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  • Writer's pictureLiz Kufs


Word Cloud for Numbers 127-137:

Summary of the Numbers: Swedenborg starts off by talking about the correspondences of Conjugial Love. He writes that conjugial love corresponds to the affection for real truth, and its chastity, purity and holiness, the procreation of children to the propagation of truth, and the love of children to the guarding of truth and good. Swedenborg explains that the Lord is the divine marriage of good and truth, and that people who read the Word, because it is truth from the Lord, receive good from it as well—unless they are badly motivated to study the Word by intellectual arrogance. He goes on to say that those who read the word approach the Lord, and it is this link (between readers of the Word and the Lord), a love-based link, that creates the church. The state of the church is important, because Swedenborg says the state of people’s wisdom determines the state of their conjugial love. He elaborates that the wisdom of life is shunning evils because they are bad for the soul, state and body, and doing goods because they benefit the soul, state and body. Swedenborg then relates two spiritual experiences to illustrate his points. In the first experience, Swedenborg is told of “contests of wisdom” which take place in Heaven and invited to see one. Swedenborg is then taken along an avenue of palm trees to the top of a hill, where the contest is to take place. The participants are told to debate three questions: “What is the image of God and what is the likeness of God in which man was created?” “Why is man born without knowledge of what he should love, yet animals and birds, the highest as well as the lowest, are born knowing all that their loves require?” and “What is the meaning of ‘the tree of life,’ ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ and ‘eating of them?’” The final challenge calls for the participants to link the three topics in a statement of opinion, and they are told they will be awarded prizes if their opinions are well-balanced and fair. The participants then debate. In answer to the three questions, they conclude: 1. That humans are made to receive God, and to the extent which they receive God (wisdom itself and love itself), they are in God’s image, but the love and wisdom do not come from them, but are from God alone, 2. That humans are born without knowledge so they can learn things of all kinds, become intelligent and by means of this, advance to wisdom, and 3. That life for humans is having God in them, and that eating from the trees signifies choosing a life with God or a life for oneself only, and choosing the selfish life leads to death and damnation. Finally, when asked to link the three topics, the participants conclude: Humans have been created to receive love and wisdom from God, yet it appears exactly as if they did so from themselves; this is to allow them to receive them and so to be linked. This is why humans are born without any love or any knowledge, without even the ability to love and to be wise from themselves. If therefore they attribute all the good of love and all the truth of wisdom to God, they becomes living beings; but if they attributes them to themselves, they becomes a dead. When the participants finish writing out this statement, a winged angel appears and rewards them with bejeweled ornaments and gowns in beautiful colors. When the participants (who were apparently all men) return home to their communities, they are surprised to discover their wives come to greet them also dressed in similar ornaments and gowns.

In the second experience, Swedenborg is meditating when he observes two young, naked babies walking towards him with baskets in their hands. As they come closer, they appear older, with garlands around them, until finally when they are very close to him, they appear fully clothed as an adult married couple. There is a warm, sweet fragrance, like a garden around them, and they explain to Swedenborg that they have been married for ages in the afterlife and that their appearance and the fragrance is because of the quality of their conjugial love—the woman’s love and the man’s wisdom are what allow the woman to receive heat and the man to receive light from the Lord, and it is this that caused Swedenborg to see them as babies and children with garlands when they see themselves only as young adults. They explain to Swedenborg that though they appeared elderly in life, in Heaven they live in perpetual youth, and their community is always in sunlight. They then invite Swedenborg to their home, where he meets other married couples and they tell him that shunning the evils of adultery and performing useful service are also necessary to allow them to live in this blissfully happy state. Swedenborg is amazed and notes that their furniture is decorated in gold and rubies. Summary of the Responses: There were four contributors this week. The main theme in the responses was, noticing the lack of women’s participation during Swedenborg’s Wisdom Competition experience. Contributors also expressed their comments and concerns with the way this story has been interpreted/applied and how it has (negatively) influenced women’s experiences in Swedenborgian societies. Contributors also had questions related to the translation (Chadwick), concerning part about shunning adultery. Direct Quotes from Contributors: I admit I had a bit of a giggle when I read that the angelic "lovers of wisdom" had to enquire from researchers to find out that a mother needs to position her infant on her breast to breastfeed, and to help her child learn to walk and talk. If they had included female angels in their wisdom meeting, or if they had been involved with childcare as earthlings like many men are today, they would have known this already! However, the meeting was called a "contest" of wisdom, which is probably not the way female angels would want to share their thinking and wisdom. A circle of wisdom, or a sharing circle, might be more inclusive of male and female angelic wisdom lovers. Swedenborg's very binary, gender stratified cultural lens might not have allowed him to see a gender inclusive way to consider and share thinking or even deep personal wisdom. * I used to take this to mean that women were inferior to men because they needed to love their husband’s wisdom, as if they couldn’t be wise on their own. However, I believe differently now. I believe this passage is discussing their relationship. The definition of wisdom is leading a good life, which both sexes can and do on their own. However, in their relationship they are connected through that love of the woman for her spouse, connecting to him more deeply the better he becomes in his life. * “Correspondences can obscure or enlighten. Trying to come up with day-to-day guidelines for how to run a marriage or have children based on what these things correspond to is mind boggling. Knowing about correspondences can be an intellectual exercise, without trying to come up with earthly practices. For me guidelines gained by experiences and the golden rule help more.

“I can’t help but comment on recent events in western culture of Me Too, and the Kavanaugh hearings. I experienced both sexual harassment on the job early in life, and constant domination by men throughout my life. My church school training did not help me meet these challenges, but other sources did like women’s groups and therapies of various kinds. I felt anger and sadness that society is not supporting women speaking out about abuse and it brought to the surface my past experiences that I tried to put behind me. I recently went back to Bryn Athyn for a class reunion and was jarred by the different culture where women are pushed to the background, and was angered by attitudes of some men, raised like I was, who dominated and did not respect boundaries. I was relieved to come back to Bay Area where there is more awareness of women’s issues.

“What do women students of Swedenborg have to offer the general conversation going on in this country about what needs to be done? Listening to women is the key, and then supporting the voices of all women about their experiences. Like here on this list/project.” * “I notice again times that Swedenborg describes the way men and women function the same, rather than focusing on the ways in which we differ. Being "human" is intending goodness and understanding what is true, apparently autonomously, yet at least sometimes attributing those intentions and thoughts to the Divine source. It also involves intending and being wise, with application to purposeful living, in ways that allow for linking with the Divine One, unlike animals. No difference is expounded in either paragraph about the way a person who receives life, therefore feels alive, in their intentionality might differ as a human from someone who receives (and feels alive) in their intellect. God's image is not gendered as it is placed within each of us, but might be expressed differently depending on a person's place on the gender spectrum. As Rev. Shada Sullivan wrote in Healing Words: A Sampler of Wholeness Theology, we are human first and gendered second.


“The wives of the all-male wisdom lovers in this story were given ornaments on account of their husbands' wisdom. Ouch! Not based on their own wisdom, but on their spouses' performance in a wisdom contest. An obvious conclusion is that women can't think for themselves, are entirely dependent on their male partners' intellectual and wisdom capacity, and deserve recognition when they are married to an intellectually superior man. For people who hold that belief, or some version thereof such as that the female administrative assistant of the male CEO deserves more status than the administrative assistant to a VP even though their responsibilities are identical, this element in the story would confirm that belief. But that obvious conclusion is inconsistent with what I see as a more primary principle: that all people have the capacity to experience feelings and emotion and relationship, as well as the capacity to understand and become wise. There must be another way to approach or interpret what Swedenborg is reporting here. Maybe it's sufficient to say that, for the couples from pre-eighteenth century times involved in this story, this way of recognizing the wives of wise men felt right to them, and to Swedenborg. Maybe there are deeper dynamics in play. Perhaps the ornaments are manifestations of the wives' joy at hearing their husbands express the treasures of their wisdom. Maybe the wives are adorned to signify that they too share in the wisdom that their husbands have discussed, because from their own stores of wisdom they love what is important to their husbands. Maybe at another place and time (meaning spiritual state) husbands are adorned when their wives share deep wisdom with passion in their own women's wisdom sharing circles. Maybe at yet another place and time, couples are given laurel wreaths and ornaments to share between them after they participate in a gender inclusive sharing group. Maybe at times individuals are recognized for their own contributions to heavenly love and wisdom. I hope so. That's the heaven I want to live in.”

* "Shunning adultery is mentioned as one of the specific sins to be shunned as a part of being truly wise. This seems to me like it is using “his” as “his/hers”, thus applying to both men and women. Does anyone know if this is the case in the Latin? This would imply more that in this passage conjugial love is something based in both the husband and the wife, and that the importance of shunning adultery (which is very important!!) is paramount in both of them. My impression from past contact with this book is that the wife specifically loves her husband for his wisdom in shunning adultery. Number 136.7 makes it clear that conjugial love arises between both husband and wife because they both shun adultery in the description of the married couple who first were seen as small children: 'They had all been brought back by the Lord to this flowering period, because they loved each other, and religion induced them to shun adultery as an extremely grave sin.' So while the wife’s love of the husband’s wisdom in shunning adultery (and other sins) may be a conjunction point in a marriage, the development of true wisdom of life has to go on in both spouses."

* Word Cloud of the Responses:

Please Comment!

What was your experience reading these numbers from Conjugial Love? Your thoughts and responses are valuable and welcomed. Just sign up in the comment section to be a Deborah’s Tree site member, and then add your comments. Site membership is free, but you are welcome to give a donation if you like what you find in this blog! Today’s Blog By: Liz Kufs

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