spiritual questions and answers
discovering Inner Health and transformation
spiritual questions and answers
discovering Inner Health and transformation
My daughter Bridget died 21 months old. She had never walked or crawled but could sit propped up. She couldn’t see. She was born three months premature, the first of twins. Her brother was stillborn.
She was a much-loved sister to my three grown-up stepsons. She gave so much joy in her short life.
After the shock of her death one of my first thoughts was that now she would be able to walk and skip and run and move about like other children – and see! She would be able to see other children and play with them.
What a surprise it must have been to her to ‘wake up’ and see people. What a strange experience for her, never having seen anyone before. I wonder if an angel mother held her while she moved from our world to the next. She had been used to the sense of touch, of being held, and that would be comforting. Seeing would be a strange new dimension in a whole new world.
That she could run and see I had no doubt. Her frailties of this life belonged here. She had, so to speak, emerged from her frail body like a butterfly from a chrysalis, leaving behind all the infirmities associated with it. This was the image I had of her – a young child running and skipping and seeing. A loss to us, but such a gain for her – wholeness in body and health.
She had hydrocephalus and was in hospital because of a blocked shunt preventing the water draining from her brain. My last real memory is of holding her in my arms in the ambulance as she was transferred from the local to the specialist hospital.
Bridget was in hospital. I was at home when she died. I wasn’t there with her.
I can imagine her being held by an angel mother as she left this life; just held in the comfort of those strong, loving arms for as long as it took to be ready to ‘waken up’ in her new life.
She would be bathed and clothed and fed by her angel mother and cared for in her home. The body she now has is in every way like the physical body she had in this world except that it is of spiritual substance, not material. She has a head, body and limbs, eyes, ears, nose and mouth and senses.
I wonder if her angel mother held her hands while she took her first steps. Did she crawl first of all, trying out her new-found strength in her arms and legs, and pull herself to her feet? What an adventure! What a brave new world opened up to her!
I wonder how many other children her new mother had? How many new brothers and sisters for Bridget to play and grow up with? For grow up she would eventually. She would grow and develop in her new home with her new family.
Initially resting in their loving sphere and tender care she would come to know them and they to know her. Her mother would know her needs. All in the next life are aware of each other’s thoughts and feelings. Nothing is hidden. They are who they are. No dissembling.
As Bridget got used to the new strength in her body, what freedom she would find moving about, exploring! Before, she had only been able to be where she was placed, unable to move around. I imagine there would be lovely gardens to play in, water to splash about in, sand and clay to build and mould.
I’m sure she would learn by imbibing things from others and doing as they did. She would learn to speak the soft-sounding language of heaven and watch dramatic presentations – a great way of learning.
In her young innocence she would grow up nourished by the love of those around her. She would gain knowledge and understanding, learning that, all she has, is given her by her Heavenly Father. She has no good of her own but receives it as she learns to live a useful life loving her Heavenly Father and her brothers and sisters – all God’s children. She will grow in wisdom.
She will be ‘naughty’ like all children, going her own way until she feels the sadness this causes others.
I wonder if she has a partner, a husband? She would have been 33 years old by now – no longer my little Bridget! I shall have to think of her now as a wise and loving angel!
Is she caring for other children newly-arrived from this world? IS she teaching them as they grow up? She won’t have the joy of children of her own but she will have the joy of sharing her happiness, innocence and love – these will be her children.
How I look forward to being with her again one day!
“All children, no matter where they are born, within the Church or outside it, of devout parents or otherwise, are received by the Lord when they die and educated in heaven.” (Swedenborg, Heaven and Hell section 329)
Copyright 2012 Mary E Duckworth
Posted on29th August 2012
“Smile, God loves you” is an easy thing to say but if God loves us why does he allow us to suffer? How can we reconcile a God of Love with our everyday experience of the world in which we live?
To try and get some idea of how God loves us we could start by thinking about parents and their children. It is a very human thing for parents to try to love their children equally whatever their different characters and abilities and to seek the best for them as individuals whatever happens. Now parenthood is tough and however idealistically parents approach the bringing up of their children it is often the case that one child will think that mother or father loves their sister or brother more than them. And yet that is not what the parents really want or strive to achieve. And if children grow up and go in very different directions to those envisaged by their parents, truly loving parents will continue to love their children just the same.
Now God loves his children, you, me and everyone else, not with the imperfect love which we express in our lives, that has limits and conditions, but with an unconditional love that has no limits and no boundaries and is shared equally with all. And it is the nature of God’s love that it is given with the freedom for us to accept it, reject it or misuse it – there are no conditions in which God’s love is not given – it is unconditional.
In our human relationships we know how wonderful it is if our love for someone else is freely returned – not because they have to love us but because they want to love us. Paradoxically the more freedom we give to those whom we love the greater and stronger is the love that is returned. Force someone to love you and no real mutual love develops. Now offering to love someone and leaving them the freedom to respond or not is a high risk and potentially painful strategy – as most people find out at some stage in their lives when love is not returned.
And this, in a very human and finite way, is an image and likeness of how God loves us. He offers us love and gives us the freedom to say yes or no. God knows that if we return his love then a deep relationship can develop but if we are unable to respond to his love then he feels pain for what might have been.
One of the hardest things a parent has to do is to let their child make mistakes – despite realising the probable pain and suffering that will ensue. Children have to grow and develop and make their own way in the world and not feel they are being manipulated or directed by their parents. They will make the right decisions and the wrong decisions and yet the loving parent has to stand back and not intervene. They just offer advice to their child as to what they should do and then leave their child the freedom to make up their own mind.
And this is how God’s love works with us. God wants us to be happy and to be fulfilled. He wants us to respond to his love in freedom and he shows us how we should live. But because God values our freedom above all else he cannot intervene when he sees things going wrong. If he intervened in the greatest disasters that beset mankind surely he would also have to intervene in even the smallest personal problems in life and then where would we be – we would be like puppets being controlled by God in the play of life.
Bad things happen. God does not want them to happen. But God cannot intervene because of the freedom he gives us to choose to respond or not to his unconditional love. This is the nature of the God who loves you. God loves everyone equally but what we receive of his love depends on our openness to his love and our acknowledgement that all love comes from God. If we respond to his love we can feel loved, free and forgiven and we will then want to share God’s love with those around us.
The love of God is broad like beech and meadow,
wide as the wind, and an eternal home.
God leaves us free to seek him or reject him,
he gives us room to answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’
There are three things which make up the essence of God’s love – loving others more than oneself, wishing to be one with them, and devoting oneself to their happiness.
It should be known that God is constantly present, continually striving and acting on a person, and touching his free will but never forcing it. For if God were to force a person’s free will, his dwelling in God would be destroyed, and he would be left only with God’s dwelling in him.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Posted on15th May 2013
Discovering inner health and transformation
Stella is known as a winner of BBC tv’s The Apprentice
Her childhood was a painful one. “It was quite a lonely hard time for me.” Her father had abandoned her at a young age, leaving her mother Drusilla unable to care for her due to psychological ill-health. It wasn’t deliberate neglect. Her mother couldn’t look after herself let alone a daughter.
Stella was able to do more or less what she wanted and she didn’t know right from wrong. She says she didn’t go to school much because of being bullied there due to her appearance.
She also spent time in children’s care homes and was taken in by her great aunt, Mrs Brockman, (also called Stella) who raised her in loco parentis. However she missed her real mother and moved back with her when aged 14 – only to find her lifestyle was more chaotic. At 15 she was living alone in a run-down bedsit.
Thamesmead a place Stella once called home. It is a social housing development built in the 1960s on former marshland with a population of some 50,000 people. It has graffiti-lined avenues known for their high crime levels and grey concrete buildings.
It has had the worst record for credit card fraud of any postal address in the country. In the 1990’s teenage gangs intimitated people on the streets. The area was then known to be associated with poverty, gang violence and race wars. There were racially motivated murders although these days there is better racial co-existence in sharp contrast with the not so distant past.
Stella mixed with some hard people, is street-wise and knows how to look after herself. She drank in one of London’s roughest pubs, The Wildflower, in the heart of Thamesmead where gangs with knives and clubs would fight after hours.
Stella however has made something of her life. She studied a one-year business course before adding City firms such as Merrill Lynch, Nomura and Daiwa Securities to her CV.
She won the prestigious BBC business Apprentice contest. She lives in St Albans with her partner and 2 sons.
Stella has bettered herself. If she can do it, anyone can. As she says ‘You are in charge of your own destiny’. She has shown a lot of determination.
Stella was cared for by great-aunt then aged 72. Stella says ‘Her fostering me was life-changing. “She was very strict. I went from having no rules – or if there were any, ignoring them – to having lots of rules”. “She made me do 3 hours of homework a night.”
Stella now wants to help find foster homes for the thousands of youngsters in the care
system. A report to mark the start of Barnardo’s Fostering and Adoption week now reveals at least 8,750 new foster families are urgently needed.
Posted on11th January 2012
Discovering inner health and transformation
Traditionally, the father has been the bread-winner for the family. These days, however, many women have well-paid jobs in the professions and business. The two sexes are said to be equal, and the ‘new man’ as a father is supposed to reduce his time at work so as to be as actively involved as the mother – not just in domestic chores – but also in time spent with the children, and in thinking about their health and schooling.
However in doing more of what mothers have traditionally done, some men are beginning to wonder if there is any unique role for a father that can be valued. As the mother goes out to work, the father is no longer the sole or sometimes even main family bread-winner.
A lead article in the Journal of Marriage and Family concludes “The gender of parents only matters in ways that don’t matter.” This assumes there is nothing that a father brings to the table of parenting that is not easily replicated by the mother. Is a father then not distinctly needed other than as an additional parent?
In fish, reptiles and in many species of mammals, there is seen little or no paternal role in caring for offspring. It is the females who must do all the work of caring for the young. For example a male bear leaves the female shortly after mating and will kill and sometimes eat any bear cub he comes across, even if the cub is his. Bear mothers spend much of their cubs’ early life protecting them from males. Domesticated dogs are not monogamous with their mates and show little interest in their pups.
On the other hand there are some animals where the fathers take a paternal caring role with their young. A male wolf helps feed, protect, and play with his pups and is the one who does most of the hunting for the young when the mother is securing the newborn pups. Most male waterfowl are very protective in raising their offspring, sharing scout duties with the female. Examples are geese, swans and gulls and a few species of duck. When the families of most of these waterfowls travel, they usually go in a line and the fathers are usually the ones guarding the offspring at the end of the line while the mothers lead the way.
In animal studies, whether the parents are monogamous seems to be a crucial factor in the involvement of the adult male in the young.
In humans, from the child’s conception, the mother is the parent who nourishes the baby and forms the primary attachment which is continued as the infant grows and experiences her affectionate nurturing care. And so she is likely to be the major caregiver of the children, even if she herself is employed to a larger or smaller extent in the labour force. According to spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, the love of children directly affects women because of the linkage of a deeper monogamous affection he called conjugial love with the female sex.
In recent years social science studies have been showing the benefits on children of healthy father-child relationships for example higher self-esteem, increased curiosity, greater empathy.
Why should this be the case? Is it because two parents are better than one? Or is it because each sex has something special to offer to child raising?
The mother is usually more affectionate and closer to children whereas the father tends to be more emotionally distant. Some men will drift and muddle through their home life, others make every effort to be a thoughtful and loving parent giving time for play, and keeping an eye on the child’s well being.
For Swedenborg the male mind is more prone to understanding and the female to feeling and thus a father has a tendency to see things from a broader perspective. If there is something in this, then in so far as a father is interested in his children’s welfare, can he not offer a distinctive good sense? For example as a result of his male approach to life children may be more interested about the world around them and develop greater problem solving skills.
A father’s influence on the children may be indirect as often the mother has more contact with them. Nevertheless her loving care and way of dealing with the child may possibly be influenced after discussing common concerns with her partner and getting his views on wider issues.
Does a good father not also combine with his partner to contribute to the caring and moral atmosphere in the home? If so he is likely to want to explore and share good ideas of relevance to the child’s developing understanding. Arguably, in the fatherly role, a man can be instrumental in fostering ethical principles and ideas about the meaning of life that remain unconscious within the child as he or she developments into adulthood.
Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Posted on8th October 2014
Our early impressions of God are strongly intertwined with our early impressions of our parents. After all, when we are young children, our parents are the ones who clothe us, feed us, teach us, and sustain us—they act in some ways as surrogates for God. It’s no surprise that so many religious traditions, including Christianity, refer to God as a divine parent.
If it’s true that our ideas about parenthood shape our ideas about God, it’s also true that our understanding of God shapes how we raise our children. If we think of God as stern and dictatorial, we’re likely to be stern and dictatorial as parents. If we think of God as gentle and warm, we’re likely to act gently and warmly as parents (or at least try to!).
The Swedenborgian understanding of God comes from reading the Bible with the firm conviction that God is love and that Jesus is God. The picture of God that emerges in this reading is one of a God who loves each and every person in creation, who protects human freedom as the apple of his eye, and who always acts for the eternal welfare of all. Looking at those attributes, we can draw insights into how we might better imitate God in our parenting.
Here are three ideas that have been particularly valuable to me as a father of two young kids:
There are passages in the Bible that explicitly suggest acting in imitation of God. Several of them have to do with loving as God loves. This means loving not only ourselves, our own families, or people who agree with us, but loving even our enemies:
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:44–45)
What does this mean for parenting? Because we know our children’s hearts, we can be tempted to assume that in any conflict, they are in the right. But if we’re called to love as God loves, then we’re called to extend love to other people as much as we extend love to our own kids. Obviously, we will feel a stronger affection for our own children, but we are called to act as lovingly even toward strangers and those who seem to be our enemies.
This doesn’t mean we have to choose between loving our children with all our hearts and loving everyone else. One of my favorite Swedenborgian concepts is that in the long run, caring for an individual and caring for the good of all make for one and the same thing. For example, if we teach a child to care for the less privileged, we’re serving the less privileged and our child by creating the foundation for a life—an eternal life!—of joyful service. It’s not an either/or situation, so it’s a useful exercise to ask in any situation whether there is a course of action that will be best both for our children and for everyone with whom they are interacting.
My personality is such that I find it much easier to just do things myself than to try to help others do them. In some situations, this is a useful trait; in many others, though, it’s a failing. This is particularly true in parenting: it is much easier to pick up after my kids than it is to coax them to pick up after themselves. It is much easier to wrangle over my son’s head whatever shirt I choose than it is to patiently wait while he tries to choose between dinosaurs and robots.
It is significantly harder to offer a child freedom and a sense of self than it is to do everything for them. It takes much more work, but I remind myself often that the work is worth it. We do have to set limits, of course. But within those limits, it is vital that children be free to make choices and to have a sense that they are acting from themselves.
The book Divine Providence expresses just how much the Lord cares about human freedom. One of the Lord’s greatest gifts to us is heavenly freedom: the sense that we act from ourselves and that from this we have the ability to act with free will. According to Swedenborg:
The Lord protects our freedom the way we protect the pupil of our eye. The Lord . . . is constantly using our freedom to lead us away from our evils, and to the extent that he can do so through our freedom, he uses that freedom to plant good things within us. In this way, step by step he gives us heavenly freedom in place of hellish freedom. (Divine Providence §97)
It’s not easy to watch my kids make choices I don’t want them to make. But I remember that it’s not easy for the Lord to watch me make choices he’d rather I didn’t make—and yet, he keeps giving me the freedom to make those choices. I think it’s important that I offer the same gift to my kids.
I firmly believe that there is no inherent value in punishment—it must always be for a purpose and never simply for payback. The prophet Ezekiel records God as saying, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). If God allows punishment, it is never for its own sake; it is always so that the person may “turn and live”:
People have charity and mercy . . . when they exercise justice and judgment, punishing the evil and rewarding the good. Charity is present in the punishment they inflict, because zeal moves them to reform the wrongdoer and to protect others from the harm such a person might do. In the process they are looking out for the best interests of the wrongdoer, their enemy, and are wishing that person well. At the same time they are looking out for and wishing well to others, and to their country itself. (Secrets of Heaven §2417)
As parents, we are required to instill discipline in our kids. While discipline is much broader than consequences or punishments—involving other such things as establishing routines—it does still have to include these kinds of corrective actions. With all our choices in this area, we need to be asking ourselves the following questions:
So we should keep some things in mind:
There are thousands of different perspectives on exactly the right way to set up discipline. Find what works best for you and your family, but make sure it follows these guidelines: it will work to help the child in the long run, and it will work to keep the child and others safe. Remember the first principle mentioned above: from the eternal perspective, loving our children well and loving our neighbor well make for one and the same thing. This is the perspective of God, who desires what is best for all of his children.
Coleman Glenn is an author and a New Church minister currently working with General Church Outreach in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania.