The belief in life after death, a concept where some form of consciousness survives physical death, is a universally shared notion transcending the boundaries of faith traditions. Rooted deeply in religious, spiritual, and philosophical doctrines, this belief also resonates with cultures and societies that lack defined faith traditions.
Gleaning insights from the teachings of the New Church, an individual can find solace in the detailed depiction of the dying process, understanding it not as an end, but as a continuation of our spiritual journey. In
his seminal work, "Heaven and Hell," Emanuel Swedenborg presents death as a shift from the physical realm to the spiritual world. According to him, we do not cease to exist, but rather separate from our physical bodies, with our essential self, our spirit, remaining alive. This spirit, which harbours our thoughts and affections, continues to define our identity and facilitates our post-death existence in a different realm.
The transition from physical to spiritual occurs when the bodily functions, most intimately linked to our spirit, namely the respiration of the lungs and the beating of the heart, cease. The spirit then lingers briefly in the body, waiting for the complete cessation of the heart, an organ symbolising love and affection, our very essence.
Upon the heart's cessation, the individual experiences an "awakening" or resurrection into the spiritual world, orchestrated by the divine. Swedenborg recounts a personal spiritual experience in "Heaven and Hell," where he was positioned in a state akin to dying.
When physical breathing ended, he observed a shift to a profound spiritual form of respiration. A connection was forged between his heartbeat and the heavenly kingdom, enabling angelic beings to share thoughts with him - a form of interaction unique to the spiritual realm.
During this transformative experience, angels from the heavenly kingdom accompanied him, extending a sweet, embalming odour to ward off malevolent spirits - a safeguarding act during one's transition to eternal life.
Upon awakening in the spiritual realm, individuals find themselves amidst heavenly angels who radiate unconditional love. They guide the new arrivals, offering spiritual enlightenment and insights into the realities of the afterlife. The individual's spirit undergoes a transition from natural to spiritual thinking, with angels diligently filtering any thoughts that do not resonate with love.
Interestingly, Swedenborg emphasises that not everyone desires to dwell in heaven. If a spirit's nature inclines them to shy away from angelic companionship or learning, they possess the freedom to depart. This journey continues until they locate a society that aligns with their earthly experiences and inclinations.
This initial post-death stage, as elucidated by Swedenborg, spans merely a few days. Subsequently, spirits navigate through diverse states until they identify their final resting place in either heaven or hell.
Ultimately, death signifies a continuation of life, albeit in a spiritual form. Guided and safeguarded by heavenly angels, the spirit - our true essence - survives, embarking on a journey in the spiritual world in pursuit of eternal peace.
In next week's Minister's Reflection, we'll delve into Swedenborg’s perspective on retaining our 'human' essence in the afterlife. Stay tuned!