Courage to Change
On an Easter weekend in 1744, a Swedish scientist, philosopher, and theologian awoke, having experienced a life-changing dream. As adults, we know all too well the courage it takes to completely change one’s life. It involves not following what you have been doing, hence the term “change”. It also usually means needing to explain one’s self. Often the change strays from what family and friends believe or do.
Teenagers readily embrace change as do toddlers. A young child eagerly pulls him/herself up, anxious to learn to walk. The toddler wants to move like those older, with the supposed grace and facility they project. The child soon realizes that change comes with falls and bruises but is undaunted. Teenagers embrace change for what is often the exact opposite of why the toddler does. Teenagers embrace change to be different. The teen wants to establish his or her own identity, a desire often in conflict to their habit of needing to look like everyone else. Still, the courage to rebel requires conviction, just as the toddler displayed when continuing to stand and try to walk.
Emanuel Swedenborg was born into a religious family in Sweden. His father Jesper swayed from the commonly held belief of the time that proposed one should rely on sheer faith in one’s religious life. Instead, he adopted the Lutheran Pietist movement’s admonition of communion with God. Jesper also believed that angels and spirits were all around us and in our everyday living. His religious beliefs had a very strong influence on his son.
Emanuel Swedenborg studied the science and encouraged the king of Sweden to build an observatory. While not successful in this, Swedenborg did impress the king and was appointed to a high ranking position. He published a monthly periodical which explored natural science and mathematical developments. In 1714 he drew the plans for what he called a “flying machine”. Swedenborg suffered with a stutter and refused some higher academic positions, preferring to write rather than lecture.
Swedenborg spent the decade of the 1830’s studying anatomy and physiology. He was the first to propose the theory of the neuron and the hierarchical organization of the nervous system. While considered far-fetched at the time, many of his conclusions have since been proven correct. It was also during this time the religion and spirituality peaked Swedenborg’s interest. He set about to discover how matter related to spirits. He wanted to understand creation and its process and how that related to the structure of matter.
In 1744, Swedenborg submitted his resignation and officially retired to write a book about the worship of God. For the next ten years he traveled, studied, and wrote with some of his writings published anonymously. Taking advantage of the freedom of the pres in London and Holland, Swedenborg published over fifteen works regarding spirituality and religious worship. He claimed the predicted second coming of Christ had already occurred due to corruption within the Christian Church. In his book “Earths in the Universe”, he claimed to have spoken with spirits from Jupiter, Mars, mercury, Saturn, Venus, and even those on the Moon. He relayed that these experiences led him to believe that the planets of our solar system and system beyond were inhabited. He did not believe creation was for only our solar system or even just one heaven. “What would this be to God, Who is infinite, and to whom a thousand or tens of thousands of planets, and all of them full of inhabitants, would be scarcely anything!” Swedenborg asked.
Today religion and spirituality seem to occupy opposite ends of the spectrum. Spiritualists believe religion gives people a guilt trip and makes them feel inferior. Many theologians view spiritualists as head-in-the-clouds idealists who fail to see the real world and how it connects to theology. Swedenborg espoused theology while advocating many of the beliefs of the spiritualist. He proposed eating meat to be profane although much debate exists as to whether or not he himself was a vegetarian. He communed with spirits but did so claiming the jurisdiction of theology as he did. His final book was title “The True Christian Religion” and was written to explain his teachings to Lutheran Christians.
Swedenborg suffered a stroke in December 1771. Bed-ridden he wrote to John Wesley, founder of the Methodist faith. Swedenborg, already known as a psychic, stated that he knew Wesley wanted to meet and converse with him. This startled Wesley who did but had never revealed this to anyone. Wesley replied that he was about to embark on a trip but would contact him within six months upon his return. Swedenborg said that would be too late as he would die on March 29th. Swdenborg died on March 29th, 1772.
Emanuel Swedenborg was a man of many critics. Known to have made two startlingly accurate predictions about fires, he also impressed the queen of Sweden by telling her a secret known only to her and her deceased brother. The sailors with whom he traveled claimed he knew how to plan his trips so as to not experience bad weather. Swedenborg’s philosophies and theologies were simply echoing those of his father, critics claimed. Swedenborg paid scant attention to any of them.
One of his primary philosophies was his Theory of Correspondence. Swedenborg claimed a relationship existed between the natural of physical world, the spiritual world, and the divine. Reminiscent of the philosopher Plotinus, his expanded this theory and then reinterpreted the Bible. He believed that in the presence of the Spirit, every word held meaning.
Seneca once proclaimed: “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare. It is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” We often speak without forethought and sometimes simply to occupy dead air. In fact, we have no way of knowing how our words will affect another ids our speech becomes nothing more than mindless chatter. Swedenborg dared to emphasize the power of the word spoken because he knew its value. It takes courage to change and courage to realize that our actions and words have meaning. It takes courage to live our beliefs.