Asking for help – Is it that difficult?.

asking for helpIs life giving us too many headaches? Or have our circumstances dramatically changed for the worse? We say that we are “fine” and that we are in control. But deep down we know we are not. The first step is to admit to ourselves when we actually do need help. So why not try asking for it? If we do not ask, how can we expect to get any advice or assistance?

Why asking for help can be difficult.

There may be embarrassment discussing a personal matter with someone we know. “I really ought to be able to manage my own life without troubling others with my difficulties.” “What will they think of me if I tell them my problems?”

We may assume we don’t matter enough for anyone to want to bother to do anything for us. “No-one will want to help me.”

Or we might think that no one would understand the problem or that there can be no solution possible. “My life is in far too great a mess to be saved.”

Asking for help is dangerous because actually accepting help is likely to involve our changing something — scary stuff if that sounds uncomfortable. No longer can we pursue easy solutions to the problem like for example engaging in comfort eating or retail therapy.

How to start asking for help 

If we do get round to asking for help, it is first useful to be clear what we think we need. Whether we need advice, encouragement, or practical help, we need to ask for it specifically.

At the same time, it is sensible to be flexible. What someone offers may be unexpected. Therefore, we need to be ready to explore alternatives. People tend to feel uncomfortable about helping the unprepared or the narrow-minded. This means being willing to listen carefully to what they suggest.

Asking who?

I saw a woman walking into a council refuse tip to get rid of a long florescent light tube. She unfortunately tripped over and dropped the tube that exploded in a puff of smoke. It looked and sounded dramatic. Her elderly friend was following on behind and at that moment seeing the prostrate woman and hearing the explosion, she exclaimed `Oh God, God’ and rushed forward. This friend may not have been religious but was she not asking for God’s help without even realising it? Perhaps he did answer her prayer for although she was a bit shocked, the fallen woman got up and dusted herself down. It turned out that she had suffered no injury.

If the help needed is beyond the capability of loved ones or friends, we may decide to ask God for assistance. When desperate, agnostics and even atheists have admitted to trying prayer. After all what had they got to lose?

Of course the religious and unreligious alike are all capable of trying to use God like some Father Christmas figure. We can even try bargaining with him. Give me what I want and I will always do this or that for you.

Motivation behind asking God for help

The psychologist William James reported on a man called David.  This fellow was someone with many problems. His religious worship and pleas for help were in vain. Then it came to him that it was self-interest behind his devotions rather than any respect for the wisdom of God. It was his own happiness and not the will of God that had pre-occupied his heart. He saw he had never done anything for God, only for himself. If we pray only for ourselves how can a God of love for all, hear such prayers?

When praying with a sincere heart it is useful to speak specifically about the issues that we require help with. We could then ask God to give us new purpose, a healthier frame of mind in facing our troubles, or more light on how we can better serve our family and community.

Perhaps praying is something we have rarely done before. So how can one go about this? Like David, we may feel that God is not answering our prayers. True, we may not be hearing a voice answering but I would suggest there will always be a response. Sometimes we may be unaware of an answer because it is not what we have expected. As we try to pray for help we may realise something about our own attitude e.g. like David that it is too orientated towards self rather than any concern for anyone else. Already the prayer is being responded to without our noticing.

If we do ask then we might well get an answer we understand – but this answer may not be what we would have wanted! Actually, many inwardly religious people believe that divine power can spiritually help all people, no matter into what terrible state they have got themselves into.

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

Inferiority – How to heal this feeling?

inferiorityDo you feel lower in status or ability than others? Perhaps you find yourself engaging in self-disparaging self-talk from time to time. ‘I can’t do this as well as them’; ‘I fall behind because I’m basically too slow’; ‘They look down on me because I’m not good enough’. Here we have a sense of inferiority causing doubt and uncertainty, feelings of not measuring up to standards, and a lack of self-worth.

Consequences of feelings of inferiority

As a result, others around you may note that you are the sort of person who seems unsure of yourself often seeking attention and approval, someone who feels inadequate to deal with anything without relying on them for encouragement and reassurance. When these feelings of inferiority really get you down then you have a state of mind that you may inwardly realise needs healing.

Being at risk for a sense of inferiority

To have a sense of inferiority, you don’t have to be a member of an ethnic minority, be poor and out of work, have a physical disability or have a childhood memory of failing to live up to parents expectations, but, if you do have any of these, you may be more at risk.

Perhaps you happen to believe that people who are successful are more important, or that people of a certain race, or state of health are at the top of the list. Maybe your self-criticism has some measure of truth but, even if true, does this make you a lesser mortal than the majority of humanity? An inferior sort of human? Doesn’t everyone have their own weaknesses as well as strengths?

Some healing suggestions

Open yourself to healing by:

1. Catching yourself running yourself down. Instead get into the habit of being fair and reasonable regarding your strengths and weaknesses. What you say to yourself may be unfair if you are exaggerating your negative side.

2. Affirming the idea that no matter how others denigrate you, we all deserve respect and happiness because of unconditional love that is the spiritual source of all things. A good parent loves the disabled child as much as the able-bodied one not because of their abilities but because of their needs.

3. Watching out for manipulators – individuals who seem to like to put you down in subtle ways that are not obvious. Perhaps this can be heard in their tone of voice, sarcastic asides, and focusing on negatives about you without much in the way of any positives. These people want to feel superior and so they try to cause you inferiority feelings. They are practised at knowing how to detect weaknesses and once found, they use someone’s weaknesses against him or her.

4. Remembering a spiritual perspective. I really believe that healing of the spirit will happen if you have a deep desire for living a full life of usefulness unencumbered by self-doubt, and anxiety.

Story

There is a story in the Bible about a loving mother who approaches Christ for help because of her concern for her suffering daughter said to be possessed by demons. The mother is a Canaanite – a nation in the story the Jews despise.

As a woman she is a second class citizen in a culture dominated by men. This was the case two thousand years ago in Palestine and is still the case in some parts of the world now. Considered more like property, she functions more like a servant, and a producer of children than someone to be cherished as a loving companion. She has a husband who by law is allowed to divorce her for any reason. Enough, one might think, to give anyone strong feelings of inferiority.

On top of that she is intimidated by this religious teacher – first ignored, then told to go away, and then suffering his stinging words saying his mission is not for her people’s benefit and that she is nothing better than a dog.

Nevertheless, she is not put off by his inattention and rudeness but shows humility and love in her renewed plea. As a result the story tells us the healing takes place.

In his book 12 Miracles of Spiritual Growth, E. Kent Rogers suggests that if we are possessed by feelings of inferiority, we would be wise like the woman in the story to be persistent in our efforts to find healing and be willing to struggle with God as the source of all healing.

If we are tired of the way our self-depreciation, inhibits our ability to love and connect with others, if we are saddened by the way our self-hatred affects others negatively then we will be empowered to tenaciously petition God for healing until we receive what we want. “(E. Kent Rogers, Swedenborgian writer)

So if you are troubled by a feeling of inferiority why not be persistent in humbly asking for help in private prayer?

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

Resentment – How to feel less of it?

resentmentHow would you feel, if, as part of your job, you had to shake hands with someone who probably ordered the murder of your cousin? A similar situation faced the Queen when she met former IRA commander Martin McGuiness. I would not be surprising is she had felt at least a little resentment.

The meeting was a good thing for the peace process in Northern Ireland where the thirty years of  ‘Troubles’ has cost 3,600 lives. However, McGuiness is reputedly the former IRA commander who authorised the blowing up of Lord Mountbatten in 1979. Did she inwardly feel resentment or did she feel a sense of acceptance? We will probably never know.

Tim Knatchbull,  Mountbatten’s grandson, writes in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, that McGinness and his Siin Féin allies ‘deserve enormous credit’ as a modernising ‘force for good’ in recent years.

Overcoming resentment when remorse is shown

Usually it is easier to let bygones be bygones when the person who has done you wrong shows real remorse. But how often does this actually happen? According to Max Hastings in the Daily mail newspaper, McGuiness has never made the smallest
admission of contrition for all the atrocities under his command as late as
1987, the year of the Eniskillen bombing.

How have you actually felt when driving home towards someone who dangerously cuts in front of you and drives off into the distance? Towards someone who is rude
to you or who shows inconsideration for you?

It seems that those individuals, who have had angry and hostile tendencies
throughout their lives, are more likely to harbour resentment, avoid their transgressor and fantasise some form of revenge. On the other hand survey polls show that a majority of people would like to feel less resentment yet report not knowing how to do so.

Benefits of reducing resentment

There is reason to believe that the regular practice of forgiveness can reduce anger, depression and stress, leading to greater feelings of hope, and confidence as
well as better relationships and physical health. Forgiving is thought to open
the heart to kindness, beauty, and love.

Here are some suggestions about how to feel more forgiving.

1. Get in touch with how you feel about what happened and why you are aggrieved and feeling resentment.

2. Make a decision to try to let go of the incident and your negative feelings towards the person who did you wrong.

3. Remember that your main feeling of distress is coming from what you are
thinking and feeling now rather than what the person did some little while ago
to offend or hurt you.

4. Forgo expecting people to behave according to your own rules and let them stay
free to do their own thing.

5. Think about the power over you that you are giving someone by attending to the
hurt they have caused you.

6. Consider the Christian prayer “Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we
forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.” (Matt 6:12) How can we
feel forgiveness unless we are also willing to forgive?

7. Remember you are not in a position to judge someone as deserving of
condemnation for you do not know all the mitigating circumstances that provided
the context of their actions towards you. For example you may not be fully
aware of what is going on in their life to create stress, or their upbringing
with its standards of conduct and moral values.

8. Consider what worldly or selfish desires  in you that have been thwarted by the
other person and reconsider their importance. Pride been wounded? Well what’s
so bad about a little humility? Time wasted by someone? Never mind there is
plenty of time left in life to make up what was lost.

9. Doing well to others and forgetting their wrongdoing may not always be wise if
the behaviour is harmful and persists. Violence within the home and sexual
infidelity are two more serious examples. Acceptance of the other person’s
limitations rather than simply saying we forgive him or her may be a more
realistic goal if there is no remorse or effort to change.

10. In extreme cases sometimes it is better to part with someone who is persistently abusive. Consider receiving professional counselling if the decision is very difficult.

The spiritual philosopher and scientist Emanuel Swedenborg claimed to have
conscious communication with the spirits of dead people.  He points out that evil-minded spirits love to find fault and take pleasure at the thought of punishment. On the other hand there are angelic spirits who if they happen to notice anything bad in someone, make allowances for it. He says the attitude of looking for the good in someone is the essence of heaven.

I would say you couldn’t feel much resentment towards someone if you are busy looking for the good in him or her.

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

HEALING FROM AFAR

HEALING FROM AFAR
A Sermon by Rev. Grant H. Odhner
Preached in Rochester, Michigan May 30, 1993

“The centurion answered and said, `Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word and my servant will be healed'” (Matt. 8:8).

Though the story is very brief, it paints quite a portrait of this centurion. He was not a Jew but a Roman, a Gentile. He was an officer, as his title “centurion” implies, a commander of one hundred soldiers. He was a man of rank and dignity, and was well paid. In a small town like Capernaum he was an important man indeed.

Given all this, there are a number of striking points about him. First of all, it’s striking that he is willing to bring his problem before Jesus, a Jewish Rabbi and prophet. The Jews had no love for their Roman oppressors and shunned them. And the Romans felt a great deal of contempt for the proud and stubbornly nationalistic Jews. This suggests that the centurion was an open-minded man. Why else would he be willing even to consider believing in Jesus’ power and going to Him for help? True, he may have been desperate, but it seems unlikely that desperation alone would have been able to overcome the enormous social gap between a Roman centurion and a Jewish prophet.

The centurion is evidently a humble man. Not only is he willing to seek Jesus out and plead with Him, he is also aware of his own unworthiness. He says, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof.”

There is another telling thing about the centurion. His purpose for coming is to plead not on his own behalf, but on behalf of his servant. He had no compelling obligation to take this degree of personal interest in the welfare of a slave. No doubt he did it partly as a matter of honor and out of a sense of justice, but further, it’s clear that he also cared about him and was grieved on account of his suffering. He pleads, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.” Luke’s account of this story says openly what is only implied here: that the servant “was dear to him” (Luke 7:2).

So the general sense we have about this centurion is that he is a good man. He’s noble and humble, a man of authority who nevertheless places himself under authority, not only in his civil occupation but in respect to God. He believes in the power of things greater than himself here, in the power of the Lord, Jesus Christ. He has “great faith,” as the Lord said.

The basic message of our story is that people who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His power, regardless of their status in our eyes (as church people), find healing and are invited by the Lord to “sit down” in the kingdom of heaven. We also learn that those who have this faith are good-hearted toward their fellow human beings, are humble in their own eyes, and approach Him for help. This is, in fact, the basic message of the whole New Testament. And as such it’s the most vital one to be learned from this story.

It might be noted in this connection that we need to be careful not to just gloss over the literal stories of the Word, or spend all our time dissecting words in search of higher meaning. We may be tempted to do this because we do believe that there is deeper-than-surface meaning in each and every word of Scripture indeed, that there are deeper and deeper levels of meaning there. But we need to remember that the higher senses rest in the literal sense. The surface story conveys the basic, general idea and affection. The inner senses then infill this general idea and affection with important details, details which cast light on the general meaning and enrich it. But the general meaning is the basis for the higher. So we must first understand it and take it to heart before we can see anything deeper.

This is the case with the story we are considering. Do we acknowledge the general truth that salvation requires humility, requires making effort to approach the Lord, requires great faith in His power? Do we feel this truth? We should find strength and a sense of delight in this basic message. Only when we have felt that can we really see and benefit from a deeper meaning.

Are we ready to move on to the “internal sense” and look at a more detailed idea of the “great faith” pictured in our story? The Word’s internal sense is more abstract than the literal sense. In the internal sense we don’t take the people, places, things, and actions as concrete things outside of us but as things inside of us. For example, the main characters usually stand for different parts or forces in our own mind. In our present story there are three main characters: the centurion, his servant, and Jesus. Let’s look at what they represent spiritually.

The centurion is the “internal person” in us, the higher part of us that is aware of spiritual issues and problems. Our internal person is the voice of conscience in us. Its job is to preserve order in our mind and life, to protect us from spiritual enemies, to impose discipline and direct us in good and useful ways. This part of us should be the master, carrying out the will of an even higher Master, the Lord, just as the centurion described himself:

I … am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, “Go” and he goes; and to another, “Come” and he comes; and to my slave, “Do this” and he does it (Matt. 8:8f).

The centurion aptly pictures our “internal person.”

His servant pictures the lower part of our nature, the “external person.” Our body and senses, our natural urges, our instinct for self-preservation, our love of worldly delights, possessions, and comforts these things belong to our “external person,” to our external mind. They are not in themselves bad, but they are intended to serve our internal person. The internal person, when we give it the power and authority, keeps the external person in subordination to itself, so that heaven can flow in and be present.

(The centurion’s soldiers are also mentioned. These, too, picture things in the external person which serve the internal person. More specifically, they stand for truths, or knowledge about what is true, which help in bringing order to our mind, defending and protecting it.)

Now it’s the lower part of our nature (the “servant”) that is susceptible to the influence of hell. It is not our love for the Lord or for our neighbor that can be perverted, but our love for our self and for things which serve self; also, our love for worldly goods and delights. Our love for these lower things can be inflamed and excited so as to rise out of its proper place and take precedence over our love for the Lord, for others, for the common good.

The centurion’s servant was sick. This describes a state of mind in which our external person has risen out of its proper place and become sick from evils. When this happens the hells hold our attention in selfish and worldly attitudes and concerns (and in their negativity). It then becomes very difficult for our internal concerns and wishes to work in our life. So our external person becomes, in effect, paralyzed, unable to serve. This is the state from which we need to be saved by the Lord.

Now the “centurion,” our higher nature (our conscience, the heavenly part of us), senses the sick state of our outward person. It senses the incapacitation and “dreadful torment” of the lower mind. Our internal person loves the external part of us; it loves outer delights and knowledge and the worldly things that serve it. It loves and values it as a useful servant, and longs to restore it to health.

Note that pain and unhappiness are experienced by the outer part of us when evils sicken it, but also are experienced by the inner part of us. From our inner perception of the goodness of heaven we feel the unhappiness of evil. Our inner person, which aspires to heaven, also feels a sense of loss in not being able to express its aspirations with any power and satisfaction.

For example, take the evil of speaking ill of others. This evil has its source in our outer person, in its love of self. When we let that love of self make our own pride and sense of self-worth more important than loving our neighbor, we find ourselves building up ourselves by cutting others down, by speaking ill of them.

This evil makes our outer person “sicken.” It suffers because by speaking ill of others it reaps unpleasant consequences. It alienates itself from the people who hear us; we lose their esteem and trust (or we fear this loss). Evil brings to our outer mind many mistrustful and unpeaceful emotions, which sicken it.

Meanwhile, our higher self suffers too because it aspires to truthfulness, to feeling love for others, to serving and building them up. It grieves over the outer self’s sickness. It also feels a sense of loss because after our outer person has spoken ill, it cannot turn right around and express any of its heavenly aspirations without a sense of hypocrisy and shame, without feeling a certain emptiness, without feeling a lack of delight and satisfaction, without feeling a lack of power in doing well.

Back to our story. The centurion turns to Jesus for help. This represents our ultimate realization: that only the Lord can restore our outer mind to health. This realization comes to our internal person. Only our internal person can perceive our need for the Lord and successfully turn to Him for help. Putting it another way, only from love to the Lord and love toward the neighbor our internal person’s guiding loves can we turn to the Lord. These loves in us alone are humble and willing to receive His help.

So the centurion turns to Jesus with “great faith” in His word, and his servant is healed that same hour. Our inner person turns to the Lord with faith and our outer person finds healing. In a way it’s this simple, but let’s look at the internal sense for a more specific idea of what’s involved in the healing.

The centurion’s “great faith” was that he believed that Jesus’ word could heal his servant. Jesus didn’t need to make a big show of coming to his servant’s bedside and laying His hands on him. His word, spoken from afar, had the power.

In the gospels Jesus (or “the Son of Man” as He is usually called) stands for the Lord’s Word. When He was in the world, the Lord was the Word. This is why He calls Himself the “way,” the “truth,” the “light of the world,” the “Word made flesh.” He came to reveal the “Father,” that is, He came to reveal the Divine love and goodness. Truth is what reveals love and goodness, brings it to view and to light. Truth also enables us to love by showing us what we must do and how we must change to receive love or be aware of it. Further, love saves us by the truth; it has its power through the truth.

So to believe in “Jesus” or “the Son of Man” is to believe in the Word and its truth. It stands for the realization that salvation is accomplished by means of that truth, that the Word is the Divinely provided means for healing our external person. “Believing in Jesus’ word” also stands for obeying it, living according to it. There is no real belief that stops short of doing. How can we truly say that we believe something if we don’t act on it when we can?

The centurion let the Lord heal his servant at a distance, by His word. He was willing to walk away from Jesus without knowing for sure whether his servant was healed. He didn’t know until he got home that the healing took place. This is symbolic of the fact that the Lord’s Word heals indirectly from our point of view. It doesn’t bring immediate results. We must have faith in it. We must apply it to our life; we must experiment with living it to discover how best to understand it and make it work in our own situation. Its healing can happen only over time, through our ongoing efforts. This ongoing process of living according to the Word is pictured symbolically in the centurion’s “going his way” and walking back toward his sick servant.

This indirectness of healing through the Word is important, because it is in harmony with our need to find the Lord in freedom. It gives us a meaningful part to play in our salvation. It gives us a sense of “ownership” in our rebirth, even as we discover that the Lord is doing the work. It provides for a process of change, which enables us to come to realizations gradually, which are more life-affecting and ever-deepening. This could not happen if we were healed instantaneously, without any ongoing effort of our own.

So our story’s internal sense deepens for us our idea of what is involved in spiritual sickness and health. It puts us in touch with the different elements in us that are involved: our internal person and our external person. It gives us an idea of what we are dealing with psychologically. This distinction between our inner and outer self empowers us to identify with our inner aspirations and to challenge our own attitudes when they are working against the inner “us.” The internal sense gives us more to go on.

Our story’s internal sense also deepens for us our idea of what it means to have “great faith” in the Lord and His “word.” It leads us to reflect on the nature of the Word why the Lord provides that we be saved through it, gradually and not instantaneously. It frees us to realize that having great faith does not just mean having an emotional feeling toward the Lord (something which we cannot hope to sustain): rather it means believing that if we try to live by the Lord’s Word, He will bring about change in our life; He will give us new feelings; He will restore our outer life to health and order, so that the things we care about inwardly, the unselfish ideals that we aspire to, that we have sometimes tasted, can become realities in our life again. To believe in this promise and to patiently live this life is to have “great faith.”

May we have such faith! in the Lord’s love, in His power, and in the wisdom of His leading. May we say in the humble spirit of the centurion, “Lord, … only speak a word and my servant shall be healed.” Amen.

Lessons: Deut. 9:1-5; 7:17-23; Matt. 8:5-13; DP 172

Divine Providence 172

Since the Word is from the Lord alone and treats of the Lord alone, it follows that when a person is taught from the Word he is taught from the Lord, for the Word is Divine. Who can communicate the Divine and implant it in the heart except the Divine Himself from whom it is derived and of whom it treats? When, therefore, the Lord speaks of this conjunction of Himself with the disciples He says that they should “abide in Him, and His words in them” (John 15:7), that His words were “spirit and life” (John 6:63), and that He makes His abode with those who keep His words (John 14:20-24). Therefore to think from the Lord is to think from the Word and, as it were, by means of the Word …

That the Lord is the Word He teaches in John in these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). As this passage has hitherto been understood to mean only that God taught people through the Word, therefore it has been explained as a hyperbolical expression, implying that the Lord is not the Word itself. The reason is that people did not know that by the Word is meant the Divine Truth of the Divine Good, or, what is the same, the Divine Wisdom of the Divine Love …

Every person is a human being not from his face and body but from the good of his love and the truths of his wisdom; and because a person is a human from these, every person is also his own truth and his own good, or his own love and his own wisdom; and without these he is not a human being. But the Lord is Good itself and Truth itself, or, what is the same, Love itself and Wisdom itself; and these are “the Word which in the beginning was with God and which was God” and which was “made flesh.”

Therefore to be taught from the Word is to be taught by the Lord Himself … The fact that this [teaching] is done mediately by preaching does not destroy its immediate nature. The Word can be taught only mediately through parents, teachers, preachers, books, and especially through the reading of it. Nevertheless, it is not taught by these but by the Lord through them. This, moreover, is in keeping with what preachers know, for they say that they do not speak from themselves but from the spirit of God, and that all truth, as also all good, is from God. They are indeed able to declare the Word and bring it to the understanding of many, but not to the heart of anyone. And what is not in the heart perishes in the understanding; and by the heart is meant a person’s love. From these considerations it may be seen that a person is led and taught by the Lord alone, and that he is taught immediately by Him when this is done from the Word. This is the central truth (arcanum) of angelic wisdom.

A PARABLE OF HEALING

A PARABLE OF HEALING
A Sermon by Rev Grant H. Odhner
Preached in Rochester, Michigan
May 26, 1991

“Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6)

The Lord asks this question of us just as He did of some persons 2000 years ago. And unless we can answer “yes,” we cannot hope to know the deeper, richer life that the Lord promises. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matt. 9:12). We cannot accept a greater sense of the Lord’s life unless we recognize the attitudes and priorities with ourselves that stand in the way. These are our sickness.

Our own sickness must be a reality for us, both if we are to be made well and if we are to understand this story. The Word’s stories hold secrets truths that remain secret to those who look with worldly eyes or with faithless eyes, or who look with self-sufficiency. If we are not in need we cannot see. When real truth is irrelevant to us, seeing it becomes a mere intellectual exercise.

All the stories of the Lord’s healings are parables about the healing of the mind. Spiritual sickness and health, damnation and salvation are all a matter of mind. It is our mind that senses life as good or bad. It is our mind that feels trust or distrust, mercy or contempt, patience or annoyance. It is our mind that is more or less limited. It is our mind that experiences the Lord and His salvation. The Word’s parables are about the mind and its changes. With this in mind, let us look at the parable before us.

It begins: “After this there was a feast of the Jews and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.”

There were three feasts which the Law required the Jews to celebrate at the temple in Jerusalem. These feasts remembered the Lord’s deliverance from Egypt (Passover), His “planting” them in the land of Canaan and beginning to make them fruitful (Weeks = First Fruits), and His bringing them to full blessing there (Tabernacles = Ingathering). Viewed spiritually, these feasts were held to recognize the Lord’s role in liberating our minds, in planting seeds of truth in them, and finally His role in blessing our minds with the full fruits of His life (see AC 9296).

Jesus went up to Jerusalem to these feasts because He is the one who liberates, grows, and blesses our minds. This is the general subject here. That’s why the setting is one of these feasts.

“Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porches.” The Sheep Gate was just north of the temple, on the northeast wall of the city. Perhaps it was through this gate that sheep were brought in on their way to the temple for sacrifices, or perhaps they were bought and sold there for use in sacrifices. A gate is an entryway, marking an approach. In a symbolic sense, the Sheep Gate pictures the opening of the mind toward spiritual life, and a desire to follow the Shepherd in this path.

But the main focus here is not the gate but the pool near it, called “Bethesda.” It was trapezoid-shaped, divided into two pools by a walkway across the middle. Stairs in each corner led down into the pool. It was said to have “five porches.” This refers to colonnades, one on each side and a fifth one over the walkway. What is this “pool” at the entryway to our spiritual life? It is symbolic of the reservoir of ideas in our memories, ideas of what is true that we have gathered from our experience, and especially from the Word.

In themselves, as they exist in our memories, these ideas have little life. They are only by the entryway to the real us. It is a surface part of us that gathers knowledge. The “five porches” mentioned call to mind the fingers of the hand, and the five senses. Our first perspective on the things that we learn is a sensory one; we are at first tied to the way things feel and appear. It is a higher part of us that lifts knowledge out of the memory where it is first lodged, and turns it over and sees it more deeply. Still, the pool of truths in our memory is called “Bethesda,” “House of Mercy,” because of the potential that it holds for opening our minds and leading us to the Lord. The Lord mercifully gives us ideas that can lead us, and He is constantly present, “brooding over the face of the waters,” waiting for the right time to send His angels to stir those ideas to life.

Now in the five porches around the pool there “lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, withered.” What does this say about our entryway to spiritual life? Our outer mind is clogged with impediments to communion with the Lord. We are “sick” with selfishness and its petty concerns; we are “blinded” with ignorance, prejudice, and our world-centered outlook; we are “lame” in our inability to progress; we are “withered” in our powerlessness and lack of energy for achieving something beyond ourselves.

All these sick ones in our story were “waiting for the moving of the water.” “For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had” (vv. 3,4).

This describes how the impediments to our spiritual life and progress are healed. When we are willing and ready to commit our lives to them, the true ideas in our memory are stirred by the Lord’s messengers, by His spirit; they come alive for us: they become insight and inspiration where before they were just knowledge. We recognize their truth. Our sickness is then seen from a new perspective; we gain a separation from it; we move beyond it (see AC 10083).

This healing does not happen completely all at once: it happens gradually, one sickness at a time (so to speak). Some of our sicknesses take a long time to heal. We may think we are ready and “waiting” for them to change, but the Lord knows our real readiness to see and accept and change.

We tend to spend a long time wanting change from one part of us but not another; we want change from our understanding and not yet from our will. In other words, we see intellectually that we are sick in some respect and that change is desirable, yet we are not ready emotionally to change. Part of us may grieve over the consequences of a bad habit (for example); we may see its tragic effects on our life, its perversity! At the same time, we cannot find the resolve to really accept a change in attitude and life-style. The fact is, consciously or unconsciously, we still feel attachment to the delights that are the source of our disfunction. For every spiritual sickness has its source in some delight that sustains it.

Only the one who stepped into the pool first was healed. The quickest and readiest person found relief. “Quickness” in spiritual terms is a product of our will. We feel quick and alive when our heart is involved. When we are acting mostly from our understanding, we are slow. There is more effort, less resolve; more self-compulsion is required. As a result, our responsiveness is somewhat dull and forced.

How painful and frustrating it is to see that we are sick and incapacitated, and yet not to find the quickness and resolve of will to change! Did we hurt someone for the thousandth time? Were we impatient again? Did we give in to some bitterness after all our intellectual resolves? Did we “fall” to the same old lust?

We see here the plight of the man who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. He was unable to get himself into the water quickly enough; as he said, “I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”

Thirty-eight years is a long time. We can imagine the pitch of despair. Viewed symbolically, periods of time mark states of mind. An interval of time seems long or short to us, depending on our mental attitude. And just as slowness and quickness are a matter of how much our will is involved, so here, the longness of this time reinforces the fact that the will is resisting the healing even though the understanding wants it.

But there is more in this number. Like all numbers in the Word, “thirty-eight” has a symbolic meaning. This was the number of years it took for all the Israelites who had doubted the Lord’s power to die in the wilderness; this was necessary before the others could begin to enter the promised land (Deut. 2:14). Thirty-eight (literally “thirty and eight”) refers to a mental phase coming to fullness so that a new one can begin. “Thirty” means fullness of preparation and readiness. Joseph was thirty when he began to rule Egypt (see Gen. 41:46); David was thirty when he became king (see II Sam 5:4); Jesus was thirty when He began His ministry (see Luke 3:23). “Eight” means a new beginning. The eighth day is the first day after a complete week, the beginning of a new week. It was the day when a boy was circumcised and entered the covenant. It is often mentioned in the Law as a special day in purification ceremonies and festivals.

Thirty-eight is mentioned in our story because spiritual change does not happen without preparation and readiness. For a given change in mental outlook to become permanent, certain crucial experiences are necessary, certain knowledges must be acquired, certain realizations must come realizations born of aging, of encountering difficulties and frustrations, of failing, of experiencing various kinds of success and satisfaction. We must learn the value of things through experiencing highs and lows, presence and absence, good and evil. When we have acquired a sufficient store of these things and are ready to begin a new phase, we have achieved “thirty and eight.”

The Lord is constantly preparing us to be healed, constantly trying to make life better for us. But it is not until we are ready for Him that we see Him standing above us in our infirm condition, and hear His invitation: “Do you want to be made well?”

We may not be aware at first that the invitation is coming from the Lord. The man in our story wasn’t. Still, our response must be one of self-awareness. In other words, we must know our own powerlessness to save ourselves. (“I have no man . . . ” ” . . . while I am coming, another steps down before me.”) It is this realization of our powerlessness, especially, that is meant by “thirty.” Joseph and David both were given power at age thirty. Both represented the Lord, who proclaimed Himself the Messiah, the king, at the same age. “Thirty” means recognizing our own lack of power and giving all power to the Lord, letting Him rule. This recognition is what enables us to hear the Lord’s voice saying to us, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”

“Rise, take up your bed and walk.” People who lie in a bed are either asleep, weak, or sick. Those who rise and walk are awake and well. The Lord causes us to become spiritually awake, energetic, well, when we are ready. His “speaking” these words stands for the inflow of His love and truth, which stir us to new possibilities, new resolves, new power.

But more specifically, the Lord’s words symbolically describe the healing. “Rise” signals a raising of the mind to what lies above the self. We must look to the Lord, to a higher power, to goals in life that are larger than we are. And when the mind’s focus is raised, then the “bed” in which it has been resting is also raised. Our mental bed is the set of ideas that underlie our basic thinking and willing. These ideas are “taken up” when we rethink them or see them in a new way, out of a desire to respond to the Lord’s will. Finally the Lord said, “Walk.” To “walk” is to progress. Literally it is to actually change our location and direction. Spiritually it is to change our state of mind, our way of responding to life’s events, to the people around us, to insults, to frustrations, to our old negative mental dialogue.

And in what direction does the freed mind “walk”? Jesus later found the man who had accepted His healing in the temple. The temple, the Lord’s house, pictures His fuller presence, which is heaven. This is the goal of all healing: to dwell more closely in the Lord’s life and to have that life more fully in us. It was in the temple that the healed man found out who his Savior was. So with us, it is when we come into a greater sense of the Lord’s life that we can really know that He healed us. We feel gratitude and humility before Him. We have a clear sense of His mercy. We know that He has done it.

This realization is what is meant by the “Sabbath.” All the miracles of healing in our life are done on the Sabbath. They are done with the acknowledgment that the Lord alone works, the Lord alone creates and creates anew. It does appear that we are laboring from ourselves just as it appeared to the Jews that the healed man was laboring by carrying his bed. Indeed, we must labor as if all depended on us. Yet we can truly say, as the man in the story did, “He who made me well said to me, Take up your bed and walk.'” We labor by the Lord’s authority, recognizing that He is doing the work within us.

A final thought on our text, the Lord’s question: “Do you want to be made well?” What greater testimony to the Lord’s love is there than this: that He allows us the freedom to make His salvation our own? He accomplishes it, but not without our full involvement! The Lord does not tell us that we must be made well. In His infinite wisdom and mercy He asks, “Do you want to be made well?” He asks so that the choice may be ours. It is left to us to respond to His invitation: “Rise; take up your bed and walk.” Amen.

Lessons: Isaiah 55; John 5:1-15; AC 2694:1-3

Arcana Caelestia

2694:1-3. “Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the child where he is.” This signifies the hope of help . . . . In the verses which precede, the state of desolation . . . is treated of.

Those who are being reformed are reduced into ignorance of truth, or desolation, even to grief and despair, and then for the first time they have comfort and help from the Lord. This is unknown at this day, for the reason that few are reformed. Those who are such that they can be reformed are brought into this state, if not in the life of the body, nevertheless in the other life, where this state is well known, and is called vastation or desolation . . . .

Those who are in such vastation or desolation are reduced even to despair. And when they are in this state they then receive comfort and help from the Lord, and are at length taken away into heaven. There they are instructed anew, as it were, among the angels in the goods and truths of faith. The reason for this vastation and desolation is chiefly that the persuasive [light] which they have conceived from their self (proprium) may be broken (see n. 2682); and also that they may receive a perception of good and truth. They cannot receive this perception until the persuasive [light] which is from their self has been softened, as it were. This softening is brought about by the state of anxiety and grief even to despair.

What is good, nay, what is blessed and happy, no one can perceive with an exquisite sense unless he has been in a state of what is not good, not blessed, and not happy. From this he acquires a sphere of perception, and this in the degree in which he has been in the opposite state. The sphere of perception and the extension of its limits arise from the realizing of contrasts. These are causes of vastation or desolation, besides many others.

But take examples for illustration. If it is proved to those who ascribe all things to their own prudence and little or nothing to Divine Providence, by thousands of reasons that the Divine Providence is universal, and this because it is in the most minute particulars, and that not even a hair falls from the head (that is, nothing happens however small) which is not foreseen and provided accordingly, nevertheless their state of thought about their own prudence is not changed by it, except at the very moment when they find themselves convinced by the reasons. Nay, if the same thing were attested to them by living experiences, just at the moment when they see the experiences, or are in them, they may confess that it is so. But after the lapse of a few moments they return to their former state of opinion. Such things have some momentary effect upon the thought but not upon the affection. And unless the affection is broken, the thought remains in its own state. For the thought has its belief and its life from the affection. But when anxiety and grief are induced upon them by the fact of their own helplessness, and this even to despair, the opinion they are persuaded of is broken, and their state is changed. And then they can be led into the belief that they can do nothing of themselves, but that all power, prudence, intelligence, and wisdom are from the Lord.

HEALING BLINDNESS

HEALING BLINDNESS
A Sermon by Rev Brian W. Keith
Preached in Glenview, Illinois
September 29, 1991

Blindness is a terrible affliction. Imagine not being able to see the incredible array of colors, especially when fall is drawing near. Imagine not being able to read a map or see the beauties brought to us through the lenses of cameras. And imagine not being able to see a child ride his bike or a friend smile. While a heightening of the other senses can enable someone to manage without sight, a wonderful element is thereby removed from life, and the person is surrounded with a shroud of darkness.

While natural blindness is certainly a frustrating and painful condition, it merely reflects the kind of problems where there is spiritual blindness in our lives. Spiritual blindness causes us to flail around in our lives, not really knowing or being certain of what we ought to do or what kind of person we can become.

Spiritual blindness exists wherever there is ignorance. Where someone lacks a knowledge of who the Lord really is, of the process of regeneration, and of the nature of the world the Lord intends us to live in forever, there is a terrible void in a person’s life. Yes, someone can go through life, attending to numerous responsibilities, doing his job, taking care of the home, and apparently being a healthy, useful member of society. So where there is ignorance about spiritual matters, that life is shrouded in darkness. It is without any real purpose or direction.

But worse than that are those whose religious beliefs foster blindness. Those who have been taught that matters of religion are best left to the theologians and cannot be understood by the average person are having their spiritual eyes put out. For when someone is told to accept something on faith with no real understanding, with no real appreciation of the truth, there is a darkening and claustrophobic feeling.

Spiritual blindness is not simply a problem of whether one can recite information or even feel comfortable just understanding how the world works. For being blind spiritually has significant problems even as natural blindness does in this world. As our natural sight enables us to see hazards to avoid them and shows us better paths to follow, so a spiritual sight of truth can lead us to steer around hellish situations and direct us on heavenly paths. And fortunately, where spiritual sight is lacking, our lives are often reduced to the lowest common denominator, namely what we want to do. Sometimes what we want to do is all right, but often it is not all right. In fact it may be destructive, self-centered, and painfully hurtful to those around us. If we don’t have a clear sight of the difference between right and wrong, then anything we desire to do may seem all right.

The example given from the lesson in Divine Providence is most telling in this regard. Where there is not a clear sight of marriage, of how one man and one woman can deeply love each other and receive a genuine eternal love that is different from any other from the Lord, it is so easy to justify all manner of less-than-orderly situations. Without a clear vision of marriage, adultery seems relatively unimportant, simply a friendly contact between people, not much different from shaking hands or talking in a restaurant. Casual sexual relations can easily be justified wherever there is not that clear sight of what sex can mean inside of marriage and how destructive it is outside of marriage.

A miracle the Lord did in healing the blind man points to how our blind spots can be healed, how we can see to walk in the Lord’s path.

As the Lord was in a small fishing village by the Sea of Galilee named Bethsaida, some people brought a blind man to Him wanting the Lord to heal him. It is noteworthy that the blind man did not call out to the Lord nor perceive Him by Himself. For one of the traits of spiritual blindness is the lack of recognition that one needs any help. Often we don’t know where our blind spots are. We think we see things so clearly that our way is the right way, that all others are wrong. It’s only when others bring us to the Lord, pointing out an imperfection that we have, challenging a tradition, that we have the possibility of being healed.

Obviously the people who brought the man assumed that the Lord could heal him; they could not. Our blindness is never really healed by other people. Yes, we listen to them, have them criticize our ideas or suggest different ways for us to live. But their talking means little or nothing to us unless we sense something of the Divine there. Even as that blind man did not resist their taking him to the Lord, so our blindness can begin to be cured when we allow others to lead us to where the Lord is in our lives.

Interestingly, unlike many other miracles done immediately, the Lord took the man by the hand and led him out of town. Naturally there’s no good reason for this to occur because the Lord could heal anywhere He wanted. But spiritually the town Bethsaida describes the state of hell in which we may be living. When we are actually doing what’s wrong, living in a disorderly way, the Lord can’t heal us. It’s only when we step out of the problem and move away from the situation that we are willing and able to have our eyes opened to what the problem really is. If we are locked into one way of looking at things or one method of behavior, our eyes cannot be opened.

Then the Lord spit in the man’s eyes. While we would consider this a rather unclean approach, the fluid from the Lord’s mouth was symbolic of the truth that He wants us to see. What’s more, it affects us when it hits us in the eyes. When we realize that the Lord is telling us not to embellish our stories, in effect lying to make ourselves look better, then we see what the Lord is telling us.

The Lord also put His hands on the man. And what this means is a communication of everything of one’s life. For the message is that our spiritual eyes are not opened to what is good and evil simply by the facts being told to us. Rather it’s when we sense that this is the Lord’s message for us to help us not to condemn, not to harm but when we sense the Lord’s love and mercy there, then our eyes are opened.

It’s interesting that the Lord posed a question to the man, asking him if he saw anything. Now the Lord was not so unaware as to what the effect would be that He was seeking information from the man for His own sake to see if the miracle worked or not! The purpose of His question here, as with all His questions, is to encourage us to respond. Yes, the Lord does know everything about us, but He wants us to understand by thinking and by speaking. It has been said that no one truly knows anything until he is able to explain it to a child. The process of struggling to grasp an idea so that it can be communicated to someone else anchors it in our minds in a way not possible otherwise. This is why the Lord asked the question, not because He needed to know but so that the man could analyze what was happening to him. What this means for us is that as we are taking in information from the Lord’s Word, it will tend to be pushed to the most remote parts of our memory unless we are engaged in talking about it with other people. Perhaps we are wondering about how the Lord’s providence works, say when there’s an unexpected death or an apparently amazing bit of good fortune. We can wonder about the subject, read about it, and really feel as if we have gained a new insight. But if we don’t share that with others by trying to express it to them, it will tend to drift off and be forgotten. And we should not assume that we are just imposing our ideas on others, be they within our small circle of friends or even outside of the church. Because if someone is a friend, he or she is interested not just in spending time with us but in hearing what we think. To communicate ideas is not to impose but to share.

The man whose sight was being returned then responded that he saw men “like trees walking.” The reason his sight was not clear at first is that our initial grasp of any subject is rather stiff and unfocused men like trees. For we can’t come to all the answers right away. To gain deep insights into providence, into the process of regeneration, does not occur immediately. For wisdom is not synonymous with our first instruction. Yes, we sense the presence of the Divine and we are excited by the light that we see there. This is the light of the trees walking. But our sight is obscure and we shouldn’t be upset when our initial thoughts of a subject or our initial understanding of a subject is flawed.

The Lord did not leave the man in that quasi-seeing state. He put His hands on the man’s eyes again and had him look up, at which point he was restored and saw everyone clearly. The Lord’s putting His hands on the man a second time describes a kind of illustration, enlightenment, that comes after we have digested ideas and worked with them for a while. What this means is that we can’t assume our knowledge on any subject is adequate or that it is sufficiently organized in our minds to see clearly. Our blindness, at least a haziness, remains until the Lord is able to place His hands upon us again. For this to happen we need continual contact with the Divine. The man who saw men like trees walking could have left it at that point. He could have been satisfied with a partial restoration. But he stayed. The Lord wants us to stay too. He wants us to continue the process of learning, of thinking, and of gradually understanding so that our first sight is not our last.

The sight that the man regained can be ours when we have a depth of understanding of what is true, not simply a knowledge of the facts, not a rudimentary understanding of them, but a clear sight of what they mean. So when we think about the teachings revealed in the New Church about a life after death, they are not simply ideas that are interesting or attractive, but they are an expression of the Lord’s love and mercy and a description of what can be ours. They come alive when we sense their power and the fact that they are not abstractly applied to someone else, but they are intended to depict for us what the Lord would give us.

Or when we think about the ideas concerning use, our ability to affect others for the better, they can at first be very general unfocused ideas that we ought to have a job and do something productive with our life, an idea which is men like trees walking. But when we sense the Lord’s presence in what we do for other people, even in the mundane tasks that don’t seem to be well rewarded here, then we see clearly and are able to see light that really is the Lord’s presence with us.

Blindness exists with everyone. And the Lord constantly works to heal that blindness. If we will allow ourselves to be brought into the Lord’s presence by the questions or encouragement of our friends and loved ones, and if we will then allow the fluid truth from the Lord’s Word to touch our unseeing eyes, it will allow Him to touch our hearts so that we may know that He is our God. Then we may begin to see. At first it will not be clear or perfect; many will be the times we will see men like trees walking. But if we allow the Lord to remain with us, if we retain our contact with Him in the Word and in worship, then He can continue to touch us, healing all our blindness, giving us a sight of all things living.

This is the Lord’s will for us, that from being blind we might see, that from being trapped by falsities and distorted ideas we might have a true picture of what heaven is like, both after death and in our life now. Amen.

Lessons: Mark 8:22-30; DP 144

Divine Providence 144

Neither can anyone be reformed in a state of blindness of the understanding. These also have no knowledge of truths, and consequently of life; for the understanding must teach truths and the will must do them; and when the will does what the understanding teaches, its life is fashioned according to truths. But when the understanding is blinded, the will is also closed up, and from freedom according to its reason it does only the evil that is confirmed in the understanding, which is falsity. Moreover, the understanding is blinded not only by ignorance but also by religion that teaches blind faith, and also by false doctrine. For as truths open the understanding, so falsities close it; they close it from above but open it from below, and the understanding, open only below, cannot see truths but can merely confirm whatever it wills, especially falsity. The understanding is also blinded by the lusts of evil. As long as the will is in these it moves the understanding to confirm them; and so far as the lusts of evil are confirmed, it is impossible for the will to be in the affections of good and to see truths from them, and thus to be reformed.

For example, when one is in the lust of adultery his will, which is in the delight of his love, moves his understanding to confirm it, saying, “What is adultery? Is there anything wicked in it? Is there not the same thing between husband and wife? Cannot children be born from adultery just as from marriage? Cannot a woman admit more than one without harm? What has the spiritual to do with this?” So thinks the understanding which is then the courtesan of the will, and so stupid has it become from debauchery with the will that it cannot see that marriage love is spiritual, heavenly love itself, an image of the love of the Lord and of the church from which it is derived, and thus that it is in itself holy, that it is chastity itself, purity and innocence; and that it makes men to be forms of love, since consorts can love each other mutually from inmost things and thus form themselves into loves; and that adultery destroys this form and with it the image of the Lord; and what is horrible, that the adulterer mingles his life with the husband’s life in his wife, for a man’s life is in the seed.

As this is profane, therefore hell is called adultery, and heaven on the other hand is called marriage. Moreover, the love of adultery communicates with the lowest hell but true marriage love communicates with the inmost heaven; and the organs of generation in both sexes also correspond to societies of the inmost heaven. These things have been recorded that it may be known how blinded the understanding is when the will is in the lust of evil; and that no one can be reformed in a state of blindness of the understanding.