THE WOMEN'S COMPANION TO 'CONJUGIAL LOVE' Numbers 14-26
Updated: Nov 7, 2022
Word Cloud for Conjugial Love Numbers 14-26:
Summary of the Numbers: In this section, an angel arrives and invites a group of ten people, including Swedenborg, to go meet a heavenly Prince. The group members are asked to don specific clothing and taken to a palace courtyard. Swedenborg includes elaborate descriptions of the food that is offered, and also the clothing of the guests, their jewelry and heraldry. The prince invites the newcomers to eat with him, and when they have eaten, explains that the joys of heaven are not from bodily senses, but flow into the soul from God as love, wisdom and service. The prince then offers to let the wise men of his community explain their joys to the newcomers. The wise men speak of their community’s holidays and entertainments, which include singing, sports, and even theater—though nothing indecent or evil can be presented, a character may only appear to be lacking in virtues to a greater or lesser degree. After that, more people arrive, and the group discusses the importance of sharing wisdom—that it is not intended to be kept to oneself, because sharing it is what creates society. Also, that doing services from love of the neighbor is heavenly, but doing services from love of self or the things of the world is not. After their discussion of the joys of useful service, another messenger invites the newcomers to a wedding the next day. The newcomers are amazed to see they are given glowing garments, and attend an elaborate ceremony in which the groom presents the bride with gifts of jewelry which she accepts, and then the community members offer their blessings. The newcomers ask about the meanings of the various elements of the ceremony, and are told their correspondences, for example, that there is no priest officiating the marriage because just for this one day, the groom represents the Lord and the bride the Church. The newcomers also attempt to talk to some of the maidens who participated in the ceremony, but the maidens turn away from them because their thoughts about them are not chaste. The next day is the Sabbath and the group are invited to attend church in the Prince’s community. This too, is extremely beautiful. After worship is over, the angel informs them that their three-day stay in the community is over. The group are asked to put on their own clothes, after which they feel the desire to leave and are brought back to the area they were gathered in before. Swedenborg concludes by assuring his readers that these events that he witnessed truly did happen, and he believes the purpose was so that people in the world could learn about them.
Summary of the Responses: Several themes appeared in the responses. There were some favorable responses to the beautiful scenes Swedenborg described, particularly the wedding. But collaborators commented more frequently on how male-centric this story is, and wondered how it could have been different if the newcomers had been women. It was also felt that some of the descriptions of the heavenly community seemed very "18th century," or that an 18th-century historical lens was coloring what Swedenborg saw. One respondent experienced the lack of inclusion of women in the story as harmful, and another wished to point out that the usefulness of heterosexual marriage as described did not preclude people in same-sex marriages from doing useful service as well. There was also concerns expressed over the representation of the man as the Lord and the woman as the Church during the wedding ceremony—even though this was described as temporary (only for that day) this still came across to some as "unbalanced." Direct Quotes from Contributors: "…The descriptions of the scenes seen heaven are amazing. I remember when first reading these as a teenager, they seemed over-the-top extravagant and, honestly, gaudy. But then, thinking about trees and garments ornamented with gems and heavy embroidery, simply in terms of items seen in this world, they are. The angels, being spiritual beings, are looking at their world with spiritual eyes, and the beauty is not seen just as 'stuff' but as the Lord's goods and truths in action. This is not just an environment seen with the head but also with the heart, so truly amazing in ways beyond my comprehension." * "What if the story had been about 10 women in the spiritual world? What kind of questions would they have asked?" * "The heavenly community they visited is presented in very hierarchical, aristocratic, eighteenth century terms. The prince's entourage are all men, judging by the descriptions of their clothing, which possibly reflects the era in which the angels had lived on earth, or reflects Swedenborg's cultural lenses as he viewed the activities there. To me it seems like a heaven formed from the values inherent in or attractive to male minds, or interpreted and reported by a man whose lenses were formed that way. There are holidays intended to reduce fatigue from competitiveness, sports intended to develop the latent talents of only boys, and only men are called on to educate. The only women that are identified are singers and bridesmaids, and mostly young and virginal. I wonder whether a female observer would see and report a more egalitarian, consensus-based heavenly community." * "Again, only males are included in this excursion into a heavenly community. There might be a valid explanation, such as in Swedenborg's day European women for the most part stayed home and didn't go out into the world to explore and learn, therefore he could only visualize and see men going on a spiritual exploration. But the subliminal impact on me is to feel excluded from heaven because I am not a heterosexual man, and to wonder whether my intellectual curiosity and love of learning somehow disqualify me from heavenly states because of my gender identity or spiritual expression as a woman." * "I could continue to point out and speculate about every instance in the book where I see the elevation of men over women, male values over women's values, attributes considered masculine over attributes considered feminine. But instead I'll concede that the book is written in that way, and I respond to it that way, and not belabor the point. There are ‘cultural lens’ explanations, and ‘deeper spiritual meanings’ explanations, that help me cope but do not entirely take away the hurt that this text can inflict on me." * "This is a poor argument against homosexual relationships. As much as we should make decisions for long-lasting use rather than short lived pleasures, who is to say that marrying someone of the same sex would stop you from being useful in this life? Also, sex, or 'joys which effect the bodily senses' is not everything in a relationship."
Word Cloud of the Responses:
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