Week 1

After reading the material for this week, and watching the two videos (my first minilecture, and the short piece from the Yale Forum on Ecology and Religion), I want you to get a conversation started around the following questions:

  • What is something in regards to ecology or environmental thought that struck you from the readings?
  • “Nature” is a really slippery term that means different things at different times. What do you think “nature” meant to Swedenborg (or another 18th century figure like him)? What does nature mean to you or us, today?

Please follow blogging protocol: take the time to read prior comments to this conversation thread, and integrate your fellow bloggers’ comments into your own reflection. You don’t just want to drop in your thoughts into the conversation, out of context — please weave them into the flow of what is being shared by others.

11 responses to “Week 1

  1. I’ll dig right in. Sorry if this is too long. This blogging is new to me. This is great reading and I am excited to be a part of this class and feel a great need for it at this time. Thank you, Devin.

    Q1.The thought that kept rising while reading and listening is really a question: How does the concept of God as the Divine Human affect the connection between us (humans) and nature? I began to see the trinity (as the trinity is in all things) as Divine Human -> Human ->Nature -> Divine Human ( sorry can’t draw the triangle). Since Swedenborg explains our concept of God affects all things, when we connect with God in this most personal way through the Divine Human, does this offer us a unique connection with God’s creation? And following through, does this not open our minds, hearts and bodies to direct association with the needs of our environment? I like to think so.

    Side bar that bothered me with McGrath’s piece (although I enjoyed reading it). He keeps referring to the Genesis creation story as belonging to “Christianity”.

    Q2. The meaning of “nature” seems to have changed for Swedenborg after his religious conversion. He changed from one studying “nature” to one appreciating “nature; from one trying to explore, define and extricate the facets of nature for the purpose of scientific study to one finding use, purpose and connection with nature to understand scripture, God and the world. I am not sure if this is reflective of 18th century figures, or just Swedenborg.

    Today we have the expansive knowledge of the last 3 centuries from those that have explored, defined and explained the science of nature, and continue to do so. Now in the 21st century, I believe we are moving to bring the gift of the scientific understanding in conjunction with the gift of spiritual awakening. This is the descending of the “new church” (no capitals).

    Mary Evelyn Tucker in the video alluded to this when she said something like, humanity and science are finding common ground for dialogue and this gives hope. Alister Mcgrath also connected the essential link between science and religion to move forward in our understanding of life and the questions we all struggle with concerning the meaning of life, which science alone cannot answer, and religion answers more rationally by partnering with science.

    As to your upcoming book, Devin, all I want to say is, “YES”. The title is great. It seems problematic when we try to define specific correspondences with words; they are things, living things. Sampson’s quote sums it up for me.

  2. Hello! I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but my password fails to provide access to the texts listed. Help! Thanks, Karen Conger

  3. Hi Karen — I’ll message you privately in a moment. I also see you haven’t yet activated your invitation to be an author on this blog: I will resend in case you never got it. That way, once you are logged in at WordPress, you don’t have to wait for your comment to be approved by me before it appears.

  4. Jane, that’s a great post! Definitely not too long, and bravo if this is your first time officially blogging. Lots of food for thought — I’ll wait for others to chime in on the substantial points you are raising about science / religion, and will simply nod my head in agreement w/ your sidebar about McGrath. He gets sloppy in other places, too (maybe because he is writing for a broader audience?), and makes some big generalizations I just don’t agree with: like when he talks about a “wave of secularism” that sweeps in after the 1960’s (I’d argue the “secular-religious” dichotomy is a wave much, much earlier, part of Swedenborg’s story — and, that the 1960’s were equally a broadening of the spiritual and the ecumenical as they were about secularization).

    But anyway — THANKS for the useful feedback on the title of the book, which I’ve been really ambivalent about. I like how you put it that “it seems problematic when we try to define specific correspondences with words; they are things, living things.” This implies a kind of humble silence, or listening, to me, rather than the cliche image of man [or woman] as Adam in Paradise, naming and controlling the birds and beasts. As Sampson Reed puts it, “the very rocks cry out, and we would do well to listen to them.”

  5. From Jane’s comment on “wave of Secularism” I wish I could read McGrath’s article! – I think I can’t yet gain entry to the posts – but I will soon enough. I did however get to watch Devin’s superb video and also the Yale piece. I had already been wondering if religion didn’t so much retreat from the environmental conversation, as go underground (couched in secular terms) with someone articulating spiritual ideas in new ways – either making meaning and sense for themselves and/ or for others – more palatable in order to be heard and understood. Probably my posts will be a ramble and perhaps even irrelevant, as usual. I apologize in advance – Good luck, feel free to skip/ ignore my posts! Thankfully, they may be infrequent. Personal/ social context might help for those times I do ramble get too far out: I hold swedenborg’s philosophy as having divine authority in my life due to early profound life changing experience- saved me, enriched me, healed me, empowered me, etc. I discovered and read Swedenborg’s works quite early in my young adult years. They resonated with me, answered big questions, seemed fair and made sense, opened up my inner landscape. About the same time, not too much later, without any outside interference or prompting, i happened on a volume of Emerson’s Essays in an antique store in Daytona Beach. This was my first book. I bought it with my own money. NATURE was the first essay I read, Self – Reliance the second, Friendship the third, Walden the fourth, and so on. Obviously, they had profound effects on me. To me, Scripture is Holy. Having said that, Superman Comics (and Batman) were my first Sacred texts. These texts are intrinsically wrapped up in who i am and with how I view the world. I learned to read by reading these comic books (quite Judaic, they were.) I also take the language of correspondences quite seriously as a “science of sciences” as Sw’B called it, and as an interpretive lens (that one per the Swedenborgian tradition.) I tend to use correspondences as an interpretive key to read the (“opened”) Word everywhere…the Book of Nature, dreams, on the human body, etc… I do this to see what insights and understanding might be gained about God, myself, others, the world. As an example — Superman (had Jewish creators) followed the Ten Commandments, flew like the angels, and was into the natural sciences and commanded the elements, especially stones/ faceted rocks: coal, Diamonds, Kryptonite, Crystal like fortress of Solitude (ice.) He tried to save humankind and the earth from destruction, never killed anyone, never lied only put on “appearances” or disguises. He loved Ma and Pa Kent, suffered an “exodus” from Krypton where all men had names ending in -EL and all women in -AL, he was a SuperHuman on earth, arrived as a baby, never stole anything, never committed adultery (at least was chaste and always had integrity with his LL women) Had X-ray vision (wisdom/ insight/deep vision to essentials) and, he used naming as empowerment/ disempowerment (impish/ devilish Myxyzpklyx) – he only put true criminals in a kind of Shoel for punishment, rather than being utterly destroyed, they had merely had no height and depth and width in which their souls could reach, i.e. their existence no longer had effect, was essentially “flattened” to a single dimension, the Fortress of Solitude was sort of like the Holy City and he time-traveled. What does this have to do with this course and nature? I’m not sure why i am saying all of this, except to remark that Secular can be and sometimes is Sacred. And that you might see a lot of scientific, nature, health, futuristic psyco-celestial references in my posts- trying to reconcile the biblical Scriptures, with Swedenborg, with nature and the Book of Nature, integrated together with advances in science – and our ethical, moral, spiritual responsibility within all of this for peace, for health, for wholeness, for abundant blessings. Sorry so long.

  6. Q1: The question on the image and likeness of God has shifted over time as the understanding of our state of nature has shifted (state of nature being our understanding of the “primal” state of people… loving vs. selfish). The concept of humanity being given dominion has also been understood as stewardship. For me; however, I take the genesis as a non-literal text that informs me about the creation of the soul and begins to identify the geography of the soul. So, on a personal level the Mgrth reading did little for me. I found his presentation “Christianity’s” understanding of religion and nature to be somewhat lacking. I think our understanding of nature is has more been shaped by our scientific world view rather than our religious one. The Gods gifting rain vs. our modern understanding and weather systems… I personally see religions response to scientific events more interesting (i.e. Copernicus & Galileo moving this world from the center of God’s creation… shifts our understanding of our role in nature more than scriptural or literary statements. For instance, the world ceases to be the center of the universe and then shortly thereafter Germany denounces Rome as the center of Christendom.

    What I enjoyed from the reading was from the text by D.Zuber. I enjoyed re-focusing on Swedenborg’s statement that early language was based in pictures because it has a primal connection to the deeper levels of meaning that are preset in nature. But I am reminded that the “meaning” of these things are not static, but rather change to some degree based on we use them. Dog’s have a different role in society now vs. in Biblical times so there meaning would have to shift.

    Q2: What nature means… I guess this is where Swedenborg’s concept of appearances of truth comes into view. Our understanding of nature shifts as our understanding of love and truth changes (hopefully grows). Using scripture to justify oil drilling, natural gas fracking, or the depletion of natural resources which does not exist in until modern times (yippie for us) is problematic at best. I like to use the concept of neighborliness as lens through which to examine our relation to nature. Earlier groups of people had a sense of neighborliness where we banded together into societies to protect yourself from nature. With the enlightenment and industrial revolution, our thinking shifted into our ability to control and manipulate nature (separating yourself from it). There is also this “clockwork” picture of nature… nature without human involvement would work “perfectly.” Species have gone extinct, global warming and global cooling has occurred, and species have come into existence. The very concept of nature separates ourselves from the “ecology” of the world (and in my opinion) in an unhealthy way. I do not feel that Swedenborg had this same removal as others did (sure people are the height of creation, but clothes, cities, buildings, trees, rivers, rain, ect. share a deeper reality). All things of the earth are part of a spiritual creation that humanity is co-creating. If humanity has sin, sin can be a factor, but as this world is part of God’s creation as is sin (in the sense that it is allowed) we must acknowledge that our abuse of the plant is as much a part of nature as is our ability to be responsible for it. A city skyline is as natural and transcendent as a mountain rant (IMHO).

  7. I just hope that I can relay my thoughts in a coherent way. As a biology teacher and as a person very new to Swedenborg, I’m really here to learn. Many (most) of you have a knowledge of Swedenborg’s works that I have not even touched upon yet. What I can offer is a perspective of a person that has always found my Spirituality in nature and the connections and respect shown to nature in this Church are one of the aspects that appealed and made sense to me.

    1. I guess one of the things that stands out to me from the readings is how much Swedenborg’s words influenced some truly insightful and eminent thinkers and writers. Another observation relates to your chapter, Devin. There seems to be a mandate of some sort that science and religion be separated. As a science teacher, I understand that. But it presents a constant conflict when we must only look at the aspects of life that can be measured and documented. That ‘deeper level’ of understanding has to be separated from scientific study. I really appreciate courses like the one at Yale that find a way to merge science with spirituality (and social responsibility).

    2. I think that nature in Swedenborg’s time had a more mystical quality. By not understanding the scientific reasons for how organisms functioned or why certain interactions occurred, it was easier to view nature in terms of beauty and wonder. With scientific methodology established, just about any aspect of nature can be explained in a purely secular way. In my opinion, one of our downfalls in stewardship of our environment has been the loss of wonder and a perception of nature as a ‘commodity’ rather than as a gift.
    As you mention in your minilecture, Devin, the resurgence of spirituality – particularly in connection with nature and the rejection of more formalized religious practice actually makes sense to me. What I think Swedenborg could see (at least from my current level of understanding of his works) is how God speaks to us through the beauty of nature. And even now – with our scientific understanding of nature, it is no less wondrous. And it is time (past time) for humans to realize how important our actions are to the life on Earth (the biosphere).
    Reaffirming the spiritual importance of our environment is (I think) really critical for a change in the way humans respond to the challenges that we have now.

  8. Thanks, everyone, for the rich comments, and sharing. So much to say and reflect on. I think there is a wonderful point of congruence between Carla’s closing remark that “all this is to say, that Secular can be and sometimes is Sacred,” and Kevin’s parting shot that “a city skyline is as natural and transcendent as a mountain” — both underscoring a sense that we live with a perhaps false sense of a divide: a divide of the spiritual, apart from the secular (mirrored in the perceived split between science/religion), and a dangerous divide between perceiving Nature to be only over there (in Yosemite, the Sierra Nevadas), but not here (our urban and suburban backyards). Obviously, we are trying to read Swedenborg for ways that his theology and thinking can undo these dichotomies, and heal a (perhaps dangerous?) rift… but we will also be looking for the places where he seems to reinforce some of these splits, and talking about the problems this presents for 21st century interpretation. Joyce, I love that you are a recent reader of Swedenborg — this brings a fresh dimension to all of this, so warmly welcome.

  9. I am a child of the 60’s, having graduated from high school in 1970. I remember the emergence of environmentalism in the form of Earth Day; I believe we planted trees on campus or some such activity. There was a seamlessness to that experience, weaving into my personal beliefs that the natural world is a representation of eternal truths/realities. My father explained the Doctrine of Correspondences to me when I was little. I don’t remember the words he used, but it resonated very strongly with me. I remember thinking, “Oh, I knew that all along.” I can’t possibly express my feelings of gratitude for that experience.

    I heard McGrath emphasizing that the “boundaries” between science (ecology) and our very subjective experiences of the natural world are “man-made.” Those boundaries are perhaps necessary to the human experience, but I continue to have hope that they will be broken down over time, and are being broken down. Loved the quote from Sampson Reed about the “language, not of words, but of things.” Thanks, BTW, to whomever commented on the weirdness of McGrath’s referring to Genesis as “Christian.”

    I loved your remark, Jane, about the uniqueness of the experience we can have in relationship to the Lord through the natural world. That is so true for me.

    Carla, thank you for sharing your love of comic book heroes! My wonderful son-in-law has a passion for those heroes; now I have a clearer understanding of WHY. I’m looking forward to sharing your remarks with him! And, oh, yes: the secular can be sacred. Yes, yes, yes. Some of my favorite sacred music is “secular.” Coldplay’s instrumental version of “Life in Technicolor!”

    Kevin, I appreciated your remark about the synchronicity of Galileo and Copernicus’ discoveries about the place of the earth in universe (NOT at the center), and the shift of the “church” from Rome to . . . I’m not sure that’s exactly what Henry VIII had in mind, but it happened!

    Joyce’s comment that “nature” was seen more mystically, in general, in ES’s time is something that had never occurred to me, but I suspect it’s true. I read somewhere, some time ago, that the revelations that Lord affected through the writings of ES were necessary during the Age of Enlightenment because humankind was “losing” faith and needed the spiritual sustenance the writings afford. Perhaps in our day “nature” means the whole realm of living creatures, from fungi and bacteria to the Blue Whale; from those things too tiny to see with the naked eye, to the largest of the living creatures.

  10. Testing to see if I am connecting correctly — hoping to be on the videoconference shortly. Will address the Week 1 questions soon!
    Peace and blessings…

  11. catherinelauber

    A late post, but here are a few thoughts I jotted down while reading.
    The first thing I did was look up when the McGrath article was written (2002). For some reason I didn’t think it was a 21st century article. The ideas that nature bears witness to God’s wisdom, and that the beauty of nature draws humanity back to God are classic ideas, which have been reintroduced in recent decades. I was hoping for some more radical ideas about faith and the environment, and we are most likely going to be talking about those as the course goes on.
    The trend of the last few hundred years of removing any religious connection to whatever was being studied (whether it be nature, the universe, human relations, etc.) has had it’s effect on modern thought. Anything born of this time period which builds upon theories or cultural understandings which have been stripped of any religious connection, is going to be void of the religious connection, even if it was there in the first place.
    The trend for this early part of the 21st century is to bring religion back, or rather bring God back in a non-religious way to all of our conversations. A focus on Swedenborg’s influence on ecological thought will ultimately bring God back into the conversation precisely because for Swedenborg, the Divine is at the core of all that exists, all material and non-material substance, in all thought, shape and form.
    Perhaps it is Swedenborg’s ideas that are to become the basis for radical new theologies of ecology and the environment for next century? Let’s see what we can do.

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