How the Universal Principle of Union is Expressed in Natural and Spiritual Birth

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. The reason ‘the midwife’ here means the natural is that when anyone undergoes interior temptations, that is, 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 quite shows that spiritual birth or being ‘born again’ is a gradual, rigorous, and painful process, though there are always seminal moments. The master example of what he is saying here is Jesus himself. If one meditates on the Glorification process we described earlier you can see that the Lord made His human divine by being birthed through the natural. 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 is the means by which change struggles to become rooted and substantial. This can 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; the two together in harmony increase bodily pleasure, and more importantly the spiritual fulfillment of our soul. Sex is the highest pleasure the body can feel because it corresponds to the highest love, and because it provides the highest use, that is, the procreation of the human race; and the procreation of the human race helps fulfill the very purpose of life and the universe itself – which is to populate the Lord’s heavenly kingdom. The inner skills we have developed in our work life and relationships – in general our life of use – gradually form our soul into a state receptive to heaven – or not. Form is a very important idea here to understand. Things take form by the bond that takes place between the physical and the spiritual. For instance, the brain is part physical and part spiritual, so a personal skill, knowledge or love only becomes substantial and lasting when it is rooted in the physical. It is birthed, grows and takes form in the material reality from spiritual desire. To make it spiritually good the physical impulse must be brought into cooperation with the spiritual impulse. This is a rigorous undertaking, because the hereditary evil in us fights against change. The selfish ego in us wants to claim omnipotence, not knowing it is ruled by evil spirits. The spiritual self yearns to emerge from the smothering effect of evil and establish a substantial identity by real uses in the world that serve good purposes. In the experience of being humbled we expose and reject evil, and make room to receive God, and consequently receive inspiration. Our heart must be softened, it must be soil that is receptive to God’s urging and use for us. This is why suffering is so often part of the transformation experience. It takes intense desire and perseverence to change; Mary demonstrated this in her ‘not to be denied’ passion to give to her beloved. Even her spiritual love was expressed with touch. Because her desire and love were true her former sins were forgiven, in other words, she raised beyond them and was no longer tempted by them. Her experience demonstrates the rigor of spiritual birthing. I see Jesus the statement Jesus makes to her, and many other, that ‘your sins are forgiven as part perception, and part Him receiving and boding with the person.

Swedenborg tells that in heaven marriage partners do not produce children as on earth, but produce spiritual offspring. ‘Spiritual offspring’ is just a phrase, but the reality of what this means is an astonishing experience of fulfillment, creativity, and happiness. This phenomenon of spiritual offspring comes through the union of the natural and spiritual in people, and does not only occur in the spiritual world but in the spiritual experiences of life. Many times we have heard writers or artists, express how completing their work was like giving birth to a third entity; or how musicians and athletes experience deep satisfaction in the development of skills, and at times experience such synergy with each other that they enter the ‘zone’, a state in which they feel a height of skill and creative fluidity; also in marriages, people talk about going through an experience that builds such intimacy they come to a love and closeness they have never known before. It is in these internal experiences of that heavenly life is formed. Angels rejoice in these occurances because it brings greater spiritual and celestial light into the world that is so desperately needed.

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