I had been hungrily gobbling up and excitingly reading the theological works of Emanuel Swedenborg for about six months when someone had informed me that there was actually a church in the city that was composed of worshippers who studied Swedenborg’s unique theology.
I was delighted about this and mentally curious about what form such a church would take because its concepts and doctrines challenged many of the views of traditional faith systems. These ideas were so extraordinary that I decided to study Swedenborg intensely for another six months before even daring to check out the church. I did not want to embarrass myself intellectually.
The day finally came when I felt confident enough to pay the church a visit. The building itself conveyed no particular clue of specialness. I walked up to the front door of the church wondering about what I was to experience. My anticipation was colored by all the amazing visionary insights revealed by Swedenborg.
I opened the door and immediately felt I was in a special church.
At the entrance to the main hall was a large carved wooden sculpture of the Tree of Life with an imposing Cherub standing guard. The Cherub’s sword was in a position that made me feel like I was permitted to go further into the sanctuary.
Inside the hall there was artwork, paintings, posters and displays everywhere. I observed an oil painting of cups and chalices being filled from above by God’s heavenly light called “Recipient Forms of Love.” One of the other posters showed the human mind as consisting of three distinct levels. Even more surprising was that this poster was entitled “Noah’s Ark.” A third poster simply had the word “Truth” printed on it. But when I looked closer at the design the word “Love” magically appeared deeper within the word “Truth.”
I walked past a table that displayed current books that were on sale. The table also had a video monitor that was playing clever animated depictions of Swedenborg’s system of symbolism called “correspondences.” As I passed by, the video was playing a wonderful sequence where a human figure was transformed into a chariot with horses. I knew a chariot could symbolize something deeper in Scripture but this sequence visually explained new details—how the driver, horses and chariot represented different aspects of the human psyche!
An elderly lady came out of a kitchen area and immediately recognized me as a newcomer. She came over to welcome me to their church. She had a warm, comforting and genuine smile. I asked her who was behind all these unique displays?
She giggled slightly and said that I would not find a passive congregation of worshippers here. The artwork and spiritual displays came from the members themselves. She further informed me that the members had wanted to express the difference of their teachings and have new visitors experience this difference as soon as they walked in. Everything inside this church was created to elevate both the human heart and mind. She added that sometimes the members of the congregation would create works that even stretched the minister’s neurons.
She said that they had also found these visual tools very effective for teaching children otherwise complicated topics. Her face grew even more animated when she proudly mentioned that the church created its own children’s books to teach from.
She next pointed to a library room where I could find all Swedenborg’s theological and scientific writings. I was quite surprised to learn Swedenborg had also written many books on the natural sciences—spanning physics, cosmology, anatomy and psychology. Noticing my a startled expression, the smiling elderly lady said that the congregation was made up of people of all professions—scientists, artists, musicians, actors, and individuals with a sincere hunger and curiosity for truth. I was told that the church even had members in the congregation who have written their own books and are quite willing to discuss these ideas on radio and TV interviews. With a sense of pride she stated that her fellow members wanted to be at the cutting edge of theological and scientific discussions. In fact, that was the church’s main approach and strategy towards evangelism.
Just then a group of people emptied out of another room and took their places among the various pews in the church. My elderly host informed me that those individuals had just taken part in some challenging group discussion and that worship service was now about to begin. Feeling shy I took a seat at the back of the church.
Suddenly curtains closed and the lights were turned off. I felt disoriented and a little lost by the feeling of being in a void and in the midst of such dark emptiness. After a few minutes a light was focused on the Holy Word placed at the center of the altar. All focus was on the Holy Book. Then the minister opened God’s Holy Word and the lights were turned back on.
The minister invited all to stand and sing the first hymn of the service. As I stood up I experienced a visceral sensation of having my mind put into an elevated state of joy and happiness. Even the worship service was cleverly designed to convey profound things. You couldn’t miss it!
Then I snapped out of my imaginative dream. I was still standing outside the Church’s front door. As I opened it, I still wondered what I was about to experience.