The Secret Manger

Once upon a Christmas season, a guy named Mack was attending Sunday church service. The minister gave a wonderful sermon on the topic of the Lord’s miraculous birth.

He inspired his congregation to lift up their minds and think of this event not simply as a historical occurrence but as a deeper, spiritual happening. In other words, we must learn from the story of the Advent that the Lord is also to be born, grow up and mature in our hearts.

Mack thought to himself how lucky he was to have found this church and its special doctrines. As he listened, the minister described why the fact that the Inn in the town of Bethlehem had no room for Joseph and Mary was profoundly relevant to everyone’s individual lives—today as well as then. The Inn in the city symbolized the enticements and trappings of worldly affairs. The Lord cannot be born into our hearts when our minds are focused on such terrestrial concerns.

After the service, during what is called the “Fellowship Hour,” Mack had joyful conversations with as many members of his congregation as he could. As the hour wound down and people gave their various good-byes, Mack noticed that one of his fellow worshippers—Bob—had left his book on a table, one he had just purchased from the church bookstore.

Mack grabbed the book and tried to catch up with Bob. Too late—Bob was already in his car and moving towards the parking lot exit. Mark then put on his coat and decided to follow Bob home and personally return the book. After all, it was the Christmas season.

When Mack arrived at Bob’s house, he noticed other members from his church getting out of their cars and being welcomed at the front door. Mack also approached the front door and knocked. Bob answered the door.

“Hi Bob, I am not trying to crash your Christmas party,” said Mack with a smile. “You left this book at the church.”

“Thank you,” responded Bob. “Oh, this is no Christmas party. Since you are here, please come in.” Mack entered the house and noticed that some of the members of his church were sitting in an adjacent room with other people that he did not recognize.

Observing Mack’s curious facial expression, Bob responds, “We are having our Secret Manger meeting.”

‘Why secret?” asked Mack.

“Well, we meet in order to look more deeply into the topics discussed at church.” Bob looked Mack right in the eyes with a most serious expression and said point blank, “Most members of the congregation would feel quite uncomfortable here.”

“I don’t understand,” returned Mack.

“Come, sit over here and I will try to explain,” said Bob as he made a gesture with his arm to follow him to a corner of the living room. As the two got comfortable in their chairs Bob began to fill Mack in. “Most people attend church to find comfort and support, but here, we support each other in finding discomfort—through examining our dirty laundry. That room over there where everyone is seated is our secret Manger for doing such things.”

“Huh? But the minister gave the secret of the Manger to everyone in the congregation with his sermon this morning. The Advent symbolizes the birth of Christ into our hearts,” said Mack with furled eyebrows.

“Yes, that is true,” said Bob. “But there are more details to be pondered. That is what the members of our special group do. We go deeper into the weeds and explore many of the unexpected obstacles that prevent the Lord from changing our lives.”

“Doesn’t it just require that we live a life of goodness and usefulness?” asked Mack with some confusion.

“The process isn’t as straightforward or as simple as that,” replied Bob with a shrug of his shoulders.

“Please explain,” asked Mack.

“At church you no doubt have heard that we each possess an inner and outer reality. But most people confuse this distinction between the spiritual and natural mind. Thanks to the extra study and efforts of our members, we have discovered that this split of inner and outer actually refers to a division of the psyche in the natural man.”

“Now you have completely lost me,” said Mack.

“Have you heard the term ‘remains’ before?” asked Bob.

“Yes. Isn’t that about the Lord depositing heavenly feelings and ideas inside us during our childhood”? returned Mack.

“When we were infants and young children, our natural minds functioned as our consciousness without anything extraneous. But as we grew up and began thinking for ourselves—becoming more knowledgeable about the ways of the world—we lost our innocence. So, a new and artificial kind of consciousness developed as we got older and covered over the original consciousness. This creates a dual personality or a ‘double-gravity-centered’ existence. The Lord wisely continues to store up and protect the feelings and ideas of heavenly innocence within the original consciousness—where they are kept safe from the vanities and allurements of the world that now captivate this new extraneous personality.”

“I don’t get what you’re saying,” replied Mack.

“The big problem with spiritual growth is that we have all learned to accept this extraneous personality as our true consciousness—but it is disconnected from the remains that the Lord has implanted within our real, deeper consciousness.”

“Well, how do we re-connect our lives to the Lord’s remains?” questioned Mack.

“Through self-examination and personal sincerity,” answered Bob. “The Lord uses the remains as weapons in the battle that ultimately arises between the two personalities in the natural man. That is why a person cannot simply start from where he or she is and go out into the world, do good deeds and expect legitimate spiritual advancement. Without this inner battle or personal temptation, the outer or worldly consciousness—which we call the habitual and artificial mind—will always ‘steal’ these good deeds and claim the credit,” explained Bob. “Most people will not believe this. It is also an unflattering and uncomfortable process to challenge the habitual mind because it rules over our false self-image and our self-esteem. So one fights against his or her valued illusions. Most people do not attend church to be persuaded into looking at their fantasies and dirty laundry. So we will not include such worshippers in our meetings unless they show an ability to endure such unkind personal revelations.”

“Have you verified these things from our church doctrines?” asked Mack with some suspicion.

“We have verified these things from both a detailed study of our doctrines and of ourselves,” said Bob with a head nod.

Bob continued, “A manger symbolically represents a place of learning, therefore, when the Lord is born into our hearts, so must His teachings. In other words, a manger symbolizes one’s remains. This is where the Lord first makes his abode in our hearts. Our Secret Manger Society was formed so that we could explore these teachings more deeply and apply them to our lives. Are you willing to join our group?”

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
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