jesus christ

“Some one has said that we should read the Bible only from one standpoint, to know the Lord Jesus Christ; and if one studies the Bible for any other purpose he will not understand it. The Bible begins with Jesus ( Gen. 3:15), and ends with Him. In fact it is a revelation of Jesus Christ. The revelation of “God in Christ” – II Cor. 5:19. Christ is not only the central fig!cid_F83AEC9E81FD41B58C1E3173639C4571@DomenicHPure of the Bible, but the “First and the Last.” – Rev. 1:8; 22:13, Isa. 41:4; 43:10.

Healing of the spirit – How?

Some people wonder whether human beings can change. Another way of putting it is to ask whether they can find spiritual healing. I would suggest that the answer depends on our view of human nature. We all know that there are differences in the temperaments of children. Some cry more easily and some sleep less soundly. As the child grows older individual differences in personality begin to emerge, like extraversion, and nervousness.

Personal Orientation and Need for Healing

We all seem to have a different mix of good and bad human inclinations. The good tendencies include having to some degree a sense of humour, friendliness and helpfulness. The bad ones seem to revolve around self-orientation.

We each have physical senses that can perceive the things around us. And so we have learned to become aware of being a separate, self-contained individual with a mind and body of our own apart from other people and other things. When we are only aware of the world around us from the point of view of self, then we are susceptible to developing self-concern and even becoming self-centred and selfish.

Self-orientation taken to extreme means we experience difficulty not only in a sense of isolation when relationships don’t work out but in other ways; self-consciousness becomes painful shyness, self-concern becomes neurotic worry, and self-indulgence becomes greed. That’s when we need spiritual healing.

Inflow of Inner Healing

healing
Healing

I believe there is a spirit of inner life unconsciously flowing into our hearts and minds. It has a positive and a negative side.  The positive side can be seen in illuminating ideas we sometimes have, the creative energies that can take hold of us, and the sense of wonder that sometimes inspires our respect and admiration for the beauty in nature and in other people around us. These are heavenly states.

The negative aspects of this inflow however are the irritable and anxious moods that sometimes can come out of the blue, the sense of boredom and apathy that can take hold if we are not careful, and the impulses to say and do what is bad.

We can experience hellish states of mind when self-orientation causes us to be engulfed by such a negative inflow. Then anger, depression and fear may have taken hold over us for a while.

Balance of Healing and Negative Inflow

The heavenly and hellish inflow is in balance and so we are free to tip our lives in either way. We are responsible for tuning into the good or the bad once we recognise their different qualities.

The academic discipline of psychology has demonstrated many factors that affect individual behaviour. Our actions may be constrained and our attitudes affected by many causes, however we feel we make our own personal choices and there seems deep down within the human spirit to be an inner freedom to think and feel as it wishes.

For example every adult mind has to some extent good sense amounting to a higher rational understanding. One is free to exercise this in preferring the general teachings of religion or the deterministic view of science, in primarily looking towards the needs of oneself or towards the needs of others, and in trying to act on what one wants or on what one sees as right. We are free to turn towards the positive or negative spiritual inflow that surrounds us every moment of our lives. The positive inflow is one of spiritual healing and the negative one of spiritual disease.

Healing of Character

Children mature as they grow older and become aware of the family values and cultural norms to which they are exposed. However, the process of spiritual maturing continues in varying degrees in different people beyond adolescence. As we exercise our inner freedom in adult life, the desires that rule our lives become more consistent and we begin to form for ourselves our own character.

Some people grow in good sense and caring attitudes whereas others remain self-centred. Some gain a sense of fulfilment from leading a useful life contributing to the welfare of their family and community whereas others lack inspiration to live a life that goes beyond the values of materialism with its priority given to seeking bodily comforts and social status.

Practical Healing Suggestions

I believe we all have a potential for experiencing spiritual healing and thus the inner life of contentment, joy and peace that comes from turning away from self-orientation. My practical suggestions for achieving this are to:-

  1. Find out more about ourselves and what religion teaches about the best way to lead our lives,
  2. Seek an enlightened understanding about such matters,
  3. Acknowledge the need for personal change,
  4. Resolve to change our personal priorities,
  5. Make the effort to resist old ways
  6. Learn to trust in the divine power to create a new heart and mind within our lives.

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Personal change — Is it too late?

Personal change
Time for a personal change?

It’s never too late to make a personal change – or so my mother used to tell me. But sometimes I feel I’ve missed the boat. Others have said the same thing. The more we indulge our weaknesses, the more our flaws seem to take hold; and the more we avoid those difficult challenges, the more dissatisfied with ourselves we become – and wonder whether ingrained personal habits can ever be broken.

Stopped making personal change?

Some of us may realise that we’ve stopped moving along our path in life. Stopped making any personal change. For the warning signs have appeared – a medical complaint caused by an unhealthy lifestyle, a developing coldness due to the neglect of one’s close friends, a loss of interest and energy for something we should be doing that we know deep down is important.

Not moving along life’s path is literally true for me. In my case it is a canal tow-path near my home which I should be using for much needed daily exercise. They say, ‘A healthy mind needs a healthy body’, but mine is getting to be no longer ‘fit for purpose,’ sadly through a long time of overindulgence.

Reasons for no personal change

Sometimes I think I’m just naturally lazy and so have been quick to forget about the problem. And when I’m shaken out of my complacency, I only make an effort to make personal change in stops and starts.

Perhaps that’s the trouble with our failings  – we don’t like to dwell on them.  Our mistakes sometimes need to have catastrophic consequences before we wake up and take notice; before we see the need for something important to make a personal change about.

We may want to find peace and contentment. The trouble is such feelings are denied us as long as we turn our backs on what we see to be the truth; the truth that we can cause harm to our body by neglecting it, or the truth that we can do damage to our most valued relationships by not nourishing them.

Need for personal change

Going out for a daily jog – or in my case a regular brisk walk every day, perhaps in cold wind and rain – may not seem like a deep issue; but something on the surface of life like this can be a spiritual matter if we do not follow our inner conscience. If I do not take control of my body what chance have I of taking control of my life? I do make the effort but somehow I seem to need an extra lift to keep at it. To make that personal change I really want.

Unaided personal change

To be honest, and I know it sounds pathetic, but after many years I’m beginning to wonder if I can win this battle unaided – not to mention a few other personal trials I’m facing. Many alcoholics accept that the fight to beat the demon drink cannot be won through one’s own efforts alone and have surrendered to what Alcoholics Anonymous term a ‘higher power.’ When the going gets really tough and we realise we are just not strong enough to make that very important personal change and find a way through, then perhaps we likewise can humbly ask for help from the spiritual force in which we believe.

As the Christian mystic HT Hamblin pointed out, our seeking must ultimately be not through mental effort, but through acceptance and surrender, ‘turning the heart to the Christos’. This means accepting the ‘disciplines and chastenings’ of life, working through them and learning as much as possible from them and then leaving the outcome entirely in Divine Hands.

In other words, seeking a way through our troubles and failings is usually something to do with moving away from self – from self-indulgence and self-importance. We may all be complacent about some of this but how much happier we could become by both facing the need to change and asking for help – however long it takes in relation to different aspects of our character.

I’m focusing on just one issue at the moment, but I’m becoming aware of other ways my life needs turning round. I don’t know if all my troubles will be cured but I believe I can only do what I can do and leave the rest to God’s Power.

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

First published as Facing the Cold Wind and Rain in New Vision Magazine March/April 2010.

Mary and Martha – Are they in you?

Ever noticed someone in your team not pulling their weight, whilst you are working hard to get the job done properly? I remember one day when my side of the family were visiting us. I was expecting my wife to do all the practical things that needed doing whilst I just sat chatting. I even asked her to get the coffee for us. No wonder she got a bit shirty with me. I suppose I was just being a brother and son rather than doing the practical jobs of a husband and joint host. I’d got the balance wrong. This reminds me of the story of Mary and Martha.

The story of Mary and Martha

The biblical story of Mary and Martha comes to mind. Two sisters have Jesus Christ as a visitor to their home. With which of these two ladies do you sympathise? Martha who was concerned to prepare a meal and make their guest comfortable or Mary who wanted to sit at the spiritual teacher’s feet listening to him. No wonder Martha complained to him about Mary leaving her to do the work by herself.

Mary and Martha Mary and Martha in us

If we don’t do the laundry or other jobs around the house then we just get smelly clothes, cobwebs, long grass and weeds. It’s all very well for people to say you need to stop and take a break or else your batteries will become drained. At the end of the day, the dishes still need to be done and the car maintained. They won’t do themselves.

Regarding Mary and Martha, people have often felt that Jesus was favouring one and being unfair to the other who was doing all the work. Many of us faced with the demands of family and work just have to get on with it. Yet Martha seems to have been brought down a peg for doing just that. What could he have meant when he said that Mary had chosen better? How can it be right to neglect what needs doing?

“Perhaps Martha isn’t being brought down or put in her place, so much as being given the opportunity to sit down and get some space.”(Sarah Buteux, Swedenborgian minister)

I would suggest that there is a Mary and Martha in each one of us. Having a Martha active in your psyche is positive when you lead an active useful life. But negative when prioritising the outward side of life and as a consequence being upset by worldly cares – getting hot and bothered when over-concerned with doing things well or not missing out on some detail.

Mary and Martha and a vision

Emanuel Swedenborg reported having a vision of a large room. with furniture there and a long hallway leading from it. Through this he said he saw a woman, small in stature and ugly, who was going out. When he asked what the vision meant he claims he was told (presumably by angels) that it was about those individuals who when alive in the world had over-zealously devoted themselves to household chores. Apparently after death they occupy dwellings like this in the spirit realm and remain engrossed in their domestic concerns neglecting ‘like Martha’, the spiritual dimension.

When you are taken up with what you are doing, how often do you find yourself trying so hard to please and giving everything you have, to see that the work gets done? But then finding at the end of the day that the joy you should have felt, the peace you should have earned, and the rest you so deserved, is just out of reach. Rather than fulfilment, you feel only stress and frustration. Perhaps that is the time to remember the Mary and Martha story.

Mary and Martha and the need for being still

For many people into day’s Western culture, it is common to become so absorbed in the work of the world, that one’s inner contemplative self is lost.   I would say that to connect with this deeper awareness we need times of letting go of all “doing,” — just allowing ourselves to “be.”  In his book The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle writes of an incessant mental noise in our ordinary consciousness which prevents awareness of an inner realm of stillness.

Many people recognise the need to create time for a meaningful connection with the deeper side of being, reflecting on the values and things we hold sacred, and being mindful of the situations we are encountering. In this way the pace of life can reduce.

Mary and Martha and spiritual practices

There are all sorts of ways of creating time for being in touch with the deeper side. The regular habit of taking the dog for a walk along a country path is conducive to this. It’s hard to be distracted by worldly cares when one is playing the piano or singing a song. Some people reserve a few minutes quiet time for reflection perhaps over a morning coffee before the working day starts or sitting on a bench in the park or whilst waiting for the train to commute to the office.

The skill of stilling the mind can be acquired through regular meditation. One type of meditation is focusing on one neutral thing and neglecting to attend to all other sensations and thoughts that enter consciousness. This is said to clear the mind and opens it to a higher state. Another type of meditation is allowing one’s awareness to be led by a series of visualised images often of a sacred nature.

In these ways we disengage from the worldly worries that are associated with what we do to earn a living, maintain a home, support a family etc.

Religious perspective on Mary and Martha

Every religion teaches the need to slow down in order to connect with the self, with others and with a higher force. The Bible says

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)

In the Mary and Martha narrative, Mary was seeing things from a higher perspective than that of the world. Does she not represent a point of view that accepts there is a divine hand supporting all our good actions and intentions? An awareness, I would suggest, that experiences hope and encouragement no matter what challenges and adversity one has to face. To my mind this is a state of spiritual being that never shirks the work to be done. It reminds me that the world around me, with its requirements, is not a burden I  have to bear but a gift to help me grow inwardly.

I believe that the story of Mary and Martha prompts us to create moments when we can reflect on our spiritual understanding of the ‘Divine within’ rather than being caught up by the demands of the world. In so doing we are said to find the tranquillity of ‘peace that passes all understanding’

Copyright 2016 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author Heart, Head & Hand

Posted on14th February 2016CategoriesLatest post, Spiritual awareness, Spiritual healingTags, , , ,

Food for the soul – How does it nourish me?

Do you sometimes feel you lack something you feel you need? It may be a more satisfying job, bigger house for a growing family, or a better car. However, you may also feel you lack something less definable, something you can’t easily put your finger on but which may be an answer to your troubles: perhaps something which could provide comfort when you are disappointed, lift your spirits when you feel down, and engender a positive frame of mind when everything seems negative. Something we might call food for the soul.

My need for food for the soul

From time to time I feel a sense of inadequacy in myself, in my own ability to get moving again when I find myself static, or to find solutions to the ordinary lesser and sometimes bigger problems of life that confront the average person. These times I’m obliged to have to admit to myself I know so little and understand less. I thought things were going along fine and now I find I can’t always cope. This state of mind can get a bit depressing. There is always something round the corner that seems to set me back — it is as if I am being taught a lesson. If you know what I mean, you may also feel humbled by life and, when you are frustrated, tired or feeling uninspired, that you too need something extra to restore your inner life.

food for the soulOne way of looking at this is in terms of spiritual nourishment. Just as the body needs nourishing food and drink to sustain its life, so do we not need food for the soul to sustain our inner life?

A scientific perspective is that without natural nourishment we grow weak and feeble, prone to disease, lack energy and eventually wither and die. Recommended is a balanced diet that covers all the nutrients the body requires. From a spiritual perspective without inner nourishment we become “overwhelmed with duties, engagements and activities” ( H. T. Hamblin). For spiritual food sustains and revitalises our spiritual life.

So what is food for the soul?

I would suggest food for the soul is the insights and knowledge we can gain about what is good and true in life: such spiritual food meets our hunger to find out and value what is deeply true about life e.g. about principled ideas that connect with useful action. The following might be said to be examples of this: noticing the qualities in other people around us, the beauty in nature and the potential that various situations hold for something good to happen.

Is this higher knowledge not able to inspire and motivate us? To raise our minds above the petty aspects of the mundane side of things? To act as food for the soul? Just as we need a balanced physical diet, so we also need a balanced spiritual one. Not just intellectual ideas, but also insights into the needs of other people, an awareness of the various relevant views around a social issue, practical knowledge concerning how to support people in need of help, an intuition about the way to tackle interpersonal difficulty, a perception about what is good about what is going on around.

In other words I am suggesting the idea that if we see what is good and true then this can nourish our inner life. It gives us the chance to value what is important and if we do this then we acquire good sense and good intentions, and find meaningful principles, in which we can develop hope and trust, feel encouragement and comfort when things go wrong, and experience inspiration.

The words of Christ promise that spiritual nourishment will be provided as long as we have an active longing for spiritual food. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matt 5:6)

Food for the soul and angel bodies

The spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg claimed to have mystical visions of heavenly life. He said that after young children have died they are brought up on the fringes of heaven and have a spirit body which corresponds to their character. This spirit body is said to grow in stature so as to eventually to take on the appearance of an adult heavenly person. The growth isn’t due to material food but rather is due to the food for the soul they are given which nourishes their understanding of what is true and wise discernment of what is good.

I would say valuing such insights and acting on them is the heavenly state of happiness. Something to which we can all aspire.

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Positive awareness – How to find it?

positiveThere probably were some positive experiences you have had recently. Just small things really. Like the delight of bumping into a friend at the supermarket, a warm glow felt when someone shows you some consideration, or the delight you felt in observing your small grandchildren playing.

But when bad things also happen, how easy it is to forget the positives. The washing machine develops a fault. Someone at work has a go at you. You sleep badly because of a sore throat. If you focus on the bad stuff, you quickly forget any pleasant experiences and instead develop a negative frame of mind. So much so that you are in danger of noticing no hint of anything good and seeing what is bad in everything. So if you have this damaging tendency, how determined are you to start to see things differently? To notice more about the magic of life? And how in practice could you go about this?

Blocks that hinder you noticing the magic of life

You can be inwardly deadened by the noise and pollution of our urban environments, the endless information and the drudge of work. The temptation is to mindlessly sleepwalk through this kind of life; allowing past memories and future fantasies to dominate your consciousness as a way of escaping from the reality of the present moment. Then of course you become absent-minded; too alienated from the needs of the moment to notice the here and now with its ordinary crop of positive, albeit fleeting, experiences.

“The past is history,
The future a mystery,
At this moment is a gift.
Which is why it is called `the present.’ ”
(Unknown author)

Another factor that can hinder us in getting in contact with the positive uplifting side of life is that of materialistic science. The spiritual writer Roger Walsh has pointed out the blinding power of science, saying that we are so bombarded by its way of looking at the universe as a great meaningless machine that we are led into a kind of cynicism regarding any meaning and purpose behind our world.

A third factor I would like to mention, is that of attachment to bodily pleasure and worldly concerns. For example developing an emotional, if not physical, dependence on alcohol, drugs, food, competition for social status, excessive consumption, and over identification with one’s ‘tribe’.  Preoccupied with the material side of life can corrupt any vision of the spiritual.

Exercise focusing on positive experiences

One way of combating these problems is the 15 minute exercise of noticing the positives in your day. Here are some instructions.

1.      In the evening, sit down alone comfortably in a quiet place with paper and pen.

2.      Reflect on the day’s events; what you did, who you spoke with and what was said, where you were and what you saw.

3.      For each of these remembered ordinary moments, pause and consider anything positive. Were you touched by anything good about the experience? Perhaps it was a fleeting or subtle moment when you felt pleased or impressed.  May be you were even caught by a beauty of the situation.

4.      There would have been what was negative mixed up in what was positive. But write one sentence for each time about any positive aspect.

5.      When you have finished reread your list.

“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind.” (Ashley Smith)

Benefits of recognising the positive

Looking for the positive each evening can have an accumulative beneficial effect. But to gain this benefit you need to make an effort.

“You need to stop. Wake up. Be more aware. Be conscious and recognise that something good is happening.” (William Bloom)

When you are searching for positives you are likely to feel watchful, more relaxed and better humoured. Try to be mindful of how your mood has changed. Surrender to the experience. If it feels uplifting then think of it as a moment of spiritual connection even if it lasts only a few seconds. It is not true that spiritual experiences are only rare and intense. A positive experience can be common and ordinary such as simply a feeling of uplift from a chance conversation, a brief flash of insight, or a moment of laughter.

As you start to take more notice of good experiences, you are likely to want to search them out. And so many people actively seek some connection with the wonder and energy of life through the natural environment. They find the ambience of some landscapes takes them into a different mood and they become more sensitive to even a whisper of magic. Others hope to find something essentially good and wonderful about life in a friendly crowd or in intimacy with their loved one, or when caught up in a team of fellow workers in full and creative flow.

Swedenborgian point

A relevant Swedenborgian maxim is ‘influx adapts itself to efflux.’ In other words, inflow into the mind is proportional to outflow of the mind: perception from a higher level is proportional to the mindset of the observer. If you look for something you are more likely to notice it. But if you are resistant to the possibility of seeing the spiritual, you will be blind to it.

“Seek and you will find” (Jesus Christ)

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Spiritual awakening – How to discover it?

Who doesn’t wonder whether happiness that lasts is ever possible and if so what does one have to do to bring it about? Will this need to involve some form of spiritual awakening and if so how do you discover it?

Spiritual awakening and contemporary culture

Much of materialist science has it that we are slaves to our inherited nature, family upbringing and economic constraints of adult life. In other words we are led to believe that our personal destiny is more or less already predictable and that we have little or no personal choice in the matter. Contemporary commentators thus suggest that the only way for improving things is to try to change the external world and thus the circumstances of the people in it – their economic, social and political experience and so on.  As a result, knowledge and understanding of spiritual ideas are often sidelined.

It may be the case that the very need for spiritual awakening is challenged implicitly in our Western culture. Nevertheless, I suspect many people privately wonder whether they need to undergo some sort of personal transformation if they are to be really happy. This would be very much in line with what deep thinkers say about the need for spiritual awakening if one is ever to become a better person.

The trouble is this deeper form of personal change can seem to be a mystifying process.

Spiritual awakening and Observing Spirit

In the book Observing Spirit, Peter Rhodes however clarifies the process; for example showing how spiritual awakening involves self-awareness and being fully alert to inner experience.

spiritual awakeningObserving Spirit: Evaluating your daily progress on the path to heaven with Gurdjieff and Swedenborg by Peter Rhodes, 2005 Chrysalis Books ISBN 0-87785-316-9

The reader is offered a series of useful spiritual exercises and the necessary theoretical understanding to foster spiritual awakening and the personal benefits it can bring. These can be substantial; including heightened awareness and vitality, a focusing of one’s energy and sense of individuality and authenticity.

Personal self-help books are in plentiful supply. Often they beg the question whether it is possible to use a technique or task apart from the framework of spiritual ideas which underlie it. For example do we need spiritual beliefs regarding what states of mind spiritual awakening can lead us into?

Spiritual awakening and world religions

The world’s religions have plenty to say about human destiny, and morality. The unavoidable experience of confronting death is seen as a key spiritual test for liberating us from excessive material preoccupation.

In the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, destiny is framed in terms of our individual identity surviving death in an eternal afterlife. Phillip Sheldrake has pointed out that this vision, in broader terms, embraces judgement in relation to our conduct of life, sometimes an intermediate state of waiting or re-schooling and then, either ultimate union with the divine (called heaven or paradise), or in a state of ultimate separation from the divine (referred to as hell). In Hinduism there is said to be a continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (reincarnation) until – through right action, an increase in selflessness and the practice of a spiritual path – the cycle eventually ends in release from suffering and merging with the divine.

But such religious traditions have less to show how their teachings can be applied by the spiritual seeker who lives outside of the sacred customs, practices and rites of a religious culture: how can such a person use theology to engage in healing of the spirit?

Peter Rhodes offers an answer. On a personal level he had found what to believe about life and death in the Bible and Emanuel Swedenborg’s interpretation of it. However, it was in the books of Gurdjieff and his associates that Rhodes discovered a very practical spiritual methodology for applying Swedenborg’s religious thought to the difficulties of personal change.

Deeper ideas and tasks for spiritual awakening

Once central idea in the Swedenborgian approach, is that effort must be made to turn away from or put aside whatever is not good about the way one is living. Observing Spirit offers both some deeper ideas and tasks in relation to waking up to :-

  • Where you are and where you want to go,
  • Your effects on others,
  • Prevailing negatives in your character,
  • Your developing aims,
  • Your natural side in service to your spiritual side,
  • Freedom from natural time,
  • Space for a spiritual life,
  • Remembering yourself,
  • Being conscious of another person’s difficulties
  • Removing barriers,
  • A real sense of self,
  • Being shocked by what is true,

For me this inspiring book shows that it is essential to wake up to the nature of our illusions and false attachments and to gain spiritual knowledge and understanding about ourselves and the divine source of all that is good and true. At the same time what is also needed is a heartfelt acceptance of the factors that stand in the way of our journey of personal transformation and a willingness to work on personal change.

The process of spiritual growth described in Observing Spirit is challenging. It takes effort, and there are times when spiritual enlightenment about yourself will not be a particularly pleasant experience. But that with the spiritual power of the divine working within oneself, it is so much easier for you to see your true intentions and to listen to other people and appreciate the goodness in them.

I believe the book will greatly help its readers to behave more in accordance with their true values and to pay better attention to the subtle yet inspiring thoughts and feelings present within the human soul.

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems