News & Announcements

“Take Only a Staff for the Journey”

Written by Jim Lawrence

Packing for a trip can stress out even the hardy. There’s only so much we can pack in anticipation for everything that we may need: a clothes strategy, work items, a laundry list for multiple contingencies. We’re often frantically checking details dashing out the door: where’s my ticket! Oh, good, right here. Medicine! Got it. Wallet, glasses, all the miscellanea I have thought might be good to bring. Everything packed? Hooboy. 

Rev. Dr. Jim Lawrence delivers the Ordination Sermon at Wayfarers Chapel.

How much more difficult such preparations would be if we were told to prepare for an open-ended and very long journey to places unbeknownst to us. Imagine the boundless list of contingency items to have at the ready. In Mark’s gospel Jesus tells the twelve disciples to prepare for just such a journey, but helpfully he also makes their trip preparations easy: they are to take nothing but the clothes on their backs and a staff. Everything else they might need will be provided by the One whom they serve and by the people whom they will serve. 

So why does Jesus then specify this one additional item and make such a big point of bringing nothing else except a staff? Correspondences reveal the answer. A staff in the Biblical Word is a walking stick that corresponds to the power of divine truth. A good walking stick supports the body just as spiritual wisdom upholds our entire structure for salvific living, and a good staff propels walking just as wise love supplies vital force. 

We are now engaging a decisive pivot point in the history of our church in a very particular way. In those earliest Biblical times, the disciples were for the most part on foot. Walking around to spread ideas and discourse via individual conversations and speaking to larger groups, they grew by legion. The first significant shift in communicating spiritual discourse comes a millennium later in the early modern period with the invention of the printing press. This provided a ministry tool that could take the message to masses. The printing press provided only a phenomenal exponential increase in reach but one with a failsafe consistent method for keeping proper form to message. 

Religion historians always identify the Gutenberg printing press as pivotal to the Protestant Reformation because the changemakers could communicate in this newly efficient dynamic form throughout large regions via mass produced broadsides, leaflets, pamphlets, and yes books. Swedenborg himself relied wholly on the printing press. He never gave a public talk about his new Christianity. Swedenborgians took the hint and published at a phenomenal per capita rate, and as one wag put it, Swedenborgians appeared to believe in salvation by publication. 

Today, we’re into another fundamental revolution in communicating: the internet and virtual gatherings. The largest church in many American denominations is their online church. People can pop in from several time zones and be right with one another, increasingly mirroring the spiritual world of instant presence across space produced merely through the desire of imagination for presence. One click, and you’re there with like-minded souls.  

The Convention Choir performs at the Ordination Service.

How should we pack for a journey in this new opportune moment? Let’s return to Jesus’s instruction: the sole packing item we need is the power of spiritual truth. Though the Swedenborgian vision overlaps with the spirituality of loving and wise people of all persuasions in many ways, there is yet still today revelatory vision in Swedenborgianism with liberative power that is quite frankly still vastly underutilized and unknown by very many. The power of Swedenborg’s revelatory vision has not waned a bit, and much of its promise is still yet to fully unfurl. 

The three powerful upholding forces of spiritual truth empower our walking stick still today. The first is the metaphysical love basis of any God notion. God is love, many say that, but Swedenborg helps us to see that love is God. Love is the substance of all being, and ethical and tough love is the force evolving this cosmos of meaning and purpose. Far more than a poetic emotion, love is all there is. Had we but the vision, we would see concretely that love is the first cause of all being and is a constant force from the center outward in all directions. Anything we might call evil or horrible is distortion and misuse of the power of love, and all spiritual work in the church and in our lives is all about growing in love. When we know this deep in our bones, we are upheld by the most powerful walking stick in the infinite cosmos. 

The second spiritual principle enlivening our walking stick is the knowledge that all of life is flowing in from a more senior dimension that may be invisible to the physical senses but is nevertheless the most real dimension. We call it, in our tradition, the spiritual world. The architecture of Wayfarers Chapel—in which we are now worshipping—conveys this revelatory knowledge through the ascendant use of glass. Sitting here right now in this sanctuary we see through the walls to a surrounding reality that holds us in our contemplation of the divine immensity. This Swedenborgian architecture teaches that the spiritual dimension is both vast and right here in our personal contemplation. God is in us even more than we ourselves are in us, and so we sit in a sacred space right now that evokes the spiritual knowledge that “God’s circumference is nowhere, but God’s center is everywhere.” This walking stick knowledge of the spiritual dimension relates to everything we see and touch and can help people gain profound appreciation of the actual reality system in which they are being formed. 

 Lastly, a most powerful and precious spiritual principle the Swedenborgian Church offers to seekers everywhere is that we live to eternity. Our formation now is a forever now that never ends. This is not a hopeful wish, but rudimentary knowledge in Swedenborg’s most powerful published walking stick, his runaway bestseller, Heaven and Hell

What can be better Good News, beloved, than the walking stick of this spiritual vision and knowledge? That love is not only the source but also the force of all that is; that an infinite spiritual dimension extends beyond and within our immediate sense of being; and that we’re only still beginning an eternal journey that becomes ever more fabulous as we become ever more skillful with the first principle: that love is the only force of God, and that as we become wiser lovers with God in this love operation, we discover and live into an open-ended journey that takes us powerfully into all the profound experiences loving and living with all levels of the neighbor (and yes that includes social justice down here).

New ways of communication and gathering and being together are opening in our virtual moment for creating new spaces infused with the Swedenborgian vision—a reach into new spaces not merely for broadcasting content, but for gathering places with shared adventures in meaning and purpose in newly arising interactive and relational communities.  

It is a good time to enter the ministry—an opportune time. If you pack right, Colin (and all of us), it will be an abundantly blessed journey. 

Read the full issue of the July / August 2022 Messenger

View the entire Ordination Worship Service here:

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.