It is honorable to care for our neighbors—even on a global scale. It requires a good heart to be concerned for others. But is ensuring equal rights the same thing as everyone being assured of a roof over their heads, healthcare, and big screen TVs? Is our idea of equal rights the same thing that God thinks it is?
I agree that we should all pitch in to banish human suffering to make each others’ lives better and happier, but it seems that such moral and charitable efforts should not be focused solely on that which can rust, be stolen or eaten by moths.
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19)
We do not live forever on this earth, in spite of modern medical advances, improved distribution of food or increased comfort and convenience from modern innovation. These worldly things are important in God’s creation—only as long as they are serviceable towards our living a heaven-bound life.
A government can legislate a level playing field for all its citizens yet not offer any help towards a person’s eternal wellbeing and soul. So in terms of truly living an “upwardly mobile” life, we can have all the creature comforts of this earth and enjoy great physical health but still be counted among the disabled, sick, homeless, oppressed, poor, starved and miserable!
Unlike worldly social justice, heaven is not an entitlement program. According to theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, the concept of helping the downtrodden and less fortunate was looked at quite differently in more ancient civilizations. Instead, they understood whether a person was less fortunate or not from their spiritual situation. Here is a quote from Swedenborg:
The Ancient Church distinguished into classes the neighbor or neighbors toward whom they were to perform works of charity; and some they called “maimed,” some “lame,” some “blind,” and some “deaf,” meaning those who were spiritually so. Some also they called the “hungry,” the “thirsty,” “strangers,” the “naked,” the “sick,” the “captives;” and some “widows,” “orphans,” the “needy”, the “poor,” and the “miserable;” by whom they meant no other than those who were such as to truth and good, and who were to be suitably instructed, led on their way, and thus provided for as to their souls. (Arcana Coelestia, Vol. 6, n. 4302)
In fact, in order to get individuals re-focused towards spiritual matters and eternal life, God often will make use of misfortune, sorrow and human suffering ( Arcana Coelestia, Vol. 1, n. 8 )
Social justice is a hot topic right now. Tell me what you think.
May 25, 2010
A daring work that unifies Science and Theology
by challenging many of the world’s current beliefs about both
Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg
16 Spiritual Sources of Health
“Unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings.” Malachi 4:2
The causes of emotionally induced diseases may be traced from the autonomic nerves to their cortical origins and from the secretions of the endocrine glands to their source in the inmost organic structures which Swedenborg called the “simple cortex.” But here nature gives way to spirit. For the brain-cells absorb their subtle material aliments from earth and atmosphere and produce their complex chemical carriers of life according to the states of a man’s affections.441 And man’s affections are derived from the spirits who are with him.
The only real health is from the Lord. A wicked man may seemingly have a strong and healthy body. But inwardly there is no soundness in him. His “purer blood” or animal spirit is not being purged from those malign substances which attract the influx from the hells. He carries with him the poison of deceit, the seeds of insanity, and the latent causes of disease.
Just as anger and cankering emotions make for illness, love and faith are the fountainhead of health and an important element in cures. It is well known that a patient must have an incentive to recover and a faith in its possibility. But to avert illness a man must at all times keep his mind free from morbid states of self-pity, anger, pessimism, suspicion, impatience and intemperance, and from all other moods or emotions which seem to brood below the level of his thoughts but which actually inflow from evil spirits. He should be courageous in facing adversities, reasonable and prudent in his relation with other men. He should keep busy in some useful work and lead an orderly life. He should defend his own freedom and his own use while respecting the same rights in others. In short, he should be rational and moral. He should cultivate the moral virtues, learn to appreciate them in others, patiently try to see the point of view of those who criticize him, and see himself objectively, as others see him. An inoffensive sense of humor which allows him to smile at irritations and laugh at his own errors, can often prevent a nervous breakdown. Modern doctors prescribe a happy mood as the best medicine.
Moral virtues do not suffice to combat evil spirits. Evils must be shunned as sins against God if the angels are to banish the unclean spirit that would return with seven others to the house of the garnished mind. The protection of heaven comes to the just man who loves mercy and walks humbly before his God. And the promise is, “Unto you who fear My name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings.”442
Interior happiness comes from a heart made humble by knowing its own weaknesses and strong by putting trust in the Divine providence. The hectic pursuit of worldly fame or personal power or luxury is responsible for much illness. Uses are provided us as a means to forget ourselves, not as a path to selfish pleasures or personal vanity. The true way to happiness and health is to find our place of use in society, to employ our talents with a cheerful heart to mitigate the misfortunes of others, to sustain their good efforts, to contribute of our best illustration to their spiritual welfare. A man who can attract good spirits is of more value to his fellowmen than the inventor of atomic engines or the most brilliant of secular thinkers—if the latter do not first seek the kingdom of God.
Protection in Uses
A most powerful protection against evil and disease is to be found in the love of being useful—the zeal for work from an interest in the needs of others. This love conquers many illnesses and delays the inroads of old age. Indeed even an evil man or spirit is to a certain point protected by society and by heaven so long as he performs a use. The people of Israel were under a Divine protection from pestilences and disasters so long as they were faithful to their covenant, even though their function was one of merely “representing” a church. Muscles never used would weaken and talents not exercised tend to disappear. The Writings urge us to temper our uses with a due amount of rest and proper recreation. But “they who love idleness more than use gather evils into their spirit,” for they turn to things filthy and evil, vain and frivolous, until their mind grows stupid and their body torpid. On the other hand, “while a man is in some study and business or is in a use, his mind is limited and circumscribed as by a circle within which it is coordinated by stages into a form truly human.”443
“Use is to discharge the works of our employment sincerely and industriously.” The love of use and the derivative application prevent the mind from wandering in idle daydreams and from drinking in the allurements of sensual lusts which scatter all thoughts of religion and morality to the winds.444 Hence it is that the delight of heavenly life, as well as its wisdom, revolves about uses to be done. The angels know that to love the Lord as a person and not to love uses, is to love Him from self; but use in itself is Divine, and to do uses is to love the Lord and to be in Him—in the very current of His sustaining life, or in that kingdom of uses which is described as the Grand Man of heaven. And through the ordered uses of the home, society, and the church, this kingdom extends its protection over men on earth also.
Love, the Key to Health
Love is the key to health as well as to happiness. Even the food we eat has a different effect when it is eaten with thankfulness and delight, than when it is gulped in a state of anxiety. Delight aids the secretion of digestive juices and enzymes and “opens the chyle-ducts” so that the nourishment can be rightly absorbed.445 Food and drink nourish the body better and more suitably when a man, at dinner or supper, is cheerful in spirit and is at the same time “in the delight of conversing with others about the things he loves, than when he sits at table alone.”446 Indeed, man shall not live by bread only. Among the proper “diversions of charity” are dinners, suppers, or parties “with those who are in mutual love from a similar faith”; where the conversation turns on various civic and domestic topics, but the chief interest centers on the church. The sphere of love and charity on such occasions exhilarates every mind, softens every voice, and brings festive feelings into all the senses.447 All of which confirms the proverb, “Better a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.”448
It is really love to the Lord and charity towards the neighbor which invite the wholesome spheres of heaven. And no love can give a more complete protection against the hells or offer more support to heaven than a love truly conjugial such as exists with two married partners who together look to the Lord in their common uses.449 For marriage was instituted by the Lord to be the norm of human life in which all the needs of soul and mind and body find their fulfilment and through which the Divine uses of creation are to be accomplished. It is to the state of marriage that every human individual must look for the final balance of life’s many uses and delights. And if a true marriage is not achieved on earth, a man or a woman can still live in the sphere of the conjugial union of charity and faith which fosters all the spiritual and natural uses of society and begets the wisdom of life.
The love of propagating and the love of protecting the offspring comes to all men as a sphere out of heaven and as a general influx. In the natural man, as in animals, it is received as a love of the sex. This is a natural instinct, and if it is not tempered by reason or conscience, it becomes the main source of mental stresses and social problems. But it is intended as the womb of conjugial love. And conjugial love can be received only according to the states of the church with man, or according as man, as of himself, orders his life by revealed Doctrine to recognize the purposes of creation. It is given to those who shun their evils as sins, approaching the Lord Jesus Christ as the one God of heaven and of earth, and who thus can sustain the particular influx of the angelic guardians which come from the celestial heavens with innocence and peace. Under such angelic auspices the conflicts of one’s natural affections are easily resolved and the disturbing undercurrents of fretting emotions are frankly analyzed and their stress weakened.
The states of a truly conjugial life are described as “innocence, tranquillity, inmost friendship, full confidence, a mutual desire of mind and heart to do the other every good; and from all these, blessedness, happiness, delight, pleasure; and from the eternal fruition of these, heavenly felicity.”450 This is not a cloudy ideal impossible of fulfilment in our day and age. It is possible wherever men thirst for the water of life and the New Jerusalem can be planted in their hearts.
Heaven comes to earth as a gift from the Lord—bringing the first conditions for happiness and for health—just so far as men shun evils as sins and thus invite good spirits to attend them. It comes “when a man, with his wife whom he loves most tenderly and with his children, lives contented in the Lord. From this he has in the world interior delight, and in the other life heavenly joy.”451
The Heavenly Doctrine was not given in order to restore to men the means of procuring physical health. It extends no hope for miraculous cures by prayer or by faith alone. Yet beside the pure river of water of life which flows crystal clear from the throne of God, there grows the tree of life whose fruits shall be for meat and whose leaves are for medicine—for the healing of the nations.452 These curative leaves signify the rational truths now revealed in the Writings, which can restore sound judgment to those who have been infested by evils and falsities, and may lead them to live becomingly and eventually to receive spiritual truths.453
The full text of this book is now online, at http://www.beginningtheisticscience.com/book/index.html
Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg
15 Mental Causes of Disease
“A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.” A Hebrew Proverb
Is Illness the Fault of Man?
Many Christians believe that all accidents and diseases are retributions of Providence for personal sins. This idea was common among the Jews, who conceived of no higher good than health and prosperity, nor any higher destiny than a long life on earth. The Lord sought to disabuse the minds of the disciples of this fallacy when he said concerning the man who had been born blind, “Neither hath this man sinned nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him”; and when He said that the eighteen killed by the fall of the tower in Siloam were not sinners above others in Jerusalem.381
Men—from no individual fault of their own—may fall sick from natural causes which in turn come from spiritual causes hidden from man’s understanding. And by natural remedies he may be restored. But while the disease lasts, evil spirits are able to extend their operations from the realm of the mind into the body, working against a cure by inflowing into the unclean things which belong to the disease, which they aggravate. The stress of the Writings is laid upon the fact that without the influx from the hells there would be no actual disease. “Every disease in the human race” comes from sin, which is spiritual disease.382 We cannot take this to mean that it is always a man’s fault if he is sick, any more than it is his fault that he has hereditary tendencies to evil. But even as sin bred disease in the human race as a whole, so it is the tendency of a man’s own individual states of evil to lead into corresponding diseases of the body. “If his spiritual life sickens, evil is derived therefrom into the natural life also, and becomes there a disease.”383
It does not follow that an evil man is always, or necessarily, sick, or cannot remain in what appears as perfect bodily health. But actually, the things that come to belong to man’s life are not only of his mind but of his whole body, from head to foot.384 And therefore it is disclosed in the Writings that the blood in the lungs purifies and nourishes itself correspondently to the affections of the mind, and that in evil states it absorbs a subtle food of unwholesome quality, unsuitable to serve the soul in its impartial and wise economy. Yet no one can ascertain this quality of the blood by any qualitative chemical analysis since “it is a purer blood, called by some ‘the animal spirit,’ which is purified” with the regenerating man.385
Certain “lusts and passions of the mind” are more prone than others to “destroy man’s interiors,” and thus to “drag” man into disease and death.388 Such passions may be classed as breaches of the moral law.
Intemperance, drunkenness, gluttony, luxuries of various kinds, and pleasures that cater to bodily enjoyments alone, head the list. For these upset the routine of use and the balance of the body functions; denying to the body the proper exercise or the proper sleep; or compelling the stomach to absorb useless food or drink, for the sake of the transient pleasures of the senses. Drunkenness causes a man to lose his manhood, since it is his intellectual faculty that marks him a man. It not only brings damage on his body and so hastens his death, but it wastes in extravagance what might be of use to many.387 Envies, fears, and anxieties about the future without proper trust in Divine provision, keep the nerves taut by a constant reliance upon prudence. It is a remarkable thing that the human body and brain can rise to emergencies and prolonged strain, and that men in executive positions can do work which even in amount shames others; but this only so long as states of frustration and personal anxiety do not affect them. For generally it is not work but fretting worry and vexation which cause health to break down.
Hatred and revenge also visibly poison the body and heat the blood, as well as warping the judgments of the mind. States of bitterness and brutality have always been compared to gall—the bile rejected from the liver and longing to punish the stubborn food in the intestinal tract. Lasciviousness— when given rein—leads to sexual diseases of varied types, affecting the glands, tissues, and nerves, and even infecting the blood itself. Hypocrisy and deception tax the nervous system by inducing constant fear of detection.
Mental states can so influence the body as to create organic disorders therein into which the hells can operate because the mind or spirit while man lives on earth is not apart from his body nor present only in the brain, but is within the whole body and animates it with life. “The spiritual,” we read, “accompanies every stamen [of me viscera, organs, and members of man] from outmost to inmost, and therefore all the minute structures and fibres of the heart and lungs.” This is the reason given for the fact that the spiritual body, which is formed within the natural body, rises at death in a similar form. Death “is merely the separation of the spiritual substance from the material.”388 The spiritual which is present in the body and its brain, and thus acts into nature, is called, in the Writings, the “ultimate-spiritual” and also the “spiritual-natural degree”; for it is the ultimate degree of the spiritual.389 In the inmost of the brain and body of man this ultimate spiritual is clothed with natural substances from the very inmost of nature,390 and thereby is given the power to separate itself from the higher spiritual degrees and to act against them. When such a perversion sets in it becomes evil.391 By paternal heredity, this lowest degree of the spiritual is now from birth contrary to the order of heaven and open to the influx of hell.392
It is the natural mind that is formed in direct contact with the natural substances of the body. And although the natural mind or the “spiritual-natural” in man is perverted by heredity, yet it is none the less ruled by the superior spiritual degrees in such a way that these can act by it in creating the body into the general image of the soul and usually maintaining it in seeming health. The perversion of the substance of the “ultimate spiritual” is thus of such a nature that its essential function of conveying life is outwardly unimpaired.
This ultimate spiritual degree with man unfolds itself as the natural mind—which is itself of three degrees, sensual, natural and rational. There is need in the body, then, for various planes of organics which shall serve to express the powers of that mind. For no life, no thought or affection, could possibly manifest itself in the realm of nature, unless nature furnished a receptive vessel, responsive to its influx.
Swedenborg’s Early Views on Diseases
In the Writings, little is said of these body-planes which display the powers of the spirit. But in his philosophical works, Swedenborg gives much thoughtful attention to them. What he says therein cannot be taken as revealed doctrine and is not binding on our minds. But what served him for a rational ultimate in receiving the inspired doctrine, might help us to understand its meaning more fully.
His general theory was that there are, in the body, three vital fluids. Each builds for itself a center, or principal court. The grossest of the vital fluids we call “the red blood,” and its center is the heart. The fluid of middle degree Swedenborg calls by various names—the “animal spirit,” the “purer blood” —and for its centers are prepared uncounted millions of cortical “glands” in the brain. Thence it flows at incredible speed through the nervous system and also enters into the composition of blood and tissues in various ways. The third and highest vital fluid—the “spirituous fluid” or “purest blood”—has innumerable centers in each cortical gland—centers which are called “simple corteces,” and thence it flashes like rays of force through the simplest invisible fibres, and through nerve fibres and blood vessels into the entire body. Indeed, the body is the product solely of the ineffable formative activities of these simplest fibrillae. For this “spirituous fluid” is the servant of the soul itself, and may indeed be called “the soul of the body.”392b
Into this framework of vital fluids and fibres, formed by the soul itself out of the best of nature’s gifts, Swedenborg then places the degrees of that mind which man employs in the world. The blood serves as the plane of the vegetative and most sensuous life of the mind. The cortical glands, with their vital nerve juices, are made the plane for the animus, its sensations, imaginations and passions. The simple cortex and simplest fibre and thus the highest vital substances of the body, are cited as the organic instruments of the rational mind and the pure natural intellect.
Diseases are affections of the various natural organics mentioned above. But the spiritual soul itself, which is the immaterial essence of man’s immortal spirit and is above these natural forms, can also suffer a vitiation or a perverse change of state—as to the reception of life. This cannot be counted as a disease, but as “guilt” (reatus).393
Yet the afflictions of the “purest blood” cause a sickness which affects the workings of man’s intellectual mind: it shows itself, not as a disease, but as a perversity in will and judgment—as vain ambition, malice, and a banishing of conscience. Thus insanities and vices result.394 The cure for such irrational states, Swedenborg suggests, is to gain health of body and animus, and then to enlighten one’s mind through masters who have saner judgment; but also to learn from revealed and rational theology, and to exercise freedom of thought and especially self-control !395 (And in the Writings it is added that “all who love uses think sanely in their spirit, and their spirit thinks sanely in their body).”396
If the “purer blood,” which runs through the cortical glands and the nervous fibres, becomes vitiated, there arises not disease as such, but “passions of the animus,” such as moody anger, jealousy, foolish prides or fears, melancholy, fickleness, weakness of the imagination, loss of memory, and many other ills which depend on the state of the brain and its various parts.397
All the natural affections or the mediate loves of the animus are in themselves healthy instincts.398 But when taken as ends-in-themselves, and indulged not for the sake of uses or for the sake of higher ends, but only for selfish satisfaction, then some of them become intemperate and urge us to excesses. We may call these natural affections, “natural goods,” because they are implanted in the natural mind from birth. Each love finds its own expression under the form of some virtue. Some individuals inherit prominent qualities of pity or generosity or courage, or on the other hand, their complements, prudence, thrift, or caution. Curiosity, hope, zeal, the love of the sex, are other examples of natural affections. Within such tendencies there lies hidden hereditary evil, which tends to upset that delicate balance of judgment which should make out of them all a harmonious and perfect whole—a moral life of use. From hereditary evil, the affections of the animus awake gradually into a mutual conflict. If—through intemperance—some of these loves of the animus are given loose rein, they turn from apparent goods into vices or grave faults, into searing passions which disturb the mind. But so long as man keeps them in balance and due proportion the mind is normal, and its natural affections do not then bring about any disease in the body, or any poisoning of the nervous fluid or the organics of the brain.
Swedenborg also suggests remedies for the sicknesses and upsets of the animus. Medicines, he says, may be employed to purify and restore the red blood; for it may be some external condition of the body and its blood that accounts for the mental state. Yet if the cause is not in the body, the state might be amended by an improvement of the mental environment : agreeable feasts, convivial companionships, and broader social contacts may put one in a more normal frame of mind! If this does not help, let the sufferer seek recourse to moral philosophy and in a bit of practical self-analysis, so that he rectifies the mistakes into which he has drifted.399 On the other hand, the trouble may be derived from perversities of the intellectual and rational mind—and then repentance is called for!
Health cannot truly exist, unless all the planes of the body and mind are in harmony and cooperation! If the inner mind is cheated of its ends, the animus may become angered, the blood hot, and a bilious fever may seize the viscera !400
Lack of harmony with interior planes is therefore a cause of bodily disease—disease “properly so called.” But not the only cause; for the body is affected by any organic deterioration of blood, serum, or tissue.401 And the principal and most common cause of bodily disease has to do with the lack of proper nourishment or with the food that we eat; and also with the subtle food which we draw in by breathing the air, and even the still more subtle nourishment which the “purer blood” drinks in from the ether.402 For the blood must be provided with aliments of sufficient quantity and the right quality. Our philosopher therefore classes—among the remedies for the body—not only various drugs, drawn from the three kingdoms of nature, and moderate diet, exercise, rest, sleep, moderate temperature; but also mental calm. And he leaves the field open for new discoveries of ways by which the blood may be purified, amended and renewed.403
The Theological Writings on the Causes of Organic Disease
We have cited these observations which Swedenborg made before he was called to his religious mission, in the hope that they might help us to understand more clearly certain statements made in the Arcana, the Spiritual Diary and the other theological works.
In the Arcana Coelestia we read that evils “close the smallest and altogether invisible vessels of which the next larger, also invisible, are woven; for the vessels which are smallest of all and wholly invisible, are continued from man’s interiors. Thence comes the first and inmost obstruction and thence the first and inmost vitiation of the blood. This vitiation, when it increases, causes disease and at length death. . . . “404 It is difficult to ascertain whether the inmost vessels which evil closes are to be conceived as physical or as spiritual substances, for they seem to be combinations of both. They are called vessels “on account of the correspondence,”405 and indeed “vessels in man’s rational and in his natural,” and are said to be in “contrary position” within him relatively to the inflowing life which none the less still can dispose them. Man perceives the variations of their form as truths.406 And a cross-reference suggests that it is in these “substances which are the beginnings of the fibres” that the objects of sense are organized as memory. They might perhaps be identified with the twists of the spiritual and natural substances of the natural mind which are turned in a sinister order before reformation has occurred.407 The evil heredity of the race is carried over from generation to generation by such correspondent disorders in the lowest spiritual degree present in the germ-plasm.408 And there must be a natural basis for such hereditary evils, since it is only in conjunction with natural substance—thus only in the natural mind while on earth—that evils can arise.409 The reason for this is that it is the very nature of natural substance to resist and react against spiritual substances.410 And owing to this resistance the lowest spiritual can there be separate from its higher degrees, and become perverted into “spiritual substances such as are in hell.”411
Hereditary evils, it is well to note, are not “guilt” or “sin” or “original sin,” but only tendencies or inclinations to evil. It would seem to follow, that with the newborn infant the “smallest and invisible vessels” which are receptive of the spirit and undoubtedly carry the marks of heredity, are not closed but have the tendency to close themselves against the spiritual mind; nor is there as yet any “inmost vitiation of the blood.” So far as the child, and later the man, does not prevent, the Lord continues to hold him in innocence and mental health, by a general influx. With infants and well-disposed children, even the worst spirits, if present, would be compelled to serve the Lord’s will and cannot introduce any evil. It is when the child begins to acquire a sphere of evil that the inmost vessels are “closed” to the influx of the un-perverted spiritual412 and become opened to an influx of cupidity from evil spirits; and then the “animal spirit” begins to absorb the malignities to which it had formerly been immune.
While an evil inheritance may thus give a predisposition to certain diseases, most babes are born healthy; unless some deficiency in maternal nourishment or some accident in the womb has interfered with the execution of the soul’s pattern of the embryonic body—that marvelous four-dimensional pattern which is latent in the germ-cells and which Dr. Schroedinger has described as a code-script for the individual’s entire future development.413 Hereditary evil does not affect the physiological functions of the soul in the body, for the inmost natural vessels are utterly obsequious to the soul in its general influx. Swedenborg therefore stated in the Economy of the Animal Kingdom that the spirituous fluid which is present as a formative substance in the parental seed cannot be perverted or injured or essentially changed in its form except with reference to a variant reception of life and wisdom.414
If this be so, it may be surprising that any one could be born an idiot. Yet even if the “spirituous fluid” is perfect in its physiological action there can be congenital defects in the derivative organisms or injuries to the nervous tissues due to malnutrition or to some trauma experienced either before or after birth. There are no doubt special reasons in the Divine providence why idiots should remain in the state of innocence for their entire life time, or why those who lose their rational balance through disease should be arrested for a time in their mental development. But the law is that “life . . . acts according to the ultimate determinations, but not from them.”415
The internal man may be quite rational even when the mind cannot be rightly channelled into corresponding imaginations, words, or acts. In a private letter, Swedenborg observed that “real madness and insanity resides in the external or natural, not in the internal or spiritual man.” There are no natural diseases among spirits in the other life, nor any hospitals; although there are spiritual asylums for spirits who become insane and idiotic from a denial of God. Natural diseases, blindness, lameness, insanity, etc., are cured when man sheds his externals and his internals are opened in the other life.416
Yet natural insanity may be caused or abetted by unwholesome mental habits and by the leading of evil spirits. For if our rational mind is not in control, spirits will lead man and cause mental fixations and monomanias.417
Nerves, Glands, and Spirits
There are two general ways by which mental and emotional states can affect the body. One is through the nervous system, the other is through the secretions which the glands communicate to the blood. Both originate in the brain. Swedenborg explained that the brain is not only a common sensory and a common motory for the body, but is also a complex gland which acts as a chemical laboratory. And the soul and the mind exercise their special functions, both conscious and unconscious, through the brain. The influence of our spiritual environment thus affects us first of all through the brain. And even as speech corresponds to the thought of the mind, so the influx of the mind into the body always expresses itself according to laws of correspondence.
It is a particular influx from hells attracted by our chosen states that stirs up partiality and dissension among the affections of the natural mind, causes mental symptoms, emotional moods, psychic disturbances and disorders in the functions of the braincells, and upsets the balance in the products of the endocrine glands.
The conscious part of the mind, or the voluntary, by its deliberate or at least perceptible decisions moves the body by means of the central nervous system. Our errors of judgment or intent may thus cause injury to the body by overstraining it or leading it into perils with which it is not equipped to cope. But emotional states may cause illness even when man is not really aware of them except as a frame of mind; and they may affect the body through the autonomic nervous system centered in the hypothalamus and midbrain, causing unwanted muscle tensions and pains in the oesophagus and stomach and in various parts of the alimentary canal, resulting in symptoms like those of peptic ulcers or gas or appendicitis. The breathing may be affected and cause undesirable changes in the blood. The blood vessels are most sensitive to emotions, as in blushing or in headaches, and the heart beats faster when one is deeply moved. Certain prejudices or constant irritations may cause outbreaks on the skin or rheumatic ailments. Frustrations may explode in hysterical weeping or laughter, or in violent actions not intended. Anger may lead to hemorrhages on the brain and possible death through coronary occlusions.
The second bodily agency to respond to our mental states is the glandular system. In his physiological works and later in the Writings Swedenborg called attention to the important functions of what is now called the endocrine glands—anticipating many discoveries by more than a century. In fact he noted that there is no viscus which does not contribute a secretion to the bloodstream.418 Chief of all the glands he considered the brain with its constituent “cortical glands,” some of the products of which were strained through the region of the hypothalamus into the pituitary gland at the base of the brain and thence—modified in various ways—into the jugular vein, thereby vivifying the blood with “animal spirit.” Health depends on the proper balance and purity of these fluids, and many diseases result from their deficiency or wrong distribution.419
Swedenborg concluded that the “animal spirit” which is so essential for the balance of all body functions contains within it a life-carrying “spirituous fluid” which is generated in the inmost structures of the cortical cells. All the ductless glands in the body are regulated through the pituitary gland which is the outlet for this subtle nerve-product. In his various treatises he points especially to the uses of the thymus, the adrenals, the spleen, the pancreas, the liver and the testicles; which all aid in modifying, tempering, and salvaging the animal spirit. And in the Diary he says of the learned of his time: “So long as they dispute whether there exists an animal spirit in the fibres, which they may still do for a thousand years, they can never come to the courtyard of knowledge, but will stand far away.”420
It can hardly be doubted that what Swedenborg called “animal spirit” is closely related to what medical science in this century refers to as hormones produced by internal secretory glands. The pituitary is now acknowledged as the master gland and the source for a number of hormones which regulate almost every process in the body and condition the various organs to avert any threats to bodily well-being. Most important, however, is the finding that these glands are so sensitive to emotional stresses and psychic states (such as mental blocks and aversions) that they can cause corresponding illnesses and symptoms in the body. The relation of the endocrine glands to our inner states is so close that some have named them “the glands of personality.” The accumulating evidence of symbolic symptoms in psychosomatic diseases is not surprising to the New Church man who is familiar with the universal correspondence of the natural to the spiritual and knows the body as the instrument and clothing of the mind. Yet we may sometimes forget the further truth—that our inner life does not originate with ourselves but is induced by the spirits who are attracted by the contents of our mind.
Our morbid psychic states need not at once, nor necessarily, cause disease in the body. But when a disorder exists in the body itself, the sphere of evil spirits acts spontaneously by a law of correspondence. In certain cases, they can cause disease only when men invite the evil which these spirits represent; and in such cases the Lord cannot avert their sphere.421
We read strange things in the Writings about this correspondent influx—things which can be appreciated only after reflection and a study of the doctrine of the Grand Man. Thus hypocritical spirits—who wish to evade judgment— tend to inflow to produce toothache and what appears to be neuralgia.422 Certain dominating, pompous and impatient spirits induce great pain and weakness and weariness of mind and body.423 The sphere of selfish and slothful spirits produce numbness and oppression in the stomach. Spirits who have been in much solicitude or are inclined to avarice and are unwilling to leave “the state of externals” in which newcomers are in the other life, affect the stomach with nervous indigestion.424 Revengeful spirits aggravate superacidity in the stomach.425 Those who make everything a matter of conscience also induce abdominal anxieties.426 In each instance there are profound correspondential reasons for such influxes.
Anxieties of a different kind are due to the presence of unworldly female spirits of the province of the adrenal glands who are in solicitude from a life lacking in variety. But these spirits, who also act on newly born infants, are merely concerned to hold the mind in some line of thought that excludes what is worldly. Certain other spirits, who in the Grand Man relate to the infundibulum, are—like the fluids in the ventricles—inconstant and undetermined, and cause in man states of impatience and suspicion.427 Those who do not like work but seek social prominence and pleasures as their sole gratification, correspond to obstructions in the brain, and their presence causes stupidity, dullness and loss of affection.428 Those who relate to the viscid humors of the brain with which vital fluids are mixed, love to incite scruples of conscience in trivial matters. Such rather narrow-minded spirits induce a sensible anxiety in the upper abdomen; and they are also wont to come to a man during temptations and make them unbearable.429
When sickness coincides with temptation, man’s lot is unenviable. “Temptations,” we read, “are most grievous when they are accompanied with bodily pains, and still more so when those pains continue for a long time and no deliverance is granted even though the Divine mercy is implored.”430 Yet illness itself, even when the mind is anxious and moody, is very different from spiritual temptation. Real temptations have a spiritual issue involved—a struggle to retain spiritual health and faith and charity. Still, moods of sadness may break like a flood upon a man who has lived in good when he relapses into the sphere of his proprium; and then he may become indignant and angry. He thinks restlessly and his desires become impetuous; although when this flood is lifted, he returns to a serene and cheerful state. Such temptations affect the animus and perhaps the body. In the case of the last posterity of the Most Ancient Church, such a profane flood of evil and insanity was let loose that people perished physically, by a species of suffocation. This, therefore, was actually a death of sin, and—as was shown above—was described by the great Deluge.431
The indications are that diseases are usually receptive of an influx from particular spirits, who then inflow by their sphere into a particular part of man’s body. But a localized disease may become general, or may attract a more general influx.
This is noted in the case of fevers. Many places in the hells, among obstinate and pernicious spirits, exude an excessive heat, impure and corporeal. This sphere inflows partly into the mind of man, by means of particular spirits, to inflame him with cruelty or adulterous lust; but partly also it may, by a “general sphere or a general influx,” produce a febrile heat in the diseased parts of the body as well as a delirium in the mind.432 Indeed it is stated that “the sick man summons” those who infuse such heat, and that spirits most marvelously know how to determine their sphere into the body, and this despite the fact that spirits do not know the man with whom they are. Fortunately the Lord controls them under laws of order, withdrawing them periodically; “wherefore several fevers have stated alternations.”433 It is generally admitted that the rise of body temperature into fever heat is a defensive reaction of the body in its resistance to disease.
Spiritual Uses of Sickness
Disease and melancholic anxiety may be classed among “natural temptations.”434 But the difference between an illness and a state of spiritual temptation is well illustrated in the case of certain spirits who relate to the province of the stomach and especially to the undigested things therein. The general action of these spirits is to instill feelings of oppressive sadness and uncomfortable melancholy for which no perceptible cause or occasion can be recognized. The spirits who thus inflow are not the spirits who are with man as his attendants and who resemble him as to affections; but they are strange spirits who have been sent forth from some infernal society into the sphere of his life. They flow in by a more general influx to produce these effects, which are contrary to man’s own affections. Such spirits may also infest man during a spiritual temptation; but then they would not only inflow “in general,” for the temptations themselves are produced by particular spirits who excite certain evils that man has done and put a wrong interpretation on the good things in his mind. Only by such a “particular” influx can the man be placed in freedom to resist, and his guardian angels then engage in combat on his behalf.435
What has been said may aid us to understand the teaching that a man cannot be reformed—or he cannot change his ruling love—while in states of sickness of mind or body.436 While ill, the mind is not always rational, and if rational yet is not free. Man then lives apart from his world of uses and duties and is withdrawn in his spirit. The Writings liken such a man to a religious recluse, a hermit bent on thoughts about his own salvation; and the same is the state of one who is in some extreme danger or in sudden misfortune. Besides, the sick man may be oppressed by moods beyond his control, and is released from his usual responsibilities and from the pressure of many of the affections that normally wage their silent warfare for predominance.
So far as a man can carry on his uses, he cannot be called sick in the above sense. Nor does illness prevent a person already on the road of reformation from being strengthened in his good resolutions by the reflections on his sick-bed. There is therefore room for the further teaching that a very large class of men (who are represented in the Word by the Hebrew manservant) “cannot be reformed otherwise” than through the hardships of life, such as anxieties, misfortunes, and even sicknesses! These are they who from infancy have given little thought to anything but worldly life and success, yet have lived morally and accepted the doctrine of their church on hearsay. With them, sickness is turned into an opportunity to review life’s real purposes, and something of spiritual good may then adjoin itself to their thought. They may turn again to the consolation offered by their church, and confirm their faith more deeply while their worldly loves lie dormant for a while.437
Even like gifts of wealth and peace, the gift of health is happily in the Lord’s hands to dispense—for those to whom health may be a blessing. In our hearts we all pray for health when it eludes us. Yet it is the Lord’s admonition that we should seek first the kingdom of God and His justice. “He who is in faith from the Lord asks for nothing but what contributes to the Lord’s kingdom and to himself for salvation.” The angels told Swedenborg that if they should pray for anything else, they could have no faith that they would receive it.438
Sickness is not a total waste in the Lord’s sight. We are encouraged to practice foresight and to seek to maintain our health by prudence as well as by medicine. But to be brooding constantly upon the possible ailments of our body and to delve intently into anatomical details all one’s life, is not in itself an aid to health.439 “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” The regenerating man, even in his pastimes, looks to uses as an end. He loves the things of his body for the sake of having a healthy mind, and consults for his body as the first requirement for usefulness; and he “loves his mind and its health for the sake of an end still more interior—that he may have a relish for good and may understand truth.”440 This is further explained as follows:
“He who is in merely external pleasures makes much of himself, indulges his stomach, loves to live sumptuously, and makes the height of pleasure to consist in things to eat and drink. One who is in internal things also finds pleasure in these things, but his ruling affection is to nourish his body with food pleasurably for the sake of its health, to the end that he may have a sound mind in a sound body; thus chiefly for the sake of the health of the mind, to which the health of the body serves as a means. One who is a spiritual man does not rest here, but regards the health of the mind or soul as a means for acquiring intelligence and wisdom—not for the sake of reputation, honors, and gain, but for the sake of the life after death. One who is spiritual in a more interior degree regards intelligence and wisdom as a mediate end having for its object that he may serve as a useful member in the Lord’s kingdom; and one who is a celestial man, that he may serve the Lord. To such a one bodily food is the means for the enjoyment of spiritual food, and spiritual food is a means for the enjoyment of celestial food; and as they ought to serve in this manner, these foods also correspond, and are therefore called ‘foods’ ” (AC 4459:6).
Starting Science From God
The full text of this book is now online, at http://www.beginningtheisticscience.com/book/index.html
Discovering inner health and transformation
Health screening programmes are becoming increasingly popular since early intervention has a better chance of success than when trying to cure a chronic condition. Many people in the UK who have nothing wrong with them are offered free health screening.
Two examples are a test for bowel cancer and one for an abdominal aortic aneurysm. The first assessment involves people gathering and posting off samples of faeces and the second attending a clinic for an ultrasound test. Large aneurysms are rare but can be very serious as they might burst.
Some individuals are reluctant to spend time complying with screening if there is nothing wrong with them especially if follow-up testing promises to be time-consuming and not without any financial penalty. Some people fear screening might reveal something physically unusual or abnormal which they consider may not be significant in terms of well-being and functioning. A particular screening test might be known to be liable to false alarms. Some might be put off the tests because of subsequent treatments – such as chemotherapy or surgery – having known negative side effects, as serious as incontinence or impotence.
However, given the care taken, by the public authorities who offer screening, to first examine all the medical considerations, there is a question that arises. Are those people, with doubts about screening, being negatively swayed by their deeper beliefs and attitudes regarding life and death? Perhaps it is difficult to disentangle the affects of religion, culture and personal bias on personal choice. Here are 6 attitudes which seem to be relevant.
Some people won’t mention the word ‘cancer’ which for them is a taboo word. Pain, and death seem such awful things that they feel that “when you have no symptoms of any problem, advertised screening tests can make you anxious when you really didn’t need to be.”
Rather than use avoidance I would say a more rational approach is to honestly face anything bad and then you can have a hope of dealing with it. My own spiritual belief is that we can face the possibility of bad news with equanimity knowing that we can only cope with what we can cope with and the rest is in God’s hands. Furthermore I feel I can face death relatively calmly in the light of what has been revealed regarding the spiritual world described by Emanuel Swedenborg from his own experience.
The macho male wants to cling to an image of manhood as one of power through independence. Such a man will resist the prospect of being vulnerable in illness and be anxious to avoid finding out that he will be ill or infirm. I would suggest he does rather need to swallow his male pride and realise one doesn’t have to be a hypochondriac to be concerned to do what you can to have an illness diagnosed.
This is the view that medical treatment is unnecessary because only God can cure disease. Is it not magical thinking if people were to pray for and expect physical healing? It is as if God were a giant genie at the beck and call of every human whim. An alternative religious view is that God provides for our eternal needs and works through medicine to deal when it can with our temporary ones. After all even the most devoutly religious people can end up getting sick.
Some people believe it doesn’t matter what they decide because their future is written in the stars and what will be will be. Sometimes this fatalistic attitude is accompanied with a view that medical treatment cannot help because of the law of karma since “We reap what we sow”: and so acting irresponsibly, if not in this life then in a previous one, (e.g. adopting bad diet, smoking, excessive alcohol) will result in unchangeable consequences.
The modern medical view however is whilst life-style undoubtedly is an important factor in causing disease, one’s health can be improved by appropriate treatment if needed. For mainstream Christianity, the future may be foreseen by God, but not predestined, for what is foreseen depends on our personal choices now; our inner free-will enabling us to create our own destiny.
This is the notion that if you are ill, it is the will of God. In line with this belief, disease is seen as a punishment for immoral behaviour from a punitive God. For example we find the attitude “HIV and cervical cancer is caused by promiscuity and so one must take one’s deserved punishment for immoral conduct.”
I favour an alternative view that God is not punitive but compassionate. I would say we are allowed to suffer the consequences of our personal choices if this helps towards learning the lessons of life but a loving God punishes no one for any past misdeed.
It is difficult to fault this belief. I am probably in danger of sounding sanctimonious, but I feel I should be doing all I can to live my life to the full, choosing to help the lives of my loved ones and those around me be as happy as I can. Allowing a disease to go undetected, and thus untreated, could be unnecessarily burdening a future carer. This for me is the clinching reason for making the effort to attend medical screening appointments.
Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Posted on25th May 2014
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Posted on15th October 2010
When the Lord stated in the Apostolic Gospels that we are to “love God and the neighbor,” He was not just responding to a question from a Pharisee who wanted to know what was the greatest commandment. He was unifying religion with science!
How can that be? Well, love can act as a powerful antibody. Love can promote physical health and psychological wellbeing. Therefore, love is more than a romantic notion or an act of goodness. Love is of scientific importance to science itself.
Research has shown that love somehow creates chemicals that strengthen the immune system. Laughing, singing, being around friends, marriage, and even going to church creates positive emotional states that can lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and generally help people to liver longer, fuller lives.
Brain scientists are starting to look at neurotransmitters (amino acids, hormones, and peptides) as “molecules of emotion.” There is even a book out with that exact title and written by a professor of biophysics. Beyond that, emotion is now being looked at as being a key component of human cognitive function. It is believed by some that emotions (derivatives of love) are what focus our attention and arrange human experience into coherent and personal belief systems. (This is non-physical, self-organization, folks!)
Pioneering neuroscientists suspect that the way to create a comprehensive theory of the human cognitive architecture and its neural substrates is through the framework of a multi-dimensional model of emotion.
This kind of framework is exactly what Emanuel Swedenborg (who was the father of neuron theory) had accomplished over 250 years ago! He developed a multi-dimensional model of the human brain (and mind) consisting of layered networks, each under the agency of some distinct principle of love – from corporeal or worldly love to spiritual love. This hierarchical arrangement showed that the human brain and mind had its neural basis in a non-physical, theological realm.
I predict that more and more scientists (heck, theologians too) will begin to look at the universe and nature not just from a computational or intellectual perspective, but from a volitional perspective as well. (There is already a philosophical theory out there that defines substance as a dispositional property or endeavor – called dispositional essentialism.)
Love is the ultimate disposition. That is why I have chosen to write a book that will attempt to show that love is the fundamental principle behind gravitational order and self-organization in the universe. All structure and existence is relationship. In other words, love is the reason why the universe consists of laws that are fine-tuned to be bio-friendly.
Love is the secret to the principle of agency in the universe. And according to the Lord’s words in Scripture, true love is also the key to eternal life and happiness.
Conventional modern medicine has made great strides, the main progress having been focussed on specially formulated chemical substances and sophisticated surgical
techniques with their high-tech electronic aids.
This has led to some truly amazing advances, but it has also resulted in specialisation and an approach to the whole subject of ‘health and wholeness’ which has been increasingly concerned with the ‘point of pain’ rather than the ‘person in pain’. This can result in the treatment of symptoms whilst an underlying cause may go undetected.
The person in pain
The human spirit that thinks, feels and experiences is neither chemical nor
computerised, but a living consciousness with non-physical (as well as
physical) dimensions. The realisation that beauty is more than skin deep is
equally true of health. The whole person is more than the outer physical shell.
There is increasing reason to question the underlying conviction of
conventional medicine that ultimately all disorders have a physical cause that
can be treated by surgery or chemistry.
Emanuel Swedenborg maintained that there is an intimate relationship between the human spirit and the human body; between the spiritual plane and the natural plane of
life. The spiritual plane is the plane of causes; the natural that of effects.
For anything to come into being it will have a spiritual origin. In the case of
diseases this can be due to a spiritual condition within ourselves or the
spiritual environment around us, or a combination of both. This is not to say
that it is all in the mind; very far from it.
A magnificent cathedral is not only in the mind, but its origin was in the mind. Its bricks and stones are a natural expression of those who built it; their sense of a sacred space – a
deeply felt spiritual reality of feeling, thought and imagination. If this is true of the buildings we inhabit, is it not very probable that it is equally true of the bodies we live in – the temple of the human soul?
To change a house to suit our needs requires thought and imagination as well as the right materials. It is surely reasonable to expect that both physical and spiritual action are needed to complement each other in health care too.
Inner and outer health
Emanuel Swedenborg, writing during the time of the early beginnings of conventional
medicine, whilst accepting it has value, points to deeper spiritual causes:
“Things existing in the natural world are nothing else than effects; their causes exist
in the spiritual world. … If the natural part of a person’s being were
separated from the spiritual part it would be separated from the entire cause
from which it has its being and so from all that brings it life. Even so, this
does not make it impossible for a person to be healed by natural remedies, for
the Lord’s providence works in co-operation with means such as these.”
(Arcana Coelestia sections 5711, 5713)
For some, the priority is physical health, with health and wholeness of spirit,
whilst acknowledged as important, seen as of lesser importance. Swedenborg
takes a very different view. He looks at the larger perspective of life that
only has its early beginnings on the earth-plane of existence. He seeks to show
us the over-riding importance of the health and wholeness of the spirit or soul
which lives on long after our bodily outer shell.
Divine Providence, he maintains, is concerned with our physical health, but this is of secondary importance compared with the inner needs of the heart, mind and life itself
which are not material at all, but spiritual.
The placebo effect
Modern medicine well recognises that disease, stress and anxiety are significant
health risks, and the list of ‘stress-related’ illnesses includes digestive,
coronary and cancerous conditions. Too often, however, the positive placebo
effect, where recovery takes place through faith in the treatment, even if
phoney, is simply seen as something to eliminate in a clinical trial. With
notable exceptions few have looked at this as a means of healing, when it is unquestionably
powerful in its potential effect.
In looking to use and understand this ‘effect’, a constantly recurring theme in
Swedenborg’s writings needs to be reconsidered. He maintains there is a
corresponding link between spiritual and natural levels of being. Many
recognise that effects emanating from our inner state, very similar to the
placebo effect, work in a variety of ways on our health.
Consider how the ‘spiritual pollution’ of personality caused by unresolved conflicts, worry,
hatred, envy and grief undermines not just spiritual well-being but, in time, physical health also. On the positive side few deny the effects of love, humility, forgiveness, peace and prayer in the promotion of health at all levels of our being. It is high time we accepted the challenge to outgrow the myth that our state of health is no more than the state of of the molecules of which the body is composed, and face the importance of developing inner health and wholeness. Diet has its place, but so does devotion, faith and forgiveness.
It is not a case of ‘either/or’ but the holistic ‘both/and’ that accepts and affirms the spiritual dimension in healing.
Those who are not healed
To penetrate the problem of those who ‘do the right things’ yet still do find
healing, whilst others do, we need Swedenborg’s clearer understanding of
underlying causes, and the relationship between inner and outer, between
spiritual and material. Spiritual growth and the unfolding of the real meaning
of our lives involves light and dark, good and bad, health and dis-ease.
All our experiences serve a use and for the many who cry ‘why me’ there are a few,
who like the Christ, say ‘why not me’. Whilst Swedenborg does not maintain
‘these things are sent to try us’, he is clear that they are only permitted if
it is possible for some eternal benefit to our spiritual health to result.
Copyright 2012 Clifford Curry
Posted on4th August 2012
It’s never too late to make a personal change – or so my mother used to tell me. But sometimes I feel I’ve missed the boat. Others have said the same thing. The more we indulge our weaknesses, the more our flaws seem to take hold; and the more we avoid those difficult challenges, the more dissatisfied with ourselves we become – and wonder whether ingrained personal habits can ever be broken.
Some of us may realise that we’ve stopped moving along our path in life. Stopped making any personal change. For the warning signs have appeared – a medical complaint caused by an unhealthy lifestyle, a developing coldness due to the neglect of one’s close friends, a loss of interest and energy for something we should be doing that we know deep down is important.
Not moving along life’s path is literally true for me. In my case it is a canal tow-path near my home which I should be using for much needed daily exercise. They say, ‘A healthy mind needs a healthy body’, but mine is getting to be no longer ‘fit for purpose,’ sadly through a long time of overindulgence.
Sometimes I think I’m just naturally lazy and so have been quick to forget about the problem. And when I’m shaken out of my complacency, I only make an effort to make personal change in stops and starts.
Perhaps that’s the trouble with our failings – we don’t like to dwell on them. Our mistakes sometimes need to have catastrophic consequences before we wake up and take notice; before we see the need for something important to make a personal change about.
We may want to find peace and contentment. The trouble is such feelings are denied us as long as we turn our backs on what we see to be the truth; the truth that we can cause harm to our body by neglecting it, or the truth that we can do damage to our most valued relationships by not nourishing them.
Going out for a daily jog – or in my case a regular brisk walk every day, perhaps in cold wind and rain – may not seem like a deep issue; but something on the surface of life like this can be a spiritual matter if we do not follow our inner conscience. If I do not take control of my body what chance have I of taking control of my life? I do make the effort but somehow I seem to need an extra lift to keep at it. To make that personal change I really want.
To be honest, and I know it sounds pathetic, but after many years I’m beginning to wonder if I can win this battle unaided – not to mention a few other personal trials I’m facing. Many alcoholics accept that the fight to beat the demon drink cannot be won through one’s own efforts alone and have surrendered to what Alcoholics Anonymous term a ‘higher power.’ When the going gets really tough and we realise we are just not strong enough to make that very important personal change and find a way through, then perhaps we likewise can humbly ask for help from the spiritual force in which we believe.
As the Christian mystic HT Hamblin pointed out, our seeking must ultimately be not through mental effort, but through acceptance and surrender, ‘turning the heart to the Christos’. This means accepting the ‘disciplines and chastenings’ of life, working through them and learning as much as possible from them and then leaving the outcome entirely in Divine Hands.
In other words, seeking a way through our troubles and failings is usually something to do with moving away from self – from self-indulgence and self-importance. We may all be complacent about some of this but how much happier we could become by both facing the need to change and asking for help – however long it takes in relation to different aspects of our character.
I’m focusing on just one issue at the moment, but I’m becoming aware of other ways my life needs turning round. I don’t know if all my troubles will be cured but I believe I can only do what I can do and leave the rest to God’s Power.
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
First published as Facing the Cold Wind and Rain in New Vision Magazine March/April 2010.
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
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.