In the summer of 1974 I took an evening course at the School of Visual Arts in downtown Manhattan, New York. The title of the course was “Can We Survive Death?” It was here that my instructor introduced me to the ideas of two most unique men—Emanuel Swedenborg and George Gurdjieff.
On the surface, it seemed that the ideas of these two men were quite different. However, both men claimed that a new institution for disseminating knowledge was being set up on earth—from influences beyond the terrestrial orb we inhabited!
I quickly embraced the ideas of both Swedenborg and Gurdjieff and, through intensive studies, believed I had discovered real similarities in their writings, especially when it came to the spiritual evolution of the human race.
Noticing that I had a special hunger for these ideas, my instructor informed me that there were groups of individuals in New York who assembled to study Gurdjieff’s ideas (called the “Work”) and others had formed a church based on Swedenborg’s theological writings.
I eventually got involved with one of the Gurdjieff work groups in Manhattan and I paid a visit to the Swedenborgian church. I remember being surprised by how traditional and non-unique the church service and its worshippers were, but became impressed with the minister there.
The economy (especially in New York) hit a snag during the mid-70’s and I was fortunate enough to find a wonderful job in advertising in St. Louis. I took my knowledge of Swedenborg and Gurdjieff with me. Several months later I located a Swedenborgian church in St. Louis. The church did not have a minister at the time, so the congregation managed to convince me to do the service and sermon every now and then. (They also had a group of inquisitive church members who regularly met on their own to study and discuss Swedenborg’s Writings with great passion.) On one occasion of my performing as “lay minister” I snuck in a few Gurdjieffian ideas into my sermon. After the service I was approached by one of the church members who recognized these concepts as Gurdjieff’s. I was pleasantly surprised!
A year or two later, another member came to church and played some tapes made by Peter Rhodes, who proved quite skillful at finding similarities between Swedenborg and Gurdjieff’s ideas. I would later learn that Mr. Rhodes wrote several books on this topic and even organized a work group of Swedenborgians who put these combined ideas into practice. What I found amusing about this is that Rhodes conducted these work sessions in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, which is considered a “Mecca” of Swedenborgianism.
One or two years later, I found a Gurdjieff work group in St. Louis and gradually convinced a few Swedenborgians to join with me.
During the mid-80’s my advertising job required some travel to produce radio and TV commercials. When my trips took me back to New York I would often seek out the Swedenborg Foundation (which was on 23rd Street at the time) and load up on some books that I was anxious to read. On one occasion when I brought my books to the counter for purchase, several individuals came through the door with excited expressions on their faces. They had apparently been to the Samuel Weiser bookstore and had found books on Gurdjieff’s unique symbol, the Enneagram. This nine-faceted diagram offered the key to potentially understanding the universal patterns and lawful structure of God’s holy design in creation and evolution.
Fast-forward to the present.
In my new book Proving God, I throw my hat into the ring, unifying Swedenborg’s and Gurdjieff’s ideas. For instance, I provide evidence that Swedenborg’s notion of the human race being spiritually asleep is the same thing as Gurdjieff’s claim that modern humans live in a state of relative hypnosis and trance. The last chapter of my book attempts to show that Gurdjieff’s Enneagram is the same thing as Swedenborg’s Circle of life.
But while the dust is still settling on these two claims, I would like to offer an example of when Gurdjieff’s ideas should become relevant to a Swedenborgian. First, you have the average Swedenborgian churchgoers. They come to church for religious observance, community, sharing and some may even attempt to apply the words of the minister’s sermon to the workweek ahead.
Other worshippers want something more. So they will often form groups to study Swedenborg’s theology in greater detail—away from the worship service. As these theological ideas are studied with greater intensity and sincerity, a few among this group will sense the need to find practical methods for combating the hells and doing battle with themselves (inner scrutiny)! They will form another group.
It is in this final group that Gurdjieff’s ideas become suddenly and powerfully relevant.
Those who need pastoral care, a constant propping-up of their self-esteem, and who need to be told that God loves them, are a real part of a minister’s challenge and calling—but they never become part of this third group. Why? Because the people who attend such rarefied groups readily recognize that they need to be inwardly confronted—to overcome their negative traits—rather than relying on hugs and pats on the back (which sucks up much of a minister’s energies).
Perhaps this will throw some light on why the Swedenborgian church has difficulty distinguishing itself from the ecclesiastical crowd. Potent ideas must have potent outcomes!