But With God, All Things Are Possible

The holiday season is upon us, and it seems like a good time to ponder our readiness to accept the Lord in our lives. Christmas sparks celebration of the coming of the Lord into the world and into our hearts, but in the details of the Christmas story, many people were unprepared for this change: Joseph, Mary, and Herod, to name a few. This was surely not their original plan. Consider Mary’s response to the news of the Lord’s coming. 

Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” 
And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” 
Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
(Luke 1:34-38

In my experience, opportunities to accept the Lord into my life are a whole lot easier when I’m prepared and looking for them. Here was a promise of something good, all tangled up in uncertainties. Yet Mary gracefully accepted: “let it be to me according to your word.” Joseph stood steadily by her when he could have walked away. The shepherds picked up and hastened to where Jesus lay. The wisemen diligently followed the star that led to Him. They all moved forward toward the call of the Lord without certainty or clarity of vision. 

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Child Soldiers

Struggling with the eternal hells….

How can hell be eternal? In an earlier post I discussed the beliefs that had “worked” for me in my life. Today I bring up a doctrine that I have always struggled with. I know I’m not alone. It’s one of the hardest things to understand, and that is the eternity of the hells.

Here’s how my thinking goes. I understand that evils, confirmed in action, life, and with delight, are much harder to route out. I observe that, in our world, confirming and delighting in evils without civil or cultural checks, does take on a life of its own and does not naturally “right” itself. I also get that, if C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce” is to be believed, that you cannot have it both ways. “You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys,” he writes. “Evil can be undone, but it cannot “develop” into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound bit by bit ‘with backward mutters of dissevering power’–or else not.” 

But my life experience shows me how much good can be found in even a relatively short amount of time (years, months, even days) by imperfect human souls and organizations. Working with legal offenders of various stripes through an organization that was dedicated to their reintegration as I did for several years, I was struck repeatedly with the myriads of ways that life is turned into lessons for anyone who is ready to change, and when things get really tough, that’s often the best time.

My worst fears are for child soldiers. How can these children, who are systematically trained to do terrible acts, and to love them, long before their minds and brains are developed and rational, have a shot at heaven? Also, I read in Swedenborg that parents can “close heaven” to their children, and I think, “Really?How can this be!” even as I see how it could happen. 

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Walking in the Light

I take my dog for a walk just about every morning. It’s good exercise for both of us, it gets us outside and into the fresh air. The sun has officially risen by the time we set out, during the wintertime, although it’s just peeking over the tops of buildings on the last stretch of our walk – heading toward the east, it’s shining right into my eyes, when there aren’t clouds obstructing it.

As I walk that last stretch along the sidewalk in our residential neighbourhood, I love to feel the sun shining down on me. Since it’s quite bright, sometimes I close my eyes, but I keep walking – it started out as a bit of a game, counting how many steps I could take along the [very straight] sidewalk before running into the grass on either side. First it was about 10 steps, then 20, then even 30 and a bit more – chuckling to myself all the while, thinking about how I must look like a bit of a ninny to any who witness me walking like a drunkard down the street at 7:30 in the morning!

More recently, though, I’ve chosen to let go of some of the stress that I noticed I’d begun to feel as I did that – worrying about walking off the path, tripping, counting steps, besting my previous accomplishment. I choose to just go, just be, to trust that I’ll be fine (and anyway, it doesn’t matter how many steps I take). To enjoy the sunshine on my face and closed eyelids. As I do that, I can’t help but think of the Lord, bathing me in His wisdom and love.

“….Wow,” I thought – “That’s a great comparison to how we ought to live our lives!” How many times have we been advised to ‘Let go & let God’, to trust in His Providence? Feeling the warmth of the Lord’s love, seeing – understanding – the Lord’s truths, really trusting that, with Him – turning to Him for guidance and living a life of love as He longs for us to do – all will be well. Amen to that!

In the spiritual world there is a sun. The Lord is in the center of that sun. From it He flows, through heat and light, into the whole spiritual world and into all the people there. All the light and heat there come from that sun. The Lord also flows from that sun, with the same heat and light, into the souls and minds of people [in the material world]. That heat, in its essence, is the Lord’s divine love; that light, in its essence, is the Lord’s divine wisdom. (True Christianity 641.2)

They who trust in the Lord continually receive good from Him; for whatsoever happens to them, whether it appears to be prosperous or not prosperous, is still good, because it conduces as a means to their eternal happiness.  (Arcana Coelestia 8480.3)

[As a bit of a post-script, I’ll add that, when the clouds do cover the sky and block any view of the sun, it’s fun to remember that the sun is still there – it hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s as close as ever! – just like how the Lord is a-l-w-a-y-s there for us; even when we can’t see or feel Him – well, we aren’t truly without light nor heat on such a day, similar to how we are never truly without His love & truth – even when it seems to us that He isn’t there, He really is, there are just some things in the way to our perceiving Him fully. These obstructions come from us, from our faulty natural inclinations,…. but that’s a story for another day!]

A Hopeful Message

In the 1800s, there was a New Church minister named Chauncey Giles, who eventually became  one of the New Church leaders in America and who was well-loved by many people. He had  discovered the Writings as a young adult, and the whole course of his life was changed for the  better. He is probably my favorite New Church author, there is such affection and wisdom in his  writing, and he wrote about so many important things. He felt that when he wrote his sermons  and papers, he should make them as beautifully written as he possibly could, in honor of the  subject matter. Below I am going to share a quote from a sermon he wrote entitled “The  Ministry of Flowers.” I have returned to this sermon many times as a source of hope and  inspiration. And I like to remember the Lord’s message when I enjoy the beautiful flowers He  creates. This sermon is based on a text from Hosea 14 about the Lord descending like dew on  Israel and causing growth and blossoming, and on True Christian Religion 392:2 about natural and spiritual  flowering.  

The changes wrought within us by regeneration are so covered up and  concealed by the natural life and the material body that it is difficult to  gain a clear and adequate idea of their nature and importance. They  are to our spiritual faculties and to our life in the spiritual world as the  secret processes that go on in the seed while it is in the ground are to  the blossom. In our darkness, doubt, and difficulty of apprehension,  the Lord says to us, “I will show you what the effect of my truth upon  your spiritual nature will be when you return to me and receive my  words into your hearts and lives. Look at this root; see how coarse and  rough it is. There is no beauty in it; there is nothing you can discover  in it that gives promise or hope of any loveliness of form or purity of  color or delicacy of texture. And yet out of earth and rain and heat and  light I will create one of the most beautiful forms in nature.” 

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