spiritual questions and answers
discovering Inner Health and transformation
Ideas about spiritual awakening during childhood
Hoffman’s findings about children
Profound intuitions in children
How common is spiritual awakening in children?
Implanting of spiritual feelings in children
Importance of re-connecting to our childhood spirituality
A perspective from positive psychology
A spiritual perspective on satisfaction
Illusion as an obstacle to satisfaction
Learning and Growing
Although all newborn babies look remarkably similar in a wrinkled, reddish sort of way, each child is a unique and fascinatingly complex individual. Each child possesses a physical, emotional and intellectual inheritance from both its parents. Scientists can now trace back the patterns of our genetic inheritance almost into the mists of time and are constantly discovering different ways in which this inheritance impacts not only on our physical characteristics but also on our personality and its growth. But not only do we have a natural inheritance we also have a spiritual inheritance, latent potentialities towards self-centredness, that can ultimately lead us to live contrary to the wish of our loving Creator.
The physical birth and nurturing process in a newly born child reflects and parallels the process of regeneration in a mature adult. Just as the creation of an adult from a baby is a lengthy process so is the creation of a spiritually reborn adult a lifelong process. We are all, like small children, essentially self centred, and just as a young child has to become aware that he/she is not the centre of the universe and that others have needs, so we too need to be aware that spiritually speaking God should be at the centre of our life and love and that humanity should take precedence over ourselves.
Our environment affects our physical and intellectual growth in the natural world and adds its layers to our basic personality. Our parents, our family, our friends, our religious upbringing, our education all contribute to the making of the adult from the child. It may seem that some individuals may have unfair advantages over others, but God always seeks to provide a person with a basic store of loving experiences at some stage in the early years of his/ her early natural life and provides unseen spiritual opportunities for an individual to follow the right pathway. Emanuel Swedenborg refers to this ‘store of loving experiences’ using the term remains as in this quotation from Arcana Caelestia:
Remains are all things of innocence, all those of charity, all those of mercy, and all those of the truth of faith, which a person has acquired from God and learned since early childhood. Every single one of them lies stored away. And if a person did not acquire them, no innocence, charity, or mercy could possibly be present in his thinking and actions, and so no good and truth at all could be present.
A young child needs to know that he/she is loved and cherished and in the same way we need to know that we too are loved unconditionally by our Heavenly Father who seeks always what is best for us. Just as a child needs to be fed, a human being also needs to be fed spiritually. We are fed spiritually by the teachings given to us in the Word of God, by the good examples that other people set us and by the myriad everyday experiences that help to develop our attitudes and our characters. This spiritual learning is vital for our inner development and growth.
As a child grows it acquires knowledge at an amazing rate. The understanding of the knowledge that is acquired usually comes much later. For example we may know that you divide two fractions by turning the second one upside down and multiplying but a true understanding of the reasons why may not come until much later. In the same way in our regeneration, as we read and learn about God and his purposes, a fuller understanding and perhaps most importantly an affection or love for that wisdom develops. This takes a lifetime to acquire, not just in this world but to eternity.
Wisdom once was a universally admired quality. In the present world this has changed especially in the “developed” Western world where there is an ambivalence about it. In the world of commerce and government where the emphasis is on materialism, knowledge, competitive performance, efficiency and results, wisdom tends to be dismissed. But at the same time amongst the public there is a demand for books of the collected wisdom from different cultures.
For Swedenborg wisdom cannot be found in a book. It is not a collection of ideas but, along with love, it is an essential of a truly human life. He explains that everyone is born with two receptacles to receive life from God, the will and the understanding. The will receives love and the understanding wisdom. They are completely interdependent. Love is dependent on the quality of its wisdom and vice versa. Their relationship is like that of the heat and light of a flame.
It is this association of heat with love and light with wisdom that is the origin of the use of heat and light in many sacred scriptures.
As part of the gift of life we are given free will and an ability to reason. So we have a choice about the kind of love we have and whether or not we become wise.
To be truly wise a person loves God and their neighbour and therefore they love what is good and true because it is good and true. A person who has no such love but only loves the self and world may be theologically knowledgeable and intellectually clever but will never be spiritually wise because he has no desire for genuine wisdom. Neither will a person who dismisses spiritual things and relies solely on worldly and natural ideas because spiritual wisdom is based on spiritual concepts and awareness. People such as these may be “wise” in the eyes of the world but they cannot be truly wise.
In ancient cultures wisdom was often associated with not only spirituality but also old age because people only reach their potential by making a spiritual journey. They move from a self-centred love to a God centred and unselfish love. This takes a lifetime so true wisdom became associated with age.
A wise person develops many qualities, such as, a love for what is good and true, humility, integrity, compassion, empathy, honesty, justice, and innocence. Throughout the history of every culture and religion these are the qualities that have been recognised in people who are wise. This does not mean that they become naïve. As Jesus succinctly put it, “Be as wise as serpents but as innocent as doves”
It is encouraging to read of a few people such as Charles Handy in his book “The Hungry Spirit” stating that such qualities are essential in the modern Western world and no business or political party can continue to function for long if they ignore or dismiss them.
Here are three quotes on wisdom:
It is obvious from actual experience that love generates warmth and wisdom generates light. When we feel love, we become warmer, and when we think from wisdom, it is like seeing things in the light. We can see from this that the first thing that emanates from love is warmth and that the first thing that emanates from wisdom is light. Emanuel Swedenborg in Divine Love and Wisdom 95
Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it Albert Einstein
Wisdom ceases to be wisdom when it becomes too proud to weep, too grave to laugh, and too selfish to seek other than itself. Kahlil Gilbran
“Smile, God loves you” is an easy thing to say but if God loves us why does he allow us to suffer? How can we reconcile a God of Love with our everyday experience of the world in which we live?
To try and get some idea of how God loves us we could start by thinking about parents and their children. It is a very human thing for parents to try to love their children equally whatever their different characters and abilities and to seek the best for them as individuals whatever happens. Now parenthood is tough and however idealistically parents approach the bringing up of their children it is often the case that one child will think that mother or father loves their sister or brother more than them. And yet that is not what the parents really want or strive to achieve. And if children grow up and go in very different directions to those envisaged by their parents, truly loving parents will continue to love their children just the same.
Now God loves his children, you, me and everyone else, not with the imperfect love which we express in our lives, that has limits and conditions, but with an unconditional love that has no limits and no boundaries and is shared equally with all. And it is the nature of God’s love that it is given with the freedom for us to accept it, reject it or misuse it – there are no conditions in which God’s love is not given – it is unconditional.
In our human relationships we know how wonderful it is if our love for someone else is freely returned – not because they have to love us but because they want to love us. Paradoxically the more freedom we give to those whom we love the greater and stronger is the love that is returned. Force someone to love you and no real mutual love develops. Now offering to love someone and leaving them the freedom to respond or not is a high risk and potentially painful strategy – as most people find out at some stage in their lives when love is not returned.
And this, in a very human and finite way, is an image and likeness of how God loves us. He offers us love and gives us the freedom to say yes or no. God knows that if we return his love then a deep relationship can develop but if we are unable to respond to his love then he feels pain for what might have been.
One of the hardest things a parent has to do is to let their child make mistakes – despite realising the probable pain and suffering that will ensue. Children have to grow and develop and make their own way in the world and not feel they are being manipulated or directed by their parents. They will make the right decisions and the wrong decisions and yet the loving parent has to stand back and not intervene. They just offer advice to their child as to what they should do and then leave their child the freedom to make up their own mind.
And this is how God’s love works with us. God wants us to be happy and to be fulfilled. He wants us to respond to his love in freedom and he shows us how we should live. But because God values our freedom above all else he cannot intervene when he sees things going wrong. If he intervened in the greatest disasters that beset mankind surely he would also have to intervene in even the smallest personal problems in life and then where would we be – we would be like puppets being controlled by God in the play of life.
Bad things happen. God does not want them to happen. But God cannot intervene because of the freedom he gives us to choose to respond or not to his unconditional love. This is the nature of the God who loves you. God loves everyone equally but what we receive of his love depends on our openness to his love and our acknowledgement that all love comes from God. If we respond to his love we can feel loved, free and forgiven and we will then want to share God’s love with those around us.
The love of God is broad like beech and meadow,
wide as the wind, and an eternal home.
God leaves us free to seek him or reject him,
he gives us room to answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’
There are three things which make up the essence of God’s love – loving others more than oneself, wishing to be one with them, and devoting oneself to their happiness.
It should be known that God is constantly present, continually striving and acting on a person, and touching his free will but never forcing it. For if God were to force a person’s free will, his dwelling in God would be destroyed, and he would be left only with God’s dwelling in him.
Boxing Day 2004 was shattered by the developing news of the tsunami disaster in the Indian ocean and as more and more details of the horrific results of this tragedy emerged we have had to try to come to terms with one of the greatest natural disasters of the last 50 years.
Of course ‘disasters’ happen all the time and often they are close and personal or in our extended families. And then there are the larger events such as train crashes which affect dozens of lives. But this ‘tsunami’ event we have witnessed has affected millions of lives across many countries not just because of the widespread effect of the giant waves crossing the ocean but also because of the large number of people on holiday in those parts. It is, perhaps, this all encompassing effect that has made this tragedy so prominent in our news programmes and newspapers and such a challenge to our thinking about God and the way God works in the world.
To those who profess no belief in God, such a violent and destructive event tends to reinforce those views. To those who do believe in God, it raises questions about why God allows such things and why he does not intervene – and these questions inevitably bring doubt and disbelief. After all we might not be surprised if bad things happened to bad people but when bad things happen to good people or innocent people we are at a loss to explain it.
But how might we begin to try and make sense of all of this?
I think we need to start with asking ourselves who we really are. Are we just a wonderful human body driven by a vastly complex brain and so able to operate in the natural world around us? Or are we really deep inner spiritual beings with the potential to grow as we come to terms with the events that affect our lives?
I certainly feel that we are indeed spiritual beings and that the greatest gift God gives us is the freedom to choose on the one hand to be selflessly loving in our relationships with others or on the other hand to be selfishly loving towards ourselves. As we take what this freedom offers and choose the selfless pathway, then we grow spiritually, and this growth can continue past the death of our physical bodies and on to eternity.
But what if God did intervene in a disaster? What scale of disaster would merit this divine intervention? Would it only be something on the scale of the ‘tsunami’ event or would smaller scale disasters also receive God’s attention? Would family tragedies also be avoided by God’s intervention? Commonsense suggests that if God intervened at all there would be no limit to that intervention and ultimately nothing in the world would go wrong, whether caused by nature or caused by men and women. Our world would become a world in which we existed like robots, with no problems or difficulties to face and where choices to act selflessly or selfishly would be meaningless.
So we have an apparent paradox that whilst we can think of God as all powerful, nevertheless God cannot act against his love that we should live in freedom. God doesn’t want disasters or accidents or terminal illness but these are allowed because only in that way can true spiritual freedom be maintained.
Now this is an easy thing to say if you are not watching a loved one being swept away by a tidal wave or if you are not caring for someone dying as a result of some terrible accident. In these situations no words can really give comfort, however true they maybe, it is only love that can make a difference.
But don’t we often say that God is Love?. We might ask the question – “where is God at work in the ‘tsunami’ disaster?” and if we cannot find an answer it is probably because our understanding of God is limited in some way (perhaps by thinking that God should act as we act in a “quick fix” kind of way). But if this is so then we should ask instead – “where is Love in this disaster?” And surely an answer to this question comes immediately! We have seen love at work in the desperate attempts by people to save those overwhelmed by the gigantic waves, even if in that attempt they lost their own lives. We have seen love at work in the rescue workers searching hour after hour, day after day, to find those whose lives could be saved. We have seen love at work in the outpouring of concern and giving around the world. And in all this love, is God.
Bad things happen. We know that from our own personal experience and we also know it from observing the world around us. But however bad the situation it is love that can lift us up and lead us forward again. And the source of all the true love we can experience and share with others is God.
“Saying that God allows something to happen does not mean that he wants it to happen but that he cannot prevent it because of his goal, which is our salvation.”
For a further article on disasters covering Hurricane Katrina follow this link: