In some ways it may seem simple to the reader that there is a marriage of the natural and spiritual, – and so it is – , but what is most simple is also most profound and complex – for it is the most universal. There are thousands of places I could quote from Swedenborg about the principle of union; here is one that expresses the nitty-gritty of the union of the natural and spiritual, and that demonstrates how it is the essential of all spiritual growth. I pick this because it is about spiritual birth, or in Christian parlance, being ‘born again’. This quote from Swedenborg comes from a discussion of the meaning of the word midwife in scripture.
‘That the midwife said to her, Do not be afraid’ means perception received from the natural…when the interior man undergoes temptations, the natural is like a midwife. For unless the natural assists no birth of interior truth is possible, since it is the natural that receives interior truths into its bosom once these are born; indeed it is the natural that enables them to push their way out. The same applies to instances of spiritual birth, in that reception must take place wholly within the natural. This is the reason why, when a person is being regenerated, the natural is first of all made ready to receive, and to the extent it is then able to receive, interior truths and goods are able to emerge and multiply. This also explains why, if the natural man has not been made ready during the life of the body to receive the truths and goods of faith, that person cannot receive them in the next life and so cannot be saved. This is the implication of the common saying ‘As the tree falls, so it must lie’, meaning, what a person is when he dies, so he comes to be. For a person has with him in the next life his whole natural memory, that is, the memory belonging to his external man, though he is not allowed to use it in that life. In the next life therefore that memory serves as the groundwork on which interior truths and goods rest; but if that groundwork is not able to support the goods and truths which flow into it from within, interior goods and truths are either annihilated, or perverted, or cast aside. From all this it may be seen that the natural is like a midwife (AC 4588).
This quote shows that spiritual birth or being ‘born again’ is a gradual, rigorous, and painful process, and as we know from life this growth is recognized at certain seminal moments. In this process the spirit must lead while the natural is the means as we know from the interaction of the spirit, mind, and body. The master example of what Swedenborg is saying here is the life of Jesus himself, because the glorification process begins with God being born on earth in a material human body, and His body is the vehicle for the astounding wisdom and acts of love he achieves. This is what makes Him knowable and lovable to all humanity. As He overcomes every temptation, and fulfills each prophecy by his loving acts of service in His natural body, He manifests (or births) new levels of love and wisdom in the world. The resurrection is the ultimate birthing in that Jesus raised his human body into the spiritual world, making it divine. In us humans for change and salvation to take place our body and feelings need to be prepared for it; the sensation of feelings in the body are the means by which spiritual change becomes rooted and substantial. Thoughts and affections are part physical and part spiritual and how we process them determines whether our soul is gradually formed into a heavenly (or hellish) state. The essential function of the natural can also be seen in the way the sense of touch is the universal medium for love; love yearns to be expressed and fulfilled through touch. Indeed there is no greater pleasure than true love expressed in the sex act; love and touch together in harmony increase pleasure and intimacy, and bring a sense of spiritual fulfillment in our soul. The orgasm in Sex is the most transcendent experience the body can feel because of its use, and because of its corresponds to the active union that takes place in marriage love. True marriage love and sex in heaven are from pure innocence with wisdom, and produce an unspeakable goodness and delight. They are the essential part of the union of love and wisdom of a man and woman, a man predominantly being a form of wisdom and a woman a from of love. The attributes of the physical body of a man and woman correspond to the attributes of the soul qualities of each; for instance a man’s physique is usually stronger and rougher as he corresponds to a intellectual form, and a woman’s is softer and more comely as they correspond to a form of love. When there is love between them they perceive each other in greater and greater detail, and their will is filled with the same desire of giving to the other; at the same time they are in spontaneously gratitude to the Lord. Since the will is the essential thing of the self, in the Bible it is said, “the two shall become one”. The two become one in that their will’s become ever closer. This oneness is not vague but involves every particular of the individuals character, soul attributes, and life skills, all of which grow and come into greater and greater distinctiveness and intimacy for eternity. Each particular bond is a struggle into birth, and is experienced in the body with incredible delight. Indeed the orgasm of the body, and true marriage love of the soul are the most transcendent experience of the body, and the soul respectively; because the end purpose of each is part of the continuum of correspondences that serves the highest use in the universe; that continuum moving from the procreation of the human race to the ultimate purpose of life in the universe – which is to populate the Lord’s heavenly kingdom.