My name is Solomon Keal. I am a minister for the General Church of the New Jerusalem, which is a Swedenborgian Christian denomination. These are some of my thoughts about the Lord, the symbolic meanings in the Bible, life after death, faith, charity, usefulness, loving the Lord and one's neighbor, the 2nd Coming, Swedenborg's Writings, and other theological stuff.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Trees and Perceptions

“Genesis 2:9. ‘And Jehovah God caused to sprout from the ground every tree desirable in appearance and good for food, and the tree of lives in the middle of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.‘ A tree symbolizes perception; a tree desirable in appearance, perception of truth, and a tree good for food, perceptions of goodness. The tree of lives symbolizes love and the faith it leads to; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil symbolizes faith based on evidence from the senses, that is, on secular knowledge.... People today have no idea what perception is. It is an inner feeling for whether a thing is true and good - a feeling that can come only from the Lord - which was very familiar to the people of the earliest church. The sensation is so clear for angels that it gives them awareness and recognition of truth and goodness, of what comes from the Lord and what from themselves. In addition, it enables them to detect the character of anyone they meet simply from that person’s manner of approach or from a single one of his or her ideas.” (Secrets of Heaven 102,104)

I had a very enjoyable time at Laurel Camp this summer. The theme for this year was ‘trees’ and how they symbolize us, especially as to our perceptions. It’s not hard to see that trees in the Word represent us: “The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, 'Reign over us.' (Judges 9:8), “And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12), “And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 17:24), “The tree you saw, which grew and became strong... it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong.” (Daniel 4:20,22), “He shall take root like the trees of Lebanon,” (Hosea 14:5), “What are these two olive trees on the right and left of the lampstand?... These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” (Zechariah 4:11,14), “And he looked up and said, ‘I see men, but they look like trees, walking.’” (Mark 8:24). There are many more passages like those that illustrate the clear symbolism in the Word of trees representing us. It’s a little less obvious that trees represent us as to our perceptions, but a careful study and comparison of passages in the Bible brings that out as well. But the analogy comes out clearly when we take the time to think about the function of trees as compared with the function of perceptions. We spent a good deal of time exploring this analogy at Laurel, and I would like to share some of my thoughts, and other people’s thoughts on the subject.

First of all, what is perception? Perceive comes from the Latin word percipere which means to ‘understand, seize or grasp.’ Broken down, it actually means to ‘take entirely;’ per meaning ‘entirely,’ and capere meaning ‘to take.‘ (We can compare this to other words with that same root, like reception, conception and preconception. Receive literally means to ‘take back.‘ Conceive literally means to ‘take together.‘) So someone who is perceptive is someone who is open to taking in truth entirely. Taking truth in entirely means getting ourselves out of the way. Often times we think we already know something and so we hinder our ability to learn something new. Open yourself up, humbly admit that without the Lord you know nothing. Eat of the tree of life, not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil could be called the ‘tree of I’m really smart, and I know more than you.’ When reading the Word or talking with other people remove any preconceptions and listen entirely. This is perception.

Roots: Starting at the bottom of the tree with the roots. If we think of ourselves as trees, then what are our spiritual roots? What is it that grounds us in a spiritual way? It is our foundation in the Word, and in the church. Our roots reach deep into the Word and draw out truths represented by water. Our roots also reach deep in the church and find connection and stability in the common ground of shared ideas from the Word. I think of the Lord telling us to build our house on the rock in the Gospels, and I think about the idea of a tree being firmly planted in the solid ground, rather than loose sand. Also, if the ground is too wet, a tree is less stable. So there is a limit to how much truth we need for our foundation. Too much truth will be more than we can handle or remember, and we could be overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of it. I think about the few large roots spreading out from the trunk.
What are the 5 or 7 main truths that you find foundation in? My 5 large roots are:

1. There is One Human God who is Love and Wisdom Itself. That God came to earth as Jesus Christ. The 2nd Coming of Jesus Christ has been, and is being achieved by the Lord being born again in our hearts and minds, based on an enlightened understanding of the truth in His Word.

2. We find happiness and become good people by acknowledging that all goodness comes from the Lord, by loving the people around us, by being useful, and by turning away from evil and selfishness, as described in the 10 commandments.

3. The Bible is the Word of God, and as such it was written symbolically in parables with deeper meanings, which are revealed and explained in the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg.

4. After we die, we are free to become angels in Heaven or devils in Hell depending on whether we chose to be good or bad people in this life.

5. True love - in the marriage of one man and one woman - can last forever in heaven. Marriage itself is a manifestation of the dual nature of what is good and true in the universe.

These are my roots; my perceptions of the truths of the Word and the church.

Trunk: The trunk is what gives the tree its structure and stability. It’s mostly dead; only a thin ring is actually living. Maybe this is a good way to remember that we are not life, we merely contain life from the Lord. By ourselves, we are dead. We have life only because of the Lord.

The trunk of the tree is hard and offers protection for the life inside. Swedenborg’s book Secrets of Heaven says that perceptions are like our conscience. (AC 104). Our conscience serves as our spiritual compass or guide. We rely on it as being the core that gives us stability. We may get confused by other people’s opinions, by conflicting ideas or misunderstandings; but our conscience that has grown from a tiny fragile sapling when we were babies, is now a strong trunk that we can depend on for keeping us upright when the spiritual storms of the world try to blow us over.

Our conscience is also something that continues to grow. The rings of a tree trunk offer evidence that growth is continual. Despite the fact that we need our trunk to be stable, we also need it to be flexible. We need to maintain the humility that allows us to learn new truths from the Lord; that allows us to bend and not break when the winds of change come; and that allows us to grow new wood when we have been broken.

Branches: The branches of a tree literally reach upwards towards heaven. They mirror the spread of the roots. The symmetrical image of a whole tree is a great illustration of the fact that we exist in a duality. We live between two worlds: the ground and the sky, earth and heaven, the Lord’s external influence through the Word and people and the Lord’s internal influence through heaven and angels. We need our foundation in the cold hard facts of the Word. But we also need to reach towards heaven and be open to receiving direct enlightenment from the Lord. This is where true perception and understanding comes from. There are really two kinds of truth that enter us from different directions. The cold but nourishing water is the truth from the Word that we physically read, and commit to memory. But that is just a container. We also need the light that enters the leaves that combines with the water and creates the sugars that the tree needs to grow. Without light a tree will die. We can’t depend on water alone. We can’t depend solely on memorized knowledge of the truths of the Word. We need to constantly be reaching towards the Lord, praying, asking Him to tell us what it all means. And He will.
It won’t be constant enlightenment. There are days and nights, and seasons. But the Lord will always enlighten us if we continue to read His Word, and ask Him to explain it to us.

Sometimes a tree becomes unhealthy because there are too many branches vying for the light. The canopy becomes too crowded. Branches need to be pruned. Sometimes there are too many things we’re doing in life, or too many things we are thinking about, and we need to cut something out. “I really want to read that book, but if I do I will be ignoring my children.” It may be a good branch, but it’s keeping other branches from getting light.

Leaves: This is where we actually interface with the light; the truth of heaven. We are spiritual beings after all. We are built to understand spiritual truth, not just natural truth. But we are also designed so that we go through seasons. Our leaves turn colors, die, and fall to the ground in the Autumn. We go through cold times, dark times, where we get confused and lost, and feel disconnected with the Lord and heaven. But then the Spring comes and we get new leaves. Maybe this is because our perceptions have life-spans. Maybe a specific perception of truth that we have runs its course and needs to be replaced by a new updated perception of truth. Sometimes we get stuck in one way of thinking, and we need to go through cycles where we give up the old ideas and grow new ones.

In the last chapter of the Bible it says that the leaves of the Tree of Life are for the healing of the nations. The Lord’s ideas are truths that heal people. And because we are created in the Lord’s image, and especially when we consciously try to live in the Lord’s image, our leaves can also be for the healing of the nations. Our perceptions of truth are meant to serve us spiritually, but they are also designed to serve others. This comes about in many different ways. Leaves can literally be taken off of a tree and used to create medicine. We might share an idea with someone that can actually comfort them in their spiritual pain. But leaves also give off oxygen (another form of truth) that can affect other people. I think of this as being like a person’s sphere. We are affected by the sphere that other people put off. We shouldn’t underestimate the affect that our sphere can have on other people. Apparently, “the net cooling affect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.” (U.S. Department of Agriculture) Our sphere can have a large impact. What is the ‘oxygen’ that you are giving off to the world?

The other day I sat on my porch and “watched” a storm coming in. I noticed that the only way that I knew that a storm was coming at all was because of the trees. The trees were swaying in the strong wind. And I could only hear the wind because of the leaves in the trees. Before I could see the lightning and hear the thunder, the trees were the only way that I could “see” or “hear” the storm coming. Our perceptions serve us by letting us know what’s coming before we “know” what’s coming. My wife might not say she’s mad at me, but I can perceive that she is. There is more than one way to take in truth.

Flowers, Fruits and Seeds: There is a purpose for us being perceptive people. We are designed to give back. We are designed to grow flowers, fruits and seeds. Our fruits are the actual things we do to serve our neighbor. They are the kinds words we say, that helpful things we do, performing our jobs honestly, etc. And contained at the center of all of those things are seeds that have the potential to grow into a new tree. Every good deed contains within it the ability for someone else to see it and copy it.

Shelter: What kind of tree we grow into determines what kind of birds and animals will find shelter in us. Birds represent our thoughts, and animals represent our affections. Are my perceptions full, open, and well grounded, and therefore home to good thoughts and feelings? Or are my perceptions hard, turned inward, barren, and dead, and therefore home to bad thoughts and feelings? Are my perceptions likely to be a good home for beautiful birds, and shelter for pleasant animals, or are my perceptions likely to be the home of vultures, snakes, and bugs?

There were many other wonderful ideas about trees and perceptions that were shared during my week at Laurel. I wish I could remember them all. If anyone has any additional thoughts about trees and perceptions, feel free to leave a comment about them.


  1. You wrote: "If anyone has any additional thoughts about trees and perceptions, feel free to leave a comment about them." Surely you mean: "Feel free to leaf a comment"...?

  2. You're right Stephen. That 'wood' have been a good idea! :-)

  3. Hi, I was just wondering if the community group I'm involved with could please use the picture of trees/people in the Branches section? I think it's lovely.

  4. Yes. I just got all the pictures off of Google Images.