A Caveat to Spiritual Growth

One of the strange new ideas that scientist/theologian Emanuel Swedenborg brought to the table of religion was that self-examination and inner purging is necessary before we can obtain the proper innocence by which the good we do in the world becomes genuine good and untainted.

We often do good deeds unto others for the sake of honors and reputation. In order to determine what our true motives are, we must look deeply within ourselves and look at the trajectory of our actions. What do we ultimately intend? Are we seeking to promote ourselves, and our status in the world? Or, are we interested purely in the happiness of others? Only the latter constitutes spiritual innocence and humility.

While any good we do for others is certainly appreciated and beneficial, without observing our own intentions, these outward acts of kindness might provide nothing for our own spiritual self-perfection. According to Swedenborg, the Lord God can only infill our hearts and minds with genuine love to the same degree that we bravely identify and remove the “dirt” we find hiding within us.

This is why the Lord God asked us to clean the inside of the cup.

Many people falsely believe that such a step is unnecessary—since God can simply add more and more love to our lives from divine mercy and grace. Or if need be, “cleanse us” as well. However, God cannot remove something negative in our hearts and minds without our expressed permission. And, we cannot give this permission with a blanket statement or general acknowledgement that we are sinners.

“Know thyself.”

Rather, we must do a personal inventory of what is in our spiritual house (heart and mind). Yes, God certainly knows what our flaws are, but needs us to “flag” which particular flaws we want removed from our lives—by both identifying them and resisting them. This inventory is the essence of our spiritual responsibility and duty in God’s Universe.

The problem in much of modern society is that as soon as someone begins sensing or suspecting something unflattering about themselves they rush to find comfort, either from ingesting various liquid or solid substances or finding friends and priests who will buttress their self-esteem. However, dealing directly with these unflattering revelations actually helps God to help us.

The Lord did not just come into the world to comfort and hug us—but to expose us.

http://www.provinggod.com

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About thegodguy

EDWARD F. SYLVIA, M.T.S. Philosopher/Theologian Edward F. Sylvia attended the School of Visual Arts in New York and received his Master of Theological Studies at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA and a Certificate of Swedenborgian Studies from the Swedenborgian House of Studies. He is a member of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (C.T.N.S.) and the Swedenborg Scientific Association (S.S.A.). Award-winning author of "Sermon From the Compost Pile: Seven Steps Toward Creating An Inner Garden" and "Proving God," which fulfills a continuing vision that God’s fingerprints of love can be found everywhere in the manifest universe. His most recent book, "Swedenborg & Gurdjieff: The Missing Links" is an edgy collection of anti-intuitive essays for personal transformation that challenges and inspires. He has been a student of the ideas of both Emanuel Swedenborg and George I. Gurdjieff for over thirty years. Read more about TheGodGuy, his books and his ideas at http://www.staircasepress.com
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12 Responses to A Caveat to Spiritual Growth

  1. Roger says:

    Dear Edward,
    I understand the Lord’s “tough love” stance. After all, as future angels, as princely sons an daughters of the King, we deserve no less. And I understand why you threaten us with hell (yes, in a subtle way) to goad us on the path to heaven.

    However, I do believe that most of us will make it except those who actually delight in evil and malice. In my 51 years on this planet, I haven’t met a single person who falls into the category that Scott Peck calls “radically evil”. I am sure there are some – as the histories of the Hitlerian, Stalinist an Pol Potian eras indicate.

    While we need to take fear at the specter of hell, which is a specter not of torture but the fulfillment of our own evil, we also need comfort in our struggles and sufferings. The Lord’s promises provide this comfort to me and, I hope, to you and your readership.
    Roger

  2. thegodguy says:

    Dear Roger,

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    For me, this is the most important topic expressed in Swedenborg’s writings and it is the topic that draws the most fire against me from other Swedenborgians. I received a lot of criticism from readers in a blog where I dared to call myself a “slug.”

    If you were to observe me going about my life you would conclude that there was nothing “radically evil” about me. However, under my own inner observations I have discovered horrifying things – things I wish to resist and remove. God’s Love should not be used to convince ourselves that we either have magically by-passed this unflattering step or that it is totally unnecessary.

    But I will respect your concern and simply assume, that I, unfortunately fall into a small group of humans that attracts influences from Hell. For everyone else, everything is “peachy.”

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

  3. Roger says:

    Dear Edward,

    We all attract influences from hell, and we sometimes come perilously close to becoming one of hell. But the Lord’s grace triumphs for most of us since we have a love, however slight, of the good – which is tantamount to a love for God. Yes, our cleansing needs work on our part but the events of life force us to do that work. And I am sure that some (for some of us, most) of the needed work is done in the spiritual world. We need to work diligently as you mentioned, but we should not be paranoid about our eternal destinies. If we have the right, God-ward orientation (“faith”) we should do our “work” in peace. Faith AND works. “Work” with the placid, serene assurance of “faith” as the backdrop.

    Roger

  4. thegodguy says:

    Dear Roger,

    Again, everything is “peachy.”

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

  5. Glenn says:

    GG,

    The reasoning in your first response to Roger is vacuous. If for everyone (besides you) everything is “peachy”, then they would not at times be in need comfort in their struggles and sufferings, as Roger rightly and correctly points out.

    Regarding your second response to Roger, it is interesting to note that Swedenborg said that good spirits are linked to a person when s/he is being regenerated (such linking being to the end that through them the person may be introduced into genuine goods and truths). These good spirits, he said, know from the Lord’s good pleasure that all is well [i.e., everything is “peachy”] with them wherever they are.

    In light of this, one would not be unjustified in surmising from your periodic rantings and railings against “comfort”, that you are hell-bent on shooing away the good spirits that are willing to aid you in your regeneration. But, then, perhaps the shooing away, though it does indeed take place, isn’t really being done by you–perhaps it is more a case of you being a willing, albeit unwitting, instrument.

    Swedenborg said that “comforting them” signifies hope, for this is of the understanding by means of truth, and that the signification of “comforting,” [is] to appease unrest of mind with hope.

    He also said, in the context of Psalm 23:4 (Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me), that to comfort means to protect. So one can only wonder why you wish for others to be deprived of protection.

    And you were pretty excited and awfully enthusiastic when going on about how an octave signifies a new state. Well, Swedenborg went on about how “comfort” also signifies a new state. So one can only wonder why you carry on as if new states were terrible things.

    While I can appreciate the fact that some people do indeed become (to their detriment) addicted to “comfort” and “hope”, and that other people are inclined to dole them out as a lazy doctor might dole out aspirin for a headache (thereby treating the symptom rather than addressing the cause), care should be taken not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Aquinas pointed out that abuse does not do away with use, and Swedenborg agreed, pointing out that Misuse of uses is…possible, but misuse does not do away with use.

    If misuse did do away with use, then the law would forbid you from growing things on your land because of the people who illegally grow marijuana on theirs.

    Hmm. You don’t have any peach trees on your land, do you?…

    Hoping I’ve put your mind at unrest by, once again, making you uncomfortable,
    Glenn

  6. Roger says:

    Dear Edward,
    That is not what I said or meant. No, everything is definitely not peachy in my life at this juncture. I can safely say the same about everyone else in my sphere of observation, not to mention the state (California) and nation (USA) that I belong to.

    There is suffering and struggle every day of our lives. Swedenborg wrote that even angels in the lowest heavens are subject to temptation and ‘vastation’ from time to time – that is, until they have reached a certain level of wisdom and goodness, faith and love. So you were not wrong in indicating that most of us (except for a few saints) are slugs and we have a long journey ahead. The more recalcitrant we are, the longer the journey, and the less “peachy” the near-term prospects. But I do believe that a logical corollary of the teachings in the Bible and Swedenborg’s Writings is near-universal salvation. As long as I am not an inveterate enemy of the Lord and of good, I can leave my childhood Catholic paranoia of damnation and hellfire behind and get on with the business of co-creating my life and being and of serving the Grand Man (humanity as a whole).

    Moving from individual salvation to the state of THIS planet, if we are living in a post-apocalyptic age, things should get peachier by the century and the decade until we reach a global peri-utopia – a relatively good society, albeit not a perfect one. I believe that this is precisely what’s happening before our eyes since 1757 if we care to notice. The latest developments – the internet, automation, clean technology, environmental consciousness, cheap and effective birth control, the disappearance of communism except in isolated pockets, the global drive for governments to balance budgets and to not be a burden on the populace, the exposure of the true nature of Islamist extremism on 9/11/01 and in the following years (to name just a few) – are all indicators that we’re headed for the best society that folks with our ‘slug-like’ level of immaturity can create. Yes, we are slugs, and things are not peachy – but things are not that bad and they are getting better. We are God’s children, He is our Father.

    Roger

  7. thegodguy says:

    Dear Glenn and Roger,

    I just returned from a weekend conference so my response may be late.

    You both communicate “Truths.” However, there are three levels of heaven. The difference between those who find their eternal abode in these distinct realms is the degree to which they choose to participate in their “inner housecleaning.”

    I am sure that the Lord would be happy if His new dispensation allowed more people to “squeak through” into the lowest heaven. But I also think the Lord would be saddened if no one took on the challenge of going through more intense purification. It all depends on what we each can “bear.”

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

  8. Glenn says:

    GG,

    Swedenborg wrote that nothing else is asked of anyone except to ‘sweep his house’, that is, to reject evil desires and resulting false persuasions. If he does this he is filled with all forms of good, for good from the Lord is constantly flowing in. It flows into ‘the house’, that is, into the person who has been cleansed of such things as hinder influx, that is, which turn away, or pervert, or stifle inflowing good.

    He also wrote that angels said, to practice repentance is not to will evils because they are sins against God, and to examine oneself once or twice a year to see one’s own evils, to confess them in the presence of God, to pray earnestly for help, to desist from the evils, and enter on a new life; and that in the measure that he is doing this, and believing in the Lord, his sins are being remitted.

    While I personally find “once or twice a year” to be overlay lax, the ideas themselves are quite clear. However, though the ideas are clear, the language itself can–and not infrequently does–throw people off. Yet nearly everyone–even s/he who finds the language off-putting–is already familiar (quite likely by way of personal experience) with the basic, generic principles as they play out on the natural level.

    Look, see, notice; compare what is, with what can and/or should be; implement adjustments that are called for.

    We see these basic, generic principles being played out in so many and various guises:

    – chess players record the moves of their game for post-mortem analysis (where did I go wrong? what did I miss? what weakness(es) did I fail to shore up? what strengths did I inadequately develop? etc.);

    – athletes review videos of their performance with the intention of discovering ways to improve it;

    – employee evaluations are conducted, as are audits and reviews by a slew of regulatory organizations, oversight committees and governing boards, checking on adherence to policies and procedures, ethical guidelines, ‘best practices’, etc.;

    – software engineers have their work scrutinized via ‘walk-throughs’, where errors, deviations, inefficiencies, as well as violations of development standards, etc. are looked for;

    – on and on and on it goes.

    Look, see, notice; compare what is, with what can and/or should be; implement adjustments that are called for.

    Now bump it up a level, and take on things like: lying, stealing, defrauding, selfishness, self-centeredness, gossip, character assassination, manipulation, taking credit for the work or ideas of others, seeing others merely as a means to one’s own ends, ‘stifling’ or ‘suffocating’ others, twisting the words and/or intentions of others, feeling entitled to rather than grateful for the assistance of others, making unwarranted mountains out of molehills, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.

    Look, see, notice; compare what is, with what can and/or should be; implement adjustments that are called for.

    My personal opinion is that, generally speaking, people are dissuaded from “more intense purification” less by an unwillingness to improve than by an insidious trap. This insidious trap consists of a silently operating premise, and its equally silently operating corollary. The silent premise is that if something feels delightful then it must be good and should be followed, and its silent corollary is that if something feels undelightful then it isn’t good and should be avoided.

    (With this in mind, it is easy to see how a person who is given to being, say, vengeful, would have a hard time overcoming this proclivity. It feels good to the person be vengeful, so the person goes along with it. When not in the ‘heat’ of his vengefulness, however, he may recognize that it is not a good way of being, and may even be remorseful over prior instances of his vengefulness. But when the feeling of vengefulness is aroused, and he starts to feel the ‘heat’ of its delight, that prior awareness is shunted aside and he yields to the delight itself and acts accordingly, i.e., in keeping with the dictates of the proclivity to be vengeful [“if something feels delightful then it must be good and should be followed”]. He has a hard time reversing course once the feeling of vengefulness is aroused because not riding along with it, i.e., going against the grain of his usual habit, feels undelightful [“if something feels undelightful then it isn’t good and should be avoided”].)

    At the same time, a feverish enthusiasm for “more intense purification” is all too easily nothing more than a proprium-based ambition. “I don’t want to be just spiritual, I want to be celestial!” If ever you run into a person like this, abruptly about-face and run for the hills.

    Though Swedenborg wrote extensively on the distinctions between the spiritual and the celestial levels, he never said that the Lord would be displeased with those who were spiritual rather than celestial. He did, however, say that, heaven consists in this, that from the heart we wish better for others than for ourselves, and desire to be of service to others in order to promote their happiness, and this for no selfish end, but from love.

    Glenn

  9. thegodguy says:

    Dear Glenn,

    Yep! However, since it is human nature to take the easy way out, we must always be vigilant and prepared to make new self-discoveries. We can more easily see flaws in others than our own – because the later also requires the “will.”

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

  10. Glenn says:

    GG,

    That is true, that we tend to be blind to ourselves. Work-arounds, however, are available.

    The most obvious work-around is having access to one or more people willing to relate to us what they see in our blind spots.

    Another work-around has to do with the fact that the more something inside me needs to be addressed, the more likely I am to be irritated by its occurrence in others; so, while I won’t get better ‘confessing the sins of others’, by noticing the ‘sins of others’ that are particularly irritating to me, I get concrete clues about things inside of me in need of work.

    Yet another work-around has to do with paying attention to struggles shared by others; metaphorically speaking, there’s a little buzzer that goes off inside by which I know that, yes, I have had or am having that struggle too.

    And then there are the things which fly beneath the radar, i.e., which others neither notice nor reflect back to me in some way, so acquiring a kind of ruthless self-honesty is a boon. It isn’t easy, and it won’t be perfect, but progress towards this end can be made.

    How might someone get started? By pondering a simple question: What is it about me, in general or in particular, that, a) I’d rather others not know about; or, b) am unwilling to acknowledge?

    Glenn

  11. Roger says:

    Dear Edward and Glenn,
    I agree with the benefits of regular spiritual exams, whether these be self-exams or exams by a professional. One of the features that is lacking in Western Christianity (more so among Protestants than Catholics) is the concept of a guru, or spiritual director. Some Catholics (such as those in Jesuit orders or laypersons who go to Jesuit educational facilities) have regular spiritual directors – someone with whom you can discuss the state of your soul (and not just generic spiritual issues). A spiritual director can be your confessor, but he generally gives you more time than an ordinary confessor . Also, spiritual directors can be women – in which case, the spiritual director may NOT grant absolution as an ordinary male confessor can. Of course, devout Hindus, Buddhists, Orthodox Christians, Sufi Muslims have their gurus, sheikhs, spiritual directors and equivalents. A guru is not necessarily a “realized” soul. All that he or she needs to be is spiritually more mature than you are, and genuinely interested in your spiritual growth. The very fact that you can discuss things with your guru that you cannot discuss with your spouse or best friend for fear of ‘losing credit’ gives the guru/spiritual director a valuable role in your life. Also, the role of spiritual director does not necessarily coincide with that of a priest, pastor or teacher. I hope that when the New Church grows, it cultivates this unique role and function to serve religious athletes who are interested in entering the fast lane of spiritual cleansing, awareness, regeneration and growth.

    Here’s a good article about the role of a spiritual director in Orthodox Christianity. This one pertains to the mainly Arabic Antiochian Orthodox Church: http://www.antiochian.org/node/17172

    Roger

  12. thegodguy says:

    Dear Glenn and Roger,

    Now we are cooking with gas! If the New Church (Swedenborgian) and its doctrines are to spread and grow on earth then it will have to produce individuals who are on an accelerated path. Such individuals would therefore have the living experience to direct and assist others in their spiritual growth. What else does the New Church really have to offer but regeneration?

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

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