A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn Athyn (cataloged 8/11/97)
“So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed but a few days to him because of the love he had for her” (Gen. 29:20).
The Hebrew patriarchs had beautiful wives. This was a concern for Abram as he journeyed toward Egypt. He said to Sarai, “I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance … ” (Gen. 12:11). “Say you are my sister,” he said, so that his life would not be in jeopardy among the Egyptians.
A generation later, Abraham’s servant went in search of a wife for Isaac. Who can forget the wonder of his meeting with Rebekah at the well? Even as the old servant prayed for success in his quest, Rebekah came out with her pitcher on her shoulder. “Now the young woman was very beautiful to behold, a virgin …” we are told (Gen. 24:16).
Yet another generation passed when Jacob, like his father before him, loved a woman who was truly beautiful. This was Rachel, the daughter of Laban. It is said that “Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance” (Gen. 29:17), captivating beyond any woman Jacob had ever seen. He was willing to work seven years for her; indeed, when Laban tricked him, substituting the weak-eyed Leah for his bride, Jacob worked yet another seven years for Rachel.
The beauty of women has been a source of inspiration for men from ancient times, but only now has the hidden reason for this been revealed. The wives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were beautiful because they signify inner qualities which create true beauty. The Heavenly Doctrine for the New Church now unfolds the spiritual origin of woman’s beauty. It is from an interior cause flowing from the Creator Himself. While there is a natural beauty of face and form enjoyed by some, inherited from parents, this fades with time. True spiritual beauty is timeless and is what the Writings describe about women who have died old, wrinkled with age, who, as angels after death, are restored to the bloom of their youth and to a beauty unimaginable here on earth. Our purpose is to explore the cause and nature of this true and lasting beauty, not just to know it but that we may strive for beauty in our own lives.
It was the poet John Keats who said, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” While this may seem abstract, the poet’s insight opens the way to contemplate an idea of beauty that goes beyond physical form. This idea is confirmed by what we have been given by the Lord in the Heavenly Doctrine. Consider these teachings: “The beauty of angels, and also of men, as to the interiors which are their spirits, is by truths (AC n. 553, 3080, 4985, 5199)” (NJHD 24; AR 161). “Truths themselves constitute as it were the face of beauty … ” (AC 3804). “The very truth of faith presents beauty in the external form … ” (AC 4985). Beauty is from truth!
But this is not the whole story. Recall what Abram said of his wife Sarai as they came to Egypt: “Indeed I know that you are a woman beautiful to look upon” (Gen. 12:11). In the explanation of these words, the Writings say that it is truth from “a celestial origin” that is delightful in this way (AC 1470). Sarai was said to be beautiful and delightful to look upon because she represented something called “celestial truth” (Ibid.).
What does this mean? What is celestial truth? When the Writings speak of what is “celestial” they refer to a quality of love. “Celestial truth” is truth in which there is love. The Writings offer this comparison: ” … truth is then like the light of the sun in the springtime, which has heat in its bosom, from which all things on the earth are made to vegetate, and are as it were animated. This celestial truth is the beautiful itself,” we are told, “or beauty itself … ” (Ibid.).
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” Yes, but only when that truth is inwardly alive from love. Let us look again at the statement “Truths are the face of beauty.” Of themselves, truths are empty forms, cold, unbeautiful. If it is to be so that truth is beauty and the “face of beauty,” there must be love in that truth and life behind that face. “From this it is that the angels of heaven are of ineffable beauty,” we are told, “being as it were loves and charities in form … ” (AC 4985).
There is a common perception in the world that true beauty is more than skin deep. People speak of an “inner beauty” that radiates from the lives of people regardless of physical appearance. The Writings teach that everyone’s human form after death is the more beautiful “in proportion as he has more interiorly loved Divine truths and lived according to them … ” (HH 459). What the Writings reveal is that inner beauty is uncovered after death, endowing the angels, especially angelic wives, with a remarkable, indescribable comeliness.
The Writings also reveal why women especially are forms of beauty: it is from creation and their very nature. Let us look further at this. To learn about this, Swedenborg came once to a place near an angelic temple of wisdom where a conversation on wisdom was about to take place. Noticing something unusual, he first asked his host why the house was divided in two by a transparent partition, though seeming still to be one. The angel replied that his wife also was present, though separated by the partition. When Swedenborg inquired why this was so and asked what a wise man or wisdom had to do with woman, perhaps reflecting the attitude of his own day in the learned circles of Sweden, the host called other wise men to join them and repeated Swedenborg’s question. At this they all laughed, saying, “What is a wise man or wisdom without woman, that is, without love? The wife is the love of a wise man’s wisdom” (CL 56:2).
The men then began a discourse about the cause of the beauty of the female sex in which they said that women were formed to be uniquely affected by wisdom, to be the life of wisdom, and to bring alive the warmth and delights of conjugial love with men to the end that men might render thanks to the Lord for this bounty, and repay it by the reception of wisdom from Him (see CL 56:3-5).
The Writings show that beauty in women is especially related to the interaction and conjunction between men and women which the Lord has established by creation. Indeed, it has been revealed that all beauty in the other life is from conjugial love (see AC 2735). This is because true marriage lives from the conjunction of good with truth, or love with wisdom. Heavenly wives are indescribably beautiful because their appearance is from the wisdom which they have received from their husbands, made living from within by their love. Yet another discourse Swedenborg heard in the spiritual world illustrates this. This was by a series of three orators, the first of whom proposed that love was the origin of beauty and the second that wisdom was its origin. The third said: “Not love alone, nor wisdom alone, is the origin of beauty, but the union of love and wisdom the union of love with wisdom in the young man, and the union of wisdom with its love in the maiden … Therefore,” he concluded, “love by wisdom forms beauty, and wisdom from love receives it … ” (CL 384).
With this background of information about the nature of beauty, especially about the beauty of women, what conclusions and applications to our life can we suggest? How can we find and appreciate true beauty?
Most obviously, it is important to maintain perspective about natural beauty as compared to spiritual. We live in a world which puts high value on glamour, fashion and appearance yet often disregards morality, even civility. Let us remember what the Lord said to Samuel when he looked for a king in Israel: “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature … for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (I Sam. 16:7).
How the angels would cringe at our distorted use of the term, “beautiful people,” when the character and quality of those who are so called in our world often seems so far from the ideals of heavenly life. By contrast, the way to be truly beautiful is clearly put forth in the doctrine: “When … people have removed their evils … [and perform acts of love] … they appear as beautiful people in heaven in the sight of angels,” we are told, “and as their associates and companions” (DP 121).
Let us learn to prize morality, and especially chastity, from love of the Lord. What is truly beautiful in life is what is heavenly. So it is said: ” … the man who is in the good of love, and hence in the truth of faith, is in the form of heaven, and consequently is in the beauty in which heaven is, where the Divine from the Lord is all in all” (AC 5199). “Good itself when it flows in from the internal man into the external, makes beauty; and from this is all human beauty” (AC 3080).
There is a special beauty for which we should pray and should strive in the chaste and loving relationship between husband and wife. “Genuine conjugial love is the image of heaven,” we are told, “and when it is represented in the other life, this is done by the most beautiful things that can ever be seen by the eyes or conceived by the mind … ” (AC 2735).
The Lord has created husbands and wives as two who are to become one. By his love of growing wise, the husband should acquire truths of wisdom. In themselves these truths are lifeless forms. Yet these are the forms which the wife joins to her own life, making them the “face” of her beauty. This beauty inspires the husband to grow in wisdom. The teaching is given in the New Church that “women were created by the Lord affections of the wisdom of men … ” (CL 56:3). A good woman will love the things her husband has learned from the Lord and will make them a part of her life. A good man will see a beauty in these things now made living by his wife’s love, and he will love her for that beauty. Together they become united as one, sharing a love and a wisdom that is unique to them. Together they bring wisdom and love into act, procreating ever new uses of life.
In the heavens angelic couples sometimes are seen as one angel, because their lives are integrated. Swedenborg experienced this integration in various ways. Once, in the presence of angels of most ancient times, he was eager to learn about their marriages. Looking at the husband, then at the wife, he observed a unity of souls and said: “You two are one.” The man replied: “We are one; her life is in me and mine in her … she is the love of my wisdom and I am the wisdom of her love … ” (CL 75).
Later, among angels of the ancient heaven he saw upon the wall of a couple’s house a rainbow, as it were, composed of three colors, crimson, hyacinthine, and white; and he saw how the crimson passed through the hyacinthine and tinged the white with dark blue, while the white flowed back through the hyacinthine into the crimson and raised it to a flamy beam, as it were. The husband then explained that this represented the interplay of the conjugial love of the wife and the intelligence of the husband. “Such things are represented on these walls,” he said, “whenever, from meditation on conjugial love and its mutual, successive, and simultaneous union, we look with intent gaze at the rainbows there pictured” (CL 76).
Again, when in the house of the wise angel whose wife was with him, “the wife appeared through the crystal partition and said to her husband, `Speak, if you please.’ And when he spoke, the life of wisdom from his wife was perceived in his speech; for her love was in the tone of his voice. Thus experience bore witness to truth” (CL 56). With these and other experiences the Lord has demonstrated the intended relation between husbands and wives.
The beauty of our marriage depends upon these same heavenly principles. “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”
The greatest danger to beauty in marriage is its opposite of adultery, where insanity and perverted loves rule instead of wisdom and love. Adulterous liaisons are inspired by the hells and produce what is ugly and destructive of use. So the Writings teach that the wisdom of life is, in brief: “to shun evils … This,” we are told, “is the wisdom … with which conjugial love binds itself; for it binds itself by shunning the evil of adultery as the pest of the soul, the commonwealth, and the body” (CL 130).
Men and women each have a part in building a true marriage together. The marriage progresses step by step toward greater happiness and beauty as each partner contributes to it. Swedenborg heard from angels that “a wife becomes more and more a wife as her husband becomes more and more a husband … ” (CL 200). Surprisingly, the reverse is not the case. If men fail in their responsibilities, progress in the marriage stops. The husband cannot be pulled along in the relationship by a wife’s unilateral efforts. However, as soon as a husband tries to do his part, the wife will also do hers. “Rarely, if ever, does a chaste wife fail to love her husband,” we are told. “What is lacking is love in return on the part of the husband; and this is lacking on account of there being no elevation of wisdom, which alone receives a wife’s love” (Ibid.). Here is a teaching for the men of the New Church to take to heart. Seek the wisdom of life especially that wisdom that shuns the evil of adultery.
If wives are to be truly beautiful, men must strive first to be truly wise. When men fail in this, marriages languish. Women feel forsaken and neglected.
This should never be so in the New Church. The Lord has given the church the Heavenly Doctrine, the key to unlock the wisdom of heaven. Let this be precious to us all, like a treasure hidden in a field which, when we have found it, becomes a joy to us, worth all that we have (see Matt. 13:44). Then let the words of Isaiah’s prophecy be fulfilled with us: “You shall … be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:3-5). Amen.
Lessons: Gen. 24:10-21; CL 42 (portions)
Conjugial Love 42 (portions)
One morning, looking up to heaven, I beheld above me expanse upon expanse. And I saw that the first expanse, which was nearby, opened, and presently the second, which was higher, and lastly the third, which was the highest; and by enlightenment therefrom I perceived that upon the first expanse were angels who form the first or lowest heaven; upon the second expanse, angels who form the second or middle heaven; and upon the third expanse, angels who form the third or highest heaven. At first I wondered what this was and why; and presently a voice as of a trumpet was heard from heaven, saying: “We have perceived and do now see that you are meditating on conjugial love; and we know that, as yet, no one on earth knows what love truly conjugial is in its origin and in its essence, yet it is important that this be known. Therefore it has pleased the Lord to open the heavens to you, that enlightening light and thence perception may flow into the interiors of your mind. With us in the heavens, especially in the third heaven, our heavenly delights are chiefly from conjugial love. Therefore, by leave given us, we will send down to you a married pair that you may see.”
And lo, a chariot was then seen descending from the highest or third heaven, and in it was seen a single angel, but as it drew near, two were seen … They then drew near, and lo! it was a husband and his wife; and they said: “We are married partners. From the first age, called by you the Golden Age, we have lived happily in heaven and always in the same flower of youth in which you now see us.”
I observed them both attentively, for I perceived that they represented conjugial love in its life and in its adornment in its life in their faces, and in its adornment in their apparel.
As to the wife, her appearance was as follows: To me her face was both visible and not visible visible as beauty itself, and not visible because such beauty is inexpressible; for in her face was a splendor of flaming light like the light with angels of the third heaven, and this light so dulled my sight that I became merely stupified with amazement. Observing this, she spoke to me, saying: “What do you see?” I answered: “I see only conjugial love and its form; but I see and do not see.” At this she turned partly away from her husband, and then I was able to observe her more intently. Her eyes sparkled with the light of her heaven which, as was said, is flamy and therefore partakes of the love of wisdom; for in that heaven, wives love their husbands from their husbands’ wisdom and in that wisdom; and husbands love their wives from that love toward themselves and in it. Thus they are united. Hence her beauty a beauty which no painter can emulate and portray in its form, there being no such sparkle in his colors; nor is such beauty expressible by his art.
When I had seen all this, they again spoke with me; and when the husband was speaking, he spoke at the same time as though from his wife, and when the wife, she spoke at the same time as though from her husband, such being the union of the minds from which the speech flowed; and then also I heard the sound of conjugial love, that it was inwardly simultaneous and, moreover, was a sound proceeding from the delights of a state of peace and innocence. At last they said, “We are recalled; we must depart.” And then, as before, they again appeared to be conveyed in a chariot, being conveyed along a road laid out between flower beds, from the borders of which rose olive trees and trees laden with oranges. And as they drew near their heaven, maidens came out to meet them and received them and led them in.