Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Journey

There is a man in a state prison that writes to me, and he often amazes me. He describes in clear detail what he does to remain free. He was enslaved by evil long before society meted out punishment for his crime. And now, when he remembers himself – which he must do almost daily – he rises above the false ideas and evil delights that threaten to persecute him, and he is free.

I know a 50 year old woman who fears old age. She has watched her grandparents and her parents grow old and suffer the loss of abilities, then lose the enjoyment of life, and finally lose life itself. And now she recognizes the signs of the same losses in her own body and mind. Her energy is dwindling. Her reflexes are slowing. Her memory and attention span are not as good as they were ten years ago. Her work is all routine. Her avocation is becoming a burden. She is about to retire and move, and for no reason but that she is getting old. She is discovering that she is imprisoned by lies about life. One lie is that there is no value or reality to the present moment in and of itself, regardless of the circumstances. She senses an evil force manipulating her through this lies, convincing her that only physical youth is good, and that old age bad because death ends life.

I recently read the story of Dan Millman who was incredibly successful in gymnastics. He was judged the best in the world at the 1968 Olypmics. He writes of how he discovered the prison that his point of view about himself and the world created to enclose his spirit. It was wonderful that he didn’t have to lose his life of gymnastics, but he went through many trials to discover exactly what he did have to lose in order to find a way to use his talents to make a better world for himself and others.

I am told that a person can crave food in unhealthy quantities and qualities, so that eating is an attempt to serve a deep need for satisfaction. Actually the need is never met, and the obsession, if not curbed, leads to death. Such a person is enslaved by the falsity that a particular food can be of service to a spiritual need. When it doesn’t satisfy, the person eats more, continuing to believe the lie. The person can actually believe that a certain behavior, bad for them yesterday, will not be bad for them this time. The same falsity is involved in all addictions.

So how does a person so enslaved break out of such a pervasive prison? It is the process of spiritual growth, which begins with the realization that it will take a miracle to be freed. The process begins when I realize that it is my own knowledge and thinking from it that is the source of my pain, darkness, obsession and limitation. I then realize that I have to give it all up, that my beliefs and thought processes and the behaviors they produce must be replaced. The Lord’s preparations for my freeing then become active. Memories of long past delights in good are stirred. Ideas, circumstances and people (many of which were there all along) suddenly appear and are attractive. It is of note that the book and movie “The Secret” is based on this essential truth (although the author doesn’t see the whole picture and goes awry). The Lord’s design is that as I realize I need His miracle of healing, precisely because I feel lost, condemned and beyond His reach, there is created in my mind a glimmer of hope, and a strategy or two to be adopted. A tender, small and fragile sense of freedom arises in my heart.

“But nobody can have this freedom except one who is governed by good; for it is by virtue of good that he is in heaven and by virtue of good that truths are seen there.” And so the process continues with successes and failures to live up to the new sight of truth. Little by little, the good of heaven replaces the “good” the addict, the materialist, or the hedonist had before. More and more the person sees the evil of those delights, and identifies and rejects the falsities that propped them up.

Unbeknownst to the person, the Lord’s processes continue to operate to replace old, evil delights with new good ones. This happens automatically as the person acts on new true ideas, which then are receptors of and clothing for inner goodness. Without knowing how, the desire and inclination to act on the old falsities is gone! A new freedom is experienced.

This is the journey. There are traps, pitfalls, and dead ends. But as one perseveres and trusts in the Lord, there are successes. And we come to know for ourselves and in our life that “You shall deal bountifully with me.” (Psalm 142:7)


Freedom is among the most precious gifts proffered by the Lord. From the most ancient times, human freedom has been considered at the core of our being. And today it continues a rallying cry – and a battle cry – in a hundred languages around the globe.

We should expect striving for freedom to endure through the millennia. How can it be otherwise with what God surely sees as His pinnacle of creation? All of nature, from the rocks that appear motionless only in our crude eyesight, to the finest substances of our brains that follow the incomprehensible laws of quantum mechanics, vibrates with the effort of divine life to find free expression, expansion and replication. All of spirit, from the lowest urges of instinct to the noblest inspirations of altruism, is driven by the outflow of divine life through the human being to find free expression in love, wisdom and usefulness.

The Lord cares about our freedom because His goal is the free expression of love that completes the circle of His life. Therefore, from His infinite love, He works to maintain the possibility of humans choosing to love Him in return through their freely chosen loving action. It must be, therefore, that infinite power steadies the flow of life, assuring that there is always a choice. On the lowest level the choice is between up and down, in and out, left and right. On the deepest level it is between materialism and spirituality, evil and good, selfishness and God. Surely among the deepest concerns of thoughtful people across the planet therefore is this: how do we realize this beautiful state of life individually and as a culture of selfless, good, spirituality?

Every human being on the planet has an opportunity to find his or her unique path to realizing the freedom that is being maintained by divine power. Clearly, many people do not understand how to manage their freedom. There are countless sad stories of people who are wounded by mistaking license for freedom. In striving for power, people evilly manipulate others with false promises of freedom. It is perhaps my deepest frustration that there is no enticement that will overcome a dictator’s desire for power. And too many people mistakenly believe they know quite clearly the order that establishes freedom (which is in fact only part of the process of establishing freedom), and seek to impose it on the rest of us.

It is important that we all contribute to the realization of natural freedom, of civil, political freedom. We do this in arenas from town councils to international organizations. Every good citizen of a country works to preserve the freedom of action, speech and association in an orderly way. This work, however, is limited if we are not at the same time striving to realize our own spiritual freedom. That foundation is necessary to see clearly the nature of lower levels of freedom, protecting society from immature notions of freedom.

During our journey of regeneration, we are given glimpses of genuine spiritual freedom. We can then look back into our past and see the ignorant, wounded person, the power hungry despot, and the self-righteous leader we have been at times! At some point we recognize the slavery we have endured. For one person it was a substance that enslaved them. It might have been the need to be loved. It might have been the need to “feel” free. The glimpses of true freedom have given us hope, a promise of divine healing of love and truth, which will set us free at last.

The story of the escape of the Children of Israel from Egypt, how the Lord freed them and how they then responded and stepped out in faith is perhaps literature's greatest example of this human striving for freedom that is successful when in partnership with the Lord.

Our congregation’s fall program, “The Journey - Realizing Spiritual Freedom,” promises to take us through the major stages from slavery to freedom in any area of one's life. Like last fall, the seminar utilizes large and small group experiences and “tasks” to do between sessions. The individual inner work is thus profitably linked to education in large group settings and mutual support in small group settings. The promise is that, by coming to church every Sunday for eight weeks beginning September 23rd, and reading the companion booklet, you will experience an opportunity to realize your own spiritual freedom in a new way.


“Anyone who does not view the matter from anywhere beyond the sense of the letter may think that all concern for the morrow is to be avoided, which being so, people should then await their requirements every day from heaven. But a person who views it from a position deeper than the literal meaning, that is, who views it from the internal sense, may recognize what concern for the morrow is used to mean - not concern to obtain food and clothing for oneself, and also resources for the future; for it is not contrary to order to make provision for oneself and one's dependents. But people are concerned about the morrow when they are not content with their lot, do not trust in God but in themselves, and have solely worldly and earthly things in view, not heavenly ones.”(from Emanuel Swedenborg's "Secrets of Heaven")

Robert Burns wrote (in modernized wording) that “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go astray, and leave us with nothing but grief and pain, instead of the promised joy.” And then there is Murphy’s Law: “If it can go wrong it will.” You have your favorite. The point is, why plan at all? It seems that any goal you have-–joy, happiness, success–if achieved at all will be by luck or chance more than by your meager power or control.

Swedenborg also says, “people in the stream of providence are being carried along constantly towards happier things, whatever appearance the means may present.” That is faint assurance, to be sure. It means that when things are at their worst, the Lord is still our omnipotent God, and His plans for us (as far away as they seem at the time) are still possible. Sometimes it is hard to be thankful to Him for that.

So how do we get into the stream? It is put simply in the same passage: “Those in the stream of providence are people who trust in the Divine and ascribe everything to Him.” Perhaps you were expecting something else? The way to avoid cynicism and desperation about planning is to trust in the Divine by, in part, ascribing EVERYTHING to Him.

Does this mean that we don’t have to think ahead and plan for the future; that, if we trust in the Lord, He will carry us along to a happy end? No. This passage also says: “‘Care for the morrow’ (in Luke 12) is used to mean, not concern to obtain food and clothing for oneself, and also resources for the future; for it is not contrary to order to make provision for oneself and one's dependents. But people are concerned about the morrow when they are not content with their lot, do not trust in God but in themselves, and have solely worldly and earthly things in view, not heavenly ones.” We are to become conscious of a dependence upon the Lord even as we provide for the future.

Being human brings with it this delightful opportunity: to trust in the Divine AND plan for our future from a spiritual point of view, not a merely temporal, materialistic view. Being merely materialistic is acting from less than our full potential. Being spiritual is acting from a desire to be useful, which has unlimited potential for growth and delight.

So it is important that we distinguish between controlling the planning and controlling the result. To be in control of the planning is provident. To seek to control the result is futile. To participate in the plan the Lord has for us, we have to take the time and make the effort to reflect on our purposes in life, our goals, and our dreams. We think ahead, save, collect ideas, and arrange the details as much as we can. If we trust in the Lord in the process, we are promised, happy results will follow. Perhaps not in time or space; and perhaps there will be tragedy and trial along the way, but His goal for us will be reached. And, importantly, we will be happy with any result. We will be content during the process, and will not get upset when things go wrong (the rest of this passage says all this very beautifully!).

On the other hand, our desire to control the future leads to worry, anguish, anger and eventually a denial of God. This passage from the Word puts it this way: “These people are ruled completely by anxiety over the future, and by the desire to possess all things and exercise control over all other people.” Again, if we plan to be useful, rather than plan a certain outcome, our attention will be on the use, not on controlling people and circumstances. You can easily imagine the huge difference!

Let us help each other plan for the future of our church, from the perspective of use and eternity, not expecting any results, and not just this day, week, year, decade or even our time on earth! The Word promises happiness as we do this planning, and then act in service to the Lord!