April 13, 2008 Readings and Message: Text onlyRev. Wilma Wake
[special appreciation to Mona Diane Conner for consultation on the arts.]
HEAVEN OR HELL: YOUR CHOICE
READINGS:from the Bible
John 14 NIV
Jesus Comforts His Disciples
1"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4You know the way to the place where I am going."
"... what really makes heaven overall and in every specific instance is the divine nature that emanates from the Lord ... [which] is the good instrinstic to love and the truth instrinsic to faith."
[Heaven and Hell #7, 2000]
230 Two things make up our spiritual life: love and faith. Love is the life of our motivation and faith is the life of our understanding. When we love what is good and believe what is true, our life becomes heaven. But when we love what is harmful and believe what is false, our life becomes hell.
231 Loving the Lord and other people makes heaven. Faith makes heaven too, but only so far as we live from these two loves. Since both love and the faith we get from it come from the Lord, you can see that the Lord makes heaven.
232 Each one of us has heaven in us to the extent that we accept love and faith from the Lord. If we accept heaven from the Lord while we live in the world, we will go to heaven when we die.
233 When we accept heaven from the Lord, we have heaven in ourselves, since heaven is actually inside people. The Lord taught this, too: "They will not say, 'Look, here is God's realm!' or 'Look, there it is!' because God's realm is inside you" (Luke 17:21).
234 Heaven is in our inner self--in the motives and thoughts we get from love and faith. From there it goes into our outer self, which does and says things from love and faith. But if it is not in our inner self, it is not in our outer self, either. Pypocrites can say and do good things, but they do not have good motives and thoughts.
235 When we get to the other life, which happens right after death, it is obvious whether or not heaven is in us. This is not obvious while we are in the world, though. In the world, people see our outer self, but not our inner self. In the other life , our inner self shows clearly, since we are then living as a spirit. The Heavenly City. tr. by lee Woofenden.
Do you ever worry about whether or not you will make it to heaven when you die? Do you worry about whether you have done enough good deeds, or thought enough good thoughts, or believed the right things? Many Christians throughout history have worried about how they will be judged after death, and whether God will send them to heaven or hell.
Swedenborg [1661-1772] came along and claimed to have visited the heavens, and he brought back some radically different concepts; in fact they were quite heretical. He emphasized two major differences from traditional Christianity; we choose our own afterlife, and we create it each day now.
THE HEAVEN THAT AWAITS US
The movie, What Dreams May Come, shined a cultural spotlight on the self-created afterlife, and also posed many questions.
In the movie Chris and Annie are a happily married couple with two children. Tragically, both of the children are killed in an auto accident. Chris helps Annie use art therapy to overcome her severe depression. But, then Chris himself is killed in a car accident. We see his story as he enters heaven, and learns that he creates the heaven he wants. We see some shots of Annie on earth, extremely despondent. Finally Chris learns that Annie has committed suicide and is in hell – where all suicides go. Hell, too, is created by what we feel inside. Chris is determined to find Annie, rescue her from hell, and bring her to heaven with him and the children.
One of the questions Swedenborgians have discussed frequently about this movie, is how much does it portray Swedenborg’s concept of the afterlife? Richard Matheson, author of the novel on which the movie was based, knew of Swedenborg. A character in the novel quotes Swedenborg favorably. Matheson himself was raised a Christian Scientist, and then developed his own religion from various sources. He was especially influenced by studies of Elisabeth kubler-Ross and Raymond Moody. You may have heard of Moody’s work; especially his book, Life After Life. He created the term “Near Death Experience.” You may not know that Moody had read Swedenborg, and had been greatly impressed by his writings of the afterlife. Moody talked about Swedenborg in his first book, and he sometimes speaks before Swedenborgian groups. The Matheson movie certainly propelled Moody’s work into the public light.
One question raised by some Swedenborgians is about the immediate dispatch to hell of all suicides. Swedenborg seemed to suggest a period of exploration before a spirit knew where he or she belonged. Also, Annie in the movie doesn’t fit Swedenborg’s description of people drawn towards hell; those who are violent, materialistic, willing to do anything to others to achieve their own needs. Annie was suffering from mental illness; not living out of evil intent. Some of the current research on near death experiences [NDE's] also questions that people who die by suicide go immediately to a miserable place. We have reports of happy and frightening NDE’s – from suicides and normal death. Here’s one story from Elisabeth kubler- Ross:
A man spoke in front of the entire audience one evening when Kubler -Ross was talking about NDE’s. This man told about a horrible automobile accident which had burned his entire family to death; not too dissimilar from the tragedy in the movie. The man became extremely despondent, as Annie had in the movie. He took drugs, and tried many times to kill himself. His last recollection was that after two years of literally bumming around, he was lying on a dirt road at the edge of a forest, drunk and stoned, hoping he would get run over. Then a huge truck came along, and the man watched himself from a few feet above. His family appeared in front of him, surrounded by light and giving out incredible love. They just stood there, radiating love, peace, and happiness. He was so overwhelmed, that he was determined to return to his physical body to share his story with the world. He watched his broken body being put into an ambulance and taken to an emergency room. He re-entered his body, got off the table, and walked out in perfect health. He made a commitment that he would not die until he had shared this story with as many people as possible. It was after reading a newspaper article about Kubler- Ross’s talk that he was able to attend, and by speaking out he helped fulfill is commitment.
There is much disagreement about the afterlife among Swedenborgians. But there is generally agreement that there is no judgmental God assigning us to either heaven or hell. It is we, ourselves, who choose where we are most at home.
THE HEAVEN WE CREATE NOW
Probably Swedenborg is best known for his visits to and writings about the after-life. However, perhaps his most startling conclusion was not about the life after we die, but the life we have each day on earth. We are creating heaven now. He said:
237 Just as loving the Lord and other people makes our life heaven, so selfish and materialistic loves, when they control us, make our life hell, Everything we love and believe comes either from heaven or from hell.
This makes clear that we are to strive to love ourselves, each other, and the Divine to move towards heaven. To focus on the material and the selfish takes us towards hell.
What does it mean for your journey on this earth to consider that we are creating heaven here and now? One way we create heaven here is through honoring the beauty of our earth. We do that in many ways. Next week we'll talk about a Swedenborgian perspective on Earth Day. For today, consider a beautiful painting, "Among the Sierra Nevada, CA' by Albert Bierstadt, 1868, 72'x120'. He was one of the artists whose work influenced the special effects in What Dreams May Come.
Swedenborg tells us that we are creating heaven inside as well as outside. What does it mean to create heaven inside?
There are no clear answers; at least not in words. Below is a quotation and beautiful print done by Swedenborgian artist, Unni de Presno of Wayfarers Chapel.
Read the quotation from Swedenborg below, and then give yourself some time to just look at the print, letting it speak to you in its own way.
Then, when you are ready -- and if you want -- there is Pacabel Canon in D with slides of the ocean for you to enjoy. Ponder in your way through the art and music what it means to YOU to be creating heaven inside of you now.
A way stands open into heaven, but none can enter the way except those who have heaven in them. Emanuel Swedenborg, Conjugal love, #500, 6.
Unni De Presno; digitally enhanced photograph existing in miniature format on the cover of one of her original greeting cards.
Now you are invited to meditate as you enjoy Pachebel's Canon in D with beautiful slides.