The journey of grief

Dealing with crisis and grief

Are you having a hard time, and don’t know where to turn? Can’t seem to move past it?

Each of us has faced, or will face, a personal crisis in some form during the course of our lives. For some of us, it occurs when young, with the loss of a parent or other childhood trauma. For others, crisis comes in adult life. The precipitating event can be compared to the wake of a large ship that passes a little boat. The peaceful waters that were taken for granted now churn with trouble, threatening to overturn our lives.

The journey of grief

 by Rev. Clark Echols

 The teachings for the New Church explain that a belief in a God of love will carry a person through loss to a life that is not diminished, even if there is something missing.

Grief is a person’s spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical reaction to loss, which can begin before the loss actually occurs and persists until the grief reaction is no longer noticed. People in the helping professions know that a person’s experience of grief is short or long, mild or disruptive, mental or physical, depending on both obvious and subtle influences. You have experienced grief. Perhaps a favorite piece of clothing wore out, you moved away from friends, or a parent died. Perhaps you experienced panic, or depression, or despair, or sadness, or nostalgia, or anger, or something else. Maybe you experienced foggy thinking, an absence of emotions, uncontrolled emotions, a loss of appetite, joint pain, or any number of other sensations.

Your experience of grief will be unique, even though it may include states others experience. That you experience your own grief is wonderful, actually, because the Lord is accommodating His divine love and wisdom to you in a way specific to your spiritual and physical needs. This is the first observation from New Church ideas that can help you. The Lord actively leads you through a process which is governed by His rules of love. This will progress to completion, and He will return you to a balanced state in which you can again experience joy.

As the New Church teaches, love creates and maintains a spiritual connection; the tighter the connection, the more the loss affects us and impacts our spiritual and natural worlds.

Perhaps you have experienced a sudden loss: a pet died accidentally, or you were fired without warning. The experience shocks you, spiritually and physically, disrupting thought and even movement. These effects of the shock of the loss are so significant that researchers found they can be measured in the brain. Perhaps the Lord wants you to stop everything for a moment rather than do something damaging to your process of recovery. Typically, a grieving person either does almost nothing for some time, or merely “goes through the motions” on emotional autopilot. During this static stage, your identity is protected, allowing you to continue through the process without requiring permanent changes to your personality in order to cope. The Lord preserves your eternal welfare, even though you have lost something integral to your spiritual life.

Grieving includes using coping mechanisms to deal with your loss. Not everyone cries, but everyone needs the sphere of love around them. Like many, you may turn inward, reflecting on a picture bigger than you have ever considered before. The Word explains that this happens because what is mortal is put right next to what you want to be immortal in your mind and heart. You sense your own mortality as a new reality. If you experience sudden loss, you may feel a new fear of the future—a worry that you could die tomorrow. You may feel anxiety that you have not become a good person or that you have not achieved your life’s goals.

This tension creates an emotional rollercoaster that comes from resisting the Lord’s care, His providence, which leaves us unsatisfied and weary. The ride only slows and levels out as you acknowledge the reality of the loss and give yourself permission to experience sadness, loneliness or helplessness. Your intellect may find it hard to believe, but the fact is that when you let go and grieve—an act of will—you let God carry you through the process to the end of the ride, when you can walk on your own in the joy of being on solid ground.

Many who grieve notice that the story of the loss runs around in their minds in bits and pieces. Perhaps you have experienced this. Some of the bits are accurate memories of what happened, and you can feel badly, even responsible, for the loss. Some of the memories are inaccurate and cause you unnecessary distress. One way to discover the difference, and to be able to put the story “to bed,” is to tell the story. Of course, there will be more analysis, and perhaps regrets and resentment. But when these are put in the context of your eternal life and the eternal life of your loved one (if that is what you are grieving), the Lord puts the pieces together in a way that helps you overcome any distress. Given time and cooperation, the Lord will finish the puzzle of your life, and you can enjoy a whole picture.

Forgiveness is an important stage of grief for most people. When you forgive another, you let go of a burden. When you experience a loss, it is common to have trouble forgiving both others and oneself. Jesus teaches that forgiving is a spiritual act. But He points out again and again that to the degree that you spiritually let go of any thought or feeling that keeps you from forgiving, to that degree you find security and joy. When you grieve, you can become immersed in the pain of anger, resentment, regret and recrimination. These are all tied to merely natural thoughts and feelings. It is important to face what you really think and feel—what you label good and label bad. When you do, you welcome the Lord’s forgiveness and can then find the strength of heart and clarity of mind to forgive yourself and others.

By letting go and forgiving, you can begin to rebuild your life. Your work now becomes finding your own meaning for your life. Many have a change in faith. Many lose the religious faith that they had held. Many find a new confidence in their faith. The teachings for the New Church explain that a belief in a God of love will carry a person through a loss to a life that is not diminished, even if there is something missing. People who have an inaccurate idea of God (for instance, that He punishes us for our wrongdoings) will not have this resource and will find other ways of processing their grief. Of course, many of these means will work to some extent. But many of them, like abusing alcohol, are not only self destructive, but do not allow the process of grief to proceed.

You can take any number of actions to find meaning in your life. Many people begin new hobbies or return to old ones. Others take on opportunities to be of service. Some become better at their vocation, confirming their delight in doing something they love to do. In this way a person participates in redefining life. Thankfully, the Lord has provided that your loss does not diminish who you are: your personality and your place in His kingdom. However, YOUR world HAS changed! Your place in it has changed. Like an intricate mobile that has lost one of its weights, you experience a jangling, jarring tossing until the new balance is found, and slowly the bouncing settles down. There is balance, but it is a new configuration.

The Lord designed your spirit to seek and eventually achieve this balance. His loving care is always lifting you, countering the depressing effects of your loss. The warmth of His love continually radiates in your spirit. The process of grief is designed to bring your consciousness out of the cold and dark of loss into His presence again. You again take on the responsibility to live your life to its fullest potential.

The stages of grief are predictable but not uniform. They vary among circumstances and people. You have at hand a number of resources. The New Church faith may help you understand what is going on and explain why you feel the anger, despair, sadness, emptiness and pain. The Lord, especially through His Word, allows you to experience the feelings even as He alleviates them. The angels in your life, the loved ones who walk with you, hold you up when your knees buckle. There are many books and pieces of music that salve our wounds. Use them all, and your particular and unique grief process will proceed to a conclusion the Lord has designed just for you in the time He has provided.


By Rev. Clark Echols, counselor and pastor of the Glendale New Church.

This website contains a wealth of information about the New Church, and a practical, spiritual path to happiness. Read more about the beliefs of the New Church.

https://newchurch.org/

Full issue

DAILY INSPIRATION

“Nothing is permitted unless some good may come of it.”

Arcana Coelestia 6574

Journeying home – But how?

Journeying home

Journeying homeAn ideal home is an attractive thought. There are exhibitions and magazines which promote smart and aesthetically pleasing furnishing and house design. What is your ideal sense of home?  Journeying to my ideal home would be aiming to live in the same community as other people with whom I feel at ‘home’. It also is to do with being around those who have a similar outlook to my own. This hopeful dream would be a bright tranquil place, where I would be happily involved with other people and feel quite contended. Do you have a similar aspiration?

Perhaps however, you don’t feel at home in yourself just now and somewhat uneasy or even dissatisfied with how you are. Having to justify to yourself your inner cravings. Desires which in your heart you know are not good.

Journeying home and inner oppression

Journeying homeSome people feel oppressed and held down by negativity and pessimism within their soul.

Can I ask you to consider whether there is a gap between your model way of living and what occupies your mind now? Is there any difference between your true home and actually what you are like inside now? If you are caught up in the priorities of bodily life and worldly concerns, do you wish to escape from their influence? I would like to say that all of us require some sort of enhancement – journeying home to our true self. A state of confidence, fulfillment, and commitment, and experiencing a deeper level of knowledge, understanding, and illumination.

Journeying home and personal change

Journeying homeSo what is the way to feel at home with yourself? And in what direction should you travel when uncertain about this?  Some people might experience the journey as passing through different states of doubt, belief and conviction: others in terms of attaining different states of vision, wonder and enlightenment.

However you think of the home destination, the journey will involve personal change. But of course change is tough. We move away from our comfort zone. We take on new challenges. Escaping from an unethical or materialistic way of life isn’t stress-free. Spiritual maturity doesn’t come easy. There is plenty of scope for losing your way or falling by the wayside.

Journeying home and deserts

A person is not transformed overnight by undergoing a single challenge but rather by undergoing very many of them. This is because there are numerous facets to ego mind that need to give way before one’s true self can fully emerge. Various self-orientated attitudes cling stubbornly to a person. For they have been deeply rooted in our culture passed down to us by ancestors going back many centuries and are for this reason innate in our nature. They have also been made stronger since early childhood by our own doing.

Journeying homeConsequently, soon into our journey we meet difficulties on a daily basis and begin to lose hope. We feel we lack something important to sustain our difficult journey. It is like travelling through a desert. One may get hungry for good ideas and thirsty for knowledge about how to manage. Being close to giving in when faced by such hardship, we need all the spiritual food and drink we can gain to refresh and give vigour to our newly forming spirituality.

Journeying home and battles

Journeying homeThere can be no change deep down without some degree of inner conflict between the old desires and the inspired ideas that lead to a better life. You may need to fight against family expectations in order to learn a new kind of skill. You may need to battle against the fear of making a deeper commitment in an intimate relationship.

The conflict is within yourself. It can be a struggle between adopting a forgiving attitude or retaliating towards someone who has offended you: between exercising self-control or being self-indulgent: between embracing the spirit of generosity or acting in a stingy penny-pinching way.
There is no gain without pain, so there is no improvement in our character without giving up something not good. Do you still hanker after your past attachment to possessions? Do you still envy your neighbours’ furniture or holiday destinations? What are you battling against that is oppressing your spirit?

Drowning in a dangerous sea

Journeying homeAs you try to make progress in your personal life you may suffer pangs of conscience when you remember the bad things you have entertained doing. So much so that you incriminate yourself. You are assailed on all sides by illusory ideas stemming from a condemning attitude.

Confronted with doubt, disbelief, and fear one realises that, by solely relying on oneself, one is likely to drown in the overwhelming sea of trouble.

I believe there to be a power of the flowing divine energy present within each of us; an energy that is strong enough to remove what is spiritually dangerous if only we would turn to it for help.

Journeying home and mountains

Journeying homeWhen in difficulties it is possible to remember a previous experience of a different state of mind. Like when you reached the mountain peak and you felt the clear air and had a panoramic view. Something good and true connected to that feeling of inner harmony and joy.

Many realise that this indicates the reality of something beyond themselves. A higher inspiration and strength that can guide and empower personal change. Call this higher light and power what you will; the higher Self, the Source of true love, the Divine-within, the Divine Being, God, or the Lord. All these terms imply something beyond oneself, a universal life force that works for good.

I believe this awareness of the Divine within – the mountain-top experience – can give you the strength you never suspected possible. The ability to conquer your fears, your depressive thoughts and your negative urges – temptations that assail us all.

Conclusion

Your journey may meander around as you experience many repeating alternating states of up and down, battle and rest, desert place and mountain top. Some lessons are harder to learn than others and we all take different paths depending on where we start. But with reliance on the inner light of divine guidance and the inner power of divine strength, I believe you can have every hope of finally reaching your home destination.

Copyright 2016 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

 

 

Adventure – How to find it for free?

adventureEver gone travelling off the beaten track looking for adventure? Young people may do this before they embark on a new career and those recently retired from an old one can also seek somewhere different. They go off on an adventure to exotic locations to discover what is there and at the same time find out something about themselves. Perhaps we all need a thrilling time occasionally, to get away from the hum-drum aspects of everyday life.

Adventure of an inner journey

Travelling is not an option for everyone.  However, the journey can be found in other ways. George Eliot wrote, ‘Adventure is not outside man; it is within.’  In other words, we can wake-up to the excitement of life within the confines of our normal circumstances. Many have reported on inner journeys they have taken that opened up new horizons for them.

As an example, I would like to mention Emanuel Swedenborg, a man born in 17th century Stockholm.  In young adulthood he had leisure for full-time study and travel. He lived at a time when it was still possible to have a wide grasp of the knowledge of the day.  Later he worked as an engineer and geologist and wrote science such as physics and biology.

Swedenborg’s adventure exploring his dreams

Emanuel had been on an intellectual quest to find a scientific understanding of the human soul.  In his fifties he started noticing his dreams and reflecting on them. This was to be an inner journey; not only one of self-learning but also one of personal change. He was an intellectual man not in touch with the feeling and intuitive side of life. To explore the latter was like an adventure for him because it required great daring to tap the depths of personality, and gain something new.

Whenever someone showed a lack of respect for him he felt self-righteous indignation. Likewise he would tend to think about how his next book would make him famous. Reflecting on this self-pride, he was brought to his knees in humility.  He learned to be more aware of his thoughts and to turn away from those that he judged as wrong. With this new-found effort to stand firm he became more confident that he would be forgiven and helped to find a new attitude.

Another discovery in his dreams was his sexual fantasies.  He realised how he would be looking at a woman and thinking lustfully.  He tried to resist such impure thoughts because he believed God wanted people to enjoy sex only as part of a monogamous loving relationship.

Nevertheless a woman was what was missing in his life. Someone perhaps to put flowers on his desk, to add decorations to his home, to encourage him to enjoy walks and music. Arguably, womanhood symbolises the warm nurturing side of life. There were women in his dreams but when awake he had prohibited all close relations with them.  His aim had been to find God alone.  But the kind of God he envisaged had been one to support his academic life by providing him with scientific answers like some sort of super-professor.  He wondered… had God chosen to provide women in his dreams because that warm,
loving side of his makeup must be developed if he were to have any hope of understanding the Divine Source?

Adventure of following the lead of the Divine Spirit

Swedenborg’s inner journey taught him that ultimately he was dependent on God and this meant following God’s lead.

As HT Hamblin says, ‘The only way to harmony and to peace is to
follow the leading of the Spirit, and this is the most adventurous life of
all.’

It seemed to have worked for Emanuel. He abandoned his scientific books and focused instead on the personal and spiritual side to life. For him the personal and spiritual journey of adventure were the same thing.  How better can you learn than by struggling?  His books now would be based on personal knowledge rather than on academic reading of other writers’ books.  He now wanted to explore religion from the perspective of this dimension.  During this process of personal discovery, he had felt called to a higher vocation – one of exploring theology and spiritual philosophy.  Increasingly, he used the intuitions he gained from his inner visionary experience, presenting them as rationally as he was able.

I guess the challenge for us is to more deeply listen to the leading of the Spirit and daring to accept whatever challenges of conscience we find. The promise is extra energy, the thrill of the new and the delight of a higher life.

‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And venture belongs to the adventurous.’ (Navjot Singh Sidhu)

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

THE SECRET OF LIFE

THE SECRET OF LIFE
Rev. Brian W. Keith
Preached in Glenview, Illinois
July 7, 1991

Everyone wants to be happy. Everyone wants to feel the satisfaction that comes from the sense of success and usefulness. And some people seem to achieve it! Some people, in spite of a few difficulties here and there, seem to have found happiness. So how is it done? How have some people discovered how to be happy? Is there some secret that has not been revealed to the masses yet?

The Lord told a story that points to such a secret. He spoke of a person who after journeying for a time arrived at midnight. But the place where he was lacked food. The owner of that house then went to a friend whom he knew to have plenty of bread. Not surprisingly, at this point in the night he was already in bed with his family. and he showed tremendous reluctance to disturb them, as it probably would involve his crawling over them to unbolt the door and find the bread to give to the person. Yet, although he was reluctant, he eventually did give him as much bread as he needed. Why? Because of the man’s persistence! Because he kept asking, kept pounding on the door, kept making such a nuisance of himself that it was easier to give him the bread than to ignore him.

So that’s the secret – the squeaky wheel gets the oil! Or, if you make yourself irritating enough to someone, you’ll usually get what you want!

No, that is not the secret, although it is related to it. The secret is persistence – keeping at it, working for what is good and true even though there may not be many rewards at first.

Not a very attractive secret, is it? Not particularly glamorous, flashy, or inspiring. The fact of the matter is that, except for a few individuals who seem to have things going their way, at least for a length of time, all success, happiness, and good is achieved through persistent effort.

On the surface, the parable teaches this, but it is even more evident in looking at the deeper spiritual level of the story. For the man going on a journey is symbolic of the journeys that we make in our lives. Our minds are constantly thinking, exploring – they are traveling on a journey of understanding of the world around us, of people, and of the Lord’s truth.

But there are points during our journey when we arrive at midnight and find no food to nourish us. Midnight — a very dark and, in the plateaus of Palestine where the Lord was speaking, a very chilly time. So it described a kind of obscurity and absence of warmth in our life. This is reinforced by the absence of bread. The spiritual food we require is the satisfaction of being useful, the warmth of being in the sphere of love. When it is missing, all the understanding in the world will not comfort or inspire us.

What is being described is an occasion when we recognize how little good we actually have. Perhaps we’ve read the latest “positive self-image” books or gained an insight into the progression in regeneration, but our jobs have become tasteless to us and we feel in a rut. Or perhaps we know the value of marriage and family, but we are so caught up in the maintenance of the house and care of the children that our sense of joy in the family is far less than we know it should be.

What can we do when we sense this kind of emptiness? We turn to a friend who we know has spiritual food — the Lord, of course. As this man went to a friend’s house, so we turn to the Lord and ask Him for a greater sense of happiness, energy, and peace in our lives.

And what happens? His door is shut! He will only call out from within! And He shows no desire to give aid!

Does the Lord really keep us away? Of course not! The Lord’s apparent indifference in this and in several other instances in the New Testament is not because He doesn’t care or because He is unwilling to help. It comes from His inability to give what is not truly desired.

How can this be? It is seen in the request for three loaves of bread — not just one or two, which should be sufficient to satisfy any traveler. but three. This number is symbolic of fullness, and so indicates the desire we have to possess all good — natural, moral, and spiritual — immediately! When we find a void in our lives, all too often we think it must be filled at once. When we recognize we are not the ideal person we would like to be, we then imagine how we should be and how we want to be, and then demand to be that way, now! So we want tranquility in our natural lives, people being extremely friendly to us and everything going smoothly — a kind of natural good. We also want to have easy moral choices, and then have others recognize our wisdom and applaud our decisions. And we want spiritual good, an inner sense of the Lord’s presence and surety that He is guiding all of our steps.

These are good things to have, which the Lord wants for us. But none of us is ready to receive them all immediately. So it seems that the Lord ignores our requests or is too busy to help — He is in His house and will not give us any breead. The truth of the matter is that those and many more goods do not become real in our life until we persist in our efforts to obtain them.

The Lord said, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). He did not say, ” Blessed are they who are bloated.” For it is only when we sense the absence of good in our lives and sincerely yearn for it that th3e Lord can provide.

It is our persistent efforts through which the Lord can achieve much, for it is a Divine quality. It describes the Lord’s continual endeavor to reach out to us. As the Heavenly Doctrines note, “The Lord draws all people to Himself; but as angels and people are finite, they can follow the current of the attraction only according to their measure, although the force of attraction persists to infinity” (TCR 350, emphasis added). Persistence is built into the very nature of the Lord because His love cannot be anything but that. The Lord stands at the door and knocks, constantly, incessantly. There is never a time when the Lord stops His efforts to reach us to lead us, for His love desires to make us happy in all things. The only issue is to what extent we receive that love. It is when we mirror Him by being persistent, by sticking to His ways even when it is not terribly easy or delightful, the doors are opened and we receive as much good as we want.

Nowhere is this more important or obvious than in our spiritual struggles, our temptations. We all face spiritual difficulties in our life, be they minor confusions or strong pulls toward what we know to be hellish. From doubts to lusts and apparently overwhelmingly powerful selfish feelings, we all at times struggle. What’s the secret to survive when we are in these states of anguish or listlessness? Well, there are certainly some things which are more productive to do than others. After all, if we are tempted to steal and we go ahead and do it, we have ended the temptation in the worst possible way! But the only real key, the secret, is our persistence in hanging on to what is good (see AC 2343:2).

There are not some people who are stronger than others, so better suited to overcome their personal hells in temptation. While in it, it may be hard for us to believe in the midst of our spiritural struggles, the Lord insures that we have sufficient strength to overcome whatever we face. The issue is not of innate ability or a skillful method that will work in all situations. Rather it is the continual endeavor to keep going even when it seems as if we have no strength left to do so. That’s how the Lord overcomes evils in our lives — we keep working at it. It may not happen as quickly as we would like, for in each temptation we are tested to the limit of our endurance. Nor may it be as easy as we would like, for our strength is always limited. But if we keep going, slugging through the mud and muck of life, we do eventually make it through, with the Lord lifitng us up throughout.

In marriage we see much the same dynamic. Marriages begin from incredible heights of affection and passion. The closeness felt during the stage of betrothal and in the early phases of marriage is impossible to describe. But what most married couples find is that as the years go by, that passion or excitement seems to fade away as they are caught in all the typical concerns of life. Be it business, recreational, or family responsibilities, what takes up the most time in their life often ranks third or fourth in importance, while the love between them seems to be set on the back burner. So some of the luster comes off the marriage, and frequently there is a sense of a lack of good within the marriage. As the man taking the journey found no food where he was, sometimes marriages will have dry spells where it seems the early promises of happiness are unfulfilled.

So the love is gone? Actually, no. Those early peaks of passion were only indicative of what a heavenly marriage can be. When we lapse back into our more pre-regenerate states, as most do regularly, it is no wonder happiness in marriage is hidden!

What does it take then to rekindle those fires, to make the marriage 8exciting and happy again? While there are many good suggestions, from weekends away to giving small gifts to one’s spouse, none of them will work unless there is the desire, the drive, to love that other person. This means not approaching the spouse with demands, such as, “I could love you better if you lost some wight/didn’t work as hard/or remembered our anniversary more accurately.” It is a willingness to love the good of the other person and set aside foibles and faults. It is as the Writings say, “. . . if, from his soul or inmost being, the lover constantly persisted in his love for that one, he would attain those eternal blessings which he promised himself before the consent, and promises himself when consent has been given” (CL 333:2).

So how does one’s partner become more attractive and the marriage happier? By the lover’s constantly persisting in his love. However, there is a challenge here because our selfishness wants to convince us that the problem is never with us but always with the other person. Yet such selfish and destructive tendencies can be overcome if we keep working at it — if we persist in our love for the other person.

So this the great secret of life: be persistent in good. Though we experience a lack of good in our lives from time to time, it does not mean all is hopeless. Though we may desperately want everytrhing to run smoothly in our lives, want the happiness that we see promised in the Lord’s Word, the three loaves of bread, it will not suddenly be handed to us. But if we persist, if we continue to do what we know we should, if we continue to walk along the Lord’s way, then eventually the door is opened and we are given as much good as we want. It is as the Lord said to Joshua when commanding him to lead the people, “Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). Amen

Lessons: Psalm 37:1-26; Luke 11:1-13; CL 333

Conjugial Love 333

333. I. THAT EXCEPT WITH ONE WIFE THERE CAN BE NO LOVE TRULY CONJUGIAL, CONSEQUENTLY, NO TRULY CONJUGIAL FRIENDSHIP, CONFIDENCE, POTENCY, AND NO SUCH CONJUNCTION OF MINDS THAT THE TWO MAY BE ONE FLESH.

. . . . [2] Who cannot rationally conclude from this commencement of the love with many, that from its essence that love dominates as supreme over every other love? and that the man’s soul is then in it and promises to itself eternal blessedness with the woman whom he desires and solicits? Who can see any other cause for this, wheresoever he may search, than that the man has yielded his soul and heart to the one woman? for if a lover while in that state were given the option of choosing the worthiest, richest, and most beautiful of the whole sex, would he not spurn the choice and hold to his chosen one, his heart being hers alone? All this is said that you may acknowledge that there is a conjugial love of such super-eminence, and that it is present when one only of the sex is loved. . . . . [W]hat understanding is there that cannot deduce from this, that if, from his soul or inmost being, the lover constantly persists in his love for that one, he would attain those eternal blessings which he promised himself before the consent, and promises himself when consent has been given? That he does attain them if he approaches the Lord and from Him lives (in accordance with) true religion, . . . . Who but He can enter man’s life from above and impart internal heavenly joys and carry them over into all that follows?

NUMBERING THE PEOPLE

NUMBERING THE PEOPLE
A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida August 5, 1990

“And the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacles of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying: ‘Take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male individually, from twenty years old and above, all who are able to go to war in Israel. You and Aaron shall number them by their armies ” (Numbers 1: 1 – 3).

Numbers is the fourth of the books commonly known as the “Five Books of Moses.” It recounts a variety of things which befell the Children of Israel during their wanderings in the wilderness. The second book of Moses, called Exodus, takes the Israelites as far as Mount Sinai and includes the giving of the Ten Commandments and many other laws and statutes which were given from Mount Sinai, concluding with the building of the Tabernacle. The third book, Leviticus, follows. It contains a collection of ritualistic and other laws, especially as they relate to the Levites and priests. It contains no historical events. The fourth book, Numbers, again takes up the history of Israel when they were about to leave the plains of Sinai.

Since the first thing mentioned in the book of Numbers, in preparation for their journeying in the wilderness, is a census of the people, and since a second census is recorded at the end of the book when they were encamped on the plains of Moab in preparation for entering the promised land, we have, in English translations, followed the Greek translations in calling the book “Numbers.”

The Hebrews, on the other hand, following their custom of designating the name of each book by the first word or words occurring in it, or by some distinguishing word in the first verse, call it Bemidhbar, meaning “in the wilderness.” This, too, is an appropriate name, since it is an account of the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness. In the internal sense it is an account of the obscure groping of the human mind in its search for heaven.

The immediate purpose of this census was to determine the military strength of the Israelites – counting the males from twenty years old and above, all that were able to go to war. It was natural that they should do this before undertaking the hazardous journey in the wilderness, where they were likely to meet many enemies far more powerful than themselves. In addition, it would help them to determine the order of their marching, and the organization of their encampment around the tabernacle.

The number of men, not counting women and children, was 603,550. We would recall here the Lord’s promise to Abraham over 400 years earlier that his seed would be as the stars of the heaven for multitude. If the women and children were included in this census there would have been over a million people.

This census was permitted in the law given through Moses with the stipulation that each one numbered should give “an offering to the Lord. The rich shall not give more, and poor shall not give less, than half a shekel, when they give an offering to the Lord, to make an atonement for your souls” (Exodus 30:15).

In numbering the people who could go to war the Israelites were thinking of physical warfare and of their military power. In the spiritual sense it relates to spiritual combats, and the conquering of evil desires and false ideas which occupy the natural mind of man. The beginning of this long difficult journey in the wilderness represents the state of an adult beginning the spiritual journey along the pathway of regeneration.

The person knows, in a general way, the Lord’s commandments – the law had already been given from Mount Sinai – but many evil desires arising from selfish loves and many false ideas arising from proprial conceits must be removed before the person can be prepared to dwell in the heavenly Canaan. The particular states of good and truth which alone can conquer these evils and falsities are represented by the numbers of the various tribes recorded in this chapter.

The people were counted by their tribes before setting out on this journey. This means that the Lord, at the beginning of every person’s regeneration, orders the interiors of the mind – arranges it in heavenly order in preparation for the combats that the person will inevitably face along the way. The Lord foresees all the spiritual trials which will beset a person in the course of regeneration, and so disposes the interiors of the mind from earliest infancy that the person may have the ability to withstand every trial that he may encounter; and He provides that the person will not undergo any trial greater than he can bear. For to number is to bring into order – here to bring into heavenly order -the interior things of a person’s spirit.

By ordering the spiritual mind of man the Lord also provides that He may have a dwelling place within the person, so that by His presence He may sustain the person and overcome the evil spirits who attack. No one can conquer the forces of hell by and of himself; their malignant power is so great and their secret operation so subtle that a person has nothing of his own to withstand them. Left to himself, the person would be completely overwhelmed. But we can cooperate. We can order our external minds and lives according to Divine laws of order so that the Lord can form the interiors of our minds into a heavenly order, and then the presence of heaven within us can repel the attacks of the hells.

The acknowledgment that the order and arrangement of the goods and truths which a person receives are from the Lord alone is represented by the half shekel which every individual man, rich and poor alike, had to offer to the Lord at the time of the census. This acknowledgment is a prerequisite to regeneration, for the denial of it involves a person’s claiming for oneself the power to overcome the hells and to merit heaven from one’s own strength and goodness. Such an attitude obstructs the influx from heaven and leaves a person at the mercy of the hells.

This is what was involved in the sin of David. He numbered the people without the payment of the half shekel. He did this at the end of his reign when he had conquered all the surrounding nations and Israel occupied a prominent place among the nations. The implication in the literal sense is that in counting his valiant warriors and in wishing to enumerate the great strength of his army, he was taking credit for his victories rather than humbly acknowledging that it was the Lord’s presence with Israel which had made them a mighty nation. This is the sin into which we all may fall if we do not acknowledge in our worship and in our lives that we receive power from the Lord alone to overcome the hidden evils of our inheritance.

Such an acknowledgment, however, means nothing unless we, as of ourselves, use the power which the Lord freely gives us. That is, we must make a constant and continuing effort to live according to the Lord’s commandments so that our minds may be brought into harmony with Divine order. If we do this we will repel, reject and overcome those natural desires and thoughts which are contrary to Divine order.

We see an illustration of this in the story of Gideon. He was not permitted to go against the Midianites with the 32,000 men who had been counted, lest Israel claim the victory for itself instead of attributing it to the Lord, saying: “My own hand has saved me” (Judges 7:2). Gideon finally had to reduce his force to 300 men, for the Lord said: “By the 300 men who lapped I will save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand” (Judges 7:7, emphasis added). The Lord chose this spectacular way to conquer the far superior force of Midian in order to show the Israelites, and indeed us, that it was solely by His presence with them, and His power, that they were able to exist among the far more powerful nations surrounding them.

The spiritual lesson here is that if from our trust in the Lord we intelligently cooperate with Him by observing His laws of order, His church will prevail against all foes, both in the world and in the life of every individual member.

This Divine forming and ordering of the mind from within begins in infancy and continues throughout life. The heavenly states which the angels impress upon the infantile mind remain to mitigate and soften the hardness of selfish loves; it is these remains which are meant by census of those 20 years old and upward.

The fact that the first census took place in the wilderness means that this Divine work is done before we can have any consciousness of it. It is on a plane above our consciousness. This is a wonderful provision of the Divine Providence. It is the way in which the Lord provides that every person, prior to reaching adulthood, may be prepared for regeneration. Furthermore, because of this Divine work, the stubbornness and persistence of our selfish loves, which later become so active, are finally able to be overcome.

While acknowledging that regeneration is the Lord’s work, we must always bear in mind that He can accomplish it with us only by our complete willingness and active cooperation. We must as of ourselves bring our external minds and lives into a state harmonious with, and corresponding to, that inner order which the Lord has established within our spirit, for only then can this Divine operation descend to the plane of consciousness and be effective in our lives.

In this spirit we should humbly pray to the Lord that He will “number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Amen.

Lessons: Numbers 1: 1 – 3, 17 – 19, 44 – 46; 2 Samuel 24:1 – 17; AC 10219:5

Arcana Coelestia

10219:5 For by “famine’ is signified a lack and scarcity of the goods and truths of faith and love, because these are signified by bread, food, wheat, barley, oil, and wine, which are lacking while the famine lasts. By “fleeing before enemies” in the internal sense is meant to be pursued by evils and falsities, for those who attribute goods and truths to themselves cannot fight against the evils and falsities which are from hell (n. 9978), and which in the spiritual sense are the enemies before whom is the fleeing, and by whom they are pursued. But by “pestilence” is signified the vastation and consumption of the goods and truths which have been received from infancy (n. 7505). That David chose the pestilence, and that seventy thousand died of it, signified that every truth and good of faith and love would perish with the Israelitish and Jewish nation, which also came to pass, for they did not acknowledge the Lord, from whom nevertheless are all goods and truths. “Three days’ signified to the full, and the same was also signified by the “seventy thousand” men who died.