Some Core Teachings of Swedenborgianism
Curious about this whole Swedenborgian thing? Our NYNC member and ordained Swedenborgian Minister, Reverend Alison Moore has a few thoughts to share:
1. The Union of good and truth
One foundational doctrine to all Swedenborgian thought is the concept that God is made of Love and Wisdom unified. To get anywhere in Swedenborgian philosophy, you need to believe that concept on some level. God is Love, yes, but God is Love completely identified with and inseparable from Deep, Infinite Wisdom. God is both, and we see this pairing reflected in every aspect of creation. We could call these essential characteristics of God “Masculine” and “Feminine.” This duality appears all over the place and in every religion and philosophy, but with different names. Truth and good, male and female, yang and yin, strong and gentle, integrity and justice, protecting and nurturing, Law and Gospel, right and left, wine and bread—the list goes on and on. Learn to watch for them. They are everywhere. It’s cool.
However, these two forces often seem at complete odds with each other, kind of like conservatives and liberals, yet they are originally intended to balance and work with each other. When they are perfectly balanced and cooperative, that’s when perfection happens. The New Jerusalem is said to be foursquare to represent the perfect balance and proportion of Love and Wisdom in spiritual life. It is a metaphor, not a physical description. It represents how heavenly life is perfectly balanced in every way.
Strength and sweetness, firmness and openness. It brings to mind the difference between having a conversation with someone who holds rigid, inflexible opinions, vs having one with someone who is open to other opinions while standing strong in their own personal philosophy. Who would you rather have a conversation with?
The Swedenborgian doctrine of correspondences says essentially that everything that exists in this world reflects a spiritual reality. Trees, deer, water, rocks, lions, different flowers, and on and on, all manifest a particular spiritual truth, energy or quality.
Rocks, we are told, correspond to fairly basic, foundational truths, for example. We use them to shore up our buildings (which are the paradigms we live in). Or, some of us use them to throw at other people. When we quote Scripture at someone to show that we are right and they are wrong, we are spiritually stoning them with stones—which, though described in Scripture, is not what Scripture, or rocks, are made for. Horses correspond to our ideas or our understanding of things. Fire corresponds to love, and so on.
The doctrine of correspondences can be seen more broadly in the very nature of how we humans communicate. We think in stories, pictures, and metaphors. We use symbolism in so much of what we say that metaphor and imagery permeate the entire way we understand our world. We use what we know to try to describe and understand new things. “It tastes like chicken,” “He looks like Jim Carrey,” “Heaven is like a mustard seed…” are some examples of metaphoric speech. This is like this. Pay attention some time to how you use imagery and metaphor in your conversation. All wisdom teaching takes this form at times. We can expand our understanding of reality and our place in it by expanding our consciousness to see the patterns and connections of things using correspondences.
3. Regeneration (or “salvation”) as a process
Regeneration involves steady practice to produce gradual improvement and long-term great reward. It involves growing in self-awareness, responsibility to our fellow humans, and increasing compassion and wisdom, which is reflected in lives of wisdom and loving action in the world.
Regeneration or “Spiritual growth” takes patience and perseverance. It is often helped through therapy, open-hearted communication, and well-run support groups. Some days it feels like we take three steps forward, and then two steps back, but in the long haul, the spiritual work we do (and God guides us always) is getting us somewhere, and it is somewhere good.