[This page is based upon an introduction to the Entertaining Angels programme of spiritual growth. The talk was first given in Canberra, Australia, on Sunday 20th February 2005.]
This page will help you understand:
- who angels are,
- their positive influences upon our lives, and
- how we can bring ourselves more under the influence of God’s messengers.
Today’s activities are based almost exclusively upon the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. There is good reason for this. His spiritual writing (some thirty volumes) absorbed his working energy in the latter part of his life, and during that time he experienced daily contact with angels and other inhabitants of the spiritual world. His writings contain particular insight into the being and nature of angels, and provides many pointers to help us foster angelic associations. At the outset, I should say that Swedenborg’s understanding is not a particularly glamourous one. Unlike the advertisements placed in our papers by New Age gurus and psychics from time to time, I cannot promise that you will see an angel. I cannot provide you with a magic formula or series of steps guaranteeing a spectacular spiritual encounter. However, the basic principles are readily understandable, and available to everyone. So, while you may not shake hands with an angel, you will most certainly bring yourself closer under the influence of angels by practising what Swedenborg recommends to us.
What is an Angel?
If we look briefly at the Bible, we find two words which are commonly translated “angel”: the Greek word, ‘Aggelos’ from which we derive the English term, and its Hebrew counterpart, ‘Malak’. While we are most familiar with these when they are translated “Angel”, they are also translated as “Messenger”. We find that the term is not necessarily used to indicate a spiritual being. The most prominent example is the author of the prophecy of Malachi, whose name means “My Messenger”. So, what is the message?
Mention is made several times in the Word of ‘the angel of Jehovah’, and in every case when used in the good sense it represents and means some essential quality with the Lord and from the Lord. (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 1925)
In the Bible, then, angels are the embodiment of Divine qualities, and if we example the experience of those fortunate to meet angels “in the flesh” so to speak, we see that they do indeed bring messages of providence, mercy, hope and courage. Counter to the traditional Jewish and Christian understanding, Swedenborg writes that angels are human beings – people who have lived on earth, died, and now live in heaven:
… in all of heaven there was not a single angel who was created at the beginning… Rather, all the individuals in both heaven and hell are from the human race. (Heaven and Hell, paragraph 311)
Each angel is in a perfect human form. .. (Heaven and Hell, paragraph 73)
…’an angel’ also means the qualities which originate in the Lord that are with people on earth who receive them. … those who become angels are also inwardly such while they live in the world. (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 10528)
Why is Swedenborg’s idea so radically different here? We should acknowledge the influence of Zoroastrianism upon traditional Western religious thought. The Babylonian exile brought the children of Israel into contact with diverse religions, and although Judaism strove to maintain its religious purity during that time, the cult of Zoroaster is widely accepted to have had a profound influence. In some regards, this influence was positive, such as re-establishing a belief in spiritual realities. However it also imparted something of a dualistic world view, that is, the depiction of the cosmos as the battle ground for good and evil forces. It is this dualism which gives birth to the idea that angels were a pre-created super race, some of whom “fell” and were cast into hell by God, beginning a war which will bring an end to the known universe with the victory of the Lord and his heavenly armies. When we understand angels to be human, it offers us an intriguing possibility – that of becoming angels ourselves. Not only can we experience the presence of angels and the benefits of such associations, but we can experience the benefits of becoming angelic. Furthermore, we can experience those blessings here and now, we do not have to wait until we have died. As stated above, the Hebrew and Greek words used in the Bible refer to both spiritual and natural messengers. It is a beautiful picture, and one we will return to later. See the APPENDIX (Angel Facts) for a list of statements about angels from Swedenborg’s writings.
What benefits would you expect from associating with Angels?
Stories of encounters with angels offer a range of potential benefits. As we noted from Swedenborg’s observations regarding the Bible, these messengers bring such things as love, protection, hope and courage to those who seem to need them most. Swedenborg makes particular reference to a spiritual protection to which we might attribute increased mental health and resilience:
Evil spirits have a strong and burning desire to molest and attack man when he is asleep, but at that time man is especially protected by the Lord, for love does not sleep. … (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 1983)
[Angelic spirits at the entrance to paradise] are commissioned to keep watch over certain people who are asleep, to prevent them being molested during that time by evil spirits. They perform their task with very great delight, so much so that they vie with one another to be there, and they love to fill man with joys and delights such as they see within his affection and disposition. (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 1977.2)
… one angel is able to drive away tens of thousands of evil spirits, for they cannot withstand the sphere of mutual love. (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 1398)
How can we access these benefits, then? Swedenborg offers a note of caution when it comes to getting in touch with angels:
People who are instructed by spiritual communication what to believe or what to do are not instructed by the Lord or by any angel of heaven but by some other enthusiastic spirit, who leads them astray. (Divine Providence 321)
It suggests that the very act of speaking directly to an angel is not only useless, but potentially harmful. To understand our interaction with angels better, we need to explore what Swedenborg calls “influx”.
Those of you familiar with physics will recognise the word “flux” as meaning flow. So “in-flux” simply means that which flows in. It is quite a simple principle. Man is a spiritual – natural being, that is, existing at once in two worlds. We see, touch and taste our physical environment, and it is this natural world which we are most usually conscious of. But we also exist in a spiritual environment to which we are intimately connected and with which we interact. Swedenborg tells us that all our thinking derives from the spiritual world (unbeknown to us) via the spirits with whom we most closely interact.
There is nothing that a person thinks or wills that can originate in himself. Rather, everything flows into him; goodness and truth flow in from the Lord by way of heaven, thus through the angels present with the person, evil and falsity from hell, thus through the evil spirits present with him. And what flows in enters his thought and will. (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 5846)
At first this seems odd to us, because it runs counter to the way we think of ourselves (as independent, self-contained beings). The idea also suggests that we are not as free as we might like. But for Swedenborg, it is the very mechanism for our freedom. Let me explain. If my thinking derived only from within myself, I could only ever think something which reflects who I am. I would be unable to think beyond the box of my own nature. I would remain static, unable to grow or change, for better or worse. But the very fact that I receive influences from outside of myself provides the means by which I can break free of my genetic limitations.
To enable man to be in freedom, the Lord places him in a position in which he is poised between evil and good, and between falsity and truth. He accomplishes this by means of evil spirits positioned on one side and angels on the other. For if he is to be saved a person must be in freedom, and in freedom be led away from evil and towards good. (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 5982)
We are kept in a state of “equilibrium”, that is, a state of balanced forces of good and evil, through which we have spiritual freedom. This equilibrium allows us to choose which force we prefer, and to tip the balance in its favour. So we already associate with angels! We have no need to go seeking them, nor do we need to be conscious of them. They are already here. But if my thinking is informed by spiritual associations, how can I influence those associations? Am I a boat tossed on a spiritual sea, subject to every whim and fancy of spiritual wind which blows my way? How can we tip that balance in such a way as to bring angels into closer association and keep evil spirits at bay? Swedenborg’s answer is simple – our control, our anchor, is found in the loves we harbour:
All kinds of experiences have enabled me to know that a person’s loves determine how closely spirits are associated with him. As soon as I have begun to love something intently, spirits with a similar love were present, and they were not removed until that love died down. (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 6196)
… an angel or spirit can in an instant present himself to another, so long as he assumes a similar affection of love and so thinks alike; for it is these two factors which control the appearance of space [in the spiritual world]. (True Christian Religion, paragraph 64)
Therefore, the means by which we may foster positive spiritual associations is through cultivating positive spiritual loves. If we seek angelic help, we must aspire to and develop angelic qualities.
The main points of today’s presentation are:
- Angels are messengers from the Lord, the living embodiment of Divine qualities.
- We are already in association with angels, as well as with evil spirits.
- To tip that balance, we can choose to foster and develop those angelic qualities within ourselves.
- This requires that we practice those qualities in our outward actions.
A list of readings which focus upon specific angelic qualities, developed in Canberra during 2005 can be found HERE.
APPENDIX – Angel Facts
[For brevity, I have omitted references. Please email me – see Further Information – if you would like to receive these.]
Angels perceive that they live from the Lord, and acknowledge the evil present with them. Angels can only think spiritually about anything. Angels do not know what time is. Angels have no idea of age or advanced age, only state of life. Angels are not worried about the future. Angels love the neighbour more than themselves. Angels communicate their own blessedness and happiness to others. Angels moderate the punishment of evil spirits. Angels scarcely see another’s evils. They look for the good in people, placing a good interpretation on the bad things that they see. One angel can frighten away thousands of evil spirits. No angel can ever be tempted by the devil, because while he is in the Lord, evil cannot approach. Angels never attack … they only avert and defend. Angels would endure hell if they would thereby save a soul. Intelligence and wisdom make an angel. Angels are in love to the Lord and mutual love – and therefore in intelligence and wisdom. Angels are seized with pain when they think of freedom from the affection of evil and falsity. Angels in the Word represent qualities of the Lord. Angels do not cast anyone down into hell. Angels are continually being perfected. What angels think presents itself in their faces. Angels appears as forms of love and charity in human shape. The beauty of angels is from their form of love and charity. Angels yearn for nothing more than to perform uses [the goods of love and charity]. An angel is the smallest form of heaven. Angels refuse all thanks for the good they do. The Lord dwells in what is His own with the angels. Heaven does not exist outside of an angel, but within him. The conjunction of good and truth make an angel. The Lord is heaven; angels are not angels from what is their own. As far as a person does what is good and speaks what is true as from himself, so far he is an angel of heaven. Angels can tell what is good and true and the quality of any person from a single idea. We are joined to Angels by the things we love. Angels interact with the things which motivate us. The influx from angels is according to man’s affections. Angels flow into what man knows and believes. Angels flow into the conscience. Angels bend a person towards good and truth through his own desires and ideas, no matter how good or bad they are. Angels recede as man is in evil and falsity. The Lord fights for man be means of the angels with him. Angels protect people especially in sleep. Angels do not lift themselves above a person’s ability to understand. Those who are in natural good alone cannot be protected by angels. Angels offer consolation after man has suffered at the hands of evil spirits. What flows in from angels comes through interiors, and does not appear to the outward senses. Angels do not listen to empty prayers, but to a man’s state of humiliation. A man who is regenerate is in heaven as to his interiors. A person must carry with him from the world what is angelic if he wishes to become an angel.
If you wish to make further inquiries, please contact:
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