Imagine the strongest man who ever lived, a warrior who has met and conquered, who can and has dealt with a vast array of terrifying enemies.  Yet this man can also be kind and tender, understanding and gentle, and he has a huge soft spot for children.  The stories about him are legendary, fascinating and inspiring.  While he will fight whenever needed to protect the innocent, and he is a definite force to be reckoned with, he still treats his enemies with understanding wherever possible without doing harm.  He has been attacked by every sort of enemy you can imagine (and some you can’t), and he has plumbed the depths of doubt and despair, not to mention physical torture, yet he never gives up and the quality of his character remains steadfast.  In fact, even his friends have been known to hinder him in his battles, so that he truly stood alone, and he has dealt with that situation firmly but kindly.  The epic of his life story is so amazing that all the stories of myth, legend and modern superheroes look like child’s play by comparison.  He has faced every evil in the universe, undergone every temptation possible, suffered every agony,  fought with what was bad inside of himself as well as outside, and felt abandoned by all his friends and even by God.  And he has persevered and conquered out of a blazing love and an intense clear-sightedness and a knowledge that the fate of everyone in existence (in this world and in the spiritual world, both those who love him and those who hate him) rested on his shoulders.  

Well, I imagine you know Who I am talking about. It’s taken me decades to realize it, but I am finally beginning to see that all that talk in the Writings about the Lord coming to earth to subdue the hells and glorify His human is actually pretty amazing.  To be honest, hearing about glorifying His human and subduing the hells always sounded dry as dust and above my pay grade.  I wish I had realized earlier what an amazing story it is, and the quality of what the Lord did when He came on earth.  I wish I could have better inspired my children with this story as they were growing up.    

A few things have come together over the last few years to help me start realizing what I was missing.  

  1. The explanations of the Easter story in Bible Study Notes by Anita Dole (“the Dole Notes”), especially Volume 4, pp. 246-251, 390-397 and Volume 5, pp. 154-160, 338-348 and Vol. 6, 160-166 
  2. The end of Geoffrey Childs’ book The Path: The Inner Life of Jesus Christ
  3. David Lindrooth’s article “The Greatest Gift” in New Church Life (November/December 2023, page 443) 
  4. Numbers in the Writings that I have run across; many of them are Arcana numbers that are cited in later part of the section on “The Lord” found near the end of The New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine.  

We’ve just celebrated Christmas, when the Lord was born on earth and His amazing earthly story began, and in a while we will celebrate Easter, when the Lord finished that story.  Despite the emphasis always placed on Christmas (and I do love Christmas!), one could argue that Easter is even more special and should be celebrated even more joyfully.  The Writings for the New Church lay out the story behind Easter, and it’s the most inspiring story you could ever hope to read.  The Lord was working in two worlds simultaneously, suffering and persevering and reorganizing, and the culmination of His journey came at Easter.  The intense love and farseeing wisdom and willingness to suffer for the sake of others that are apparent in every step of His story are enough to blow you away.  He is the ultimate Hero, the archetype of a Hero.  (And perhaps the birth of the New Church is even more celebration-worthy, because we are finally able to realize what the Lord did and is doing and to what lengths He will go in His ardent love for us.)

I used to think, “Well, yes, what He faced was daunting, but after all, He was the all-powerful God, so it wasn’t hard for Him.”  What I didn’t realize was that it actually was hard for Him, and that He experienced a level of pain and despair that surpasses anything we can imagine.  In fact, even the angels ended up getting in His way.  He faced the ultimate challenges and suffering, and He slowly and painfully brought His fully-flawed humanity into line with His Divine Soul. It had to be that way, and He signed up for it to be that way, because He loves us and was unwilling to force us to see the light and turn toward heaven.  Instead of forcing us (and thereby removing our free will and humanity), He came to earth and showed us the path by walking it Himself.  At the time when He came, people could no longer find the path, even provided that they realized enough to look for it.  He showed us how to find the path and how to walk it, so that we can freely choose to do so if we wish.  He is our Champion, and He will walk every step of the way with us – we just have to ask.

I am still in the early days of understanding the magnitude of the Lord’s life story and the difference it makes in His daily presence with us, but here is one quotation that particularly struck me.  After describing the way temptations work, Arcana Coelestia 1820 goes on to say: “These few, indeed very few, observations show the nature of temptations – in general that the nature of a person’s temptations is as the nature of his loves. They also show the nature of the Lord’s temptations, that these were the most dreadful of all, for as is the intensity of the love so is the dreadfulness of the temptations. The Lord’s love – a most ardent love – was the salvation of the whole human race; it was therefore a total affection for good and affection for truth in the highest degree. Against these all the hells contended, employing the most malicious forms of guile and venom, but the Lord nevertheless conquered them all by His own power. Victories have this effect, that after they have been won, wicked genii and spirits do not dare to attempt anything; for their life consists in their being able to destroy, but when they perceive that a person is able to withstand them, they flee even when they are making their first assault, as they usually do when they draw near to merely the threshold of heaven.”

I’d be interested to hear other people’s thoughts and realizations about the Lord’s story. 

The Doors of Our Minds

Mark and I read recently in Divine Providence about how the door to heaven opens and closes in our minds, and if the door is closed to heaven, you just can’t see what is true. I find this a very helpful way of thinking. I like to envision doors opening, and also closing, below me, into hell. If I can shut my eyes and decisively shut the door under me, it quiets the vindictive, revengeful voices telling me what a bad card I was dealt or how hopeless it all is or whatever thought is plaguing or paralyzing me. 

We all have our blind spots, our closed doors. For me, my 50s have been great for opening doors I didn’t know existed.  Consciously deciding to be curious has helped. Wanting to be an angel someday has helped. Watching what happens when large swaths of people believe their causes are right, impenetrable, and that other voices should be squashed, has also helped. 

In a related way, I have recently felt doors opening while listening to podcasts. Podcasts are a great way to get out of our echo chambers (groups of people who think exactly the way we do). You get to hear real people talking in a public yet frank way to people whom they trust about the issues that matter to them. Curiosity has led me to many thoughtful conversations that have subtly changed my perspective. One of these is the “Family Life Today” podcast, which is produced by a delightfully frank, open, die-hard Christian couple who are not afraid to discuss the topics where most people in their tribe daren’t tread. Doubting God. Blended families. Teenagers leaving the path. Introverts: does everyone have to be an evangelist? Perimenopause! One of my favorites. They interview authors frequently, and it was Sherri Lynn who wrote a book entitled “I want to punch you in the face but I love Jesus: the Ultimate PMS Companion.”  She was a riot! 

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Sin and Judgment (Cue the Scary Organ Music!)

Sin!  Judgment! All right, buckle up, here comes gloom and doom.  Get ready to feel like a worm.  Get ready for judgment and catastrophe and indignation.  Right?  Isn’t that how we instinctively react to the whole concept of sin?

I learned a very helpful perspective about sin from reading a little book called The Forgiveness of Sin by Rev. Chauncey Giles, a New Church minister in the late 1800s to early 1900s and a favorite author of mine.  I know, it sounds dry as dust, but it turned out to be pretty awesome.

People often feel like the Lord made up a bunch of arbitrary rules about what would be good and what would be bad.  So it seems like the Lord says something is bad or good because He feels like it and He gets to make the rules.

In reality, it’s not arbitrary at all.  Sin means spiritual disease.  There are lots of types of sins, and they are described in the Word with the names of natural diseases because those diseases are the physical symbol of those spiritual ailments.  So to say that something is a sin is simply to state that it does harm of one sort or another to our spirits.  The Lord’s statements about right and wrong are the equivalent to statements of scientific or medical law.  In fact, scientific and medical law function the way they do because their functioning is modeled on the functioning of spiritual law.  Physical and spiritual illnesses are two levels of the same things that function in the same way on different planes.  

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Surely the Lord is in This Place

I’ve thought a lot about the progression of life.  The Lord created us beautifully with such incredible stages and phases from infancy to old age and everything in between.  I am in the in-between.  I have young kids – but not babies.  I have older kids, but not yet in high school.  I am in a phase of overall normal health and strength.  I am strong enough to care for my home, and can reliably walk, carry things, pick up children – even as I watch my kids still learning about their bodies and how to play games and care for themselves, and also watch my older relatives and friends work on slowing down.  I am in an in-between phase.

And often I don’t feel well equipped to navigate the daily challenges of the in-between with grace.  I look at kids and long for my own early childhood when I had few responsibilities and all the time in the world to lie in bed and read a book.  I talk with people my parents’ age and I am amazed at the skill and the warmth and the practice that they bring as they face life’s ups and downs and I long for that knowledge and understanding.

I can get stuck feeling like this in-between is too hard. Everyday I pray quick prayers for patience and warmth and love throughout the day’s challenges.  I often read small parts of reflections, or sermons, or Bible verses. I go to church most weeks and get through each talk with at least a part of my brain listening as I support 4 wriggly kids.  But as I navigate this busy and chaotic time I so rarely have the space to focus deeply on turning to the Lord.  I almost never get to read a whole Bible chapter or listen to a full sermon.  And this can feel unfair to me – as though I NEED that time in order to follow the Lord. How does this phase fit in the system – what is this crazy in-between time of life? I can get trapped in feeling like the demands of having young kids but also not the full knowledge that another decade will bring me is somehow my fault.  

Continue reading Surely the Lord is in This Place