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Utterly Enchanted

There are parts of the Bible that seem no longer relevant in modern life. This week Helen demonstrates a way of taking the information we have from Swedenborg's Writings and making applicable connections about those passages. -Editor.

Sometimes in his Writings, Swedenborg tells us of a person who lived in the past. It usually makes me stop and think about being alive hundreds, or maybe thousands, of years from now, like in the line from the hymn, Amazing Grace, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years…” As I turn back to the page, Swedenborg is telling me something about the state of the person from the past.

One such example is Cicero (Jan 3, 106 BC – Dec 7, 46 BC). Because he lived in ancient Rome, he would not have known about the Word unless he came in contact with some Jewish traders. He certainly learned about it when he went into the next life, though, because Swedenborg relates the following about him,

Since I knew that he was wise, we talked about wisdom, intelligence, the pattern of reality, the Word, and finally about the Lord. . . As to the Word, when I read him something from the prophets he was utterly enchanted, especially at the fact that the individual names and the individual words referred to deeper realities. He was quite astonished that modern scholars take no pleasure in this pursuit. I could sense very clearly that the deeper levels of his thought or mind were open. He said that he could not remain present because he felt something too holy for him to bear, it affected him so deeply. (Heaven and Hell 322:2)

Swedenborg was affected by this conversation with Cicero because he himself had learned that the Word “is inwardly spiritual,” having many levels of meaning to it, and the reason is because “it is Divine” (Apocalypse Explained 555a:2). An example is this dense phrase from Jeremiah:

I will scatter man and woman; I will scatter the old man and the lad; I will scatter the young man and the virgin. (51:22)

Swedenborg’s Writings say that if man and woman, young man and virgin meant such persons, “the Word would not be spiritual but natural” (Apocalypse Explained 555a:2). It does make sense to think that, if the Word were natural, it would be just like any other book with stories in it. But it’s not. People who are believers know that the words mean something else.

There are hardly any chapters with a greater disconnect between the words written on the page and the transcendence of their meaning than in the book of Leviticus. To read it is to enter in to a hopeless maze of natural, and sometimes silly-sounding, laws. I am reminded, though, of what linguists say is the original meaning of silly. At the start it meant holy, and through the centuries went through changes of meaning to reach the one it has today.1

Leviticus contains instructions on animal sacrifice, but since we no longer sacrifice physical animals on an altar, the actuality of the following passage has become even more distant. But with an inkling into some meanings through the help of Swedenborg’s Writings, the passage becomes vital for our salvation.

And he brought the bull for the sin offering. (Lev 8:14) And Moses killed it. He took the blood and put some on the horns of the altar all around with his finger, and purified the altar. (Leviticus 8:15)

This made me think of the horns of the altar as being power (Arcana Coelestia 10182:10), and the blood, truth, (Arcana Coelestia 6978) or the tremendous power truth has (Arcana Coelestia 10027) when it’s applied to a hurting part of my life, a part, perhaps, that has turned away from the Lord towards evil. How many times have I needed Moses to spread blood all around that slaughter-site? Moses doing it here in Leviticus with his finger made me think of a balm being put on a hurting part of my life. Then Moses “poured the blood at the base of the altar…” (Leviticus 8:15). That seems silly, too, but when thinking of Moses as the law, (Arcana Coelestia 7912) then applying truth to the most fundamental thing that is wrong will get at the cause and not just be a surface application.

“…and sanctified it” (Leviticus 8:15). For us “sanctifying” the altar (life) entails removing the evil and making our life whole and open to heaven again. This can only be done by us repenting, or turning away from the evil. A meaning of “repenting”2 is changing our minds, so it seems what the Lord is really doing is looking for a change in our minds to where we choose not to do the wrong thing anymore. In that way we are able “to make atonement for it” (Leviticus 8:15).

Nothing less is accepted by the Lord than us changing our minds and not doing the evil anymore. He is firm about that. And that seems to me why the laws in Leviticus sound so strict, and why the Israelites needed to follow them exactly. We need to follow the requirements of repentance exactly: 1. change our mind; 2. stop doing the wrong thing. Seemingly easy, actually difficult. But the Lord Jesus was here on earth; he knows how hard it is for us.

A few verses later we find Moses sacrificing a male sheep.

He cut the ram into pieces; and Moses burned the head, the pieces, and the fat.

(Leviticus 8:20)

In a book of travel I read, a woman described eating the meat from a sheep’s head in Kirghizstan, and how very delicious it was.3 She wrote, “The meat is delicious, …so tender and succulent, that even when we are full we go on energetically chewing for the pleasure of having the feel of the firm, sweet-tasting flesh in our mouths. “

Something so foreign to our culture being so delicious? I got to thinking that eating has to do with bringing good and truth down into our lives, (AC 3832:2) and doing away with the airy-fairy unreality that faith alone is acceptable to the Lord. It was enchanting to think of the innocence (sheep) within truth, and the pleasure it gives when we value it in our lives.

1Silly – the word’s considerable sense development moved from ‘happy’ to ‘blessed’ to ‘pious’ to ‘innocent’ (c. 1200), to ‘harmless’ to ‘pitiable’ (late 13 c.), ‘weak’ (c. 1300), to ‘feeble in mind, lacking in reason, foolish’ (1570s) Online Etymology Dictionary.

2The Biblical word most often translated as repentance means a change of mental and spiritual attitude toward sin. [Century Dictionary] Online Etymology Dictionary

3Ella Maillart, “A Kirghiz dinner, Turkestan, 1932,” A Book of Travelers’ Tales, Eric Newby, 334.

Helen Kennedy

Helen has been writing for many years. Currently she is the editor of Theta Alpha Journal, a General Church women's journal. When not working on that, essays and fiction are her main focus. She finds the material in Swedenborg’s Writings packed with unique and interesting ideas, and has developed a real affection for them.