Friday, January 1, 1992

What I am going to talk about has become familiar enough to me that it can be a bit

difficult for me to realize that it may be unfamiliar to others. I'm hazarding the guess

that it may help to sketch briefly how this particular complex of ideas took shape for me.

This may serve to take you along the road from what I presume is more familiar territory

into what I presume is less familiar.

Without realizing it, I had been one of those individuals sufficiently impressed with the

coherence of our theology that I took it to be logically self-consistent. I paid little or

no attention to the warning posts set up here and there in the writings to the effect that

spiritual truths might not fit tidily into natural language, and it never occurred to me

that there might be a profound paradox involved in the familiar "as if of self" principle.

In retrospect, it seems as though I might have been quicker to wonder why I was supposed

to act one way and believe another, but whatever the reason, it took quite a while.

I was alerted to the possibility of ambiguity or paradox in the writings by

looking into the case of William Blake. He read Divine Love and Wisdom and reacted with

passionate enthusiasm. Then he attended the first General Conference at the Great East

Cheap in 1789, where thirty-two theological propositions--none drawn from Divine Love and

Wisdom--were solemnly debated and unanimously affirmed. His hostile attitude toward

Swedenborg seems to date from about the time of this experience; and I have since come to

the private conclusion that it is this experience which is described in The Garden of


I went to the garden of love

And I saw what I never had seen

A chapel was built in the midst

Where I used to play on the green

And the gates of the chapel were shut

And thou shalt not writ over the door

So I turned to the garden of love

That so many sweet flowers bore

And I saw it was filled with graves

And tomb-stones where flowers should be

And priests with black gounds were walking their rounds

And binding with briars my joys & desires

That is, Blake found in the Great East Cheap not the explosive sense of transcendent love

he had experienced, but the formation of an orthodoxy, which he was bound to regard as

"mind-forged manacles." He found his own "liberation theology" being dogmatized, and

dogmatized in the very words of the theologian he had seen as the liberator.

While this image was claiming my attention, I was also becoming acquainted with the

thought of Karl Pribram and David Bohm on the holographic model. It attracted me because

it contained statements that reminded me of statements in Divine Love and Wisdom. These

were statements that I had previously taken as presumably true in a philosophical sense,

but as basically too theoretical to be of practical use.--statements such as "The Divine

is the same in things greatest and in things least" (n. 77). It struck me that the same

idea was presented in very different language by Blake--

To see the World in a Grain of Sand,

The Universe in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the Palm of your Hand,

And Eternity in an Hour.

and also in the hologram, where, as I hope you have all had the chance to see, it is a

simple fact that the whole image can be present in each part, and that all the parts

together can still make a single image of the same whole. This, in my experience, was a

brand-new "appearance of truth," one which impelled me to think that descriptions I had

formerly regarded as literally adequate were themselves partial, and were perhaps even

less adequate "appearances."

The result is that I am coming to see our theology differently than I did before. I am

coming to see it as composed of a central concept of spiritual reality radically different

from traditional concepts, but entering a matrix of quite traditional pietistic

Lutheranism. True Christian Religion, in this view, is not so much a final summary as it

is a working out of how Lutheran theology has to be transformed under the impact of this

central concept.


Squarely in the middle of this central concept, I would place the word "influx."

Swedenborg had a lot to say about it. In Potts' Concordance, there are forty-two columns

of references in Arcana Coelestia alone, and there is one I would like to select for

special attention.

Since I have been in the company of spirits and angels constantly for nine years now, I

have very carefully observed what inflow is like. When I thought, I could see solid

concepts of thought as though they were surrounded by a kind of wave, and I noticed that

this wave was nothing other than the kinds of thing associated with the matter in my

memory, and that in this way spirits could see the full thought. But nothing reaches

[normal] human sensation except what is in the middle and seems to be solid. I have

compared this surrounding wave to spiritual wings by which the object of thought is lifted

out of the memory. This is what brings it to our attention.

I was able to determine that there was a great deal of associated matter in that

surrounding wave-substance from the fact that spirits in a subtler sphere knew from it all

I had ever known about the subject, drawing out and absorbing in this way everything

proper to a person. The genii who are sensitive only to desires and affections draw out

things proper to one's loves. For example, when I was thinking about someone I knew, then

his image appeared in the middle as he looked when he was named in human presence; but all

around, like something flowing in waves, was everything I had known and thought about him

from boyhood. So that whole man, as he existed in my thought and affection, was instantly

visible among the spirits. Again, when I thought about a particular city, then the spirits

knew instantly from the surrounding sphere of waves everything I had seen and knew. The

same holds true for matters of knowledge.

A.C. 6200

What this seems to imply is that if we want to understand influx, we should not look at it

in hydraulic terms--we should not think in terms of a flow of substantial liquid. We

should think instead in terms of waves, which behave very differently. Two substances

cannot occupy the same place at the same time. If they combine chemically, they form a

compound in which their original properties disappear. Water does not behave like hydrogen

or oxygen, and its properties cannot be accounted for as some kind of sum or average of

the properties of the constituent elements.

Waves, on the other hand, seem rather to enjoy overlapping. The most accessible examples

come from the domain of sound, where a single groove on a record can represent with

startling fidelity a full symphony orchestra and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing the

Hallelujah Chorus. Not only that, the constituent elements do not lose their

individuality. A second violinist can still hear the second violins.

Light waves behave similarly, but with a speed and complexity that has made it nearly

impossible to visualize what is happening. The invention of the laser, though, has given

us access to light in a new form, a form in which the waves are all "in step"--all of a

single frequency--and it is this development which, for reasons I do not at all

understand, has made holography possible. To make a hologram, a beam of light from a laser

is split, using a half-silvered mirror, and is spread using concave lenses. Half the light

goes directly to a photographic plate, and the other half reaches the plate after having

been reflected off the object being photographed.

What is on the plate, then, is the interference pattern made when the two sets of waves

overlap. It is much like what happens when two pebbles are dropped into a perfectly still

pond and their waves overlap and form a complex but completely predictable pattern. Every

slightest slope of every ripple "tells" where the pebbles fell. That information is

recorded in every detail of the pattern.

This image of the way holograms are made rang some very loud Swedenborgian bells for me.

In translating Heaven and Hell, because "immediate" has come to be used primarily of time,

I had opted for "direct" and "indirect" inflow or influx instead of the usual "immediate"

and "mediate." One of the passages in that work reads as follows:

Further, in regard to the union of heaven with the human race, it should be realized that

the Lord himself flows into every individual according to heaven's design--into the

individual's most inward and most outward [aspects] alike . . . . This inflow of the Lord

is called direct inflow, while the other inflow, which happens by means of spirits, is

called indirect inflow. . . .

H.H. 297

This is a kind of individualized version of a principle stated more broadly in Arcana

Coelestia :

There are always two forces which hold anything together in its coherence and in its

form--a force acting from the outside, and a force acting from within. Where they meet is

the thing that is being held together . . . .

A.C. 3628:3

As one of those "every individuals," then, I am constituted by influx. I am constituted by

the intersection of two flows, one directly from the Lord and one indirectly from the Lord

through my environments. And a hologram is constituted by the intersection of two wave

flows, one directly from the source and one indirectly from the source, bounced off the

object. And the whole image is present in every part of the hologram, and (to quote Divine

Love and Wisdom)

It does seem as though the divine were not the same in one person as in another--that it

were different, for example, in a wise person than in a simple one, different in an

elderly person than in an infant. But this appearance is deceptive. The person is a

recipient, and the recipient or recipient vessel may vary. A wise person is a recipient of

divine love and divine wisdom more aptly and therefore more fully than a simple person,

and an elderly person who is also wise more than an infant or child. Still, the divine is

the same in the one as it is in the other . . . .

D.L.W. 77-81

All this could be just coincidence, I suppose, but I rather doubt it.

It seems alien to us, and perhaps even a little unsettling, to let go of our images of

ourselves as solid and discrete beings. We may not know much about ourselves, but at least

we know where we leave off and the rest of the world begins. At least we can distinguish

what is inside us from what is outside us--or so it seems. When we admit how much trouble

we have distinguishing "objective" perceptions from "subjective" interpretations, though,

even this basic element of common sense seems shaky.

We do seem to be physically solid, but this, in good Swedenborgian terms, is actually "a

mere appearance." To quote from Fritjof Capra's The Turning Point, " . . . the pancreas

replaces most of its cells every twenty-four hours, the stomach lining every three days;

our white blood cells are renewed in ten days and 98 percent of the protein in the brain

is turned over in less than one month."[1] How does this happen? Let me quote a recent

article from New Sense Bulletin,[2] where Dwight Bulkley writes,

The fact that we are continuously changing our constituent atoms while at the same time

remaining essentially the same living organism does not fit very well with the

life-as-chemistry thesis. . . .

[Biosynthesis] is supposed to occur by a lengthy series of step-by-step chemical

reactions, with each reaction catalyzed (triggered energetically) by a different enzyme

catalyst. Enzymes are large protein molecules that remain unchanged while performing their

duties. They zip together the small molecules (substrates) to make the big molecules, like

stringing beads on a chain. This all happens in complex assembly-line pathways at the

incredible speed of thousands of reactions per second.

Bulkley is proposing that normal chemical processes are far too slow to account for this,

and that we must posit what sound like electromagnetic forms operating at the molecular

level. I find this pushing in a very congenial direction, namely toward a recognition that

it is the soul that organizes matter into what we experience as our physical bodies. I

would mention in passing that the British biologist Rupert Sheldrake is pressing farther

in this same direction from a different starting point.

This is a bit of a digression, though--the main point is that if we look closely at our

bodies, we find that their relative stability is formal rather than material. That is,

matter is constantly flowing through us, but our form, including that of all our various

organs, remains remarkably constant. This in turn reminds me of another bit of Swedenborg:

. . . there are connected stages from the First (that is, from the Lord) all the way to

the last things, which are in humanity, and to the very last things which are in nature.

The last things in humanity, like those in nature, are relatively dark and therefore cold,

and are relatively general and therefore hazy. We can see from this that through these

stages there is a constant connection of all things with the First Reality. Inflow is

patterned by these stages, for the Divine-True that emanates directly from the Divine-Good

flows in by stages, and in its course, or at each new stage, it becomes more general and

therefore coarser and hazier, and it becomes slower, and therefore more viscous and colder

. . . .

Arcana Coelestia 7270

Physically, we are discernible regions in the general flow of matter, regions whose slowly

shifting boundaries are determined by the formative power of our souls.

But I want to move back up the ladder of being, so to speak; and the easiest way I can

think of is to cite a passage from Soul-Body Interaction about the way we as thinking

beings intersect with the physical world around us.

Since the soul is spiritual substance, and by reason of order is more pure, more primary,

and more inward, while the body is material and therefore more crude, more secondary, and

more outward, and since it is in keeping with order for the more pure to flow into the

more crude, the more primary into the more secondary, and the more inward into the more

outward, it is therefore in keeping with order for the spiritual to flow into the

material, and not the reverse. This means that the thinking mind flows into the sight,

subject to the state imposed on the eyes by the things that are being seen--a state which

that mind, further, organizes at will. In the same way, the perceiving mind flows into the

hearing, subject to the state imposed on the ears by words.

Soul-Body Interaction 1

Our very perceptions are interference patterns. They result from the intersection of what

we might call the subjective energies flowing into sight or hearing, say, from the soul,

with the objective energies generated by such things as light waves and sound waves. They

are far more selective than we usually realize. The only area of the retina where the

photosensitive cells are densely-packed enough to register detail is an area in the center

called the fovea. It comprises one forty-thousandth of the total area of the retina. To

check this out, look unwaveringly at one letter on a printed page, and see how many other

letters you can discern. Any detail I may think I am seeing in the rest of the visual

field I am actually supplying.

The necessary conclusion from this is that when we look "out," part of what we are seeing

is ourselves, and when we look "in," part of what we are seeing is our whole life

environment. We are integral parts of an immense totality--and the word "parts" is itself

misleading. It suggests a definition of boundaries that turns out to be impossible. In a

phrase of David Bohm's that has won a place in my affections, I am a "relatively

autonomous subtotality" in the totality of creation.

This leads to one more digression before I conclude. My tendency is to emphasize

wave-models of our human nature because these seem to have been largely overlooked. I

firmly believe that the more familiar particle models are equally essential. We have to

draw boundaries--that is what our "understanding" is for. In fact, the Latin term

traditionally translated "understanding" resolves etymologically into "choosing between"

or even "reading between," and is much closer to the neutral sense of "discrimination."

There is further significant material listed in Potts' Concordance under the words

"boundary" and "determine" (which in Latin are closely related. The process of growth

involves a kind of pendular rhythm of distinguishing and then integrating what has been

distinguished, of faith dividing and charity uniting, of left-foot/right-foot progress.

The problems come when we draw a boundary for one purpose and then absolutize it. When we

own a piece of property, for instance, our theology urges us to regard its boundaries as

defining our responsibilities. By assuming title to this segment of our planet, that is,

we accept the obligation to devote it to its highest use. Our culture, however, urges us

to regard these boundaries as boundaries of our rights. In the United States, people are

going to court to resist laws that would limit ecological abuses on the grounds that these

laws violate their rights as property owners. As we begin to supplement our particle

models, our boundary models, with wave models, the folly of this misuse of boundaries

begins to become inescapably clear. Robert Frost caught the issue beautifully in his poem,

Mending Walls, observing that "good fences make good neighbors, but cautioning that before

he built a wall, he'd want to know what he was walling in and what he was walling out.

But I want to conclude with some observations about the impact of the holographic model on

two relationships that are central to our theology--our relationship to heaven, and our

relationship to the Lord.

Remember the hologram puzzle, and imagine that I had brought two such puzzles, one of a

starfish and one of, say, a sea urchin. Obviously, there would have been no way to use the

sea urchin pieces to make a more detailed starfish. The only pieces that fit together into

the big picture are the ones that have a distinctive version of the big picture in

themselves. "The nature of the inclusive whole in fact determines the nature of the part

of the whole, since the parts must be like their whole in order to belong to it." Now let

me quote Arcana Coelestia 3633:

Further, heaven as a whole is of such nature that each individual is like a center of all,

In consequence, an image of heaven is reflected in each individual and makes that

individual like itself--that is, a person. The nature of the inclusive whole in fact

determines the nature of the part of the whole, since the parts must be like their whole

in order to belong to it.

Each part of the puzzle is the starfish seen from a different perspective. If two of you

pointed to the end of one of the legs, you would point to different places on the surface

of the puzzle, because of your different angles of viewing. You would differ, and you

would both be right.

This is no more than a hint of where the image may lead, but it will have to do if I am to

observe some temporal boundaries which, while perhaps not absolute, are at least generally

accepted as convenient.

I can also do no more than hint at the implications for our concept of the Divine and our

relationship to the Divine. Swedenborg is insistently explicit that the Divine is wholly

present everywhere. In his description, the Divine creates by establishing a matrix and

flowing into it, so that every distinguishable entity is constituted by an intersection of

forces or flows. Because of this, the Divine is wholly present everywhere, and we in our

way, like the universe in its way, are images and likenesses of the Lord.

This, for me, turns the problem of the incarnation inside out or upside down. People

usually have trouble understanding how the Divine could have been incarnate in the Lord

Jesus Christ. From what I would regard as the Divine Love and Wisdom standpoint, it is

harder still to understand how the Divine can fail to be incarnate in us. Yet I think the

answer is clear from another of my favorite passages, Heaven and Hell 302:

If only people believed the way things really are--that everything good is from the Lord

and everything evil from hell--then they would not make the good within them a matter of

merit, nor would evil be charged to them. For in this case they would focus on the Lord in

everything good they thought and did, and everything evil that flowed in they would throw

back into the hell it came from. But since people do not believe in any inflow from heaven

and from hell, and therefore think that everything they think and do is inside themselves

and therefore from themselves, they therefore claim evil as their own, and pollute the

inflowing good with a sense of merit.

When I reflect, I cannot believe that the Lord is saying, "George, you can't be divine

because I'm the only one." In the words of Psalm 84, "The Lord will give grace and glory:

no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly." Or in the striking words of

John's gospel, "And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be

one, even as we are one . . . . Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me, be

with me where I am" (John 17:22,24). Divine Love, by definition, wills a total

self-giving. This means that Divine Love wills to realize its total presence in each one

of us just as fully as in the incarnate Lord.

This is not the voice of arrogance or hubris. Quite the contrary, it is painfully obvious

that the total presence of the Lord is not being realized in me in the same measure as it

was in the incarnate Lord, and if the reason for this cannot be found in the nature of the

Divine, it must be found in my own unwillingness. If he withholds nothing from them that

walk uprightly, I must draw some unwelcome conclusions about the way I have been walking.

We like to look at ourselves in comparison to the general standards of the world around

us, and with the disorders that are surfacing during this present episode of the growth of

the new church, we probably come off pretty well. There is a certain amount of truth to

this view, because we are very much participants in our world. It is the source of the

objective flow whose intersection with the subjective flow constitutes our being. But if

we are to look at ourselves in this context, we must also look at ourselves in the context

of the subjective flow, the flow of the Divine directly into the inmost, and recognize

that at the center of the being of each one of us there is that same total self-giving and

that same limpid perception that we worship. We could not be part of the Lord's creation

if that image were not within us.


[1]:Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising

Culture (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982), pp. 271f.

[2]:New Sense Bulletin, Vol. 17, No. 3 (December 1991), p. 2

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