Wednesday, December 23, 2009


The next in a series of articles based on the Gospel of Matthew intended to equip us better to be followers of Jesus Christ.

“After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,’ the angel said. ‘Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod's death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: ‘I called my Son out of Egypt.’ When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. ‘Get up!’ the angel said. ‘Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.’ So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother. But when he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod's son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. Then, after being warned in a dream, he left for the region of Galilee. So the family went and lived in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled what the prophets had said: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’” Matthew 2:13, 14, 19-23 (NLT)

This short story seems at first glance inconsequential in the life of Jesus. Only Matthew includes it, presumably because he very much wants to prove that Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies made about the Messiah. Coming from Egypt and Nazareth are predicted. For instance, “Out of Egypt I have called My Son,” was written by the prophet Hosea (see 11:1). But, we know now the original reason for telling this story. It is included in the New Testament because the Lord wanted to include in the internal sense of the Word a description of how the human mind of Jesus had to develop just like any person’s mind does. Of course this revelation is very hidden. We have the details of this internal sense from the Writings for the New Church. It is amazing how the Lord used just what we would expect Joseph and Mary to do, to be the basis for precisely the internal sense He needed to reveal.

To get that information, we have to know what Joseph, Mary and Jesus went through. It was awful! They got out of Bethlehem in the middle of the night, not knowing where they would end up. Joseph had a trade, but would he find work? They could move easily, but that was because they could carry all they owned on a donkey and on their backs! Jesus was perhaps two months old, so there were many issues confronting a new, first time mother and her child. We are not told how many days later the soldiers came to kill the babies, but Mary and Joseph knew they were fleeing for their lives. They were so rushed that they apparently got up in the middle of the night right when Joseph’s dream ended, packed everything, and left. I can imagine that the people that were renting them their room thought that Joseph was crazy!

We can guess that while they lived in Egypt Joseph found work and Mary and the baby were fine. They had enough food and shelter. And they remained true to their religion while believing the Messiah had come. Joseph was still ready to respond to the Lord’s messages, and understood the meaning of the next dream the Lord gave him, that he should return home. So they packed up again, and made the long trek up the Mediterranean coast straight to Nazareth.

They must have experienced tremendous spiritual growth during these first few years. First they had to accept their roles as the earthly father and mother of the Messiah. Then they had to adapt to the strange ways of the Egyptians. They had to give up the dream of a life in their ancestral home, Bethlehem, or in Jerusalem, where a higher standard of living was possible, and instead return to Nazareth, a small and obscure town, known as the home of criminals hiding from the law.

The spiritual meaning of all this is that we all go through a variety of circumstances in our lives, which are all educational. The Lord wants us to always hope that He wants us to come through any experience better off spiritually, and better able to love the Lord and our neighbor.

Sometimes we feel like we are running from some invisible evil. Negative thoughts and feelings can haunt us like the memory of a bad dream. We can be comforted by knowing from the Word that many times our feelings are the result of spirits we associate with. But we still feel like we need to get away, that escape is necessary.

Sometimes we don’t know how things are going to work out, especially relationships. As we make new friends, we don’t really know where we are going. Once I got to be more and more friends with a neighbor. And then he showed us that he was not following the Lord. It was sad to stop associating with them. The next time we started to make new friends, sadly, we remembered that. We didn’t know what was in store for us. We all can feel wary as we travel on the journey of life.

Sometimes we have brand new feelings or thoughts that we want to protect, but we are afraid we will be hurt by someone else. We can hide, or we can be proactive. We can feel insecure, or we can be in action that feels good because we are depending on the Lord to lead us. Even as newborns are fragile, but resilient, and have lots of strengths to respond to threats, we need to protect our new, precious states of good, while affirmatively going forward in life. Relying upon the Lord is key.

The Lord wants you to keep listening to Him, and do what He asks in His Word. Basically, this means paying attention to the Ten Commandments. He knows it is tough sometimes. He knows that sometimes you will feel like you are in a strange land. But the Lord has also given you abilities and the tools to use them: your own personality or character. You have these from your parents, and from others, and from the Word. You are ready to put them to use, even though it is a scary world sometimes. The Lord’s plan for your life ends wonderfully, even if it doesn’t look that way right now. Every time we listen to the Lord, He gives us a little bit more information or skill with which to live our lives.

Here is a suggestion: Take a moment to look around your home and see what you would take, and what you would leave behind, if you had to move suddenly and could only take what you could carry. And note that this is what is happening spiritually all the time: we are picking and choosing what to believe and love. It is hard to break old habits, to leave something dear behind, but it might be necessary if you want to pick up anything new. The Lord wants to give you desires and ideas that will lead you to heaven. Beware picking up and carrying away anything the Lord would object to. It will only slow you down. You’ll only have to get rid of it later, so might as well do it sooner.

And then, take delight in the journey, knowing that the goal is your happiness in heaven, and that the Lord is doing everything necessary to see that you get there!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Having Jesus In Your Heart - 3

The next in a series of articles based on the Gospel of Matthew intended to equip us better to be followers of Jesus Christ.

“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him." King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, "Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?" "In Bethlehem in Judea," they said, "for this is what the prophet wrote:
'And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.'"

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, "Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!" After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod….Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men's report of the star's first appearance. Herod's brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
"A cry was heard in Ramah— weeping and great mourning.
Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.”
Matthew 2:1-18 (NLT)

No reality TV show could ever adequately cover what happened in Bethlehem shortly after Jesus escaped with Joseph and His mother. The babies probably didn’t suffer much, for they would have been quickly killed. But the tremendous anguish of the mothers, fathers and siblings is hard to imagine. Indeed, we shy away from thinking about it, lest we are overcome by the emotion and cannot find comfort.

If God is so great and loving, why did He let this happen? He was now on earth Himself! He could have stayed there and influenced the soldiers that were simply obeying the evil king’s command. Did they not recognize an illegal order when they saw one?

But, come to think of it, this same thing happened at the end of Jesus life. Soldiers mocked Him when they jammed a crown of thorns on His head, whipped Him, and then nailed His wrists and ankles to the cross, and even stabbed Him. Why didn’t He stop them then? Why didn’t He come down from the cross and thereby convince them that He was God incarnate?

Will knowing the explanation do much for us? The Writings for the New Church explain all this quite clearly. The killing of the children and the crucifixion were caused by evil present on the earth through people who had actually rejected the Lord’s love. These things did not happen because the Lord went away, or didn’t care, or couldn’t do anything about them. They happened because evil people freely chose to do them. And the Lord never, ever stops anyone from freely using their own ideas in their actions. Even if innocent people are hurt by it.

But this is only an explanation. It doesn’t take away the horror or the sadness. There are many other issues like this, both in the Word and in our lives. For instance, the natives of Central America were making human sacrifices about the time the Lord was on the earth. Why didn’t He go there? At the beginning of the industrial era, women and children had to work long hours for very little pay just to survive. Why didn’t the Lord create a just society while He was here? Millions of people were killed by the Nazi regime in Germany just because they were judged to be inferior. Most were His “chosen people!” And yet there are only a few stories of brave people stepping up to do anything about it. Ask your parents or grandparents for examples of this kind of thing. They will have stories, too, for it has been observed for all of history. They will probably first think of what horrified them the most. Even today the President of the United States is using his Constitutional authority to send American troops into battle. Will the Lord give him and his Generals the wisdom to do what is right and good? Will the Lord, having now made His second coming, be able to do anything about it?

What we have to do is learn to manage our horror of evil. Evil is real, and it is not going away. It will hurt us and others who are innocent. We will cry. We will rage. We will do something about it to stop it, sometimes making a difference. And the evil one will continue to exist.

The Lord alone gives us the means to put up with evil. Think about it. Your life is probably well balanced between family and friends; fun and work; serious and silly. This is because the Lord’s love and truth rules everything. Evil will never get the upper hand in your life or in the world. The Lord, using each of us, will keep the hells and the evil spirits from hell, in their place. And so most of life is really wonderful! All because the Lord wins every time. Herod lost. He died an angry, unfulfilled man. His kingdom was divided among his sons, but it didn’t last beyond them. And on Easter morning, all the anger, worry and sadness became temporary, past feelings when Jesus showed Himself to His disciples.

The Lord will show us His love and truth, too. And he will give us the tools to cope with evil. Try this task: The next time you are angry or sad, quickly find a Bible and start reading at Matthew 5, or the first Psalms. Really concentrate on what you are reading, but read without any analysis. Don’t try to figure anything out, just seek to read it with focus and understanding. Maybe set a timer to ten minutes. After some minutes, stop reading and it is likely you will notice that, while you may still feel angry or sad, you have a sense of control over it, and it doesn’t control you. Do this at least once, even if you have to remember being angry or sad in the past. And certainly do it if a friend makes you mad, or if your boss makes you mad, or if a coworker injures you somehow. Do it as many times as you have opportunity. You will begin to notice a change in your reaction of bad events. The Lord promises that you will manage your reaction better and better all the time. "I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Having Jesus In Your Heart - 2

The next in a series of articles based on the Gospel of Matthew intended to equip us better to be followers of Jesus Christ.

“This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancĂ©, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. "Joseph, son of David," the angel said, "do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:18-21 (NLT)

Joseph was captured in the middle of competing claims. He was betrothed, which was a contract between two families, which included promises of money, living arrangements, and the woman’s virginity. Then there is her pregnancy. We can only wonder who, if anyone, accepted the testimony that the Holy Spirit caused it. Then, Joseph knew that divorce was necessary in these circumstances. But then, because of his great love for her, he wanted to do it very quietly, without the public humiliation the law allowed. Joseph thus becomes complicit in the fulfillment of the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in the house of David. His love might also explain why he believes Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit.

Then Joseph has a powerful dream, indeed a vision in a dream. Joseph believes this dream to be of a different kind than you and I experience. And in fact, it was: before the Lord’s glorification, He had His angels give messages to people on earth this way. Then Joseph didn’t divorce her! This was extremely unusual!

Joseph was thrust into this muddle of conflicting ideas, feelings, expectations, hopes, and realities. He was just a carpenter from an insignificant town, not a hero ready to conquer such powerful forces. Maybe he was of royal lineage, but that meant nothing in his present life.

Think back to some ordinary time in your childhood. Perhaps remember when you finally learned to ride a bike without falling over. In a sense, you forgot the process of balancing that is required. You just knew how to lean into a corner, how to shift side to side as you pedal. In fact, you can’t ride a bike so long as you try to control the balancing with your thought. Once your mind and body gets it, you are able to let go of thinking about riding, and you are successful.

We learn our own particular way of balancing in our spiritual life as well. Balancing your life between yourself and others, balancing between yourself and the Lord, and balancing the stuff of your earthly life and your spirit all correspond to physical balancing.

Early on you were told about your spirit, and you were told about the importance of loving your neighbor, and you were told about the Lord. This is really important information. And yet it is a lot like being told how to ride a bike. It takes a while–in this case, years–to master the balancing act. And you have to know what you are doing so well that you no longer have to think about yourself, or others, or the Lord.

Likely you know someone who has never been given that information, or whose sense of balance has been harmed. It is sad to see the mistakes they make. Their lives are tragic wreck after wreck. And it is amazing to watch as a person gets accurate information about themselves and others and the Lord, and learns how to balance. Everyone is happy in the end as the person develops great relationships that work.

It seems Joseph had gotten to this state. He was so sure of himself, and so clear about his love for Mary, and so trusting in the Lord that he first sought a balanced solution, and was then able to do exactly what he was commanded to do. And, wonderfully, it matched what he really wanted to do: marry his beloved.

Notice it wasn’t his conscious thought that made it possible for him to find the balance and blessing that resulted. He had to let go of his plans, his thoughts. He had studied the Word and had lived a righteous life (which is a word meaning “right wise” which might have more meaning for us). This prepared him–like riding a bike again and again until you “get” it-–to be open to the Lord's ideas. He was able to balance his own ideas with the Lord's plan. And Matthew makes it sound like it was easy for Joseph, just like riding bike–once you have learned!

The Lord wants to give us as long as we need on the earth to learn how to do this. The quicker we learn it, the more fun riding through life we will have. The bigger hills we will be able to climb. The more adventures we will be able to go on. We will survive the crashes, broken chains and flat tires, and be able to go on. So keep practicing what the Lord says! You’ll get it eventually!

Practice using the name “Christian” in describing yourself. Try and try again, even though you feel awkward and you fall down. Jesus Christ will reveal himself to you, perhaps dramatically like a vision in a dream, or subtly, as when you found how to balance on a bike. Using the name Christian over and over will happen because you acknowledge that Jesus is the source of the balance in your life. That is how we have Jesus in our hearts!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Gold and Shadow

I had an insight while in my men's group that I intend to hold to as long as I can! So I am writing about it....

The Lord's life flows in such that the divine is in us. When we own it, and feel it to be our own, it is no longer divine, but it is still His love and wisdom. In the lingo of the format of this men's work, it is called gold. Everyone has this gold within.

The vessel the receives the Lord's life is called the "own" (Latin: proprium). Lisa Hyatt translates it as "autonomy" as in the following from Heavenly Secrets #3994:

“Innocence is an absolutely essential element of love and charity, and consequently of goodness. A person’s innocence consists in knowing, acknowledging, and believing, not with the lips but with the heart, that only evil originates in oneself, and everything good originates in the Lord…When a person confesses and believes this in his heart, the Lord flows in with good and truth and instills a heavenly autonomy into him which is bright and shining. Nobody can possibly be truly humble unless that acknowledgment and belief are present in his heart; and when they are present he is self-effacing and so is not preoccupied with himself, in which case he is in a fit state to receive the Lord's Divine. These are the circumstances in which the Lord flows in with good into a humble and contrite heart."

Notice that the Lord eventually changes the proprium from being completely evil to being heavenly. In the lingo of this men's work the first proprium is called a person's shadow.

One way to use this information is to imagine one's shadow as out in front, and so no longer hidden. Also, one accepts the existence and power of the shadow. One cannot get rid of it. And fighting it is futile. In fact, again in the paradigm of this men's work, one is to embrace and accept the shadow as not only a part of one's being, but as equally valuable. This makes sense of one considers that the proprium will eventually be changed by the Lord into a purely good vessel.

So the insight was a feeling, both an emotion and a physical sensation. I realized the emptiness produced by a dilemma. On the one hand, if I label my shadow as a worthless piece of "refuse" (trash) I will have to lie to you in order to hide this part of myself because, of course, I want to look good and and I want you to like me (which you wouldn't if you saw what I was REALLY like). On the other, if I don't lie and show you that I am a worthless piece of refuse, again, I have come to believe, you will see me for what I am and will reject me and not like me.

The way out of the dilemma is to stop rejecting my shadow and to stop calling it bad and wrong. (Note: it is evil ONLY in itself, because I am giving it power by holding onto my judgment of it and trying to hide it or get rid of it). By accepting my proprium for what it is, I stop giving it power from the divine love the Lord is giving me to use. I detach from it in the sense that I don't make it all of me. I let go of it so that I don't own it (a favorite concept: all evil is from hell, all good is from the Lord). All the time I remember this, I can much more easily control the behavior, including thoughts as well as actions, that I am ashamed of, that separate me from the Lord, heaven, and that I would be embarrassed if anyone knew about.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Having Jesus In Your Heart

This the first of a series of articles based on the Gospel of Matthew intended to equip us better to be followers of Jesus Christ.

The first chapter of Matthew proves that Jesus is a descendant of, first, King David, and then of Abraham. Jesus is thus not only a Jew, he is royalty. All because Matthew could produce the list of names that links them all.

Before you read any further, take a moment and get a piece of scrap paper and a pen and write your name. Did you write your complete name? Did you print it neatly? Or did you write a signature? Is your writing distinctive? Is there something special you do to a letter or as a flourish? Have you ever played with how your signature looks or using just initials? Notice that these questions speak to how you think of yourself. And they reflect how you want others to see you.

Did you ever acquire a nickname? Do you have a “real” name apart from your nickname? Have you asked people to call you a certain name? How, if at all is it connected your given name? A nickname, when made up by others, reveals something about what they think of you. A nickname you choose yourself, or one made up that you perpetuate, reveals how you want to be related to, even in some small way.

Now, reflect for a moment on each of the following questions. What do you think is a person’s first thought when they hear your name? Does it make a difference if they are looking at you when they first hear it? Does it make a difference if you introduce yourself or if someone else introduces you? Do you want to change your name? Can you describe what it is about your name that makes you want to have a different one? How do you feel about the fact that you didn’t get to pick your name? Do you know if your parents had a reason for giving you the name they did? What was it? Has your personality developed to match your name? Is that because of your name, or because your name reflects your parents’ personality which determined not only why they named you what they did, but the way they raised you?

And here is a relevant teaching: “The ancients took a name to mean simply the essence of a thing, and seeing something and naming it to mean recognizing its nature. This was due to the fact that they gave their daughters and sons names with a relevant meaning. Every name had a unique element that indicated where people were from and what they were like....Such a manner of speaking was familiar to them, and anyone who fails to understand it will be puzzled by the symbolism....No one knows anyone’s name in heaven, either, but each knows what the other is like.” (Secrets of Heaven n.144, 145)

What do you plan to do, if anything, to live up to your name? Do you look forward to living up to your name? Are you going to be like the parent or ancestor you were name for? Is he or she a model for you? Are there characteristics about the person you were named after that you want to avoid or get rid of?

What do you want to be named in heaven?

The story of the incarnation of God begins with names, perhaps, to begin with the most external feature of the Lord, the name “Jesus” and the honorific “Christ.” At the same time, those names involve his deepest essence. On the one hand, his heredity did not define him (at least no more than it defines any of us). On the other hand, his heredity connects him to both the Divine Itself and you and I. Jesus Christ is thus unique, even as he is an archetype for all of us.

To be called “Christian” is a significant matter. No parent gives you this name. You don’t make up its meaning, its heritage. It is symbolic of a certain essence, and it actually represents a way of being, of believing and living. It cannot be taken as a “toss off” nickname.

In a sense, you cannot earn the name “Christian.” You acquire it by a life according to the commands of Jesus Christ.

Living as a Christian leads to people thinking of you a certain way. They have a first impression, which may or may not be accurate. Many of our acquaintances don’t know us by this name. Are there some we would not want to know us by this name? Why? Can you name yourself “Christian”? How comfortable are you with that.

Again, why does the Gospel of Matthew start with a list of names? Might it be that it is essential that we take on the name Christian because it connects us to our God, Redeemer and Savior? As we do, we surely acquire a new name that will stick with us even into heaven! It is an essential quality that everyone we meet there will see instantly!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Spiritual Growth Support Group

I look forward to facilitating a Spiritual Growth Support Group again some time. It is a ten week series of workshops. Here are the homework tasks that are given out. Very powerful stuff!

When you become aware of a negative emotion in yourself, find a distraction and notice if the strength of the emotion is reduced. Observe the thoughts that surround the negative emotion and how quickly they arrive. Experiment with stopping the negative emotion by stopping the negative thoughts. Notice any changes that the distraction or positive thoughts have on the negative emotion. Write about this in your journal and come prepared to report on your experience.

When you observe a negative emotion in yourself, remind yourself that the emotion is not YOU. Say: "IT IS _________ (mad, jealous, scared, etc.), and I don't have to be." Write about this experience in your journal and come prepared to report on your reactions.

Observe your criticisms (out loud and in your head) for a whole day. Once you have noticed the pattern of critical thoughts, go for a whole day without internal or external criticism. This applies to self-criticism as well. Notice what happens and record it in your journal.

1. Observe IT (your lower self) Lying
a. Saying to yourself or to another what is not true,
b. Rationalizing; making excuses by lying to yourself,
c. Exaggerating (externally or internally), d. Talking with authority about something you know little or nothing about, e. Saying things that are true with the intention to mislead, f. Lying by omission, leaving out some vital piece of information, g. Telling "nice" lies, lying to be kind.
2. When you observe the lying, stop as soon as you notice.

Whenever you feel regret or anxiety, observe any connection with the past or future. Let go and bring yourself into an awareness of something positive in the here and now. Say to yourself: "The present moment is eternity. I am in the perfect place at the perfect time."

When a person trespasses against you, use effort and attention to recall something you should ask the Lord to forgive you for. Hold them side-by-side.

When you suspect that a state you are in is NEGATIVE, notice whatever enjoyment you may be having from it. What is the pay-off for the negative state? What HIGHER ENJOYMENT is being blocked by the negative delight? Let go of the negative and see if you can allow the positive to take its place.

Create a task for yourself relating to handing your life over to the Lord. It might take the form of beginning each day with a prayer, such as "Lord, I give my life to You this day". It could take the form of pausing from time to time to ask: "Lord, what is Your will for me at this moment?" Find a task that suits where you are in your life at this time.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


“Reflection is a mental looking at the disposition and nature of a thing, and from that reflection comes perception.” Arcana Coelestia §3661

“About reflection
“I was just conversing with spirits and angels about reflection, to which I do not know whether people have given enough attention; and it was said that if they give it some thought, they will discover more secrets in the doctrine of reflection than in any other.
“What reflection achieves can be quite clear to everyone from the fact that we perceive no sensation of the body or its parts, and are unaware of having a sensation, unless we reflect upon that part of our body. Then we perceive heat, cold, pressure - we even feel what that part is suffering. If we reflect on our breathing, then we feel and know that we are breathing, and in this way a voluntary factor joins in; besides innumerable other instances.” Spiritual Experiences §733

These teachings encourage us to make the time in our busy lives to read the Word and then make a special effort to reflect on what we have read.

I am convinced that the ancient people had special ways of reflecting on what they were seeing all around them. That practice has come down in a huge variety of methods of meditation, some of which are deservedly dismissed. For instance, the practice of “contemplating your navel” is only justifying one’s self and its limited ideas and corrupted desires.

Meditation, as I understand it from reading teachings such as those above, is a contemplation of the Word in such a focused and intense manner, that its truths transmit the Lord’s love into our minds and hearts that are prepared to humbly receive them so that they make a difference in our beliefs, our desires and our actions.

That huge result is produced by the Lord in us only when we learn how to meditate on the Word. This is not a natural talent. It is not a gift anyone has without a lot of work. The mental barriers – psychological and spiritual – are many and complex.

For instance, our brains are wired to make associations all the time. We want to be connecting the past or the future to our current experience. This means that we do not automatically provide mental space for the truth of the Word to be all by itself. We tend to attach all kinds of meanings to any idea we get from the Word. And some of those ideas will pollute the message of love the Lord wants us to receive.

To acquire the skill of considering the Lord’s truth in a non judgmental way, in the unaffected present moment, includes a number of steps, some of which seem in themselves useless or pointless. But each skill is part of the final ability. We must learn each skill individually for we cannot learn them all at once.

Note that Swedenborg’s own experience was that we will see the usefulness of such reflection just from the experience of paying attention to our bodies – “reflect on our breathing, then we feel and know that we are breathing, and in this way a voluntary factor joins in; besides innumerable other instances.”

“The voluntary factor,” that is, choosing to pay attention to a specific object, he tells us, makes a difference in our ability to reflect, ultimately, on the truth of the Word!

for instance, as I write this, I am present to the experience that summer provides wonderful times to meditate! The early mornings’ light and coolness draw us to sit and breathe deeply. Or, we can take time to cool down after mowing the lawn with a stillness of body and mind, in the simply enjoyment of a job well done (and, after ten minutes of this, a cold drink!).

So here is a list of meditation skills that, as you become skilled at doing them, can be combined to enhance your reflection upon the Word, bringing a sensation of the Lord’s love for you into your life.

Sit in a comfortable position and put your attention on small parts of your body one at a time until you have paid attention to, and relaxed, every part. For example, you might start by paying attention to the toes of your right foot. Wiggle them a bit, and then relax them. This will take only a few seconds, although the goal is the ability to give full attention to something as small as one toe for a long time. You might then pay attention to one ankle, then the other, one calf and then the other, and so on through all the muscles you can identify. I am surprised almost every time I get to my eyebrows and discover I am holding them up!

Another skill is paying attention to your breathing. Sit comfortably; take a deep breath through your nose so that you do it somewhat slowly. Notice how your lungs fill. Your ribs expand and your belly goes out. Breath out slowly through your mouth, letting your lungs empty completely. After a few of these deep breaths, relax into whatever is your normal breathing. And now the skill part: put all your attention on your breath. Notice the air moving in your nose, your mouth. Notice the movement of your ribs and diaphragm. You might have to close your eyes. If that leads you to think about other things or get anxious, then stare at something right in front of you until you are not paying attention to it anymore. You will quickly discover that you will think of something other than your breath. So, note that your mind wandered for a while, and put your attention back on your breath. This skill is not intended to remove the brain’s wiring. It is to give us the ability to choose where we put our attention for a longer time than we can now. Again, the goal is not to be able to pay attention to your breath for five minutes without a break. The goal is to acquire this skill so that you can use it to contemplate an idea from the Word without distractions. I look forward to being able to do it better!

I encourage you to explore meditation. There are lots of teachers around. It has been shown to help a wide variety of physical ailments. And people who meditate on the Word report many benefits. If you would like to join a meditation group at our church, let me know!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Metaphorically Speaking

“That same day two of Jesus' followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. But God kept them from recognizing him.” Luke 24:13-16

We are encouraged to see metaphors in our world and personal experience for what is happening in our spirit. It makes our spirituality–our inner, mental life– real to us and connected to what is happening here and now. This is important because, as we delight in realizing, our spirit is that part of our being that is eternal, and not bound to the material world. This delight is the joy being described in the Psalm quoted above. It is a source of continuing delight that the teachings for the New Church constantly make this connection between the reality of this world and the reality of our spiritual world. Our spirit, our essence indeed, yearns to experience the connection, and we look for it wherever we can.

And yet likely you have noticed that too often we miss the application of some spiritual principle because our attention is outward or on our own selfhood. Too often we have an opportunity to learn a new spiritual notion, but we miss it because our mind’s eye is closed. Perhaps something like what happened to the men on the way to Emmaus.

This story is not spoken of directly in the Writings for the New Church. I found an inspired exposition in an old book on the Gospel of Luke by the Rev. J. Clowes (pronounced “clues”), who lived 1743-1831, who is one of our church “fathers.” He was a Church of England priest who converted to the New Church and wrote a number of seminal works on the Writings. About this passage he writes (first concerning verse 12, Peter looking into the tomb and seeing it empty): “Nevertheless they, who are more principled in the doctrine of faith, are led to make enquiry about it, and seeing that in the Lord all truth was made Divine Good, they are excited to adoration.

“They too [as represented by the two men on the road to Emmaus], who are in the doctrine of charity and faith united, reason together on the subject, and by their reasonings bring the Lord near to and present with them, though they do no know it.” “Gospel According to Luke,” p 424.

The application to our lives of this spiritual principle is that we are on the way through our life, with a certain direction and goal in mind. Along the way, using the information we have, we reason about our beliefs and what they say about goodness and truth, and right behavior.

First of all, we have to ask ourselves if are we conscious of our direction in life. And we have to become intentional in our goals. You are invited to read and meditate on the Word of God in order to gain a perspective on your own life. This will reveal to you where you are on your journey and where you are headed. This is perhaps the walking part of your life. This ongoing spiritual practice may be described as allowing the Word simply to be in your life without any preconditions. You have the Word in your memory first, and then it is available for you to use in your thinking, speaking and acting. The Lord’s promise is that this practice will bring His presence.

Perhaps the next piece being described in this story is the silent approach of our Helper, Comforter, and Savior. His presence is never intrusive or demanding. He quietly sneaks up on us in the daily routines of our lives. He even feigns ignorance! That is, He protects our freedom by hiding His influence. Yet, when we ask Him, He speaks up, raising all the experiences we have had in gathering and using truths from His Word, into the light of heaven. We are enlightened. In fact, “our hearts burn within us” (verse 32) because we are filled with a new sight of love for the Lord and our neighbor.

Every time we have such an insight, we have successfully connected our spiritual life with our natural life. It is a process as automatic and seemingly instinctive as our ability to use and understand metaphor. It can be said, even, that we can let go and let the Lord run His process! Our task is to keep walking, keep gathering truths from the Word and finding confirmations in our experience. As we do so, regularly meditating and reflecting on our spiritual state and goal, we can rest in the hope that the Lord will give us the wisdom and love to become ever more aware of His love in our life.