A message delivered at Swedenborg Chapel in Cambridge, MA
The ignorant say, Love and God are different. None know that Love and God are the same.
When they know that Love and God are the same, they rest in God as Love.
-Thirumandiram of Maharishi Thirumoolar – Verse 270*
I would like to introduce myself; my name is Eleanor Schnarr, I sometimes go by Swami Punitavati Svvach. I am the field ed intern at the Cambridge Swedenborg chapel and Reverend Sage suggested that for my first sermon I should talk a little bit about my own spiritual journey and my personal theology.
I was baptized as an infant in the Lord’s New Church which is Nova Hierosolyma, educated in the General Church of the New Jerusalem and I am seeking ordination in the Convention, with which our beautiful chapel is affiliated, so I have been involved in the Swedenborgian community all my life. A large part of my spirituality is also informed by what is usually a very Swedenborgian take on wisdom traditions beyond the Christian sphere, I will enthusiastically worship with anyone who will welcome me, I have explored my own ancestral spirituality in the form of Asatru or Nordic paganism, I have embraced the stoics, the magicians and the mystical Marxists, and I have received clerical initiation in the Saiva Siddhanta Hindu sampradaya. I have come to believe that the historical relationship between the New Church and Saiva Siddhanta is a very important part of our collective story. The strength of our lineage is in its diversity, the ideas which Swedenborg tapped into provide a context for an immense complexity of thought and practice, and a vision of heaven which is not defined by sectarian identity, but by states of consciousness.
This next reading was written by a Saivite Theologian named Nallaswami Pillai around the beginning of the twentieth century in his book Studies on Śaiva Siddhānta. Pillai himself had a profound impact on Saivite-Swedenborgian theologian and political leader, D. Gopaul Chetty, who, by 1940 had a following estimated in the millions.
“What is Śiva? It is Love. What is worship of Him? Loving him. How can we love him, whom we do not know? Nay, we can know Him and do know Him though. We do not perceive each other’s souls or minds and yet, we love each other. It is the body we know, and it is on each other’s body we manifest all our love. We do willing service to the body only of our elders, masters, teachers and parents. It is on that body we love; we lavish all our wealth and labor. So can we worship and love Him by loving his body which is the whole universe.”**
Chetty expands upon this idea in his 1923 book New Light on Indian Philosophy: Swedenborg and Saiva Siddhanta:
“In nos. 40-46, Divine Love and Wisdom, [Swedenborg] identifies substance with love. In other words, we are not to identify love with the abstract conceptual identity ordinarily termed substance, but rather we are to take the word “substance” with its whole meaning and apply it to that concrete living experience which we know directly, immediately and intimately as love. This doctrine so interpreted constitutes a new epoch in the history of philosophy, for according to it we turn in our search for reality from the world of abstract conceptions at once to the actual concrete world of living experience, in all its fullness and variety, we now call love. The whole body of Swedenborg’s doctrine, and the philosophy contained in it, is literally an exposition of this nature of love.”
When I felt a call towards spiritual leadership, Swedenborg inspired me to go to Saiva Siddhanta first, to me this “Sanatana Dharma” this “Eternal wisdom” was the “Ancient Church” in the broadest sense and should therefore be approached as sacred. I was introduced to the ideas that originate with Thirumoolar in a meditation class at Bryn Athyn college, Chakras and Asanas, meditation, Kundalini and samadhi. I fell in love with the Subtle body, with visualizing it and illustrating it, but nowhere in the Swedenborg-yoga scene was there any mention of the actual inheritors of this tradition who had enthusiastically embraced Swedenborg as a saint less than a century ago. In fact, their place in our diaspora was nearly erased, because we refused to expand our intellectual borders, there was no place in our idea of The New Church for the vast complexity which Swedenborg describes as part of heaven. I think we can do better.
I believe that sacred scripture includes the Bible, of course, but also any text that leads us into a deeper knowledge of our own internal spiritual and divine reality. It is the function of the divine human, an incarnation like Jesus, to remind us that humanity is divine, not just the believers, but everyone who lives through love and wisdom, even, potentially you or me. Therefore, I come to you as a heathen, a gentile, a vasi yogini, and a person of the New Church.
The banquet of religion and spiritual practices is meant to be enjoyed, tasted and served, God prepared a feast for us, so every time we engage with a new tradition, a new glimmering of scripture, or another human being, it should be with the assumption that it is a mirror for our own true, blissful nature. Imagine what history would have looked like if Christianity had held the world beyond its own control as sacred? Humanity as sacred?
How much has been lost?
There are twelve gates to the New Jerusalem, and no temples within it. This means that however we reach that moment of union, direct experience is beyond any religious identity, but not beyond society, not beyond each other. The New Jerusalem is people, its home, it’s us, and it’s everyone out there who lives in love and wisdom. The new Jerusalem is not a mountain peak, with room for only one isolated hermit in a cave, it is a society.
Occasionally, as a joke, I call myself Shiva-borgian, the humor is a veil for a very serious truth, The New Church can only create a New Christianity if we have the courage to be bigger than Old Christianity. The truth is, I know a lot of Siva-borgians, Shakta-borgians, Vaishnava-borgians, Swedenborgians in Lesotho who keep their ancestor shrines in family rondovels, Judeo-borgians, Daoist-borgians, and Suffi-borgians, there are Catholic-borgians, and socialist-borgians, and even a few Jesus-borgians. And aren’t we blessed, most Christians don’t have that, we are so small, but we have become the whole world, because we don’t define ourselves by our edges, our walls and egoes, but by what’s in our hearts. But how to maintain this incredible richness without becoming detached, our internal worship buried in crystals and tarot cards, well meaning engagement turned into callous misappropriation, a shallow performance of what once was an ocean of realization?
We must take spirituality seriously. We have casually appropriated the so-called “remnants” of the Ancient Church for centuries, at the same time as we erased the inheritors of those traditions from the “New Church” discourse. But we can do better, we have been given an imperative towards curiosity, connection and humble integration. We can no longer afford any sense of triumphalism or superiority in the name of sectarianism. We have too much to learn and there is too much at stake. So I tell you that the grand human body, in which all of heaven is arranged on perfect order, has your face, and your hands, it breathes through your lungs and sees through your eyes.
Effective spirituality has to be as big as reality, as consciousness itself, to be useful. We must pursue a spiritual life which is as real as neuroscience and cosmology, as real as breath, and politics and bodies. We have to ask hard questions and have the humility to hear harder answers.
On this journey we will find each other in spiritual communities, entities and collectives joined together by ropes made of love. As Swedenborg writes in Apocalypse Revealed,
“Love of dominion derived from selfish love and the love of ruling derived from the pride of self-intelligence are the heads of all the loves of hell, and thus the heads of all the evils and consequent untruths in the Church.”****
This was certainly true of the old Christian church, which died the moment that it became appropriated by the same empire that had Jesus executed, and ever since has burned like wildfire through the ancient and indigenous traditions of the Globe. The promise of the Divine Humanity which is incarnate in Christ dies the moment we try to use it to control another being. The only way to combat this evil of dominion is to constantly remember that the New Church is an internal process; an awakening to empathy and self-transformation, the vast internal structures of gyrating light, the kingdom of God Within you.
What is my religion? I try to love God and treat people right, I don’t always succeed but the Christlike part of me knows that I am intimately connected to the whole collective, the angelic and the demonic, the bliss and the suffering. The Incarnations remind us how, if even one human can realize their divine nature, then anyone can, but that realization is not an act of judgement, but of a love so vast and so real that it penetrates into the darkest corners of our tangled illusion, and sets us free to become like it. The Divine Human is realized in each other, Christ returns as us.
When Swedenborg was trying to describe consciousness with an equation, he said that “In a perfect and perpetual spiral the center is the edge and the edge is the center”*****. Love the core, and wisdom the edge, find each other in an entangled harmony, out beyond the fading borders of what we used to think was the beginning of time, and inside us, in the vibrating quantum energies of our animate continuum, there is union, and the unifier, between center and edge, is consciousness. Celestial awareness is tying the whole universe together with love.
When we begin to reach out, to embrace our angelic consciousness, to identify as love, before wisdom, to quiet the judgmental mind and find that point of perfect equanimity, where all sense phenomena unify, then we will understand that the oneness of God is not dependent on truth, but on the same love that starts your heart beating. This is yoga.
All of religion is lifting us above itself, the purpose of the spiritual plane, and spiritual teachings, is to lift us into the celestial plane, the purpose of truth is to bring us into conscious union with love. But that love will not, cannot abandon what is far from its reach, just as the sun cannot withhold its rays. And that’s it, that’s the dance, the whole story is the spiral path between edges and centers.
How can the edges of this sacred space where we are all gathered in the physical world, this church with its physical and performative barriers, be the site of unity with the center of everything. What “I AM” bright with inner fire serves to unify our common purpose?
When the great twentieth century saint Ram Das asked his Guru, Neem Kairoli Baba, how to meditate, he said, “Meditate like Christ.” Ram Das responded, “Maharajji, how did Christ meditate?” He became very quiet and closed his eyes. After a few minutes, he had a blissful expression on his face and a tear trickled down his cheek. He opened his eyes and said, “He lost himself in Love.” Try the meditation of losing yourself in love…”
* Thirumoolar, The Thirumandiram, ed. T. N. Ganapathy, Yoga Siddha Research Centre: Publication Series 8 (Quebec, Canada: Babaji’s Kriya Yoga Order of Acharyas, 2010), 270.
**J. M. Nallaswami Pillai, Studies in Saiva Siddhanta (Madras: Meykandan Press, 1911), 213.
***Goupal Chetty, New Light upon Indian Philosophy : Swedenborg and Saiva Siddhanta (London and Toronto: J. M. Dent & sons ltd., 1923), 26.
****Emanuel Swedenborg, Apocalypse Revealed, trans. Coulson (swedenborg society, 1970), 502.
*****Emanuel Swedenborg, The Cerebrum, vol. 1 (Swedenborg Scientific Association, 2010), 409.
Eleanor Schnarr, artist mystic, poet and theologian, is the feild intern at the Cambridge Swedenborg Chapel. An accomplished artist and writer, she has taken clerical initiation in the Saiva Siddhanta Hindu sampradaya and is on the path towards ordination in the Swedenborgian Church of North America. Her ministry and creative practice revolves around the teaching and development of the ‘Sacred Systems of Interoception’ across wisdom traditions from around the world, Systems which serve as tools to open up the interior senses and connect us with a higher reality. Through her work with the Swedenborg Chapel, she will be offering a series of sermons which will explore more of these deeply human ideas and practices in the coming months.