Written By Jim Lawrence with David Brown
Rev. Dr. David Brown, Lead Chapel Minister at Wayfarers Chapel, successfully defended his doctoral dissertation at Pacific School of Religion last April with his defense committee of me, Dr. Rebecca Esterson, and Rev. Dr. Jonathan Mitchell. His dissertation, entitled “Kairos and Attention Epistemology: Socioeconomics, Neuroscience, and Spirituality,” engages an interdisciplinary exploration of a new spiritual practice he hopes to continue shaping for general teaching and use in ministry. For readers of the Messenger, I held the following conversation with Rev. Dr. Brown to share the fruit of his doctoral study and work.
JL: Your dissertation centers on a concept you call Attention Epistemology. Can you describe this concept in a few sentences?
DB: Attention Epistemology is a concept designed to ground our lived experience within the larger framework of the regeneration/glorification process whereby we increasingly live consciously, informed by our spiritual dimension. The spiritual dimension is always available to us, but for so many it remains merely an abstract or even an absent concept. Attention Epistemology actualizes experiences of our incarnate nature and generates a more generously awake moment. It draws upon knowledge of spiritual force and relies on a consciousness shift to being in the presence of the divine. This is sometimes referred to as Relational Consciousness, and Martin Buber sums this up quite nicely with his quote, “When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.” Attention Epistemology complements all other spiritual practices that might already be working for you. In order to enter meaningfully into a daily spiritual practice, we need a basic orientation as to where we are at, and where we can potentially go deeper in our spiritual life.
JL: You discuss the important difference between Chronos and Kairos, two Greek philosophy words for time. Chronos is chronological time, but what is Kairos and why is it central to your spirituality?
DB: Chronos is linear time, and Kairos is opportune time. The Lord unites all realms and possibilities of the multiverse, both in this physical dimension and the spiritual. Given that this is happening and operating at this very moment, there is a sacred gift in becoming spiritually present to this moment where we exist outside of the dimension of chronological time. We become present to the gift of Kairos, the sacred time where we feel intimately connected to the presence of divinity. Jean-Pierre de Caussade in the eighteenth century called this “The Sacrament of the Present Moment.”
At the beginning of 2022, I began to sit in contemplative prayer for one hour each day. It is fascinating how much our surrounding ambient sounds can either contribute or detract from this experience. The sounds of birds and water have been known to be soothing since the beginning of time. With certain sound frequencies, this Chronos time in contemplative prayer or meditation can be enhanced to become Kairos time with effects extending outside of strict Chronos with continuations into the future after the Chronos of meditation has ceased, as also supported in current research in cymatics (the study of visible effects of sound and vibration).
Sound is connected both to Swedenborg’s work, On Tremulations, and to the work of theoretical physics operating in eleven dimensions. Healing sound vibrations such as attunement to 528Mhz is the healing technology of now.
JL: You focus on the continuum between the physical body and what Swedenborg calls the subtle body or the substantial body that exists after physical death. How does your doctoral work speak to us regarding who we are with respect to our bodies?
DB: One answer to this is to “Die before you die” and realize there is ultimately no death. I believe Swedenborg underwent a consciousness transformation such as this as he was able to travel mystically and be led by the Lord through dimensions of heaven and hell. What I am suggesting here is not that same voyage through the afterlife but an intensification of our attention to that subtle body already available to us. This is really the crux of Attention Epistemology: as we expand our awareness to include the subtle body contained within our physical body, we activate this awareness. A simple way of testing this out is to close our eyes and hold out our hand in any direction. Without physically looking at your hand, can you sense the presence of your physical hand? This substantial body that awaits us after death is already contained within us as our soul, and it is connected to all that is wise and intelligent if we choose to follow it. We simply need to give it some loving attention. With some committed practice we will feel this dimension to our lived reality in this physical realm. This becomes the binding force that anchors us in this physical realm and connects us more powerfully to the spiritual truths of the next.
JL: You make use of one of Swedenborg’s earliest science papers, On Tremulations, which examines the concept of vibrations as a basic dimension of physics, and in this context, you speak about multiverse theory, such as Michio Kaku’s eleven-dimensional vibrations string theory. Can you say why eleven dimensions are needed for the range of vibrations, and can you relate multiverse cosmology to Swedenborg’s metaphysics?
DB: Theoretical physics has concluded that all the laws of physics exist within the eleven dimensions according to science. This includes laws of physics that do not even apply to our world. The leading theory is that no more than eleven dimensions can exist because conditions become unstable, particles naturally beyond this and collapse back down into ten or eleven dimensions. Jesus was the consummate nondual thinker, always binding together, seeing the wholeness of life. Was Jesus born into this world on the ninth spiritual dimension described in string theory and then spiritually progressed into the eleventh dimension from the cross to the empty tomb? This is just a playful question, but I think Swedenborgian Christology must consider physics. Swedenborg’s On Tremulations displays some visionary understanding of quantum physics (and let’s remember that in his 1734 Principia Swedenborg anticipated Einstein’s atomic theory by two hundred years). The mystery of these eleven dimensions in theoretical physics comes to life when we look more deeply into the mystery of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus’s death, resurrection, and appearance to his disciples starts to make sense to scientific sensibility through the operation of eleven dimensions of theoretical physics.
Swedenborg’s own definition of what tremulation is as a motion remains elusive and mysterious to this day. The various descriptive definitions for this word given at the beginning of his work on this topic only add to the larger theoretical concepts beyond the human physical body. Here is a description of what tremulation is and a description of some of the properties of its nature:
Tremulation is the most subtle form of motion that exists in nature, and it possesses wonderful and distinctive properties, differing from all other motions. Although what is tremulatory presents itself each moment before us, playing round about each of the senses, yet is our mechanism and our reason still so little cultivated, that we have no proper knowledge of tremulation and its most subtle nature, as to wherein it consists, and wherein it differs from other motions…a motion as takes place at the center alone.
This is an explanation of a subtle form of motion made centuries before a language was established to describe theoretical physics, and yet it still begins to make some sense for our modern-day sensibilities. It is described in detail as the most subtle of all the known forms of motion that can exist in nature. Science is currently still exploring various subatomic forms of motion that can be observed. Swedenborg goes into very specific details of the discrete degrees of the heavenly realms and how there are higher and lower levels depending on the interior spiritual qualities of how a human lived here on earth. It is not too much of a leap to explore how this is all operating presently in our own lived experience and specifically to how our physical world corresponds to the spiritual world.
Read the full issue of the December 2022 Messenger
Meet Jim Lawrence
Rev. Dr. Jim Lawrence is the president of the Swedenborgian Church of North America. He was the dean of the Center for Swedenborgian Studies for 21 years prior to being elected President in 2022.