by Jeremy K. Finkeldey
Although I am not new to spiritual practice I am new to A Course In Miracles. I was aware of it way back whenever it was first published decades ago – but I never really looked at it. Others were excited about it but I felt that I had all the spirituality I needed. It turns out that spirituality doesn’t come in amounts – it’s either there, or partially blocked, or even totally blocked. And being, essentially, God – spirituality must be unbounded and eternal. So (me being partially blocked) what happened was, “life” or the “dark side” or whatever you want to call it, used my beliefs and what I “thought” to kick me around for a decade or so until I was ready again. I began to study the “Course” (as I have heard it called for short) only about 6 months ago. Now I’m in a ACIM study group and actively soaking up as much of the Course as I can fit in my daily schedule – and I’m loving it!
I am also experiencing a considerable amount of conflict between what the Course appears to be teaching and my own personal paradigm. I am told it is that way for many people and I regard it as a product of my less than helpful inclination toward semantic argumentation – an ego thing no doubt.
I sense that there is a vitally important lesson in the Course that I am now ready to learn – so I am hanging in there with it and actually benefitting quite a bit. I am expecting and hoping for considerable growth in the area of listening for, being led by, and following the “voice” of the Holy Spirit (as the Course calls it). Twelve Step literature says that we are in this world to “play the role [God] assigns” (Wilson, 2001, p. 68) and if we want our program to work it’s safe to assume that we have to work it. I believe the Course In Miracles is going to help me to better learn God’s will for me and gain the power to carry it out.
Anyway, I wanted to post some ideas here on being led by the Lord. They are derived from my study of the works of the 18th century mystic and revelator Emanuel Swedenborg as well as my investigation into the phenomenon of Alcoholics Anonymous and its remarkable non-denominational recovery program. I will include citations from A Course In Miracles where it seems appropriate.
Increasing, and eternal, conjunction with the Lord through the process of repentance, reformation, and regeneration is the essential goal of all Swedenborgian spiritual practice. Conjunction with the Lord, Whom I have elsewhere described as “Consciousness Itself” (see below and Finkeldey, 2007, pp. 6-8), amounts to an enhancement of human consciousness and the practices of introspection, prayer, and meditation are essential to that process. One of the human dynamics that grows during the process of reformation and regeneration is a greater willingness to be led by the Lord rather than by self.
The first thing to understand about the Lord’s leading is that everyone, whether willing or not willing, is led by the Lord. We may not be able to know exactly how this is accomplished by the Lord. Swedenborg writes:
“… the ways by which the Lord leads man are far more complicated and inexplicable, both those by which the Lord leads man through the societies of hell and away from them, and also those by which he leads him through the societies of heaven and interiorly into them. This, therefore, is what is meant by "the wind bloweth where it willeth, and thou knowest not whence it cometh and whither it goeth" (John 3:8), also by "the seed springeth up and groweth up, the man knoweth not how" (Mark 4:27). Moreover, of what consequence is it for a man to know how seed grows up, provided he knows how to plow and harrow the land, to sow the seed, and when he reaps his harvest to bless God?” (Swedenborg, 1960, AE 1153:9)
Our freedom is always kept intact by the Lord, regardless of any appearance to the contrary, since without freedom no spiritual reformation or regeneration is possible. Even when he is in hell as to his spirit a person is led by the Lord.
“… by freedom the Lord enters into man, even into the hell where he is, and by it leads him while in hell, and if he is willing to follow, leads him out of hell and leads him into heaven, and nearer and nearer to Himself in heaven. In this and in no other way is man led out of infernal freedom, which regarded in itself is slavery, because it is from hell, and is led into heavenly freedom, which is freedom itself, becoming by degrees more free, and at length most free, because it is from the Lord who wills that man should not be in the least compelled.” (Swedenborg, 1960, AE 1155:4, emphasis added)
Let A.A. serve as another example of this. In his explanation of the third step of the Alcoholics Anonymous recovery program, Bill Wilson wrote, “All we need is a key, and the decision to swing the door open. There is only one key, and it is called willingness” (Wilson, 1986, p. 34, emphasis added). In his work on the Divine Providence Swedenborg describes reformation as a three stage process perhaps analogous to the first three steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 151). In that same passage Swedenborg explains:
“The external is reformed by means of the internal when the external desists from the evils which the internal does not will because they are infernal, and still more when the external for this reason shuns them and fights against them. Thus willing is the part of the internal and doing of the external. For unless a man does that which he wills there is within him the failure to will which eventually becomes want of will.” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 151, emphasis added)
Hence, there is the need for the alcoholic to actually stop drinking, and, to maintain a desire to stop drinking in order to avoid relapse. The Swedenborgian concept of human freedom is vital in understanding the process by which the Lord leads a person to a better life. To summarize it, all freedom is according to love in the sense that when a person is doing what he loves he feels free. When constrained from doing what he loves he feels not free (Swedenborg, 1983, AC 2870).
One of the most important concepts to understand regarding human freedom involves the teaching concerning the equilibrium between heaven and hell and how it provides people living in the natural world with freedom of choice (Swedenborg, 1995, HH 589-603). This is derived from our connection with angels and spirits in the spiritual world. The quality of this connection is such that we are continually kept in the appearance that we think, will, and act from ourselves. Swedenborg explains how the Lord keeps us in ‘free choice’ or ‘equilibrium’ as he calls it:
“…there is a constant emanation from hell of evil and falsity together; but from heaven there is a constant emanation of good and truth together. In this equilibrium every man is kept as long as he lives in the world, and is thereby kept in that liberty of thinking, willing, speaking and doing, in which he can be reformed. For this spiritual equilibrium from which man has freedom see the work Heaven and Hell (n. 589-596, 597-603).” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 23)
This appearance, however, is contrary to our deeper, inner reality. In the work on Divine Providence Swedenborg wrote:
“The appearance is that man is led and taught of himself; but the truth is that he is led and taught by the Lord alone. Those who confirm in themselves the appearance and not at the same time the truth, are unable to remove from themselves evils as sins [and cannot be reformed]. [They] are all interior idolaters, for they are worshippers of self and the world. If they have no religion they become worshippers of nature, and thus atheists; but if they have a religion they become worshippers of men and also of images. Such are they at the present day who are meant in the first commandment of the Decalogue, who worship other gods. Those, however, who confirm in themselves the appearance and also the truth become worshippers of the Lord; for the Lord raises them up from their proprium which is in the appearance... and He enables them to perceive interiorly that they are not led and taught of themselves, but by Him.” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 154:1-2)
This ‘appearance’ that we are led and taught by ourselves is an absolutely necessary ingredient in our ability to love both our neighbor and the Lord. It is provided by the Lord for that reason. Without it our eternal happiness would not be possible. No amount of spiritual growth or consciousness expansion takes away this ‘as if of self’ appearance. As I said in the section on influx (Finkeldey, 2007, p. 36), even Swedenborg, in his enlightened state, and aware of the true reality of cognitive and affective interdependence, never lost the feeling of thinking and willing from himself (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 290). It is an appearance that virtually takes care of itself and is with us regardless of our level of consciousness.
Swedenborg instructs that we are to confirm in ourselves both “the appearance” that we are “led and taught” of ourselves, and, “the truth” we are “led and taught by the Lord alone” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 154). My assertion is that “confirming” the latter involves far more spiritual effort, practice, and awareness than confirming the former. And yet, through spiritual effort, practice, and awareness the deeper, inner reality can begin to show itself to our conscious mind. We can begin to become aware of synchronistic, coincidental occurrences in our daily lives that give us a sense of the Lord’s presence. As we grow spiritually, we can begin to see the Divine Providence working and know that the Lord is leading us. Swedenborg describes this experience as follows:
“All who receive influx from heaven and acknowledge the Divine Providence, and especially those who by reformation have become spiritual, when they see events in some wonderful series, see the Divine Providence, as it were, from an interior acknowledgment and confess it. They do not desire to see it in the face, that is, before it comes into operation, fearing lest their will should enter into anything of its order and tenor.  It is otherwise with those who do not admit any influx from heaven but only from the world, especially with those who have become natural from confirming appearances in themselves.” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 187)
What Swedenborg is here referring to as the “Divine Providence” is what A Course In Miracles calls the “Holy Spirit.” The Course says that the Holy Spirit is the “Teacher” Who leads us back to our real state of oneness with God if we are willing to follow (T.12.V.9). He is, “the remaining Communication Link between God and His separated Sons” (CT.6.3.1). These ideas are in accord with Swedenborg’s hefty doctrine of the Divine Providence and yet when one reads through the Course it is possible to get the feeling that it is talking about a God divided into a trinity of separate Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Since dividing God in that way is a Divine impossibility it is important to state clearly that, “…God is one, in whom is the Divine Trinity, and He is the Lord Jesus Christ….” (Swedenborg, 1996, CL 82). Swedenborg explains in his theological works that God is emphatically One. The Trinity is One in the Lord, the “Father” being like the soul, the “Human” (or Jesus Christ) being like the body, and the “Holy Spirit” being like the operation of the soul in and through the body which creates a sphere of influence which proceeds from the Lord. This sphere of influence is the Divine Providence or Holy Spirit. The Oneness of God is important to always keep in mind in spiritual practice in order for one’s practice to be effective and real. Swedenborg warns against dividing God up in the mind which has the effect of putting reason “to sleep.”
“In every man there is soul, body, and operation; so also in the Lord, "for in the Lord dwells all the fullness of Divinity bodily," according to Paul (Col. 2:9); … In this mystical [yet false] notion that there are three Divine persons and yet one God, and that this God, although one, is nevertheless not one person, everyone can see that reason has no part, but has been lulled to sleep, and still it compels the mouth to speak like a parrot… At this day human reason, in respect to the Divine trinity, is bound like a man in prison, manacled and fettered … if the soul is made one God, and the body another, and the operation a third, how does this differ from making three parts, each distinct from the other, out of these three essentials of one man? And what is that but cutting him in pieces and slaying him?” (TCR 169)
A wrong idea of God “infects” all of the teaching drawn from it in the human mind. This will inevitably degrade the quality of a person’s spiritual practice whereas a right idea of God will have the opposite effect. Swedenborg writes:
“Who is there that cannot understand, that all dogmas founded on the idea of three Gods, must be interiorly erroneous and false? I say interiorly, because the idea of God enters into all things of the church, religion, and worship; and theological matters have their residence above all others in the human mind, and the idea of God is in the supreme place there; wherefore if this be false, all beneath it, in consequence of the principle from whence they flow, must likewise be false or falsified; for that which is supreme, being also the inmost, constitutes the very essence of all that is derived from it; and the essence, like a soul, forms them into a body, after its own image; and when in its descent it lights upon truths, it even infects them with its own blemish and error. The idea of three Gods in theology may be compared to a disease seated in the heart or lungs, in which the patient fancies himself to be in health, because his physician, not knowing his disease, persuades him that he is so; but if the physician knows it, and still persuades, he may justly be charged with deep malignity.” (BE 40)
Even though the Course often sounds, as do most modern Christian religious denominations, like it’s trying to divide God into three parts it occasionally makes very clear statements about the oneness of God. For example, here is one such passage which also refers the awakening involved in devoting one’s spirit to God (nb. the Course includes people in what it calls the “Sonship” as a way of reinforcing the idea that we are all one with God. Therefore a person is also a “Son of God”):
“Nothing can prevail against a Son of God [a person] who commends his spirit into the Hands of his Father. By doing this the mind awakens from its sleep and remembers its Creator. All sense of separation disappears. The Son of God [divine] is part of the Holy Trinity, but the Trinity Itself is One. There is no confusion within Its Levels, because They are of one Mind and one Will. This single purpose creates perfect integration and establishes the peace of God. Yet this vision can be perceived only by the truly innocent.” (T.3.II.5.1-7, emphasis added)
So the God we are waking up to be led by is One.
Another passage from Swedenborg suggests that the Lord’s leading, with a presumably greater degree of personal spiritual development, can play a moment-to-moment role in our daily lives. Swedenborg wrote of this phenomenon in his work Spiritual Experiences:
“There is with those who are being led by the Lord a certain inward sight or consciousness in regard to things that are to be done, especially in the act of doing them. This sight is so clear to those who are led by the Lord, that they do not do any least thing unless it is either by the Lord's good pleasure, or by His consent, or by His permission. These are distinct from each other, and the person is also given to see them distinctly, but this fact cannot be understood by anyone except by such a one. Others, no matter how well the matter is explained, along with all the circumstances, still do not believe it, because they do not understand. For example, even spirits who are quite intelligent still cannot be convinced that it is so. They who know it, and do not want to think from themselves, and are therefore in the way of truth, acquire such a sight. The main reason why others cannot believe this is that they think they would then be deprived entirely of their own free will in doing and thinking what they love, supposing they would thus be as if dead. I said to them, however, that then they are alive, because living from oneself is rather death, because there is nothing of good from what is one's own.” (Swedenborg, 1998, SE 891a, emphasis added)
The acquisition of this kind of “sight”, or way of knowing, is the product of sustained spiritual practice resulting in an individual’s reformation and regeneration. This is not likely to occur overnight. More likely, it is the result of many years of spiritual practice and usefulness to all of our neighbors in the Lord’s kingdom – as well as the result of many mistakes along the way. Swedenborg described a way of knowing whether one is led by the Lord or not in terms of a “sign”. He wrote:
“Those who acknowledge God and His Divine Providence are like the angels of heaven, who regard with aversion being led of themselves, and who love to be led by the Lord; and a sign that they are led by the Lord is that they love the neighbor.” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 208, emphasis added)
I would like to end this section on being led by the Lord with a brief commentary on what I consider to be a manifestation of the Lord’s leading in the lives of others – Alcoholics Anonymous. One of A.A.’s traditions – Tradition Two - illustrates the truth of this assertion.
“For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority – a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.” (Wilson, 1986, p. 132)
When Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous wrote these words he was near the end of a very long and harrowing process. It was the process of leading the way in forging not only the 12 step recovery program for alcoholics but also the 12 traditions by which the fellowship he helped to create would govern itself. Alcoholics Anonymous is now a global organization with millions of members. Its spiritual program of recovery is based on building a conscious relationship with God however the individual member may understand Him. The service structure of A.A. is decidedly theocratic and emphatically non-ecclesiastical. All may join, regardless of background or belief, provided they meet the one membership requirement of A.A. – a desire to stop drinking. Non-members may attend open meetings for educational purposes. Having done so, I can attest to the effectiveness of its program and have shown in this paper how it is based in large measure on the practice of three basic spiritual principles – introspection, prayer, and meditation. These principles were gathered by the early members from various religious and philosophical traditions and tested in the laboratory of A.A. experience. In the words of one man I spoke with, “A.A. works – if you work it” (Anonymous A.A. member, personal communication, January 16, 2006).
Not only has A.A. gone global but many other fellowships, all cloned from A.A.’s model to help people deal with problems other than alcohol, have been started and have themselves gone global. It’s very difficult NOT to see the hand of Providence in the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous. This is why I have featured it in this paper. From hours of personal interviews with A.A. members, all of whom by tradition choose to remain anonymous, I can only conclude that they are people who for the most part simply and selflessly work for the good of others. This is doubtless why A.A. is so effective, “for in good the Lord is present” (Swedenborg, 1983, AC 3263).
Finkeldey, J. K. (2007). Spiritual practice and consciousness. Unpublished Manuscript: The Swedenborg Library.
Schucman, H. and Thetford, W. (2007). A course in miracles: Combined volume. Third edition. Mill Valley, CA: Foundation for Inner Peace. Nb. In references T = Text, W = Workbook for Students, M=Manual for Teachers, CT = Clarification of Terms, PS = Psychotherapy: Purpose, Process and Practice, and SP = Song of Prayer: Prayer, Forgiveness, Healing.
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Swedenborg, E. (1960). The apocalypse explained (J. Whitehead Trans.). New York, NY: Swedenborg Foundation. (Original work written c. 1757-1759 and first published posthumously in the original Latin in 1870) AE
Swedenborg, E. (1983). Arcana coelestia (J. E. Elliott Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original work published c. 1749-1756) AC
Swedenborg, E. (1995). Heaven and hell (J. C. Ager Trans.). West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation. (Original work published 1758) HH
Swedenborg, E. (1996). Conjugial love (J. Chadwick Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original work published 1768) CL
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Wilson, W. (1986). Twelve steps and twelve traditions. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. (Original work published 1952)
Wilson, W. et. al. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous. Fourth edition. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. (Original work published 1939)