Spirits Among Us
By the Rev.
Massachusetts, October 27, 1996
6:1-7 The four winds patrolling the earth
John 3:1-10 The wind blows where it chooses
Heaven and Hell #292, 293
wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of
it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it
goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the spirit.
is almost upon us, with its witches and goblins,
princesses and Indian chiefs. If we asked our children
to vote on their favorite holiday, Christmas would
certainly take the prize. But if we were to ask for
their second favorite holiday, I suspect that
Halloween would come out on top. Most kids love to dress
up; Halloween provides a better audience than they can
get any other time of year!
get our Halloween festival from the Celtic people of
Europe. For them, it was a festival for the dead,
celebrated on the last day of their year: October 31.
When this festival was adopted by Christians, it became
All Hallow's Eve. In Medieval times, people in Christian
Europe believed that on this night, witches and evil
spirits were out and about, and had to be warded off
with bonfires and crucifixes. After the night of
mischief and mayhem came the All Saint's Day, a festival
honoring all the saints.
days, Halloween has been transformed into a children's
holiday. It is a night of costumes and pranks, when kids
in costumes, instead of witches and evil spirits, roam
our streets. In this country, All Saints Day never took
hold as a popular celebration the way Halloween did.
if we consider both festivals together, we find a nice
contrast. The spirits of darkness rule during the night
of Halloween, while the spirits of light take over with
the dawning of the new day. It is the same progression
from darkness to light that we find in the creation
story. "And there was evening, and there was
morning, one day."
people would agree that we have our dark and light times
metaphorically as well as physically. Sometimes things
are going well. We are getting along with our family,
friends, and co-workers; things seem to flow. Other
times, nothing seems right. There is tension in our
relationships; we struggle with depression or fear; our
life is fractured and broken. Though this is common
experience, not so many people believe that good or evil
spirits have anything to do with our good and bad times.
Just as Halloween has become a children's holiday, so
the idea of invisible angels and devils hovering around
us and influencing our thoughts and moods seems a bit
childish to many people.
just because angels and spirits are invisible to our
physical eyes, this does not mean they don't exist. As
Jesus said, "The wind blows where it chooses, and
you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it
comes from or where it goes." In the Biblical
languages, the word for "spirit" is the same
as the word for "wind." Jesus was comparing
the way spiritual things work in our lives with the way
we perceive the wind. We cannot see wind with our eyes,
but we can see and hear its effects. In the same way, if
we pay attention we can recognize the effects that
angels and spirits have on our lives even if we cannot
see them with our eyes or touch the with our hands.
most people, I have spent most of my life without any
conscious awareness of angels or spirits influencing my
life at all. I can think of only one time when I had an
experience in which I felt very strongly that angels
were present with me. This happened when I was a
teenager. I had just suffered a major disappointment,
and I was really hurting. I was feeling so terrible that
all I wanted to do was crawl under my covers and go to
sleep. So I did. I did not dream at all--at least, not
that I remembered. But when I woke up an hour or two
later, my mood had completely changed. When I went to
sleep, I felt depressed and hopeless. When I woke up, I
felt a calm, peaceful, even joyful. I could account for
this amazing change in only one way--by accepting the
strong sense I felt that angels had visited and
comforted me while I was sleeping. They had transformed
the dark evening of my despair into a bright morning of
serenity and hope.
since that experience, I have had a sense beyond simply
reading it in the Bible and Swedenborg that angels are
with us, guiding us and caring for us in a way that is
usually hidden from our consciousness. Only occasionally
do we have flashes of awareness that we are being
attended by spiritual beings.
course, the other side of this is that we also have evil
spirits with us, trying to tear down our spiritual
life--trying to replace love with apathy and hate, and
clarity of thought with confusion and falsehood. Our
consciousness of this evil presence is usually even less
than our awareness of the presence of good spirits.
While experiences of angels do from time to time come to
us when we are not expecting them, summoning up evil
spirits usually takes effort on our part.
is a good reason for this. Angels want only what is good
for us. If we become aware of their presence, it is
likely to strengthen our faith and give us a deeper
sense of happiness and purpose than we had before. But
evil spirits wish only to damage and destroy us. As long
as we are unaware of their presence, their power to hurt
us is limited. But once they can communicate with us
directly, they have a lot more ways to hurt us.
of the major ways they can hurt us is by lying to us.
Evil spirits are perfectly able and quite willing to
give us all kinds of misinformation about God and
spiritual life. Their intent is to lead us astray into
useless and even dangerous practices. Since our
experience with the spiritual world is much more limited
than our experience in the material world, we are likely
to believe the spirits because of our conviction that
this information has come from the spiritual world, and
therefore must be superior to the knowledge we get from
is just one of the reasons our church's teachings warn
us against seeking contact with spirits. If someone does
come to us claiming that this or that thing is true
because it came from the spiritual world, it is wise to
subject these ideas to the same kind of scrutiny we
would use when evaluating any other claims that come our
way. If we accept the idea that there are evil as well
as good spirits, we will be armed against uncritically
accepting anything that claims to originate in the
enough, evil spirits do also have some good effects on
us. Both our spiritual freedom and our ability to reform
ourselves spiritually depend on the presence of evil
spirits. Let's take these one at a time.
church teaches that the spiritual world is distinguished
into three major regions: heaven, hell, and third region
that Swedenborg calls the "world of
spirits"--a place that fills the gap between heaven
and hell. For the most part, our connection and
communication with spirits is not directly with either
heaven or hell, but goes through the world of spirits.
This is because the world of spirits is in a situation
similar to the one we are in here on earth. Our lives
are not completely good, nor are they completely bad.
They are a mixture of both.
is not a random mixture. In fact, the good and evil
spiritual forces working on us are continuously tuned by
the Lord to keep an exact balance between the two in our
lives. In the spiritual world, the world of spirits is
where the forces of heaven and hell come together. In
the physical world, this meeting of positive and
negative takes place in our minds. Think of it as a
giant tug of war. There is a big long rope, and many
people pulling on either side. The two teams are
perfectly matched--neither one is making any progress
against the other. But you have a choice as to which
team you want to join. Whichever team you do join, you
will tip the balance of power in that team's favor.
just this way, we can have tremendous forces for good
and for evil pulling in opposite directions in our own
hearts and minds. If either one of those forces were
working on us by itself, we would be overwhelmed. We are
simply no match for the combined forces of either heaven
or hell. But since the Lord keeps them balanced--like
the tug of war--we do have the freedom to choose which
way we will go.
sounds clear enough. We are free because of a balance
between the forces of good and evil. But why would evil
spirits help us to reform ourselves spiritually?
what it is that we need to "fix" about
ourselves: it is all our wrong thoughts and feelings.
All the ways we would lie to each other and hurt each
other. These things have become a part of ourselves
through negative influences in our upbringing and
environment, and also through poor choices we have made
on our own. Over time, we become so used to our faults
and bad behaviors that we don't even notice them any
evil spirits. These beings like those bad parts
of ourselves. In fact, they want to make them even
better . . . er . . . worse. And that is just what they
do when they come to us. If we are having a problem with
our temper, they try to turn it into a major tantrum. If
we have a problem with overeating or drinking to
drunkenness, they try to push us farther down that road.
If we have a problem with ego and pride, they keep
assuring us that we are better than everyone else in
by the very act of making our bad habits worse, they
give themselves away. As long as things are going along
the same as usual, we don't notice anything. But when
things get worse, we realize that something has changed.
The better parts of ourselves--the parts that the angels
are working to strengthen--become alarmed. We cannot
fight against something we cannot see. But once our
enemy's position has been given away, we have somewhere
to direct our efforts to improve our character. Evil
spirits do us a service by showing us the broken parts
of ourselves so that we can fix ourselves up.
course, we may decide that we don't want to put out the
effort to fix ourselves up. If this is our choice, then
we are allowing the evil spirits to gain the upper hand.
The tug of war of our life will continue to go badly for
us as long as we do not turn around and start pulling
the other way.
we do decide to turn ourselves around, then we will have
the Lord and the angels strengthening us in that task,
even if we are not aware of their presence. We know from
the Bible that everything good and true comes from God.
From Swedenborg, we know that much of that goodness and
truth flows through the angels and good spirits who are
with us. The strength of that goodness and truth is
available to us from within whenever we are ready to
accept it. Simply knowing that we have loving beings who
care about us through good times and bad can be a help
should we accept the idea that our thoughts and
feelings, both good and bad, come from angels and
spirits? Why shouldn't we accept the "common
sense" idea that our thoughts and feelings are our
own, and do not come from any outside source?
suppose there are many reasons for this. I would like to
leave you with just one. It comes from Heaven and
Hell #302. I would like to read a part of that
number for you.
only believed the way things really are--that
everything good is from the Lord and everything evil
from hell--then they would not make anything good in
themselves a matter of merit, no would anything evil
be charged to them. For in that case, they would focus
on the Lord in everything that they thought and did,
and everything evil that flowed in they would throw
back to into the hell it came from.
people do not believe in any inflow from heaven or
from hell, and since then in their judgment everything
they think and wish is within them and therefore from
them, they make the evil their own, and defile with a
sense of merit the good that flows in.
a belief in heaven and hell--without a belief in angels
and spirits--we can hardly help taking credit for both
the good and the bad things we do. When we do something
wrong, we either abuse ourselves for being a bad person
or we cling strongly to that harmful way of acting and
justify it with excuses.
when we do something good, we nullify its good effect on
our spiritual lives by taking credit for it. "I'm
such a great person because I did that good thing,"
we say to ourselves. Then pride takes over, and we are
worse off than if we hadn't done the good thing at all.
we realize and believe that the bad parts of ourselves
are really being foisted upon us from hell, then we can
separate them from ourselves and banish them from our
lives. But when we recognize that the good parts of
ourselves are coming through angels from the Lord, then
we truly begin a spiritual life by opening ourselves to
the infinite source of love and wisdom: our Lord and
Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
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