The Arc of Life, the Innocence of Childhood and the Innocence of Old Age: We begin in God and Return to God
“Because innocence attributes nothing of good to itself, but ascribes all good to the Lord, and because it thus loves to be led by the Lord, and is the source of the reception of all good and truth, from which wisdom comes,-because of this man is so created as to be during his childhood in external innocence, and when he becomes old in internal innocence… And when a man becomes old he dwindles in body and becomes again like a child, but like a wise child, that is, an angel, for a wise child is in an eminent sense an angel. This is why in the Word, “a little child” signifies one who is innocent, and “an old man” signifies one who is wise in whom is innocence (From ‘Heaven and Hell’ by Swedenborg).
This leads us to contemplate the arc of life, a symmetry between the beginning and the end. We come into life helpless and innocent, and, in old age, we return to a state of being helpless and innocent. Only in old age we have intelligence and experience added. In a way the whole trick of life is to retain and incorporate innocence with our intelligence and experience – in spite and because or the harsh battering of life in a material world that is in the balance of good and evil.
Intelligence in union with innocence is true wisdom. The innocence of infancy and early childhood is an external innocence because it has not yet bonded into our soul from our own will and conscience. Feeling, embracing and thus incorporating internal innocence into our intelligence is invaluable because it allows us to receive God and bond with God. God can only be received in humility and innocence is the soul of humility. To enter heaven ‘we must be like a child’ means that we have incorporated innocence into our adult intelligence.
An old person returning to being helpless and more like a child is, I believe, part of God’s plan to prepare us for heaven. In old age the compelling ambitions and uses of life have slowed to a trickle. Ambitions are appropriate and good for their time but now that time is over. Outwardly, very old people appear useless, but there is a purpose. It exists as a universal pattern therefore it has use, for God made it. One must turn inward.
As a hospice chaplain I work with lots of old folks at the end of life. Many people lose much of their function physically and mentally. We are brought to our knees and must submit to the condition given us. This humility helps ones soul to receive God. In the story of Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, the angel comes to him and gives a magnificent speech about what is to come, and the purpose of the son that will be born to them -even though they are old and barren. Zachariah questions Gabriel; doesn’t believe him, wants assurances. Gabriel, the great angel, says, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
Who would contest with such a presence and speech? We trust in God, that he gives us what we need, we may not understand it, but true faith is to strive to trust it. In old age He gives us less choice, and more humility. In old age so many people lose speech, hearing and many other abilities. It is a time for submitting to God, which brings greater peace.
Old age is a sort of pre-vastation. In the spiritual world everyone must be prepared for heaven (or hell); vastation is a ‘cleansing’ process. That which is of evil, pride, lust and greed must be removed from our soul before one can enter heaven.
To understand that everyone has innocence inside is very useful in reaching a person; in my work as a chaplain it helps me to see the good in them, to not identify with the appearance of the ‘old and crusty’, but the best part of them. Holding a person in this way helps them to feel safe and to be open (if at all possible). I look for what excites their enthusiasm. Enthusiasm means God within. And there are many folks who receive and give so beautifully. The filters are gone and the innocence there. A woman recently passed who is a marvelous example. She was Catholic and well educated, and had some levels of dementia and incontinence and other issues, but these are just circumstances. I talked to her about how god loves her, and sang her songs full of affection. among other things I sang her this song – https://stevesanchez.bandcamp.com/track/just-to-say-hey She received this with precious delight. It was like playing the strings of her open affections. Our time together was a celebration of God’s deep, playful and flowing love for us. I would say ‘He loves you’, and she would say, ‘He loves me, I know’; or Hallelujah and she would say it back with the light and excitement of a child. This is a wonderful use and unique experience of intimacy between two and God. We come from God and we return to God.