At some point each human body will cease to function, will stop being able to support life and it will be said to have died. And that word ‘death’ is the one people shy away from for all kinds of reasons.
It can happen at any age and there are many situations which can bring about death – but beyond arranging life insurance and perhaps making a will that’s about as close as many people come to the subject until events force their hand.
Yet this matter is a real and huge elephant in our lives – hard to talk about when it happens and difficult to address without opening up more questions than there are answers for.
As a student of Swedenborg’s spiritual philosophy I’d like to write about the things that I believe happen after death, and a warm and loving welcome that awaits everyone into that form of afterlife – irrespective of the beliefs, activities we undertook or the circumstances of our earthly life. My view is that everyone has been made by God who loves us all.
Swedenborg maintains that the human race were made to become a heaven of angels – because angels are men and women who have gone to live in heaven: and that for those who have chosen to embrace ways of living that aren’t compatible with heaven there is a place called hell – not a place where gratuitous punishment is meted out but a place best suited to those who end up choosing to live there.
That is clearly a huge subject and Swedenborg has quite a lot to share about the life that awaits us in what he calls the spiritual world.
The first point he suggests is that after death each person leaves their physical body and awakens in a spiritual world in the care of angels who protect the new arrivals from any malign influences.
According to this insight the form of our spirit is human – male or female – and the body we wear now is a reflection in this place of the spiritual body we will wear fully one day.
We know that looking in a mirror shows us our face, but that the person we inwardly know ourselves to be is probably a bit younger and livelier than the physical stage of life we are at now. My mother always claimed to be ‘21’ on the inside and now I’m 30 years on from that I know what she meant – there can be an appreciable difference between the things the mind would like to do and what the frame can cope with or achieve. The link between that inner spirit, the real ‘me’ and this body is here while life exists, but at death Swedenborg maintains that the body is left empty and our life moves fully into the spiritual realm: what goes with us is the stuff that makes us who we are – our personality, the things we love, the emotional and the thoughts which make us ‘us’.
In line with a common traditional religious idea I am saying that waking up in the next world is under the care of God; new spirits are cared for by angels who make the transition gentle and explain to the new spirit that they have died. Also that, depending on the individual, this process takes as long as necessary – everything being outside of time as we know it and the right time being simply when a person is able to accept the new information and begin to be ready to move into fully accepting their new situation.
The first stages of this new life are said to be familiar; we look and feel the same as we are used to; with the gradual realisation that perhaps a body which was ill is now healthy, that some infirmity of old age is no longer the burden it was. In addition Swedenborg’s experience of the transition is that things are gradual and gentle – I see it as someone who was ill in bed receiving the suggestion from an angel nurse they’d perhaps like to sit up, and maybe put their feet on the floor when they feel up to it, and then try getting up in a while rather than some sergeant-major style instruction to get up and get moving.
Another point Swedenborg makes is that as time goes on the awareness of the new world increases: the closeness of the angels who welcome new arrivals may be a bit overpoweringly ‘good’ so they will withdraw and some other angels, with a sphere that isn’t as powerful, take over.
The vision is that adults who die go first to a place that is neither heaven nor hell but rather to a place in the middle called the World of Spirits and that is where everyone mixes and arrives first – often meeting those they know who died around the same time or being reunited with those who they have longed to see again who have been in that world for a longer time.
If you think about how you mix and mingle at a party, for example, you find people you know, people you have something in common with perhaps. It’s not about making rapid decisions or trying to get to a final destination first – there is no rush. Likewise the picture of the spiritual realm is one based on love and the feelings of being drawn towards those who are similar. In other words this is described as a place of reunions and happiness, not of mourning or loss – sadly those are the things of this world we have to cope with and get through. Finally, we are told that eventually everyone will leave the World of Spirits for their own home in heaven or hell where they will be with those who have similar loves and feel most at home.
Copyright 2014 Christine Bank