process of thinking will be grouped under the heading “understanding” and everything from the emotional or affectional side of our being will be called “will.”

In relation to our body, we know that we are made up of billions of individual cells, and while we live, each of those cells, whether they be part of the brain, the heart itself, or merely a bone in a toe, must be bathed in blood continuously, for the blood carries food and oxygen to each cell, and carries away the waste products after the work is done. When the flow of blood to any part of the body is interrupted, that part of the body dies. The lungs are essential in this cycle for they provide the oxygen that the blood carries to every cell, and this is demonstrated by the fact that the heart has two cycles of flow – one to the lungs alone, and one to the rest of the body. Without the oxygen provided by the lungs, unconsciousness is but moments away, and death but a little longer.

Now since there is a correspondence between the will and understanding with the heart and the lungs, it therefore follows that there is a correspondence between all the things of the mind with all the things of the body. This also makes sense when we think of the way that the soul builds for itself a home in the natural world by using the substances and nourishment provided by the body of the mother to build a containant that perfectly corresponds to its own unique characteristics and needs. Just as the Creator Himself created the universe from firsts (Himself) to lasts (the stars and planets themselves) and then into intermediates (the eternal human mind), so the soul builds from firsts (itself) into lasts (the infant’s body) and then into intermediates (the mind and personality that eventually develop through education and experience). In presenting this teaching, the doctrines add a sad note that these things have not been seen and known widely in the world because “everything of religion, that is, everything called spiritual, has been banished from the sight of man by the dogma of the whole Christian world” (DLW 372:2).

Another way to perceive and understand the relationship between the will and understanding and heart and lungs is to think about the effect that different kinds of thought and speech have on our breathing, and vice versa. For example, we find that when we think silently, we breath silently. If we think deeply, we breath deeply. In general, we breath slowly or quickly, eagerly, gently, or intently, all according to how we are thinking, and also according to how strongly our affections are moved by our thoughts. Perhaps the clearest and most extreme example of the interrelationship of thought and breath is the observation that if we stop breathing we very quickly also stop thinking as we become unconscious.

When we think about how much we think about “love,” and what we “like,” and how we “feel,” and how important our feelings are to us, it is difficult for us to believe the truth that our loves and affections are entirely in the Lord’s hands; we are not able, by ourselves, to love (DLW 385:5), although we can think entirely on our own.

This can be illustrated very simply: can any of us change our moods or our feelings just by thinking about them? Can we become happy or sad in an instant? Can any of us change our pulse by thinking about it? The beauty of this illustration is that it demonstrates the power of illustrating spiritual ideas through their correspondences to the natural world at the same time it demonstrates the point about the Lord’s control of our will, while the understanding remains our own. In a typical group of people, most people are happy to agree that we cannot change our moods by thinking about them, but there would be several in the same group who would challenge the assertion that we cannot change our pulse by thinking about it. The reason for this is that we have a deeper, more intuitive understanding of our own body, and we have observed many times that certain activities, such as heavy work or high excitement, cause our hearts to beat faster. So, when challenged to change our pulse by thought, some of us thought of things we could do that would change our pulse. We acknowledged that we could not do it directly by thought alone, and immediately thought of a way to get around that and achieve the same result.

So, by thinking about the relationship of the heart and lungs, we have learned something about the way to change our moods and our loves. We love evils, but we cannot change that by thinking about it, no matter how hard we try, because we do not have direct control over our loves. However, we do have indirect control. We know truths from the Word. We can choose to live them, even if we don’t want to. We can choose to do what we know is right even though we don’t want to; and when we do, the Lord then acts in secret ways to change our loves for us, to replace the love of evil with the love of the opposite good. When we are in a bad mood, we cannot change it by force of will. The only way to change our mood is to get up and do something useful for someone, and that makes us feel better.

By comparison we can see from the operation of the lungs how easily we control our thoughts, for our breathing is under both voluntary and involuntary control, voluntary for things like speech, singing, and swimming, and involuntary for continued life while we sleep, or at other times when we do not need to control the lungs for other purposes. Our thoughts are constant during our waking hours, but at any time we like we can direct them to any subject we can imagine. Our understanding is under our total control. In marriage, two individuals, each with their own will and understanding, begin the process of becoming one angel. While on earth, we begin the difficult process of letting the thoughts or feelings of another person have precedence over our own. We begin to put away our selfishness as we learn to be flexible, to give and take and find new solutions to problems. Gradually, through trial and error, through study of the Word and lucky guesses, and through a growing confidence that this is something that the Lord wants for us and is leading us towards through His eternal providence, a middle ground is found.

It is difficult for the husband to let go of some of his desires, and to be led by his wife’s affection and intuition, but as he does decide to let her lead in these areas, even though he may not like it, he will find it becomes easier with time. It is also very difficult for a wife to love her husband’s wisdom. In the first place, particularly with a young couple, the man may not have very much wisdom to love. If the wife sees this, and therefore decides that the teachings of doctrine do not apply to her marriage, she will have made a tragic decision that will cause great harm to her marriage. A wife is not so much to love a young husband’s wisdom, but to love his desire to become wise by from study and application of the Lord’s own truth. A wife has the ability to sense this affection for truth in her husband, and it is this that she is to love, respect, and encourage, even when there are as yet few truths within it.

This is difficult at first, because a marriage is first in time a relationship between two individual human beings, both of whom are deeply attached to their own thoughts and feelings. So often they make the mistake of trying to force the partner to change their loves through force of will. The husband tells the wife, “you shouldn’t feel that way,” and tries to convince her through rational argument that she should change her mood to suit him – without reflecting for a moment that he is as incapable of changing his moods and feelings as she is. The wife accuses her husband of being “unfeeling,” because he is unable to sense her moods and adapt to them as she does to his, because he is unable to tell when he is supposed to know that she means really “no” even though she said “yes.” These are just a a few of the normal day-to-day problems that arise as a man and woman struggle to adapt to each other’s different way of looking at the world.

The appearance is that men and women can’t work together because they are too different – but then we must remember the heart and lungs. They too are totally different in their physical structure, their appearance, the type of tissue they are made of, and in every other way imaginable, and yet we cannot imagine a whole, healthy body without both, and without them both working together in perfect harmony. Remember too that the Lord is in charge of the loves of both men and women, and that there is nothing we can do to change them directly – in ourselves or in others. But we can have an effect on them, we can change how and what we think and do, and when we change those things, when we choose to change our life, then the Lord will change our loves to match. So, if we deliberately choose to act with courtesy and respect towards our partner, even when we do not feel like it, the Lord will note our intention, and work in secret ways to reform and regenerate our will so that in time we will feel like acting in that way. We change our loves and feelings by changing our thoughts and actions; we become good by pretending to be good long enough that the pretense become the reality.

Perhaps, someday, if we take the time to study the Word with our partner, if we make the right decisions, and try very hard to be as courteous to our spouse as we are to our business associates or other friends, we will be like the couple that Swedenborg spoke to in heaven, and of whom he said, “And if you were to ask them what love truly conjugial is, I know they would answer that it is not love of the sex but love of one of the sex. This exists only when a young man sees the virgin provided by the Lord, and the virgin the young man, and both feel the conjugial to be enkindled in their hearts, and perceive, he that she is his, and she that he is hers; for when love meets love, it meets itself, and causes it to recognize itself and at once conjoins their souls and then their minds; and from there it enters into their bosoms, and after the nuptials still farther, and so becomes complete love; and from day to day this grows into conjunction until they are no more two but as though one” (CL 44:6). AMEN.

Lessons: GEN 6:1-8, JOH 13:1-17, DLW 381

3rd Lesson:

Divine Love and Wisdom 381

381. The heavens are divided into two kingdoms, one called celestial, the other spiritual; in the celestial kingdom love to the Lord reigns, and in the spiritual kingdom wisdom from that love. The kingdom where love reigns is called heaven’s cardiac kingdom, the one where wisdom reigns is called its pulmonic kingdom. Be it known, that the whole angelic heaven in its aggregate represents a single man, and before the Lord appears as a single man; consequently its heart makes one kingdom and its lungs another. For there is a general cardiac and pulmonic movement throughout heaven, and a particular movement therefrom in each angel. The general cardiac and pulmonic movement is from the Lord alone, because love and wisdom are from Him alone. For these two movements are in the sun where the Lord is and which is from the Lord, and from that in the angelic heavens and in the universe. Banish spaces and think of omnipresence, and you will be convinced that it is so. That the heavens are divided into two kingdoms, celestial and spiritual, see the work on Heaven and Hell (n. 20-28); and that the whole angelic heaven in the aggregate represents a single man (n. 59-67). Amen.

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