So often when we think about images and pictures of angels, we imagine innocent beings of love peace and beauty who act as divine messengers and who comfort and care for us. These angelic symbols can provide great inspiration to us and indeed many people feel they are personally protected by an angelic layer of guardian angels.
Are angels just around us? Or should we also think about the potential angel within us and how we are all destined to become angels if we choose to? Follow the links to find spiritual wisdom about angels and to explore not just the angels out there but also the angel within.
To watch a video on how both good angels and bad spirits influence our daily lives click here: Guardian Angels
If there is a God – a creative Divine Source to our life – then surely the Divine nature must contain within itself, at the very least, qualities of what is highest, purest and best to be found in the Divine design of creation: Love, Wisdom, Goodness, Truth etc. Otherwise, we would be looking still higher for the source of such qualities.
The search for the true or actual God is then the search for what we can conceive of as being the highest, purest and best in life, followed by an intuition that the Divine Source itself must be the measure of that perfection, and have unlimited potential for expressing aspects of that perfection in countless creative ways. We can then say, for example, that God is Love.
Use the links below to explore the Transcendent/Personal nature of the Divine, the Oneness of God, God as a Parent, Pathways to God and what is meant by Providence and much more.
What does Swedenborg say about animals in the afterlife? Will people be reunited with beloved pets after they die? Is there a doggie heaven with unlimited treats and squirrels to chase?
Swedenborg sees a clear spiritual difference between humans and animals. Here’s how he describes it:
“People who have convinced themselves [that we will not continue to live as spirits after death] tend to think that animals live and sense just the way we do, so that they too have a spiritual nature like ours; yet this dies along with their bodies. However, the spiritual nature of animals is not the same as ours. We have an inmost nature that animals do not, a nature into which the Divine flows and which it raises toward itself, in this way uniting us to itself. So we, unlike animals, can think about God and about divine matters of heaven and the church. We can love God because of these matters and by engaging with them; and so be united to him; and anything that can be united to the Divine cannot be destroyed. Anything that cannot be united to the Divine, though, does disintegrate.” (Heaven and Hell#435)
A major theme in Swedenborg’s writings is that our spiritual destiny is a matter of choice. We have to first understand the difference between good and evil, and then make a conscious choice when confronted with a moral dilemma, not just once but over and over throughout our lives. It’s the cumulative result of all of our choices that determines where we go after we die. (For more on this, see Swedenborg’s book Divine Providence, especially sections 71-99.)
Animals don’t have the capacity to make that type of conscious choice. For example, if a delivery person walks onto someone’s lawn and is bitten by a dog, was that a rational decision on the dog’s part? Did it watch the person coming and think, “Is biting this person the right thing to do? What are the potential consequences of my actions? Is this violence truly necessary?” Probably not, right? Swedenborg would say that a person has to be at least capable of asking those questions in order to be spiritually responsible for his or her actions. If we didn’t have the awareness of right and wrong that allows us to be spiritual people, then we couldn’t enter the afterlife.
So, do all dogs go to heaven? Swedenborg would say no. In heaven, he says, the animals are actually correspondences: like everything in the environment of the afterlife, they represent spiritual principles at work and can appear or disappear depending on the needs of the moment. If a person does see a dog in heaven, for example, it means that someone nearby—maybe even in the physical world—is experiencing a desire to express spiritual truths; it doesn’t mean that a particular dog has made the transition from the physical world to the afterlife.
But, he adds, none of this means that animals on earth can’t also reflect the divine.
Everything in the universe, Swedenborg tells us, was created and is sustained by a living energy that emanates from the Divine. He describes that energy as pure love and wisdom, and when he talks about the way it enters into and affects us, he uses the term influx. Animals experience influx too, but in a different way.* When a bird cares for its chicks, for example, or a dog acts to protect its human companions, those animals are expressing divine love unconsciously, in a purely natural way.
So if you’ve ever felt the unceasing, faithful, pure love of an animal, you know their purpose. Their existence allows us to experience the Divine.
* See, for example, Secrets of Heaven#5850 on the difference between human and animal influx:
“There is a general and a particular influence exerted by the Lord through the spiritual world on recipients of that influence in the natural world. The general influence is exerted on recipients that follow the code ordained for them; the particular influence is exerted on recipients that do not.Animals of every kind live by the code ordained by their nature, so a general influence is exerted on them. Their adherence to that code can be seen in the fact that they are born with everything they need. They do not need instruction in order to enter on their role.
We human beings, on the other hand, do not live by the code ordained for us or by any law of that code, so a particular influence is exerted on us. That is, we have with us angels and spirits through whom the influence is exerted. If we did not, we would hurl ourselves into every kind of wickedness and quickly plunge headlong into the deepest hell. The spirits and angels bring us under the Lord’s control and guidance.
If we followed the code we were created to live by, we would love our neighbor as ourselves and in fact more than ourselves. That is what angels do. Instead we love only ourselves and the world. We hate our fellow human beings except to the extent that they encourage our domineering ways and give us worldly blessings. Since our lives go directly against the heavenly pattern, then, the Lord governs us through individual spirits and angels.”
Selection from Heaven and Hell ~ Emanuel Swedenborg
It is not so difficult to live the life of heaven as some believe can now be seen from this:
that when any thing presents itself to a man that he knows to be dishonest and unjust, but to which his mind is borne, it is simply necessary for him to think that it ought not to be done because it is opposed to the Divine precepts. If a man accustoms himself so to think, and from so doing establishes a habit of so thinking, he is gradually conjoined to heaven; and so far as he is conjoined to heaven the higher regions of his mind are opened; and so far as these are opened he sees whatever is dishonest and unjust, and so far as he sees these evils they can be dispersed, for no evil can be dispersed until it is seen. Into this state man is able to enter because of his freedom, for is not any one able from his freedom to so think? And when man has made a beginning the Lord quickens all that is good in him, and causes him not only to see evils to be evils, but also to refrain from willing them, and finally to turn away from them. This is meant by the Lord’s words,
My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matt. 11:30).
But it must be understood that the difficulty of so thinking and of resisting evils increases so far as man from his will does evils, for in the same measure he becomes accustomed to them until he no longer sees them, and at length loves them and from the delight of his love excuses them, and confirms them by every kind of fallacy, and declares them to be allowable and good. This is the fate of those who in early youth plunge into evils without restraint, and also reject Divine things from the heart.
Brother, sister, mother, father, husband, wife, son, daughter, friend, colleague, neighbor….our relationships contain many people with the potential to hurt us, very often in small ongoing ways. Sometimes in trying to be good people, we brush these hurts aside, thinking “I am not a vindictive or overly sensitive person, these things shouldn’t bother me.” But they do. They do because our egos are like magnets, and resentments are attracted to them. What is the impact of holding onto these resentments? Do we hold back in our lives? Do we argue with people? Do we gossip? What does the Bible teach about this?
Jesus taught the art of forgiveness. “’Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22.) Does this mean we are to forgive 539 times exactly? Yes. And more. The writings of Emanuel Swedenborg explore depth in the biblical message and say that “By this [Matthew 18:21-22] He meant that they were to forgive as often as he sinned. Their forgiveness was to know no limits, that is, was to be eternal and timeless, which is holy” (Secrets of Heaven 433).
Patience with the process
The Lord promises that forgiveness is possible. Even when hurt seems too great to repair, God tells us “I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19). We experience a heart of stone when we are too angry, too selfish, or too frozen by the pain others have caused us. A heart of flesh, while it may be vulnerable, it is compassionate. A heart of flesh sees that while we are feeling pain, the other person may also be hurting for that pain they caused us. We can get so caught up in ourselves that we do not even notice another is struggling from the offense. It is true that people need to be held accountable for their actions. But these people also need patience from us. As it was said: “Be patient with me” (Matthew 18:26). Practicing patience with another, holding onto the hope and vision for our relationship with them, is a true act of compassion. We need to invite the Lord into the journey and ask for the courage it takes for us to be patient with another and the understanding needed to see that they too are working through the pain that needs forgiveness.
Resentments and a faulty worldview
The idea that forgiveness means that sins are washed away is one of the reasons why we sometime shy away from forgiveness. We sometimes think that forgiveness means forgetting and that feels wrong. Sometimes we feel we need our resentments to educate us about the people in the world around us and guide us in the ways we should act towards them. We feel like we need our memory of past hurts so that we can maintain boundaries with people. But the Lord is all-knowing and mercy itself—therefore there must be a way for knowing and forgiveness to exist together, a clear-headed forgiveness that forgets nothing and forgives all. Here’s one way of thinking about it: how might it feel to look at someone who has hurt us and not feel anger? Is this even possible? This is how the angels are described “those who have charity hardly notice the evil in another person, but instead notice all the goods and truths that are his; and on his evils and falsities they place a good interpretation. Of such a nature are all angels, it being something they have from the Lord, who bends everything evil into good” (Secrets of Heaven 1079).
Now this doesn’t negate the fact that we do need to protect ourselves from people who make a habit of hurting us. The key is to invite the Lord in to the process. It is the Lord who will keep us separated from our resentments, if we let him. We must be rigorous and disciplined in our endeavors to forgive. We must get used to naming each hurt and then putting it away and asking the Lord to keep the resentment from us. He is the only one with the power to do this. And it must be done 70 x 7 times, which means all the time, without limit.
The power of forgiveness
When we forgive others there is a freedom where we are no longer shackled by our own anger. It moves us from our selfish illusions to a beautiful reality. It is hard work. But letting go of the fantasies that we can change the past, that we can change others, or even that we are the ones who can change ourselves opens room for God to help us ward off the resentment we feel. Each time we forgive, it paves the way for the next time we need to forgive. Practicing the courage and patience, and letting the Lord into the process of forgiveness becomes like exercising a muscle, it grows stronger and stronger. Together with Him we can come to a point where forgiveness is intuitive, a blessed way to live!
There is a great deal of talk about “truth” in the works of Swedenborg, but in some ways it is one of the more elusive terms. That’s because we tend to think of it in basic terms – meaning something that is an accurate statement of reality – and because we tend to think of it in terms of ideas that can be verbalized or written.
“Truth” to Swedenborg, however, is something deeper, broader, richer, more meaningful, more powerful and more beautiful. In a sense, it is a delivery system for love, and sharing love is the very purpose of reality, which makes truth vitally important. And while it can come in the form of dry, cold rules and facts, it is at its most pure a thing of indescribable beauty, something that moves us internally.
The nature of truth originates in the idea that Lord in His essence is love itself, perfect and infinite, and that He loves us beyond our capacity to imagine. And just as we want people we love to love us back, so also the Lord has the deepest desire for us to love Him back; His love wants to reach out to us and inspire love in turn.
Love, however, cannot operate on its own; it needs a medium to work in. Think of it this way: To express love for someone, you need a face to smile with, a voice to speak with, arms to embrace with, or various tools you can use to do good, loving things for the people you love. Without those things it’s just a feeling, stuck inside and rather useless. In a sense, if it can’t be expressed, its existence is not really quite complete.
“Truth,” then, could be defined as “the expression of love” or maybe as “love expressed.” This can be pretty profound and beautiful: The expression on a new mother’s face, seeing her baby for the first time – that is truth, on a level beyond words. The feeling in her is expressed, and we take it in and feel a surge of emotion ourselves. At a higher level yet, we might try to image the expression on the Lord’s face when he looks at us, the love pouring from him; that is truth at its deepest.
But truth comes at lower levels too. Think of the ways we love our children – at times that means laying down some stark, black-and-white rules. “Keep your hands to yourself” and “you need to obey me” don’t sound very loving, and making a child take out the trash does not exactly inspire warm feelings and poetic thoughts. But we are in fact loving them when we teach them lessons that will help them be good people, even if that love doesn’t glow from the surface of what we’re saying. The Lord has to handle us the same way at times, especially in the early stages of our spiritual growth. “Thou shalt not kill” doesn’t sound all that loving, and the order to not covet can seem unrealistic and borderline unfair. If we look at them closely, though, we can see that they are loving, and are leading us to be loving people.
So truth comes at many levels and in many forms, shaped and adapted to various ways we can be led to be good and loving. This is why so many different things in the Bible – stones, water, wine, plants, swords and many others – all represent truth; they all have shades of meaning reflecting the many types of truth the Lord uses to lead us.
At heart, though, all truth is a way of sharing love. If we look to that, we will treasure it properly.
We have all experienced happy events that seemed to come and go in a flash. Whereas, dull or painful events in our lives seem to stretch out for unbearable periods of time and last “forever.”
Einstein’s relativity theory demonstrated the phenomena of time dilation and contraction based on the speed of something traveling through physical space. But humans can experience time dilation and contraction while standing completely still—based on different mental states like happiness or boredom.
Scientist/theologian Emanuel Swedenborg said that the experience of time is not just physical or through space, but spiritual and non-spatial. He stated that when an individual is experiencing happiness in the heart, he or she is elevated into a higher spiritual state that is free of tedium. Time is only experienced when we are in our lower corporeal state of mind where happiness is displaced by some element of worldly impatience. When people experience delight and gladness they take no note of time. Impatience causes us to constantly look at the clock.
In other words, when we (our spirits) are occupied with something we do not love, we are forced to reflect on things that do not belong to our heart’s affection—they become tedious and we are drawn back into our mundane corporeal reality and physical time.
This transition between the physical realm of time and the spiritual realm of non-time is according to what we love (likes and dislikes). What we love is who we really are—the inner fabric of our souls. And, what we really are has everything to do with where in the spiritual world we ultimately find our eternal abode.
Because human spirit and human love is synonymous, the purpose of religion is to guide the heart to make the right decisions—to love God and the neighbor. God’s kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of mutual love. To reject these divine tenets of spiritual love and choose a more self-centered love lands you in a spiritual realm of similarly self-centered people. The result of such people living together is hell.
In the afterlife, people experience reality according to spiritual relativity, that is, through the quality of their hearts.
Many a parent wonders how good they are at the job. According to the Chief Inspector of Schools, David Bell, many parents fail to impose proper discipline in the home and simply put children in front of the television rather than talk and play with them.
Many studies have described a bad parent as being neglectful or over-controlling. For example, professor Dieter Wolke at the University of Warwick found that such negative parenting is linked to a moderate increase in the risk of being a bully and a small increase in the risk of being a victim of bullying.
None of this may be true for your children. Nevertheless, perhaps as a parent with a conscience you fear you are not giving them enough of your time, or haven’t found the right way to balance being both warm and firm with them in a consistent way. Here are some questions that can help you assess just how good you are in the role of mother or father.
Are you too scared to let them do their own thing?
There is probably a natural urge for any parent to want to jump in to protect the child at the slightest hint of danger. Pamela Druckerman, an American mother living in Paris, said that her heart would regularly jump when walking around her neighbourhood because a French parent often lets small kids race ahead of them on the pavement. They trust their children will stop at the corner and wait for them. “ Watching this is particularly terrifying when the kids are on scooters.”
It is hard to get right when to allow children to learn from their mistakes. Too lax, and you might have a serious injury or worse on your hands. But too protective and your child never experiences sufficient sense of autonomy and does not learn to be street-wise with the self-confidence that goes along with this. The key I feel is self-reflection. What is your inner attitude? Do you construct worst-case parent scenarios or are you able to calmly assess the realistic risks?
Do you get too angry about their failures?
It is surely only natural to feel disappointed from time to time with children’s conduct and performance. Feeling cross for any parent is understandable when we see them being naughty. However, does this anger last? Are we furious when they do poorly on the playing field, or at school tests? For example the aggression and foul-mouthed behaviour of some fathers watching their sons play football. I would argue that such anger expresses an attitude that the children are there to fulfil the parents own frustrated ambitions. Something similar can be heard in the conversation between mothers who politely vie with each other to boast about their own children’s accomplishments.
Do you resent the inconveniences they cause you?
Baby’s cry loudly if uncomfortable and hungry and mothers quickly respond with selfless affection making things better. However, as they get older children also make their demands. And often for their own good they will need you to drop what you are doing to talk with them. How willing are you to spend time with your child doing an activity he or she enjoys even when you are tired or want some time to yourself? It is often personally inconvenient to have to attend to someone else rather than what had been occupying you.
Have you the patience to try to understand how they feel
Focusing on what children are saying and doing is necessary if a parent is to show empathy whilst firmly defining boundaries around right and wrong. If you treat your children with understanding then they will likely treat others the same way. Only your patient communication can help them gain appreciation of what is deeply important and learn to deal with their negative emotions in the context of your loving concern. But trying to talk with kids along such lines may mean a great mental effort and can be emotionally taxing.
Is it too painful for you to let them fly the nest?
A parent who clings to older offspring, failing to provide the slight nudge when it is needed for them to start to live away from the parental home, is doing them no favours. Such a parent seems not to realise that it isn’t about releasing kids into the wild and abandoning them. It is just recognising that a young person is someone in his or her own right, — a separate being with their own life style choices, need for privacy and individual ambition and thus the need to live their own life.
Do you envy them?
Carol Ryff, a psychologist at University of Winsconin found that parents, who thought their kids were better-adjusted than they themselves had been in their twenties, weren’t all that pleased. In fact, thinking their kids were faring better than they had made them downright grumpy. Grown children may evoke envy in some parents and the sense of missed opportunities.
The spiritually-minded or materially-minded parent
According to one point of view, parents who are inwardly self-centred and materialistically minded are more likely to be negative parents. Emanuel Swedenborg wrote that these parents — who he termed ‘naturally-minded’ — feel affection for their small children “kissing and embracing them, carrying them and hugging them to their breasts and make a quite excessive fuss of them.” However, with the growth into adolescence these same parents :
“Pay little or hardly any attention to their inward affections, …but only to the outward features which they find attractive. It is to these their love is attached, fixed and clings. This makes them also close their eyes to their faults, making excuses for these and favouring them. The reason is that in their case the love of their offspring is also a love of themselves” (Emanuel Swedenborg CL 4645)
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems