Reaching God’s heaven require self initiation

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Too many people only want to go were they can find acceptance (they even expect this from God). But God and heaven’s angels already accept everyone into their kingdom of mutual love. So what keeps people from enjoying heavenly peace and eternal happiness?

Eternal peace and happiness is not someplace where other souls treat you right. It is a deep state of mind and quality acquired by individuals who are willing to probe their inner dirt and who consciously choose to remove these negative aspects from their lives (with the Lord’s help).

This process can be truly unflattering (and no angel will ever flatter or validate you if that is what you seek). So, a certain kind of bravery is called for and a certain kind of endurance must be created from our own efforts in self-examination.

If these negative aspects are not explored, challenged and resisted, our best deeds will always be stained by worldly elements of pride, vanity, status, and self-importance, which keep us away from heaven’s environment of innocence.

The trick is not to become good people, but to attract God’s goodness into our lives, which comes only from the removal of our harmful types of behavior.

This is why becoming a member of a Heavenly society requires self-initiation. We are each personally responsible for the quality of our own soul.

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Who should we care more about the rich person or the starving child

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That depends.

If you believe that there is no life beyond this earthly plane, then it is the starving child that we should focus on. But if you believe in a spiritual world beyond this one, then it is the rich who may really need your prayers and support the most.

While the Holy Bible states that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven, it is not the cash in his pockets that is blocking the way.

Spiritually speaking, the “rich” in this case symbolize those who falsely believe (from egoism) that they own everything important to life, but who actually are quite empty (and starving) deep within. Since the kingdom of heaven is within us all, a materially and outwardly rich person can only enter, after the physical death of the body, into an eternal place of similar emptiness—and deserves our concern.

A starving child, on the other hand, has innocence. If one dies in innocence then one becomes an angel and is assured of everlasting happiness. Heaven is primarily a place (inner state) of innocence.

So don’t let your eyes fool you when determining whom you should help

Love is the ultimate science 

Edward Sylvia

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Virtual is it achievable?

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Virtual is it achievable

Virtue – Is it achievable?

  • “All the gold which is under or upon the earth is not enough to give in exchange for virtue.” (Plato, philosopher)

The idea of virtue can feel a little scary. Surely no-one can be such a worthy human being as to do no wrong, show courage at all times, and be full of generosity and kindness with everybody? To do good all the time doesn’t feel like the real me. I suspect few people feel they are born like this and I certainly don’t. And what is virtue anyway? Do we have to be so extremely good in order to show virtue? Is this not an excessive expectation?

Virtue in contemporary spirituality

virtue
Dalai Lama & Roger Walsh

Modern spiritual writers are interested in universal ideas common to different traditions. For example Roger Walsh encourages the reader to recognise and cultivate higher values. Examples are justice, altruism, beauty, the sacred and understanding truth.

Walsh contrasts these with lower values such as money, possessions, bodily pleasure, power, and fame. He finds virtue in the higher values. In contrast, he says neglecting spiritual principles and focusing on lower values can result in a lack of well-being. You are more likely to suffer from boredom, craving, cynicism, alienation, stress, and lack of meaning in your life when you prioritise lower values unrelated to virtue.

Virtue as understood in ancient Greece

The way the ancient Greeks thought about virtue is of relevance. Plato thought that virtue is associated with being wise.

virtue

Similarly, Aristotle wrote that virtue is excellence at being human and thus involves understanding what is right for the situation.

“At the right times, about the right things, towards the right people, for the right end, and in the right way, is the intermediate and best condition, and this is proper to virtue.” (Aristotle, philosopher)

In other words virtue is taking into account rational considerations when being courageous, generous, or kind according to the circumstances. I think Aristotle is saying doing what is worthy and good doesn’t necessarily mean behaving in an excessive way.

“Exactness and neatness in moderation is a virtue, but carried to extremes narrows the mind.” (Francois Fenelon)

Virtue could thus be said to be acting in between two extremes in a rational light.

For example courage is a virtue that lies between cowardice and foolhardiness. You can foolishly throw away your life by thoughtlessly doing something beyond your ability.

Generosity is between miserliness and being recklessly profligate with one’s money. You can imprudently neglect your own needs, and the needs of your own family, by being overgenerous.

I see kindness as between indifference and doing too much. Fixing things by solving problems doesn’t enable children to learn things for themselves. Doing too much for the elderly can foster unnecessary dependence.

There is no virtue in taking things too far by mindlessly not considering consequences for what you do.

Virtue in tradition of Western World and Middle East

virtue

The ten commandments are less well known these days and are often regarded as old hat. Some of them are however the basis for our criminal law. We might want to bring our understanding of them up to date. If we look for a spirit of virtue within them, do these rules also require wisdom for their practice?

Arguably, the command ‘Do not kill’ is saying don’t become hateful or violent. Perhaps the spirit behind this is urging us to enhance life by nurturing, protecting, showing kindness and being useful. However, is it going too far to never get angry even when such a response is justified?

The command about not bearing false witness is about not telling lies. A deeper understanding of this might be being honest with others and with oneself. Also keeping promises and living with integrity. But could one unwisely take this command to its extreme? For example, by being too honest, tactlessly pointing negative things out to others at the wrong time, or ruminating on one’s own trivial mistakes.

There is a command about not committing adultery. Isn’t the spirit of this law to do with nurturing the family bond by being loyal to one’s partner and not acting seductively with others? Taken to extremes, one condemns and avoids all expressions of sexuality in the arts or in normal leisure contexts.

One command ‘Do not steal’ in effect tells us to respect the property and ideas of others, and give credit for them. More extreme than this would be to maintain upright respectability with false modesty about one’s own law-abiding citizenship.

“Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.” (Grover Norquist)

In other words, what is good in these rules can be distorted because of a lack of wisdom in their application.

Wisdom and virtue

One can point to a distinction between what is naturally and spiritually good. With the former there is no truth of wisdom.

“People … whose good is merely natural can be carried away by falsity as easily as by truth, provided that in outward appearance the falsity looks like truth. They can also be led as easily by evil as by good, provided that the evil is presented as good. They are like feathers in the wind.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)

In other words, true virtue is a developed quality of character rather than the impulse of one’s natural disposition. It is a rock in the face of the winds of life.

We may not naturally have much in the way of virtue – forgiveness, kindness, courage, humour, generosity, humility, contentment, or honesty. However, I conclude that doing good in an enlightened manner leads to a sense of well-being and feeling energised by life. I would say, virtue is achievable, as long as you seek the wisdom of rational thought needed to make use of good inclinations.

Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Buddhist idea of no self – True or not?

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Buddhist idea of no self – True or not?

buddhist

A Buddhist makes the claim that the self does not exist. In Sanskrit this is calledanâtman. In other words my notion of I or myself is an illusion.

When people first hear this, they are astonished. How can anyone deny they exist? Don’t we have our own thoughts and feelings? Don’t we act in ways we choose? No, the Buddhist sees you as having no genuine identity, no selfhood of your own.

According to this Buddhist view, there is no self or soul which could survive the death of the body. A human person is simply a transient bundle of energies which come together briefly and then separate.

Before rejecting the Buddhist view out of hand, perhaps we need to ask whether there might be some element of value in it? After all, appearances can be misleading. The sun rises and sets apparently circling the world. But this is a fallacy. The pleasures of the body appear to offer the best enjoyment in life. But they soon pall and become boring if over-indulged in.

We can forget ourselves

We speak of sometimes forgetting ourselves. Usually I am concerned about the way others see me. But if I were to angrily lose my temper then this sense of self is forgotten. I’m too busy expressing an emotion.

Some times we may acknowledge our limitations and humbly seek guidance. Is this not an example of forgetting one’s ego?

Another example of forgetting ourselves is the experience of meditation. In a state of higher consciousness, meditators see their thoughts, but they become convinced that they the person meditating is in some sense not the thing that generated the thoughts. They forget themselves.

We can be selfless

The sense of selfhood can also be said to not exist in states of compassion or generosity. In selfless thinking the idea of oneself is forgotten and put to one side because one is compassionately focused on the needs of those suffering hardship or pain.

How very different this state of mind is from that of the self-centred person who may indulge in the fantasy that he or she is more important or attractive than others. Or those people who fancy they deserve special treatment.

Buddhist argument

The Buddhists would say that our lives are about extinguishing the flames of desire which only cause suffering. What people say is self needs emptying out.

A human being it is argued consists of no more than various energies such as bodily form, sensations, thoughts, and feelings. None of these, Buddhists say are permanent or can be controlled. For example we cannot prevent our physical body ending at death. And so they say there is no self.

It is true that any beginner starting to meditate will confirm how impossible it is to feel responsible for and control the mind chatter that goes on at the fringe of awareness.

Also I can acknowledge that my thoughts are not my own: they come from various influences around me. Ideas, sentiments, even fantasies seem to come unbidden.

However, I would argue that I can still identify myself as an observing self who can be aware of all this mental stuff without owning it.

Individual free choice

I can go along with the suggestion that all images, feelings, ideas, sentiments originate somewhere beyond me. And that I can take no credit for them. In other words I haven’t a self in the sense of one that has life of itself. Instead I see myself as a mere receptacle who receives a flow of good and bad influences that come from elsewhere.

Yet I would say there is a me – a self – that makes personal choices.

I feel inwardly free to choose between different ideas, between different interests, and between different ideologies. And in so doing aren’t I making such personal choices my own. Part of me?

Even if the idea of self were an illusion, it seems to me to be a necessary illusion. Without such a sense of me how could I take responsibility for my personal choices?

Ruling love

Don’t habits of conduct also form as we make the same choice in similar situations? Choices about for example being patient or impatient, truthful or insincere, generous or mean.

In other words character traits form as we face the ordinary choices of daily life. I make deeper ideas my own as I reflect on various ways of thinking and choose between them. Eventually I will adopt certain basic stances to life, an overriding interest in something that I have come to really value. Perhaps a dominant love of composing uplifting music, or wanting to be famous in order to receive the acclaim of fans, or of doing my job well to the satisfaction of my boss and customers. Whatever the ruling interest is, doesn’t it define me as a person? This is me. This is what I stand for. This is who I want to be.

Conclusion about Buddhist anâtman

I feel I am a receptacle of sensations, thoughts, emotions that come to me. They flow into me. I don’t create them.

It follows that an awareness of myself as being the origin of this mental life is an illusion.

But I think this notion of a separate self is a necessary illusion. One that allows me to make choices and take responsibility. By exercising free choice don’t we gradually form character? And why shouldn’t such a character last beyond time and place? Beyond physical death. Whatever its quality.

I act as of myself but believe that any good in me comes from a higher source working in me and by me. I therefore conclude that no one’s life is self-existent.

The journey of life is letting go of oneself – one’s self-reliance, one’s pride, one’s egoism. For me to be spiritual is being open to, and thereby united with, the universal Self in contrast with the delusion of our separate selves.

Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Science does it validate religion?

science does it in validate religion

science

The idea that science has replaced religion has become popular these days. Some put religion to one side as now of date. People are noticing a huge development in research into the working of the human brain which seems to support this view.

New imaging technologies allow science to measure blood flow and neural activity whilst people are meditating and praying. Science claims it can predict and measure religious experience in this way. Atheists like Richard Dawkins are saying this is evidence that religious experience is nothing more than natural activity in certain parts of the brain. From this they conclude that there is no such thing as any supernatural reality.

What science has found

It has been found that intense or mystical experiences associate themselves with co-ordinated activity in certain areas of the brain and absence of activity in other parts. For example both meditating Buddhist monks and praying Catholic nuns demonstrate a decreased activity in the parietal lobes. This is a brain region responsible for spatial orientation. They also show increased activity in their frontal lobes. This is a brain region responsible for concentration. Similar patterns of brain activity are observed for singing, meditation and prayer regardless of the specific spiritual belief of the people studied.

Alternative explanation

There is an alternative interpretation. Just because religious experiences are accompanied by predictable brain activity, why should this mean they are caused by it? When two things go together, we don’t know which of them influences the other. Alternatively, some third factor might influence both.

One cannot expect science to investigate spiritual factors that might be involved. Quite rightly researchers depend on using natural tools to measure phenomena. Science practices methodological naturalism. This is a strategy for studying the world, by which scientists choose not to consider supernatural causes – even as a remote possibility. So, science does not theorise about any unnatural causes of what it studies.

Drug induced religious experience

Those who are sceptical about religion say if psychedelic drugs can produce mystical and religious experiences then religion is due to brain chemistry and not to God. Users of such substances report that they have remarkably spiritual experiences.

These drugs produce a wide range of often extraordinarily vivid perceptions. The kind of experience depends on several factors including the individual’s type of spiritual orientation, and the expectations of the social setting, as well as the specific drug and its dosage. Since the early 1960’s researchers have shown that, for many, such chemicals have induced positive benign and blissful mystical and religious states. However some have agonising encounters with loneliness, hopelessness, guilt and visions of dark forces.

When we are in an altered state of consciousness something releases the mind from its attachment to, and its rational awareness of, the external material world. I would suggest then we become more aware of a normally hidden inner world of spirit. I would say this inner world consists of both a presence of timelessness and unity but also a presence of dark forces. So these drugs expose full awareness of this inner world which is not observable using our physical senses.

To my way of thinking we make a huge mistake to suppose that the mere swallowing of a pill can yield the same results as years of spiritual discipline and growth. Also it is an error to suppose that religious experience is nothing more than a brain in a certain chemical state.

Science and religion

So do you think that science invalidates religion? Or do you think, as I do, that when some argue that only science has the truth, they are not arguing scientifically at all. Actually, I would say they are stepping beyond the scope of science into discourses of meaning and purpose.

It is good for us to have factual knowledge. Without it we cannot build up our rational understanding of ordinary things. Science provides many opportunities to look for and find God in nature and to reflect on belief.

Hinduism has historically embraced reason and empiricism, holding that science brings legitimate, but incomplete knowledge of the world. Most Buddhists today view science as complementary to their beliefs.

According to Emanuel Swedenborg Christian philosopher, the danger comes when we only see things in a natural light. We also need to use a spiritual light which is available to us. In other words, the worldly and bodily-minded individual makes a mistake to imagine one can use sensory evidence alone to see what is really important in life for oneself.

I rather like the view of the son of the founder of the Bahá’í religion. He said that religion without science is superstition and that science without religion is materialism.

Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Enlightenment how to think of it

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Enlightenment how to think of it

Spiritual traditions like Buddhism speak of enlightenment as promising a state of wisdom, happiness and freedom from the troubles we usually have to deal with in life. So what actually is enlightenment? How can we understand what the term means?

Physical light and well-being

The word enlightenment obviously is based on the word ‘light’. So can we learn anything about enlightenment from what we know what is good about light?

enlightenment

Sunlight, stimulates our bodies to manufacture vitamin D, it plays a major role in synchronising fundamental biochemical and hormonal rhythms of the body, affecting both physical and psychological well-being. Studies show that it relieves the depression of those suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Curiously, research has also found that light has an altruistic effect: for example it disposes people to be more helpful to a would-be interviewer and to leave a waitress more generous tips.

The word light used in common parlance

When we go around in darkness without a torch we are confused and get lost. But light shows us the way. More generally, when we understand something we speak of seeing what is meant. The light dawned and I now understand. I hope to throw some light on these matters. So light seems to be pretty central to the issue of enlightenment.

The Age of Enlightenment

The Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century came to advance ideals like liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state. This period is said to have brought in rational thought to challenge superstitious thinking. The leading thinkers of the time found logic and reason superior to traditional assumptions and beliefs.

Symbolism of light in religious traditions

The ancient Egyptians saw Re, the sun god, as the supreme creator that sustained life. In the Rig Veda, the earliest of Hindu scriptures, the sun is described as ‘the atman – the Self – of all things’, the god of gods. This idea was in contrast to a literal-minded attitude about the sun. In other Hindu texts Krishna and Vishnu reveal themselves in flashes of dazzling light. The appearance of a succession of mystical coloured lights marks the stages of progression towards illumination in the yogic tradition. Light is a recurring theme in the Christian gospels. In a vision his followers said they saw Christ’s face shine like the sun and his clothes become white as light. The divine apparently was flowing strongly into him on that occasion.

Amida, the Buddha of Infinite Light, is the central figure of a mystical tradition that ascribes great importance to the experience of the light that signifies encounter with ultimate reality. The symbolism of light is also conspicuous in other traditions including the Taoist, Zoroastrian, Islamic, and Jewish.

Enlightenment in Zen Buddhism.

The experience of enlightenment, according to Zen Buddhism, does not rely on argument or philosophical reasoning. Instead adherents assume it is a direct intuition of the mind. Everything is still what it was, except they see things with a new perspective. This means going beyond empty knowledge even about higher ideas, by noticing what is marvellous in the humdrum. One experiences an awakened awareness of timeless reality beyond the world of appearances.

Having self-insight into one’s actual and potential nature.

Many people who are part of western world spirituality believe that human desires and passions come both from inherited tendencies as well as acquired conventional attitudes. The latter are learned through social conditioning. One aspect of enlightened thinking is thus a realisation of one’s inner freedom to rise above such external factors. In other words finding the warmth of feelings for what is good, and the discernment & creativity of one’s true self

The vision of a mystical sun

Contemporary research suggests that mystical experience still commonly contains the appearance of light; for example the experience of being bathed in light. The appearance of a being of light is also a common finding amongst those having ‘the near death experience’.

The mystic Emanuel Swedenborg reports his vision of a spiritual sun. This non-physical sun he says represents the divine origin of wisdom. It’s rays of light illuminate the ideas we have picked up from around us so we see them with greater depth of perception.

We often find heat and light together. And so Swedenborg says the visionary sun represents the divine origin of love as well as of wisdom. Similarly, the rays of the physical sun deliver heat as well as light. The spiritual sun enlightens what we see with our minds as well as warming the feelings our heart. Our interest in a subject makes it easier to understand. Love is quick to perceive. This raises the suggestion that wisdom comes not from knowledge alone but with the effort to do right with an earnest heart.

Divine Source for enlightenment.

If the sun seen in vision is spiritually real and not just a symbol then is Swedenborg correct in saying it is the origin of all clear thinking and warm affection?

Physical light does not last, but departs with the sun. We can see from this that our discernment enjoys a light other than that of our eyes, and that this light comes from a different source. (Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)

According to his writing what enlightened good we do is from our Divine Source. This Swedenborg calls the Lord, mystically acting in us and by us.

Enlightenment comes and goes.

We do not precisely know the details of Siddhartha Gautama who lived over two thousand years ago. And so the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment probably contains elements of folk history. Enlightenment transformed him after he sat meditating under the Bodhi tree.

Swedenborg’s suggests however that enlightened understanding doesn’t all of a sudden come and stay all at once although there is gradual improvement as a person’s character improves. In other words the inner light comes and goes according to our varying spiritual states. Enlightenment according to him is basically when we fully appreciate that of ourselves we cannot independently achieve good separate from its Divine Source.

Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

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Materialistic thinking – rational?

Materialistic thinking – rational?

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Materialistic thinking – rational?

A materialistic way of thinking assumes that science is the be-all and end-all of human knowledge. Those who have this outlook claim that the methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything

materialistic
Alex Rosenberg

Science provides all the significant truths about reality and knowing such truths is what real understanding is about.” (Alex Rosenberg, philosopher of science)

It is not so surprising that some people are starry eyed about science. It has such a huge beneficial impact on daily life in the western world. Smart phones, laptops, airplanes, television, domestic appliances etc. are all around us. Science, and the technology arising from it, greatly helps us to communicate, easily gain information, be entertained, visit foreign countries, and reduce domestic drudgery.

But should we really treat science as our exclusive guide to reality? Are there no other credible sources of knowledge and understanding about our existence?

Science and materialistic thinking

materialistic

Science does provide us with reliable and valid facts about the world e.g. about electronics, chemistry, and biology. Great curiosity, together with rigorous observation and experiment, all lead to amazing discoveries.

But does this mean that we should dismiss non-scientific sources of knowledge as unreliable? I’m thinking of many common sense beliefs not based on science that we can test using our ordinary experience: for example the truth about vegetable growing, football tactics, personal relationships. And what about what some call enlightened understanding arising from states of meditation or spiritual knowledge derived from sacred writing.

Grand unifying theories

Science offers grand unifying ways of understanding reality whether it be in terms of evolutionary theory, the electromagnetic spectrum, the periodic table of elements, and so on.

However, the scope of the scientific instruments used to gather information limits the available evidence for any all-embracing theory of everything. In only championing theories built on data provided by the tools of science, are those with the outlook of materialistic thinking actually dismissing things that science cannot directly know about?

For example a materialistic outlook denies the existence of any supernatural beings such as angels, demons, and spirits. But there is no telescope, microscope or electrical device that scientists could use to investigate the existence or non-existence of such things. Are not the visions of those having near death experiences, or the mystical experiences of ordinary people of some relevance? Also are not personal insights, moral intuition or maybe religious experience also sources of information worthy of consideration?

Determinism of materialistic science

Science has discovered much about the causes of phenomena. Like accounting for chemical reactions in terms of molecular theory, the movement of planets in terms of the theory of gravity and the behaviour of animals in terms of their instincts and conditioning.

Actually, the working assumption of scientists is that some natural cause determines every single thing they study. Since something causes every event in nature and since human beings exist in nature, the science of psychology assumes that something natural determines human acts and choices.

In this way of materialistic thinking there can be no such thing as inner human free-will. You make a personal choice – say about what subjects to study or what partner to take and have children with – but science does not respect freedom of volition as a cause of your actions. Instead it assumes only external causes such as your inherited natural disposition and your experience of social learning can be responsible for your decision.

Reductionism of materialistic science

Scientific reductionism is the idea of reducing complex interactions and entities to the sum of their constituent parts, in order to make them easier to study. So science wants to explain the phenomena of psychology like temperament in terms of biology. In turn, chemistry explains the facts of biology like digestion. And physics explains the findings of chemistry like oxidisation.

Scientists likewise want to reduce what is not physical to something physical. So they try to explain human consciousness as nothing more than electrical activity in the brain.

Swedenborg on discrete degrees

Emanuel Swedenborg

Philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg offers us a way of understanding how materialistic thinking can be considered in terms of distinct degrees of the human mind. He suggests that even some intelligent individuals close their minds to deeper considerations. They adopt an external way of thinking and their reasoning is confined to natural facts. Such information limits their deepest beliefs. They do not raise their minds to think in terms of ends. They stick with natural causes and effects. This makes them natural-minded.

I suspect that those who do not adopt a materialistic science outlook, have a more inward perception of reality. This is because they use a distinctly higher level of mind to reflect about life. They are spiritually minded. They think more abstractly in the sense of not fixing their thoughts on matter. Neither do they confine themselves to ideas limited to self, person, space or time.

materialistic

Instead they are in touch with the child’s sense of wonder at what is behind the amazing things in nature. The intuition that we all have each been created for some good purpose. That there is a world of meaning behind the sensations and appearances of the world. That there is a reality of love and wisdom which is the spiritual source of all that is good and true. That we will live for ever.

Which is more rational? To think about life only in terms of natural phenomena? Or in terms of a deeper dimension to existence? To be a materialistic thinker or spiritually-minded?

Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems