Disappointment: a blessing in disguise?

disappointment
Blessing in disguise?

The disappointing terrorist attack of 9/11 was clearly not a blessing in disguise. Evil got its way and many people were very badly physically and emotionally hurt. Nor in any conceivable way can many a disappointing setback be described as a piece of good fortune even if tiny morsels of something positive might be salvaged from such events. On the other hand sometimes a personal trouble can have a unexpected opportunity for a helpful outcome. For example occasionally a bout of illness can help a patient re-appraise an unhealthy lifestyle. The difficulty is in recognising what might possibly be a blessing when your expectations are so severely dashed against the painful rocks of reality. Here are 5 questions that will help you look for any blessing in disguise after you suffer a disappointment.

Was the disappointment due to your unrealistic expectations?

Sometimes when you think life is predictable, the universe has other plans. You may be taken by surprise, if for some reason you complacently suppose calamity will always affect somebody else and not yourself. Yet people do get injured on the roads in large numbers. Nobody can tell what is around the corner. Who can say one won’t get run over by a bus tomorrow?

You may assume you always get your just deserts. Don’t we reap what we deserve? But actually this is may not be the case. A drunken driver or a badly maintained aircraft can be the sole cause of mayhem to innocent passengers.

Was the disappointment something of your own making?

Not everyone learns from their own mistakes. The painful inflamed tendon in my arm was frustrating as it forced me to rest and ration my work of splitting logs instead of overdoing it everyday. It was my wife, who rightly pointed out, that I needed to learn to pace myself in re-using muscles and tendons which have grown tight and weak due to under-use. Apparently it is a common problem for gardeners to rush out in the spring and strain their backs after a winter of inactivity.

Did the disappointment show greater effort was needed?

I got excessively cross with my young grandson who was refusing to abide by the rules of the board game we were playing. Sometimes adults forget just how noisy, untidy and demanding they themselves were when children. My emotionality spoiled what should have been a leisurely family occasion. I have now resolved to try harder to be more patient with the boy whilst still remaining firm about the rules.

“What keeps me going is a constant sense of disappointment with what I’ve already done.” (Robert Wyatt, rock musician)

If we see a setback as a challenge then it can be a stimulant for bigger effort.

Did the disappointment broaden your horizons?

Say you were to suffer a major misfortune such as losing your job through redundancy, or your spouse through marital breakdown or death. Then you would be faced with a huge challenge. Perhaps having to find a livelihood doing a different kind of work. Or having to cope as a single person with no partner to intimately support you face life. In either case you will probably be obliged to get out of your comfort zone: deal with new kinds of situation: learn new skills: meet new people.

“Disenchantment, whether it is a minor disappointment or a major shock, is the signal that things are moving into transition in our lives.” (William Throsby Bridges, senior military officer)

If you happened to have a tendency towards self-pity here is an opportunity to stop adopting the victim role. This role seeks to focus on blaming something or someone else for one’s troubles. If you are such a person you will have a chance to learn instead the role of the survivor and adopt the courage that is required to tackle the unknown and experience the new confidence that comes from success.

Did the disappointment mean you need to put your hope in something beyond yourself?

When you feel like you don’t have the physical, mental, or emotional strength to pull through, you are challenged to possibly put trust in something more than yourself – whatever that may be.

” As someone who has faced as much disappointment as most people, I’ve come to trust not that events will always unfold exactly as I want, but that I will be fine either way.” (Marianne Williamson, spiritual teacher)

This reminds me of the biblical story of Jonah. His conscience told him to go to do a job of work but he didn’t want to do it and so he journeyed in the opposite direction only to end up in the sea and swallowed by a whale. In his distress he called to his God for help, vowing to make amends for his disobedience. The whale vomited him safely on to dry land.

Conclusion on disappointment

I would suggest there is no such thing as bad luck. Facing and dealing with setbacks is a part of life for all of us.

If you will, you can choose to find only the negative in your disappointment.

“When disappointment festers in our soul, it leads to discouragement.” (Joyce Meyer, Christian speaker)

Or you can look for possible blessings in disguise.

“If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.” (Henry David Thoreau, transcendentalist poet)

Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher, claimed there is a loving Divine Providence, under whose rule, bad things are allowed to happen, if some lessons of life can result. According to this view, your time here on earth can teach you how to be more spiritually mature and thus experience a deeper long-lasting happiness.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” (Martin Luther King, Jr., Christian activist)

Copyright 2015 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Posted on26th February 2015CategoriesConsciousness, Latest post, Meaning and inspiration, Meaning of life, SufferingTags, ,, , ,

Illusions that destroy hope.

No future? Lost hope? Can’t see how things might improve? When we get into this negative state of mind, we lack energy even to do the easiest of things and nothing gives us much pleasure.

For Macbeth, life seemed to have a future — one of power and status. illusions Yet he also felt such things were insignificant. For he said:

“Life is but a walking shadow… a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury – signifying nothing.”

Perhaps he was feeling that only what the world could offer were mere illusions.

Yet buying into illusions can be what gets us down in the first place.

Illusions of alienation

To lose contact with people we felt at home with, when we’ve gone away into situations that were unfamiliar and unknown, can be extremely disorientating and disagreeable. One feels different, separated from normal ways of thinking and doing things and unsure of the way forward. We come to mistakenly believe that there is no-one with whom we could share our interests and concerns. No community to which we feel we could belong.

Seen from a spiritual perspective, there are certain triggers for this type of thinking that have grown in recent times. They are to do with our automated life and bureaucratic society and of the widespread materialist sense of values. Existential thinkers have put into words this state of estrangement from any truly human sense of reality and community.

The thoughts that support a feeling of alienation are mistaken. This is because there is always the opportunity of making new friends; always the chance to communicate on a deeper level; always the prospect of joining a social network or local group. It simply involves being oneself rather than pretending to be someone one is not. It involves searching out like-minded people.

Illusions of meaninglessness

One may come to believe that there is nothing that means anything any more. Not just a lack of meaningful relationships but a lack of meaning in life itself. When we start to fall for this way of thinking we are tempted to ask about any point in staying alive.

Yet there are many things we can do that can give satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment, as long as we are engaged with some activity. When we can see what is needed in a situation and start to do something about it, then we can become energised and find a meaningful purpose.

It can lead to a sense of accomplishment, the appreciation from a neighbour, or the interest of a fellow worker – all meaningful experiences. Also our ideals and ethical principles of living can develop and take on new meaning as we try to follow them in daily life.

Illusions of condemnation

A third basic fallacy that leads to depression is to do with a feeling of guilt. One may have done something about which one is truly ashamed or on the other hand be unfairly blaming oneself; one’s self-assessment may have been realistic or unrealistic.  We are at risk of losing hope when we dwell on the illusion that we will suffer a future of punishment and torment.

Yet, let us realise that there are darker forces within the mind encouraging our self-condemnation and that we can gain some control over these. Just as we can receive creative inspiration from a higher source, so we are capable of receiving destructive impulses from a lower one.

Our power over our illusions

Emanuel Swedenborg’s visions of the spiritual realm, convinced him there are those he called lower spirits who desire nothing more than to pop into our minds self-damaging thoughts – illusions which take away hope and inspiration.

Yet, Swedenborg testifies to the unconscious presence with us also of higher spirits who illuminate in us what we have known to be right, defending us against irrational illusions. He wrote that the higher ones have the power of restraining the lower ones, defending us against their malicious influence. So there is help within the human mind to balance out depressing feelings and the illusions that bring them on.

The battle ground may be within the individual soul. But the person can take a conscious hand in the outcome. The important point to remember is we can turn our backs on illusion because negative thoughts can have no power over us as long as we do not identify with them as our own.

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Despair – How to conjure up hope?

despairOn an off day, Stuart would privately think that life had little to offer him and he even sometimes felt that all he was doing was going through the motions of living. Money was tight, and in a time of recession there were poor prospects of job advancement. Although working as an estate agent, he had started to despair that he could do anything about finding any way of earning a living in a meaningful role in line with his youthful ideals.

Whatever he did wasn’t satisfying for very long and from time to time the feelings of hopelessness would return. He kept busy and this was his way of avoiding what he didn’t realize was a state of inner despair. He had been an idealist when younger, very keen to help bring about a world where the natural environment was protected, business people were honest, and social justice was the norm.

Now days he felt depressed whenever he read a newspaper or watched a newscast that clearly showed the opposite of his vision. He had switched from being very positive to very negative in his hopes. He was starting to feel like a failure and trapped by his situation, with a reducing willpower left for continuing the struggle with the disappointments of daily living.

How can someone like Stuart change this state of despair and find something to give hope and energy?

Despair resulting from lack of belief

There is nothing wrong with having a vision of a better world. Many of us like Stuart have imagined a human society uncorrupted by warfare and other social evils; or a natural environment with its beauty not exploited by greed; or a community of mutually supportive people with real concern for the public good, that gives everyone a sense of belonging and being included. Whatever idea of the future that excites us, it can serve to energise our best efforts.

I feel Stuarts’s problem however was that he had no deep belief to sustain his endurance when set-backs and adversity got in the way: nothing to hold on to that had the power to transform society: no spiritual framework of ideas to sustain his youthful vision, to give it credibility in the long run as an achievable objective, and to enable his wishes to survive a rational appraisal of what is possible. When there is nothing on which one can pin one’s hopes, then despair is likely to be the result.

If you despair, in what can you put your faith?

In other words, I am trying to argue that what is crucially needed is something beyond oneself, that transcends the material realm, and in which one can put one’s faith: an entity greater than oneself: that goes beyond the ‘little me’ with my petty concerns: that offers a timeless vision of life.

The way you think affects the way you feel. This is a psychological process known about by psychologists and used in CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). Consequently, it is key to examine whether the belief that sustains your hopes is a reasonable one. Stuart’s despair seems to come from his denial of any divine spark within and beyond humanity that could help us think further than self.

But how to be convinced? How to find a rational faith that could challenge the setbacks and illusions that destroy hope? The illusions of meaninglessness, alienation and self-condemnation?

Persuasive belief and despair

One answer comes from the spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. He writes about a limited type of belief that results from being persuaded by some ideology such as a political or religious teaching: often this is a belief of convenience so our attitudes unconsciously fit in with those of our family and friends. He claims that it is possible for such a belief to be  part of the thinking mind, but not also part of the feeling heart: if so he says it cannot endure. For example being persuaded that it is wrong to steal cannot transform a person from being a robber at heart unless there is a desire to be honest, so that thought and feeling are in harmony. Incongruity between head and heart accounts for the hypocrisy seen in some of the history of religion including Christianity. It can also account for lost hope and despair.

Swedenborg contrasts persuasive belief with a genuine faith in a higher power. He maintains real faith is to do with trust and confidence: it is knowing in your heart with an inner conviction for example that there is a divine providence behind the universe beyond all the ability of material science to observe. So just how can one find such an inner conviction that sustains hope? What do you do to be convinced deep down?

Despair or receiving confident hope through faith

Swedenborg’s answer is that such a faith is a spiritual gift – not something we can create for ourselves but rather something that we can receive: a gift only for those who are ready to receive it: who are willing to give something of themselves in order to receive.

But give what? Things that occur to me are:

  1. Giving an open mind to the possibility of a higher spiritual power that we can source to change things for the better,
  2. Giving the time to try to understand what this would mean,
  3. Giving our effort to try to lead a way of life in line with what we are persuaded is true.

If all this is correct then to find confidence in justice and peace, one needs to attempt to act  fairly with others. Likewise to have a deep trust in a creative force within the universe, one needs to oneself start nurturing the natural environment. Also to believe in the reality of the power of compassion, then one needs to begin practicing a caring attitude towards those with whom we come into contact. I believe this is the way to receive the gift of inner conviction.

Without confidence and conviction there can be no sustainable hope. Without hope there is despair.

“Give and you will receive”
“Search and you will find”
(Jesus Christ)

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

Patience – how to find it?

Had some of the less successful dualists of Europe three centuries ago been less impetuous, they might have a lived a longer life. The role of men acting as their seconds was to urge them to have some patience in resolving their dispute and to wait a while longer before starting the violence. Often such was the passion for defending ‘honour’, the good advice was to no avail.

patienceWe no longer fight duels. But how many of us could find more patience when stuck in a traffic jam, confronted by a rude customer we should be serving, or being faced with delay due to a queue going through airport security? We do tend to want immediate pleasure and get tense waiting for appetite to be satisfied, for boredom to be reduced, or for any frustrated desire to be met.

Psychologists have known for a long time about the power of ‘immediacy of reward’. When given a choice, all animals, humans included, are inclined to favour short term rewards over long term rewards even when the latter involve greater benefits. We often want something now and having it later is no good.

The effects of not having patience can be increased heart rate and bodily tension and of course the accumulative result is mental stress. If you get upset when things don’t work out for you straight away then getting angry can make the situation worse. How then can you learn to calmly endure hardship? How to find a way to wait longer for what you want without blowing a fuse?

Realistic expectations and patience

Studies have found that these days online users are no longer patient after as little as two seconds while waiting for a video to start playing. Users who are connected to the internet  at faster speeds have less patience than their counterparts connected at slower speeds. This suggests a link between patience and the expectation of when we are likely to get what we want.

We assume things and people ought to behave the way we think they should behave. That person at the head of the queue should not be engaging in small talk with the cashier. But people often don’t live up to our expectations.

If we are unrealistically optimistic in when we expect something then we are more likely to feel frustrated and so less likely to remain calm. Conversely, if we were to have lower expectations then perhaps we would be more patient whilst waiting. It helps to expect occasional delay, difficulty, or annoyance in life.

Distraction and a patience

It also helps to be get things into perspective. For example when eating alone at a restaurant and waiting for longer than usual for food to arrive, your mind may be focused on the appearance of the waiter. If so you are probably not feeling patience. You could try to distract yourself with something else to think about that actively engages your mind. For example noticing anything that is interesting, pleasing or good in the situation around you. Or reflecting on something positive and hopeful in your life. Make it something vitally interesting in order to lend it the power to tear yourself away from your preoccupation with what is frustrating you.

Time passes much more quickly when we are creatively absorbed in something and much more slowly when we are not. Thinking about a matter more important than what we are wanting at that moment helps you also to recognise that what you had been waiting for isn’t crucial to your happiness. Is it really the end of the world if you cannot make the beginning of the meeting because of the heavy traffic or the absence of a parking space near your destination? These considerations may help to calm the sense of urgency you felt about obtaining something straight away.

Spirituality and patience

Sleepwalking through life means behaving like a robot in the sense of acting in line with habits, and automatic thoughts. This often results in a lack of patience when things don’t go right. On the other hand a mindfulness practice is to make a conscious choice and effort to pay attention to everything that is going on in consciousness. Is your mind calm or agitated? Is your body relaxed or tensed? This awareness includes recognising any lack of fortitude.

All the faith traditions hold patience as a virtue. In Buddhism, being patient is the ability to control one’s emotions even when being criticized or attacked.

In Judaism patience reflects a contented attitude to life and good sense rather than folly.

In Islam it is believed that patience is part of the natural flow of life – needed for waiting for the harvest. To patiently endure calamity and suffering is to be closer to Allah.

Swedenborg and patience

Spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg has something to say about patience. His view is that with all the frustrations, set backs and hardships of life no-one can find a deep sense of patience in their own strength alone.

However, he writes that we can endure the temporary trials of life with a more patient attitude when we have a deep trust in a higher providence: this is can be thought of as a reliance on a universal spiritual force that has the power and foresight to provide what we need; the priority of this divine providence is said to be to satisfy not so much our immediate needs which often are temporary ones but rather those spiritual needs that we will continue to have in the long term – needs for example for belonging, loving relationship, and meaningful role.

Thus what counts for Swedenborg is our hope and trust in this image of the Divine Source: an image that is lovingly active in providing for us all – if we co-operate in the process. I only hope I can remember to try to open myself to this sphere of contentment when  tempted next by impatience.

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

Comfort and Hope

Comfort and Hope

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, April 25, 2010

http://www.sacred-texts.com/swd/ac/index.htm

“I cry out to You; Save me, and I will keep Your testimonies. I rise before the dawning of the morning, And cry for help; I hope in Your Word.” (PSA 119:146,147)

We all have hopes for the future. We all look forward to that day when things will be better for us. This is a natural tendency, and we strengthen it by frequent exercise. For example, children ask their parents for favors, and are told, “Maybe later,” and so are encouraged to behave in the hope of some future reward. “I hope Father Christmas will bring me a train,” the child says. “I hope I will get a wagon for my birthday!”

As adults we continue to hope for rewards for our good behavior. The employer replaces the parent, holding out offers of job advancement, or improved salary in return for some new behavior. We hope that we can please the boss and receive the reward.

We must ask ourselves if we carry this natural attitude over into our relationship with the Lord? Do we believe that if we can figure out how to please Him, He will let us into heaven? Do we believe that if we fail to please Him He will send us to hell? Is this our relationship to our Heavenly Father? If so, it is an immature view of God and and immature view of our hope for a better future.

Our thinking may be immature concerning comfort, too. A child’s whole existence is focused on his own comfort. A child has no idea of anyone else’s needs, and makes loud and insistent demands. A child can sometimes be so determined that he cannot stop his crying for something long enough to allow his parents to get it for him! He seeks his own comfort without regard for the needs of others.

If this behavior continues into adolescence and then adult life it may take on a different form, but the search for comfort may remain essentially a selfish endeavor. A selfish, immature person is willing to give of himself to others only because he wants something of value in return.

The question is, if these are the immature, natural views of comfort and hope, what are the mature, spiritual views? How should the adult mind understand comfort and hope? Comfort and hope are states given by the Lord to replace our states of anxiety and grief as we begin to conquer in spiritual temptations. It is most important to note that there is no genuine comfort or hope apart from victory in temptation.

The Heavenly Doctrines give two examples of this, describing two kinds of false ideas, and the spiritual results of each kind of life. First, the Heavenly Doctrines speak of those “who ascribe all things to their own prudence and little or nothing to Divine Providence” (See AC 2694:3). We are taught that they may be shown in a thousand different ways that the Divine Providence governs the universe down to the most minute particulars, and they may even from time to time perceive this truth in their own life by living experiences. However, as quickly as the memory of the event fades, so fades their conviction, and they return to their former belief in their own prudence. This change is temporary because it was a change in the thought only, not accompanied with a change in the affection. An opinion cannot be changed as long as the person who holds it still loves it. The affection for the opinion must change before the opinion itself can change, and the affections are only changed through temptation. In states of anxiety and grief that come from spiritual temptations, strong opinions can be broken, for then it may be seen that all power, prudence, intelligence and wisdom are from the Lord. At the same time we acknowledge that are nothing, and need His Guidance and help. (See Ibid.)

The second example regards those who believe that they have been justified, or saved by grace. Again, people who firmly believe this may be shown a thousand logical reasons why this can’t be, and yet they will not be moved an inch, because only the thought has been touched, not the more important ruling affection. We love many different things and our contradictory affections enable us to hold contradictory beliefs. As long as we believe they are our very own beliefs, and we have affection for them, our view cannot be changed. Is it not true that the best way to convince another person to do something is to lead him to propose the project himself? The best salesman is the one who is able to convince the customer that it is the customer’s own idea to buy. It is the affection or love that must be changed, and this can be done only by the Lord during states of temptation, for it is only by temptations that we can be reduced from our belief in our own guiltlessness to the state from which we can perceive the hell in ourselves, “and this to such a degree as to despair of ever being saved, then for the first time that persuasive (belief) is broken, and with it (our) pride, and (our) contempt of others in comparison (to ourselves), and also the arrogance that (we) are the only ones who are saved” (See AC 2694:4).

This teaching from the Heavenly Doctrines should well establish that we need the deep despair in temptation in order to break the persuasive light from our own self-intelligence, so that we will recognize our need for the Lord. Then, as soon as we do realize this, and ask for the Lord’s help, states of comfort and hope are given by the Lord. From the depths of anxiety and grief, we can be led by the Lord into the heartfelt realization that not only is all good from the Lord, but also all things in the universe, from greatests to leasts, are under His direct, loving care: are of His Mercy. Finally, when we see our own character clearly, we are humbled in heart. We not only think but also know and acknowledge with both heart and mind that without the Lord we are nothing at all.

And then comes a miracle. From this depth of despair, from this feeling of helplessness and unworthiness, when we turn to the Lord for help, the Lord flows in with comfort, and hope, and even delight. The purpose of temptation is to conjoin good and truth in our natural degree, to build a new will in the elevated understanding, a new will full of good from the Lord. When good and truth are conjoined in us through combats of temptation, we feel delight because the conjunction is a correspondence with the heavenly marriage of good and truth, and also with the Divine Love Itself and Divine Wisdom Itself conjoined in the Lord. This conjunction and union in the Lord is the source of all delight. Thus, when we have resisted an evil in ourselves, and hung on to our conviction that what we are doing is commanded by the Lord for the sake of our eternal life, the evil is removed, good from the Lord flows in, and the state of temptation ends as states of comfort and hope begin.

“…When a man is in temptation, he is as it were in hunger for good, and in thirst for truth; and therefore when he emerges he draws in good as a hungry man devours food, and receives truth as a thirsty man imbibes drink. Moreover when light from the Divine appears, falsities and evils are removed, and when these are removed, the way is opened for truth and good to penetrate more interiorly” (AC 6829). We are seldom really hungry or thirsty, so this example from the doctrines does not have much power for us unless we pause to reflect. It does not seem that by “thirst” the passage intends that we think of a mild sensation of dryness in the mouth, but rather the kind of thirst that comes after long, hard physical labor on a hot summer’s day–or perhaps after making a long hike across a desert water. When you then come in and find a cooler of cool, clear water, words are unable to express the feeling of quenching that thirst. It is as if you have lost your life, and then found it again. You can’t seem get enough. It is not just your mouth that welcomes the water, but your whole body rejoices in it. It is much the same when we come out of the states of temptation, our thirst for truth is not merely a casual thing, a kind of increased interest in intellectual things, but our whole mind and body call out for it, demand it–and find it.

“…Temptations are attended with doubt in regard to the Lord’s presence and mercy, and also in regard to salvation. The evil spirits who are then with the man and induce the temptation strongly inspire negation, but the good spirits and angels from the Lord in every possible way dispel this state of doubt, and keep the man in a state of hope, and at last confirm in him what is affirmative. One who yields in temptation remains in a state of doubt, and falls into what is negative; but one who overcomes is indeed in doubt, but still, if he suffers himself to be cheered by hope, he stands fast in what is affirmative” (AC 2338). It is important to note how we are to become steadfast in the affirmative principle, so necessary for success in temptation: We must allow ourselves to be cheered by hope, we must believe in the feeling that the Lord gives us in our states of temptation that there is a place for us in heaven, and that it is possible to throw off the impediments of this world with the Lord’s help. If we will allow ourselves to have this hope, then we will see the end and use in temptation, and will not be destroyed by the effort. We are given hope from the Lord so that we may see our way out of the spiritual disasters we experience even while we are in the depths of them, if we have confidence that the Lord has the power to save, that He is the Redeemer.

“I cry out with my whole heart; Hear me, O Lord! I will keep Your Statutes. I cry out to You; Save me and I will keep Your testimonies. I rise before the dawning of the morning and cry for help; I hope in Your Word” (Psalm 119:145-147). AMEN.

LESSONS:

Psalm 119:145-152

Matthew 11:20-30

AC 4572:2; AC 2338


Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified November 06, 2005

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KEEPING IN A STATE OF HOPE

KEEPING IN A STATE OF HOPE

A Sermon by Rev. Donald L. Rose    Preached in Bryn Athyn October 8, 1995   It is written in the Psalms,

“Why are you cast down, 0 my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him” (42:5, 11). And again in the Psalms: “But I will hope continually, and will praise You yet more and more” (71:14).

The Writings speak of “a bright state of hope” (AC 8165). Our lesson this morning says that the angels endeavor to “keep the person in a state of hope” (AC 2338). “If he suffers himself to be cheered by hope, he stands fast in what is affirmative.”

A valuable truth about life is that we should live in the present, and many of us consciously try to do that. But this is a sermon about hope. And hope, you may say, has to do with the future. Hope may be related to the future, but it is something you feel in the present. It is a present experience. Yes, try to live in the present, but live with hope.

Hope is both something of the rational mind and something of the heart. The book Divine Providence says that it is reason’s delight to contemplate a coming effect not in the present but in the future. And then it is said, “This is the source of what is called hope” (DP 178). We find pleasure in contemplating, anticipating, and thinking of particular things to come. We like to have things we are looking forward to.

Hope as expressed in the psalm is also something that flows in and warms us. It is a heart gift. The Writings speak of three things that come to a person who is praying or has prayed: “hope, consolation, and a certain inward joy” (AC 2535). When we are assaulted by evil spirits, we are told that an answer from the Divine flows in. This scarcely comes to the perception otherwise than as “hope and the resulting comfort” (AC 8159).

The Hebrew word for hope in the Psalm is yachal. In a couple of contexts yachal is rendered “trust.” For example, in the book of Job: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (13:5). It is also translated to “wait.” “Mine eyes fail while I wait for my God” (69:3). Hope is a waiting with good expectation, like one who in the darkness watches for the morning, like one who enters a new enterprise or a new year of work with good anticipation. I will hope continually. “My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness and Your salvation all the day long” (Psalm 71:15).

When we speak, we know we should speak in terms of hope. We are asked how a sick friend is doing. “Well, we hope he will soon be feeling better.” And if the condition is deteriorating, we hope he will be given strength. And if he dies, we hope that his passing will be understood by us, and of course we hope for his welfare in the world to come. Yes, we hope and hope and hope.

Is this realistic? Is it psychologically sound? Does it square reasonably with the actuality of human life? If the Lord is all-powerful, it is realistic. If the Lord sees and knows and cares, it is realistic. He is all-powerful. He sees and knows all things, and His love is ardent and everlasting. To an extent we know this. “They know that for those who trust in the Divine, all things advance toward a happy state to eternity, and that whatever befalls them in time is still conducive thereto.” “They are in the stream of Providence who put their trust in the Divine and attribute all things to Him” (AC 8478).

“Let Thy mercy, 0 Lord, be upon us according as we hope in Thee” (Psalm 33:22). Why are you cast down? Hope in God. The gift of hope makes life’s other gifts sparkle. Hope makes the good things of life enjoyable, and it makes adversities bearable. It makes the disappointments and apparent failures endurable. We have hope. And we note that hope is ranked with the two elements of charity and faith. Now abide these three: “faith, hope and charity” (I Cor. 13:13). Love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things (v. 7).

The early Christians knew this well. The Christians who first endured in the city of Rome received word from the Apostle saying, “The sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? … I am persuaded that neither … principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35,38,39).

Perhaps we appreciate hope especially in contrast to its absence. If you don’t have any hope, your plight is grievous. It is the state of despair. Every temptation we experience is attended, the Writings say, with some kind of despair (see AC 1787). It is a diminishing of hope. And in despair, particulars that might otherwise cheer us hold no joy for us. On the other hand, when we have hope it seems to have many particular facets. We have hopes for country, community and family, hopes for the church and hopes for specific uses. We look upon other people, and our love for them has specific hopes. The things they need are present with us when we are praying.

There is something special about our hopes for children, whether our own children or others. Because their life stretches out before them, we look on them with hope. We have hope for their success, overcoming their problems, healing their woes. When children are very young our hopes for them are often much better than their own hopes for themselves.

That helps us appreciate the Lord’s view of our hopes. It helps us when we pray that the Lord’s will be done rather than our own. For His will for us is better than our own.

In one place the Writings speak of “the hope of becoming an angel” (HH 517:2). What a hope for us of finding a life in which what we do is useful for others and makes a difference for good.

We should all be stirred by the doctrinal knowledge that the Lord’s purpose is a heaven from the human race, and that our life is related to that purpose. The elderly who seem to have lost much in terms of worldly hopes should in particular know the benefit of the hope that is from the Lord. It is part of our identity, our destiny.

An angel is not always in an intense state of joy. Swedenborg was given to observe at close hand a whole spectrum of angelic states, states compared to the time of day, morning, noon, and evening. He was allowed to talk to angels when zest for life was at its lowest. And it is remarkable that in that state they spoke about hope. “But they said that they hoped to return soon to their former state, and thus into heaven again, as it were” (HH 160).

We know something similar to this. We converse with each other about our disappointments, and we can do so with a smile. We are even able to say to each other, “I have been very depressed lately. I have been feeling so low.” But we can say even that cheerfully, because we have hope.

There is a beautiful passage in Conjugial Love that says, “When the partners tenderly love each other, they think of their covenant as being eternal and have no thought whatever concerning its end by death; and if they do think of this, they grieve; yet, at the thought of its continuance after death, they are revived by hope” (CL 216). They are revived or strengthened by hope.

The mention of conjugial love may remind us of our wondering on the grand scale about the future of true love in this world. So much comes to our attention that can make us regard the human race in a declining plight. Once an angel spoke of the way the precious gift of conjugial love has declined. But note his final words: “Yet, I am nourished by the hope that this love will be resuscitated by the God of heaven, who is the Lord; for its resuscitation is possible” (CL 78). “I am sustained by the hope that the God of heaven, who is the Lord, will revive this love, because it is possible for it to be revived.”

Let us be willing that the Lord shall cheer us with His gift of hope. Remember the phrase “but still, if he suffers himself to be cheered by hope, he stands fast in what is affirmative” (AC 2338). “I will hope continually. And I will praise You yet, more and more.” Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 43, 130, Luke 10, AC 2338, 6144, 8165


Arcana Coelestia

2338. Temptations are attended with doubt in regard to the Lord’s presence and mercy, and also in regard to salvation. The evil spirits who are then with the man and induce the temptation strongly inspire negation, but the good spirits and angels from the Lord in every possible way dispel this state of doubt, and keep the man in a state of hope, and at last confirm him in what is affirmative. The result is that a man who is in temptation hangs between what is negative and what is affirmative. One who yields in temptation remains in a state of doubt, and falls into what is negative; but one who overcomes is indeed in doubt, but still, if he suffers himself to be cheered by hope, he stands fast in what is affirmative.

6144. … There are many reasons why despair is the last of desolation and of temptation (n. 5279, 5280), of which only these following may be adduced. Despair causes those who feel it to acknowledge in an effectual and feeling manner that there is nothing of truth and good from themselves, and that from themselves they are condemned, but that they are delivered from condemnation by the Lord, and that salvation flows in by means of truth and good. Despair also causes them to feel the happiness of life which is from the Lord; for when they come out of that state, they are like those who have been condemned to death and are set free from prison. Moreover, by means of desolations and temptations, states contrary to heavenly life are felt, the result of which is the implantation of a sense and perception of the satisfaction and happiness of heavenly life; for a sense and perception of what is satisfying and happy is impossible without comparison with the opposites. To the end therefore that full comparisons may be made, desolations and temptations are brought to their utmost, that is, to despair.

8165. … Those who are in despair, which is the last of temptation. … are as it were on the slope, or are as it were sinking down toward hell. But at this time such thought does no harm whatever, nor do the angels pay any attention to it, for every man’s power is limited, and when the temptation arrives at the furthest limit of his power, the man cannot sustain anything more but sinks down. But then, when he is on the downhill course, he is raised by the Lord and thus liberated from despair; and is then for the most part brought into a clear state of hope and of the consequent consolation, and also into good fortune …

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THE WORD MADE FLESH

THE WORD MADE FLESH
A Sermon by Rev Brian W. Keith
Preached in Glenview, Illinois
November 1, 1996

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Night a time of quiet when the bustle of the day dies down; a time of weariness when we make ready for a restful sleep; also a time of darkness and cold; our vision is limited and we seek the warmth of fires and homes.

Nighttime plays a prominent role in the birth of the Lord. It was at night in a dream that the angel appeared to Joseph giving him reasons to marry Mary. Later at night he warned him of the danger of Herod, and eventually informed him that it was time to return to the land of Israel. It was in the night that the Lord was born and the shepherds found their way to the manger. And it was in the night that the wise men saw the star in the east, and then had the star lead them from Jerusalem to Bethlehem where it stood over the house where the young Child lay.

The nighttime scenes surrounding the birth and early years of the Lord’s life depict the shroud that had descended upon the world. Their God, Jehovah, had not been seen nor heard from in hundreds of years. They were lost and rudderless without Him. Other than maintaining the ancient rituals, they had little sense of who He was and how they were to live. Hearts were growing colder from the confusion and distortion of everything good.

Even with the few descendants of the ancient churches, some of whose knowledge resided with the wise men, there were but scant glimmers of light. Perhaps those wise men alone among the ancients saw the star. Certainly its light was not overpowering. So even with the ancients there was but little understanding of who the Lord is. What minimal truth remained was heavily shaded because all they had ever seen of the Lord was a representative not the Divine in its glory (see SS 99).

But our images and memories of the birth of the Lord are not focused upon the darkened states. Rather we remember the multitude of heavenly hosts shining upon the shepherds, the star guiding the wise men, and the light of day in which Simeon lifted up the infant Lord, blessed God, and Anna proclaimed His glory to all. For the Lord’s coming is a coming with light and with life. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

One of the wonders of Christmas is the fact that the Lord is born with light in the midst of confused and dark states of life. When we see little but gloom and hopelessness, He comes to us. He holds us in His hands, nourishing an inner sense of hope that we might endure and overcome. Then His full presence with us is in the light of the morning, enabling us to recognize who He is and how we might walk in His ways. This is why the morning with its light and warmth corresponds to the Lord’s coming (see AC 22, 4240e; SS 99).

For the Lord came as the light of the world. This is His glory. We can see it shining upon us in the truth His advent brought. For until the Lord took on a physical form as a tender infant, all the earlier concepts of Him were vague at best (see SS 99). All of the true ideas that had existed with the ancients about marriage, life continuing past the veil of this world, and how His providence guides us were only misty images of what they might be. For all truth had been filtered through the heavens. Dependent upon the finite grasp of the angels, the glory of the Lord had shone dimmer and dimmer into this world, until at last the vision of Him was nearly lost. By His birth the Lord acquired a natural degree of life. As He put it on and gradually made it Divine, the warmth of His love and the light of His wisdom became immediately present with all.

This is the light of the new day the Lord’s coming heralded for mankind a light shining in the darkness, leading to the brilliance of day. We can sense this when we reflect upon our awakening states not those mornings which come after too little sleep, or when we are rudely awakened by alarms and the bustle of hurriedly preparing to rush off to work. But we feel it in the quiet mornings when we awake refreshed and revived when we listen to the singing of the birds and know the dazzling sunlight portends the warming of the earth. The light has a special quality then. With clarity we see beauty in even the simplest things around us. And we can sense the closeness of heaven, the closeness of the Lord’s advent as our spirits are lifted up to the new day (see AC 7844:2).

As the Word made flesh, the glory of the Lord can bring us a peacefulness unlike any other. Not a peace like the quiet of evening when we are preparing to rest. Rather it is a peace of contentment and confidence. As the Heavenly Doctrines note, this peace is “the very Divine truth in heaven from the Lord which universally affects all who are there and makes heaven to be heaven; for peace has in it confidence in the Lord, that He directs all things and provides all things, and that He leads to a good end. When a person is in this state, he is in peace, for he then fears nothing, and no worry about things to come disturbs him” (AC 8455). The glory of the Lord’s Word shines upon us when we have such assurance that He is in charge, carefully guiding every one of our steps.

This is the state of the angels. Their unpleasant memories of this earth have been set aside. They have no desire to leap into the future. Rather they fully enjoy the present, sensing all the goodness that the Lord is giving them now. For they trust in Him, knowing that He is leading and caring for them no matter what happens.

We may taste some of this angelic peace as we celebrate the Lord’s advent or awaken in the morning. But we enter into it more and more as we set aside the things of this world: worry about the future, too great a focus on natural toys and conveniences, our selfish drives and desires. To the extent that we can enjoy earthly delights without making them all-important, that we can serve others without always thinking about what we will get out of it, so far peace can enter our lives. It is then that we become convinced that the Lord’s light is the true light and most of the problems and troubles we experience can fall away. It is then that we can glimpse the Lord and experience His peace, His advent into our lives.

In one sense there is nothing startlingly new or different about this idea. Indeed, it is so simple, so fundamental, that it hardly needs to be said. So we are affected by the Word made flesh as the Divine flows into some of the simple truths we already know. This is one of the reasons the Lord was born on earth that the Divine goodness might be joined with our common sense and simple ideas of Him that we have (see AC 2554).

The Lord’s birth itself did not reveal any radical new information that had not been available before. In fact there would be no real instruction until thirty years later when the Lord began His public ministry. But His birth signaled a beginning of salvation for all because His presence, His love for us all, was proclaimed by His coming down among us, filling us with His good.

For us now, the Christmas story reveals His glory, the brilliance of His Divine Human in which we may know Him and love Him. The Divine as it is in Itself is far beyond our comprehension and affection, even as it was for the ancients. So the Lord was born that we might see His nature and have it shed light on our lives, giving us the confidence and trust that He is always with us, always leading us in paths of peace.

The Lord then becomes flesh and dwells among us when even our limited, simple ideas of truth can be filled with His presence, showing us something of His love. For the Lord’s coming into our life is not simply to make us feel good. Yes, the Lord would have us experience states of happiness and joy regularly, and eventually in heaven constantly. While He may be born in our states of darkness, His full advent is to us in light the truth of His Word which can fill our minds. Every time we recognize a concept as Divine, as coming from Him and leading our minds back to His love and mercy, His advent has occurred. Then the Word is made flesh, living, for us. We are touched by it, we are enlightened by it, and we are strengthened by it (see AC 8792).

This is our sight of the Lord, His birth among us. It brings us light, and it will bring us warmth. We can embrace this light, this new vision of the Divine, and use it to recognize and follow His teachings (see TCR 774). Then the truth of peace will be ours.

So let this Christmas day affect us with the joys of morning. As its light brings a new brightness to our day, as its warmth stirs a renewed heat in our lives, let us feel the Lord’s closeness to us. His birth on earth was the taking on of a natural form of life that we might know Him, see Him, and love Him. As we put off an excessive focus on the things of this world and upon our concerns, He can come closer to us, bringing us the peace of dawn a peace that has within it complete confidence in His truth, in His guidance, a complete confidence that a heaven shall be made from this human race.

This was the reason for His coming to touch our hearts and enlighten our minds, that He might become the Word made flesh for us eternally. Let us behold His glory, full of grace and truth. Amen.

Lessons: Luke 2:1-7; John 1:1-18; AC 8455

Arcana Coelestia 8455

“There was a deposit of dew round about the camp.” That this signifies the truth of peace adjoining itself is evident from the signification of “dew” as being the truth of peace (n. 3579). “Dew” signifies the truth of peace because in the morning it comes down from heaven and appears upon the herbage like fine rain, and has also stored up in it something of sweetness or delight more than rain has, whereby the grass and the crops of the field are gladdened; and “morning” denotes a state of peace (n. 2780). What peace is see nos. 2780, 3696, 4681, 5662, namely, that it is like dawn on the earth, which gladdens minds with universal delight; and the truth of peace is like the light of the dawn. This truth, which is called “the truth of peace,” is the very Divine truth in heaven from the Lord, which universally affects all who are there and makes heaven to be heaven; for peace has in it confidence in the Lord, that He directs all things and provides all things, and that He leads to a good end. When a man is in this faith, he is in peace, for he then fears nothing, and no solicitude about things to come disquiets him. A man comes into this state in proportion as he comes into love to the Lord.

All evil, especially self-confidence, takes away a state of peace. It is believed that an evil person is at peace when he is in gladness and tranquillity because all things succeed with him. But this is not peace; it is the delight and tranquillity of cupidities, which counterfeit a state of peace. But in the other life this delight, being opposite to the delight of peace, is turned into what is undelightful, for this lies hidden within it. In the other life the exteriors are successively unfolded even to the inmosts, and peace is the inmost in all delight, even in what is undelightful with the man who is in good. So far therefore as he puts off what is external, so far a state of peace is revealed, and so far he is affected with satisfaction, blessedness, and happiness, the origin of which is from the Lord Himself.

Concerning the state of peace which prevails in heaven it can be said that it is such as cannot be described by any words, neither, so long as he is in the world, can it come into the thought and perception of man by means of any idea derived from the world. It is then above all sense. Tranquillity of mind, content, and gladness from success are relatively nothing; for these affect only his externals; whereas peace affects the inmost things of all the first substances, and the beginnings of substances in the man, and therefrom distributes and pours itself forth into the substantiates and derivatives, and affects them with pleasantness, and affects the origins of ideas, consequently the man’s ends of life, with satisfaction and happiness; and thus makes the mind of the man a heaven.