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Although all newborn babies look remarkably similar in a wrinkled, reddish sort of way, each child is a unique and fascinatingly complex individual. Each child possesses a physical, emotional and intellectual inheritance from both its parents. Scientists can now trace back the patterns of our genetic inheritance almost into the mists of time and are constantly discovering different ways in which this inheritance impacts not only on our physical characteristics but also on our personality and its growth. But not only do we have a natural inheritance we also have a spiritual inheritance, latent potentialities towards self-centredness, that can ultimately lead us to live contrary to the wish of our loving Creator.

The physical birth and nurturing process in a newly born child reflects and parallels the process of regeneration in a mature adult. Just as the creation of an adult from a baby is a lengthy process so is the creation of a spiritually reborn adult a lifelong process. We are all, like small children, essentially self centred, and just as a young child has to become aware that he/she is not the centre of the universe and that others have needs, so we too need to be aware that spiritually speaking God should be at the centre of our life and love and that humanity should take precedence over ourselves.

Our environment affects our physical and intellectual growth in the natural world and adds its layers to our basic personality. Our parents, our family, our friends, our religious upbringing, our education all contribute to the making of the adult from the child. It may seem that some individuals may have unfair advantages over others, but God always seeks to provide a person with a basic store of loving experiences at some stage in the early years of his/ her early natural life and provides unseen spiritual opportunities for an individual to follow the right pathway. Emanuel Swedenborg refers to this ‘store of loving experiences’ using the term remains as in this quotation from Arcana Caelestia:

Remains are all things of innocence, all those of charity, all those of mercy, and all those of the truth of faith, which a person has acquired from God and learned since early childhood. Every single one of them lies stored away. And if a person did not acquire them, no innocence, charity, or mercy could possibly be present in his thinking and actions, and so no good and truth at all could be present.

A young child needs to know that he/she is loved and cherished and in the same way we need to know that we too are loved unconditionally by our Heavenly Father who seeks always what is best for us. Just as a child needs to be fed, a human being also needs to be fed spiritually. We are fed spiritually by the teachings given to us in the Word of God, by the good examples that other people set us and by the myriad everyday experiences that help to develop our attitudes and our characters. This spiritual learning is vital for our inner development and growth.

As a child grows it acquires knowledge at an amazing rate. The understanding of the knowledge that is acquired usually comes much later. For example we may know that you divide two fractions by turning the second one upside down and multiplying but a true understanding of the reasons why may not come until much later. In the same way in our regeneration, as we read and learn about God and his purposes, a fuller understanding and perhaps most importantly an affection or love for that wisdom develops. This takes a lifetime to acquire, not just in this world but to eternity.


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Child rearing – What spiritual practice helps?

Children and grandchildren can provide your child rearing with wonderful moments. Their spontaneity and sense of fun can brighten your day. But almost out of the blue all hell can break loose and they can be a real pain testing your limits and boundaries. child rearingWhat they want can be different from what you want. They seem to be noisier, more untidy and more demanding than ever you expected. A spiritual practice is needed for difficult child rearing.

Responding as a good carer can be a real struggle, particularly when you feel stressed and tired. What psycho-spiritual ideas can help? The professionals talk about empathy, consistency, and unconditional love in child rearing. But how do you find these within yourself when you are feeling challenged?

Deeper aspects of child rearing

I would like to suggest the answer is that understanding and acceptance come from focusing the mind on deeper aspects of the interaction with the child; more than on just how you are feeling at the time and more than what you are immediately aware of that is going on.

This deeper watchfulness is a form of spiritual discipline: staying in the moment, and being alert to deeper issues, rather than mindlessly jumping to judgment or being attached to what you hope for. Experience shows illuminating insights can emerge as one stills the mind.

Some challenges of child rearing

When the baby is crying non-stop it might be caused by a wet nappy, or hunger, or perhaps due to an uncomfortable position, or teething pain or maybe it is a sign of illness.  If whatever you do doesn’t seem to work and the problem keeps recurring most days you might be feeling fraught and think something like ‘This is a wilful attempt to control me’ or ‘It’s an emotional cry for help’ or ‘This baby has too low a level of tolerance of discomfort’.

Whatever you happen to think colours your feelings and actions. The danger is you become unduly upset and this will affect the trust the infant has in you.

Jumping to conclusions during child rearing

It will probably take an effort to reserve judgment, to remember that the cause of the crying might be different on separate occasions. To become alert to such possibilities often means staying in the moment and focusing on the problem rather than jumping to conclusions.

Likewise how do we see it when a school age child is having a tantrum of shouting, hitting, and spitting at you? As a sign of a psychiatric condition? An evil disposition? A spoilt brat who requires harsh punishment? When caught up in the feelings of the situation it can be hard to see other possibilities.

Not rushing to judgment would mean you calmly dealing with the immediate crisis and only later trying to explore whatever had been going on. The child is not in thinking mode just yet. Filled up with anger he or she isn’t ready to be reasoned with. That can come later.

Reflection during child rearing

I hear you thinking ‘It’s all very well saying don’t jump to conclusions, but how do I do that?’ One suggestion is that you try to consciously reflect on what you are saying to yourself.  Question what it is you are assuming, what you are expecting to happen and what belief is being aroused by the situation?

Admittedly this requires some effort but once thoughtful consideration becomes something you are used to doing then it becomes easier to put one’s emotions on one side and instead gain some insights into what might be going on. This accords with the old idea of counting to ten and taking a step back before reacting. Like all spiritual practice this requires self-discipline.

Unfair expectations during child rearing

One common assumption is that the child will conform to one’s hopes and aspirations: for example be sensitive, hardworking, or athletic. Such beliefs are unfair as children come with their own characteristics and dispositions and cannot be molded against their will to fit in with adult expectations. By being attached to certain future outcomes there is a danger of mindlessly denying the child a sense of individual uniqueness.

Acceptance in child rearing

One thing that can enhance a relationship is when adults make room for children accepting each of them as they are, for example being prepared to negotiate and compromise.

Accepting a child’s warts and all as a person in his or her own right doesn’t mean encouraging any socially unacceptable behaviour but rather acknowledging that, like the rest of us, he or she has certain negative as well as positive tendencies. I would suggest it means looking for opportunities to encourage and support new behaviours.

Giving care to children is one of the most important and challenging of all jobs yet people often expect to be able to do it without any help. For those people, who have the time and resources, help can be gained from a mindfulness meditation retreat coupled with daily practice. Alternatively, no money is needed to set aside a little time by yourself each day to deeply reflect on the challenges of a child’s behaviour.

You may think that it is only natural to feel unconditional love and selfless concern for children but no one has limitless amounts of patience and self-restraint. We all need some rest to restore our inner resources and find the concentration and forbearance required to focus our attention on somebody else’s needs.

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

A Little Child Shall Lead Them

Sermon: A Little Child Shall Lead Them

UPDATE: Sermon audio available here.

I preached this sermon on November 28, 2010 at the Olivet New Church in Toronto.


A Sermon by Rev. Coleman S. Glenn

The season leading up to Christmas can be a busy time – students, parents, and teachers trying to fit in all the Christmas activities on the calendar, everyone trying to find time to get some shopping done, to clean the house, to prepare for guests or to prepare to travel, decorations to put up… the list goes on.  And yet, despite all this busy-ness, Christmas is also a time of peace.  It can be a time of great joy – a time when family and friends can get together and celebrate the Lord’s coming.  There are carols that touch our hearts.  There’s the joy we get when we see the wonder on a child’s face as they open a new gift.  There’s the innocent reverence that young and old share as they listen to the story of the Lord’s birth.

Innocence and peace.  These two things are at the heart of the Christmas story and the Christmas spirit – and they’re at the heart of heaven.

Innocence and peace.  The book Heaven and Hell, revealed to Emanuel Swedenborg by the Lord, says, “There are two inmost things of heaven, namely, innocence and peace.  These are said to be the inmost things because they proceed directly from the Lord.”  The passage we read earlier from Heaven and Hell says that true peace is impossible without innocence, that innocence is what brings about peace.

This brings us to the prophecy that we read this morning, from the prophet Isaiah.  It is a prophecy of the Lord’s coming, and the change in the world that would take place.  It describes a state of innocence – and because of the innocence, protection and peace:

And the wolf shall sojourn with the lamb; and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.  And the cow and the bear shall pasture; together shall their young ones lie down; and the lion shall eat straw like the cattle. And the nursing child shall play upon the hole of the adder; and upon the den of the basilisk shall the weaned child thrust his hand. (Isaiah 11:6-8)

Notice all the references to children and young animals in this passage: the lamb, the kid, the calf; a little child, a nursing child, a weaned child.  All of these are pictures of innocence, because children embody a kind of innocence.  Now, the innocence of children is not true innocence – but it is an image of it, and the innocence you feel as a child actually becomes the external plane for true innocence in later years.

While that innocence of children is not yet genuine innocence, Heaven and Hell says, “One may learn from it what innocence is.  For it shines forth from the faces of children and from some of their movements and from their earliest speech, and affects those about them” (HH 277).  That indescribable feeling that young babies inspire in us gives us a taste of innocence.

The best way to understand innocence is to see how it shows up in children.  That passage from Heaven and Hell goes on to point out that because little children are unable to think from themselves, they cannot have evil intentions.  We read also,

They do not attribute anything to themselves, regarding all as received from their parents. They are content with the few insignificant things presented to them, and delight in them. They have no anxiety about food and clothing, and none about the future. They do not look to the world and covet many things from it. They love their parents and nurses and their child companions with whom they play in innocence. They suffer themselves to be led, they give heed and obey. (HH 272)

We know, of course, that this seems to paint too rosy a picture of childhood – but there is truth in the description.  We DO see states where children are playing together, or listening to their parents and caretakers with cheerful obedience, and those things inspire us with feelings of warmth and love.  And even when they are misbehaving, young children do so from innocence, not from hatred or evil intention, and so we love them even then.

Heaven and Hell goes on to describe the innocence of the angels in heaven, which is no longer an innocence of ignorance, but an innocence of wisdom.  Just as little children do not attribute anything to themselves and attribute all to their parents, angels attribute nothing to themselves and everything to the Lord.  Just as little children take delight in whatever little things are given to them as gifts, the angels live contented with whatever they have, “because they know that they receive just as much as is good for them” (Heaven and Hell n. 278) They love nothing more than being led by the Lord.  This is the innocence of wisdom – a willingness to be led by the Lord.

Innocence brings about peace, because genuine innocence protects a person from harm.  To some extent, we see this protection in the innocence of little children.  A little child can hear a horrendous story, with violence and death, and have it go right over their head.  The Lord protects them.  In the same way, the innocence of wisdom protects a person from evil.  This is what our prophecy for today is foretelling.  The lamb, the kid, and the calf are all pictures of innocence.  Specifically, they’re pictures of the different levels of innocence as they exist in the heavens – the calf a picture of innocence in the lowest or natural heaven, the kid a picture of innocence in the middle heaven, and the lamb a picture of the innocence of the angels of the highest heaven, where they are the most innocent of all.

And all of these creatures are said to be able to lie down or dwell with savage beasts.  Those savage beasts represent the falsities and evils that want to destroy innocence and charity.  Even the creature presented as the most sinister in the Word, the serpent, cannot do harm: “And the nursing child shall play upon the hole of the adder; and upon the den of the basilisk shall the weaned child thrust his hand.”  These deadly snakes represent the poison of deceit and lying.  Innocence shows itself in the guileless honesty of a young child.  The serpent, our oldest enemy, hates honesty and lives in lies.  It tells us that openness and honesty is weakness.  It tells us that we’ve lost our innocence, and we won’t get it back.  It tells us that innocence is for a different kind of person, not for people like us.  It tells us that the innocence we felt as children was simply blindness, ignorance of the way the world really works. It tells us we have give up on childhood ideals – the possibility of true love and goodness – and learn that real pleasure comes from gratifying our senses.  We’re naturally inclined to listen to the voice of the snake – its words are described in the Writings as sweet-tasting poison.

But those who are in innocence can’t be hurt by the ferocious animals or by the poisonous snakes.  If we innocently trust the Lord, we see the lies for what they are.

But of course this is easier said than done.  The image of the prophecy – of the lamb and the wolf lying together – is one of gentleness, but before it there is an image of war.  The coming Messiah is described as a powerful voice, standing up strong in defense of the meek, judging the poor with justice.  The prophecy in Isaiah says, “With justice shall He judge the poor, and with equity shall He plead for the meek of the earth; and He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the wind of His lips shall He put the wicked to death.”  It’s an image of the Lord as a strong and mighty defender of the meek and the poor, His words destroying the wicked – although the truth is that the Lord destroys no one, and the evil destroy themselves.

We need to take that same stand, as a parent defending a child, in defense of the innocence within ourselves and others.  We need to take the same kind of stand against the evils and falsities we see in ourselves that want to destroy innocence.  The rod of the Lord’s mouth is the truth from the letter of His Word.  You shall not murder.  You shall not steal.  You shall love your neighbour as yourself.  To the evil in ourselves, these commandments are harsh and painful – they’re words of destruction.   In our lower selves we don’t want to hear them.  We have to fight against that lower self, to stand up in defense of innocence, to stand up in defense of following the Lord with childlike hearts.  When we take that strong stand against our own evil desires, it is really the Lord taking that stand within us, defending our innocence.  “With justice shall He judge the poor, and with equity shall He plead for the meek of the earth”

It is this battle against hell that prepares the way for innocence.  We often think of the Lord as a shepherd, and this prophecy describes Him in a similar way.  The prophet says, “A little child shall lead them” – and that little child is the Lord.  We think of the story of David as a shepherd, a young boy leading his flock.  That image is one of innocence – but at the same time, it’s an image of strength and power.  David had slain bears and other wild beasts who had come to attack his sheep.  The rod that would come out of the Messiah’s mouth meant that His words would defend His flock.  We know the words of the 23rd Psalm – “Your rod and your staff they comfort me.”  The rod and staff are a comfort to the innocence within is us, but they are terrible to the parts of us that want to dominate over others or to have everything for ourselves.

This image of the Messiah, then, shows us the Messiah as a shepherd boy – powerful to defend, but meek and mild with His sheep – a child.  Most of us are familiar with the words of another prophecy, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6).  The coming Messiah would come as a child.  And the reason for this is that He is the source of innocence – He is innocence itself.  Our prophecy from Isaiah says that this prophecy would be brought about because people would know the Lord.  It says, “They shall not do evil, nor destroy, in all the mountain of My holiness; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea.”  This state of innocence can only come about when people have the source of innocence in their hearts.

How is the Lord innocence itself?  When the Lord was in the world, He embodied that willingness to be led.  Now, He was God Himself in His soul, and so it seems strange to say that He followed Himself.  But at His birth the lower levels of His mind were not yet Divine – and so He still had to choose to follow the Divine that was within Himself.  That Divine within Himself, which He called the Father, was infinite Divine love – and the Lord is true innocence because He always chose, and always chooses, to be led by Divine love.  He was willing to be vulnerable and humble.  He was willing to be born as a helpless infant and be laid in a manger, to grow up as a young child.  We never lose the states of innocence we go through – if we become innocent in old age, that innocence has the innocence of childhood as its foundation – we experience those childhood states again, but now infilled with wisdom.  And so the Lord’s Humanity, which is now Divine, contains not only His states as an adult, in His ministry, but also the states of His infancy.  When we are trying to picture who the Lord is, those images of Him as an infant are as much of Him as any other.  And they may be the best way to experience the innocence of the Lord, so that we may know Him, in fulfillment of the prophecy.

And we do have a chance to fulfill this prophecy.  People in the Jewish religion are still awaiting the Messiah’s first coming – and anticipating that he will usher in this new state of peace on earth.  Christians believe that the Lord will make His second coming when this state has been fulfilled, or they believe that this state will be fulfilled AFTER His second coming.

In the New Church, we believe that the Lord did begin to fulfill this prophecy at His first coming.  He said that of those who would believe in Him, “they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them” (Mark 16:17-18).  In the early days of the Christian church, when they lived in harmony and brotherhood, the Lord’s followers begin to establish this world of innocence.  And wherever people in any time have dwelt in charity and innocence, looking to the Lord, this prophecy has come closer to fulfillment.  It is a prophecy of the Lord’s kingdom, and the Lord’s kingdom exists on earth as well as in heaven.

But this prophecy has yet to be completely fulfilled.  The book True Christian Religion, the last book published by Swedenborg, says, “It is well known that such things [as are described in this prophecy] have not yet taken place in the churches” (TCR 789)  According to that book, this is a prophecy that will be fulfilled by the New Church.  Why?  Because those who are truly in the New Church – not the organization, but who are aligned with the New Christian Heaven – will have knowledge of the Lord.

We have the opportunity to know the Lord in a way that no one else has before in history.  Not just in our minds, but in our hearts.  This is because we know that Jesus Christ is the one and only God, that He is a visible God in whom is the invisible.  Christians believe that Jesus Christ is God – but most believe that He is one person in a three-person Trinity.  When they pray, they often look past Jesus to “God the Father,” praying to God the Father but closing with the words, “in Jesus’ name.”

But in the writings for New Chuch, God has revealed that He is one in Person and in Essence.  And so that baby born in Bethlehem, in His soul, is wholly and completely God.  That little child who grew up to fulfill all the prophecies of the Messiah, put off everything that came from Mary, and became fully Divine and fully Human.  There is no angry, vengeful Father who seeks appeasement – the innocent Good Shepherd is the one and only God.

This prophecy from Isaiah tells us that it will be God Himself who comes.  The prophecy begins, “And there shall come out a Rod from the trunk of Jesse; and a Shoot from his roots shall become fruitful.”  The Messiah would come from the line of Jesse, the father of King David – and through His adopted father Joseph, Jesus did come from the line of Jesse.  But the Messiah would not only be a branch from Jesse – He would be the root itself, the source, as well.  In the final verse of our reading, we read, “And it shall be in that day, that the Root of Jesse shall stand for a standard to the peoples; to Him shall the nations inquire; and His rest shall be glory.”  Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58).  And in the book of Revelation, He declares, “I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16).

We have the opportunity to make this prophecy a reality.  Are we doing that?  Are we doing everything we can to bring about innocence in our interactions with others?  Are we allowing the Lord to write His law on hearts?  What are we doing to bring about the Lord’s coming?

The Lord makes His coming whenever people turn to Him as the source of innocence and life.  He came as an innocent child – and He makes His second coming when we come to know Him more deeply in the internal sense of the Word – a knowledge not just in our minds, but in our hearts.  “And it shall be in that day, that the Root of Jesse shall stand for a standard to the peoples; to Him shall the nations inquire; and His rest shall be glory.”


Lessons: Isaiah 11:1-10; Mark 10:13-16; HH 288.

HH 288. [2] But peace in the heavens differs in quality and quantity in agreement with the innocence of those who are there; since innocence and peace walk hand in hand; for every good of heaven, as said above, is from innocence, and every delight of that good is from peace. Evidently, then, the same that has been said in the foregoing chapter about the state of innocence in the heavens may be said here of the state of peace there, since innocence and peace are conjoined like good and its delight; for good is felt in its delight, and delight is known from its good. This being so, it is evident that angels of the inmost or third heaven are in the third or inmost degree of peace, because they are in the third or inmost degree of innocence; and that angels of the lower heavens are in a less degree of peace, because they are in a less degree of innocence (see above n. 280).

[3] That innocence and peace go together like good and its delight can be seen in little children, who are in peace because they are in innocence, and because they are in peace are in their whole nature full of play. Yet the peace of little children is external peace; while internal peace, like internal innocence, is possible only in wisdom, and for this reason only in the conjunction of good and truth, since wisdom is from that conjunction. Heavenly or angelic peace is also possible in men who are in wisdom from the conjunction of good and truth, and who in consequence have a sense of content in God; nevertheless, while they live in the world this peace lies hidden in their interiors, but it is revealed when they leave the body and enter heaven, for their interiors are then opened.

Coleman’s Blog | The thoughts and reflections of a New Church (Swedenborgian) minister