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.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Wooden Church of Living Trees

Emanuel Swedenborg described
a church he once saw made out of living trees:

“They are built not of felled trees, but of ones growing in their native soil. . . .  From their earliest stages they arrange these trees in rows to form porticoes and walkways, shaping the branches while still supple, and cutting and pruning them, so that as they grow they will interlace and join to make the floor and pavement of the temple. They make the branches at the sides grow up to form walls, and overhead bend them into arches to make a roof. From these materials they construct with admirable skill a temple raised high above the ground. They make a way up composed of branches stretched out horizontally with no space between and firmly bound together. In addition they decorate such a temple both inside and out with various kinds of topiary work; and so they build up whole parks. . . . Sunlight is admitted through openings between the branches, and is everywhere passed through crystals, which turn the light around the walls into colors like the rainbow.”  (from Earths in the Universe paragraph 151).  

I’m always impressed by this description, and it gets my imagination going.  I think about how much patience must be involved in building a church out of living wood.  How many years would it have taken to achieve the finished state?  What must it be like to build with a living branch, knowing that it would be months and years before it arrived in its desired location?  What must it be like to know that most of the growth of this church was accomplished by the Builder rather than the builders? The builders would only occasionally make subtle adjustments—little turnings, little prunings—while the trees themselves kept on with their relentless and powerful reaching towards the sun.   And even once the church was “finished,” it would probably keep changing as the trees grow and change.   I think about how the finished product would be strong enough to withstand the strongest winds and storms, by retaining the quality of flexibility.  

What a wonderful image for how the life of religion (or the “church”) can grow inside each one of us, and in our community. We all grow and change on our paths towards the Lord’s love and wisdom.  Just like the building of their wooden churches, the growth of the state of the church in us takes a lot of patience.  Living wood is a symbol for the Lord’s goodness slowly growing inside of us (Secrets of Heaven 3969.10; see also Heaven and Hell 223), and this can take a long time.  The Lord is the One that makes it grow, not us.  We can do our small part; turning a little this way in our life, pruning a little of this out of our life.  And even though we are working towards the state of regeneration or spiritual rebirth, we are never really finished growing.  And if we truly have that goodness as a part of our life, we can feel safe in the strong flexibility that that provides (see Secrets of Heaven 7068).  

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:5)