The Ascent: An Inward Objective
Rev. Dr. J. Durban Odhner
Reflections on the urgent need for members of The Lord’s New Church to focus on a true inward objective have prompted me to want to express some thoughts on this matter.
To guide us earthly people to the Word without an inward objective of spiritual thinking, is to confirm us in a common doctrinal from the letter of the Word, in which we will then anchor ourselves. It will not retard our inclination to picture the life after death in the most external way—as a mere continuation of our worldly life, earthly activity, and earthly thinking.
Although truths of a higher order are adapted downward so that the natural man can have some kind of (representative) idea of heaven, they are nevertheless, in this form, so far removed from their own realm as to retain little, and with many nothing, of their essence.
An inward objective for leading the natural man involves not only adaptation of Divine Truth to the earthly plane, but also the realization that an earthly reception of Divine Truth is a universe away from a spiritual reception; that the natural mind in all its thought and feeling — especially regarding spiritual things — is diametrically opposed to what is essentially spiritual.
Therefore the earthly person cannot be appealed to, to cultivate an affection of truth, but must learn that his or her thinking is opposed to truth in everything. The natural mind should not be permitted to indulge the complacent idea that by putting off the earthly body, we will be endowed automatically with spiritual thought. How many spirits did Swedenborg not converse with who were incapable of spiritual thought?
The essential conversion from earthly to spiritual thinking must be achieved in this life, or it cannot be fulfilled in the other life. The propagation of this truth is one of the most important duties of the priesthood.
Standing up for what he thinks of as spiritual truth, the earthly person is consistently defending himself and his own intelligence, resisting everything that does not agree with his conceptions, which he definitely believes to be “truths from the Word” — because, is it not so, all in the Church tend to clothe their own intelligence with truths from the Word?
The first light of regeneration is accompanied with the realization that one’s goods are not goods, and one’s truths are not truths (AC 20). One is apt to take for granted that one has long ago passed through this state. Yet if the church is Church, its prime objective looks to man’s reformation — something that cannot be carried on in a state of complacency and pride, and that also must continue to the end of life in this world, for it cannot take place after death.
For elevation toward spiritual thinking to take place, it is necessary that the mind be removed from bodily, worldly and earthly things. This is an innermost struggle, for the earthly mind is rooted in things of time and space, as well as person. In spiritual thinking there is no time, space or person and all things are measured differently than by earthly thinking. But we are not removed from the spiritual by distance, for it is in us and around us at every moment: we are removed from it by infinity- and eternity-blindness!
An inward objective looks to an opening of the spiritual senses, that “the blind may receive sight, that the deaf may hear….(Matt. 11:5). But in our earthly thinking we do not know we are blind, deaf, dumb, lame, etc.
Emphasis on the reading of the Word and the reception of its teachings, as an exercise of the true religion, does not by itself give any guidance toward inward reception of the Lord. Such guidance can only come from an exposition of inner senses. It is therefore no coincidence that the word sensus is used to name the various levels of Divine Truth. It is derived from the verb meaning “to feel” or “sensate.” Without the presence of the feeling in an exposition of the Word — the feeling of the inward things — there is no inward guidance, no matter how brilliantly or eloquently doctrinal matters are expounded.
By reflecting on the nature of their feelings, and the level of their feelings, in administering the Word, those who are priests begin for the first time to take up the cross. For such reflection will plunge us into the realization that our thinking is not removed from bodily, worldly, earthly, spatial, temporal and personal things but that we, the leaders of the blind, are ourselves blind, deaf, dumb, and lame. Deepest searching often reveals no sense of what is truly spiritual, but only of the fact that what we are really saying—sometimes in states of extreme distraction if not boredom—is that this is not it, no matter how spiritual it may sound.
The first manifestation of the true light is a sense of our own darkness, of being outwardly angels of light and inwardly angels of shade. Nor can the garment be patched. It must be utterly replaced. What, if our truths are not truths, is real Truth?
Indeed, the spiritual sense has been placed within man’s reach by means of the new revelation of the Lord’s Second Coming. But this does not mean that one has any part in it by knowing that “this signifies that” or “that signifies this.” The spiritual sense has been opened in the sense that people in this world who struggle through the natural and put off its thinking and feeling, by means of that revelation will put on something of spiritual thought even while living in this world. But it comes as a thief in the night, when a person of the Church has died a thousand deaths within his mind, saying “no” to his own thinking and feeling until scarcely anything remains—giving up his pride in a thousand encounters with truths that come to him in ever new guises
From a confusion of the English word affection with the Latin affectio, many picture the “affection of truth” (affectio veri) as a happy enjoyment in reading and listening to the Word and doctrine. Affectio veri does not mean this: it simply means a “being affected by truth”; and the affects of truth are more often piercing and devastating than pleasant: “I come not to bring peace, but a sword!” (Matt. 10:34). A person affected by truth is suffering and repenting, imploring for relief from the onslaughts of a will opposed to the Lord’s and a thinking immersed in self and mundane goals; and praying for the opening of a new, inner plane of thought and life governed by the sense of what is truly spiritual.
The inner objective is a new, angelic-human, breathing the atmosphere of the inner heavens, tacitly thinking thoughts and dreaming dreams that are so far beyond and above those of the old human, that they are unutterable and inexpressible, and yet descend into the speech and acts of the earthly body—that new human whose charity is not “overwhelming kindness,” but a walking erect, feet on the ground, and head in heaven, that affects the minds of others insofar as they are able to sense it; whose faith is not adherence to a doctrinal code, but a spiritual knowing and sight as of an eagle—a seeing in one common earthly thing of a myriad of deep eternal realities; whose mind is the point of a needle upon which innumerable heavenly societies are focused.
These reflections are in harmony with deliberations of the interior council in The Hague, 1952-60.