Commentary

 

The Gate of the Year      

By Rev. Emily Jane Lemole

The Gate of the Year
A sermon by Rev. Emily Jane Lemole

Readings:
Isaiah 26:1-4, 42:5-8
Matthew 7:7-14
Revelation 22:14
Secrets of Heaven 2851

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And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

by Minnie Louise Haskins
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We are standing at the Gate of the Year, a threshold to the unknown in many ways. “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

We read many passages from the Word and the Writings about gates. Gates provide a connection between what is inside and what is outside. They suggest a choice – whether to open or shut it – whether to come in or stay out.

A closed gate makes us hesitate and stop. In this Sufi saying the gates provide thoughtfulness and reflection about what we say:

Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates.
At the first gate, ask yourself, “is it true?”
At the second ask, “is it necessary?”
At the third gate ask “is it kind?”

How best to begin this New Year? There are the usual resolutions – to lose weight, be healthier, be more organized, and spend more time with loved ones. But there are deeper resolutions or intentions that are crying out for a new start, a fresh beginning. Number 1 – putting God in the center of our lives – seeing the Lord Jesus Christ as the beginning, middle and end of our day. A good habit is to pray – a lifting up of our perspective – of our priorities – several times a day. Even the physical action of looking up and pausing can shift an annoyed, resentful mood into a moment of correction – a turnaround of most of what we fuss about.

Sub specie aeternitatis is a great reminder. Under the auspices of eternity – what matters? Not most of what worries and upsets us. In the long view, with God at the center, what really matters becomes evident and what doesn’t diminishes.

So how do we put our hand into the hand of God? How do we open the gates of our minds and hearts to all that is good and true, wise, kind and peaceful? How do we shut the door to selfishness, unkindness, resentfulness, ingratitude and violence?

By what we do every day.

“The way we do anything is the way we do everything,” says Fr. Richard Rohr, the Franciscan priest.

What do we pay attention to and give our time to? What do we love?

A New Year seems a good time to take inventory, a reflection on last year, not so much what we have accomplished as who we are becoming. What matters most to us? What are our priorities? Or as Swedenborg would ask, What do we love? For we are what we love!

We learn that there are two gates that are in each of us. The Gate to Heaven, surrounded by angels, leads to what is good and what is true.

And the Gate to Hell, surrounded by evil spirits, leads to what is evil and false.

These gates are in us. We get to choose, and what determines our choice? What we love!

Every year, every week, every day, every moment we have the freedom to choose who we are, what brings us pleasure, how we spend our precious time – what we love and how we love.

And let’s remember that if we don’t honestly like what we see in our inventory, we can repent! Turn around! Change our direction! Change our minds! Change our loves!

Swedenborg describes what we cannot see – our spiritual companions – the company we keep and are for the most part unaware of. Like guests, they come by invitation.

We are surrounded by spiritual guests, invited by our states of mind and heart: Through the Heavenly Gates come the angels and good spirits; from the Hellish Gates come the evil or bad spirits. My highschool Latin teacher used to refer to these as the “Basement Boys”.

It is out of fashion today to speak of evil, guilt, repentance or hell. These terms have become obsolete, uncomfortable and ones we really don’t want to be reminded of. But from everything Swedenborg teaches, these are spiritual realities.

Evil is very much alive and well in our world (if one reads the papers and watches TV) and in each one of us, recognized with some introspection! When we honestly become aware of our own intentions and emotions, we know this!

Evil, with its twin, falsity, is everything that is against God, that is selfish, dishonest, greedy, mean and cruel. But evil can also appear with a deceptive face – we can justify our resentments, our ingratitude, our unforgiving stance. Sin means missing the mark, the mark being God. All that draws us away from God makes us miss that mark!

Guilt – a very necessary emotion that makes us want to repent – not to wallow in, but to lead us to repentance – to persuade us to change course!

And evil spirits – these are the very real spiritual companions that we are told are fighting for our attention, and in the end, for our spiritual life. We are in the balance. We are between two gates.

An ancient Buddhist proverb teaches: Everyone is given the key to the Gates of Heaven; the same key opens the Gates of Hell.” The key is what we love.

Every decision we make feeds either our proprium (our unregenerate will) or feeds our "remains" – that inviolate treasure, a storehouse of all the good and true things we have experienced since before birth. Remains are our birthright, and we draw from it and add to it forever with true thoughts and good deeds.

Since the number one focus of most New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight (and I’m not against that, if needed) let’s try to use that concept for a spiritual weight loss – losing the burden of negative emotion, the bad habits of criticism, complaint, gossip, irritation, annoyance, being easily offended, anger – the list we know goes on and on. The diet for this weight loss is good thoughts, honest behavior, truthful intentions. Turning off the bad news, turning on the good news. Supporting a hopeful optimism that encourages others; kind acts that look for no return.

Think on these things, Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians.

“Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8.

And the exercise required for this transformation of the soul’s health is spiritual practice – the exercise that brings the abstract into the real, the doing of what we say we believe. Perhaps this year we can embrace a spiritual exercise:

- Meditation
- Prayer
- Lectio Devina – slow, purposeful reading of Scripture and other Holy Books.

A dear friend of mine makes a habit of thinking about which type of spirits are influencing her, and then asking the Lord to send away the harmful influences, when there. Also, she has developed a practice of thanking the Lord for all good things when they happen.

We can open the Gates of Heaven. Angels can rush in at any time that we cause the gates to swing open by loving what is good, what is true, the Lord and one another. These choices open those gates.

We all need reminders to help us make the right choices. We forget so quickly and are distracted by the loud noise of our times. We are plugged into T.V., radio, our computers, phones and i-pads -- a secular culture that is immersed in what is natural, not spiritual. But it is not natural for us to turn away and turn toward God and the Heavenly gates. It is unnatural. It is spiritual. Here are a few reminders that I have found helpful.

SET A TIME FOR AN APPOINTMENT WITH THE LORD: Every morning and before bedtime are two commonly used times to reserve for the Lord. When feeling angry, raise your thoughts and vision upward, and ask for the angels at the gate for assistance. Try a phrase learned from one of our daughter’s friends: Bless and release! Work toward seeing God in everyone and in all things.

Let ugly states pass – bless your enemies, remembering that those who disagree or dislike us are likely our best spiritual teachers. We can see our response to them, usually a response that mirrors the behavior that irritates us. Love our enemies, we are told, as well as our neighbor.

We need to watch our thoughts.

From the Ancient Vedas:

"Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny."

Most important is to detect what we love, for that will determine which gate we hang around, and later, enter.

How auspicious it is that we have Holy Communion as we enter the New Year. What better way to begin, seeking first the kingdom of Heaven – putting what matters most into the forefront?

This is a beautiful prayer by Sister Joyce Rupp:

SACRED MYSTERY,
Waiting on the threshold
of this new year,
you open the gates
And beckon to me:

(You say) “Come! Come!
Be not wary of what awaits you
as you enter the unknown terrain,
be not doubtful of your ability
to grow from its joys and sorrows.

For I am with you,
I will be your Guide.
I will be your Protector
You will never be alone.”

Guardian of this new year,
I set aside my fears, worries, concerns,
I open my life to mystery, to beauty,
to hospitality to questions,
to the endless opportunity
of discovering you in my relationships,
and to all the silent wisps of wonder
that will draw me to your heart.

I welcome your unfailing Presence
And walk with hope into this New Year.

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“Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God.”

It really matters as we stand at the Gate of the New Year whose hand we will take – whose inspiration we will follow and whose influence may determine who we are becoming.

From Psalm 118:19-20:
“Open to me the gates of righteousness;
I will go through them,
And I will praise the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord,
By which the righteous shall enter.”

Amen!

From Swedenborg's Works

 

Arcana Coelestia #2851

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)      

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2851. 'Your seed will inherit the gate of their enemies' means that charity and faith will take the place occupied previously by evil and falsity. This is clear from the meaning of 'inheriting' as receiving the Lord's life, dealt with in 2658, here as taking the place of, for when charity and faith exist in the place occupied previously by evil and falsity, the Lord's life enters in there; from the meaning of 'seed' as charity and faith, dealt with in 1025, 1447, 1610, 1941; from the meaning of 'gate', dealt with below; and from the meaning of 'enemies' as evils and falsities, or what amounts to the same, people who are subject to evil and falsity. It is the latter who are meant by enemies and foes in the internal sense of the Word.

[2] As regards the meaning of 'a gate', there are in general two gates with each individual person. One gate is exposed towards hell and is open to evils and falsities from there. In that gate genii and spirits from hell are present. The other gate is exposed towards heaven and is open to goods and truths from there. In that gate angels are present. Thus there is a gate leading to hell and a gate leading to heaven. The gate to hell is open to those who are immersed in evil and falsity, and only through chinks round about overhead does any light at all from heaven penetrate, which enables them to think and to reason. But the gate to heaven is open to those who are immersed in good and truth from there.

[3] For there are two paths which lead into a person's rational mind, a higher or internal path along which good and truth from the Lord enter in, and a lower or external path along which evil and falsity enter in surreptitiously from hell. In the middle is the rational mind towards which the two paths converge. From the goods and truths present there the rational mind is compared in the Word to a city and is actually called a city. And because it is compared to and actually called a city it is depicted as having gates, and is described in various places as having enemies, that is, evil genii and spirits, besieging it and assaulting it, while angels from the Lord are defending it, that is, the Lord Himself is doing so. The genii and spirits from hell, with their evils and falsities, can go no further than towards the lower or outer gate, and cannot pass at all into the city. If they were able to pass into the city, which is the rational mind, man would be completely done for. But when they reach the point, as it seems to them, that they have taken the city by storm, it is then closed, so that good and truth no longer flow into it from heaven, apart, as has been stated, from that small amount which comes in through chinks round about. As a consequence such persons no longer possess any charity at all or any faith at all, but make good consist in evil, and truth in falsity. They also as a consequence cease to be truly rational, though they seem to themselves to be so, 1914, 1944, and are called 'dead men', though they themselves believe they are more alive than any others, 81, 290 (end). These things are so because the gate to heaven is closed to them. The fact that it is closed to them is quite apparent and is discerned in the next life, and so conversely that the gate to heaven is open to those in whom good and truth are present.

[4] As regards 'the gate of enemies' in particular, spoken of in this verse, it is the gate that exists with a person in his natural mind. That gate when the person is wholly natural or as yet unregenerate is occupied by evils and falsities, or what amounts to the same, evil genii and spirits are flowing into it together with evil desires and false persuasions, see 687, 698, 1692. When however a person is spiritual or being regenerated, evils and falsities, or what amounts to the same, evil genii and spirits, are driven away from that gate, that is, from the natural mind. Once they have been driven away, goods and truths, or charity and faith, take their place; and these - charity and faith - are meant by 'your seed will inherit the gate of their enemies'. This is what takes place in particular with each individual person when he is being regenerated, and similarly in the next life with those entering the Lord's kingdom; and also what takes place in general, that is, in the Church, which is made up of many individuals.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 697)


[5] This transformation was represented by the children of Israel driving the nations from the land of Canaan. Such expulsion of those nations is what, in the literal sense, the words 'your seed will inherit the gate of their enemies' are used to mean; but in the internal sense the things which have just been described are meant. This also explains why in ancient times it was customary to use words such as these when blessing persons who were about to be married, as is also evident from the blessing which Laban gave to Rebekah his sister when, already betrothed, she was about to go to Isaac,

Our sister, may you be [the mother] of thousands of myriads, and may your seed inherit the gate of those who hate you. Genesis 24:60.

[6] That such things are meant in the Word by 'the gate of enemies' or 'of those who hate' becomes clear from the following places: In Isaiah,

I will kill your root with famine, and your remnant will I slay. Wail, O gate; cry, O city; you have melted away, O Philistia, all of you, for smoke comes out of the north. Isaiah 14:30-31.

'Killing the root with famine and slaying the remnant' stands for the removal of goods and truths which the Lord has stored away inwardly - 'the remnant' meaning such goods and truths, see 468, 530, 560-562, 661, 798, 1050, 1738, 1906, 2284. 'Gate' stands for the place of entry into things that are interior, that is, into the rational mind. 'City' stands for that mind, or what amounts to the same, for the goods and truths there, 402, 2268, 2449, 2451, 2712. 'Philistia' stands for knowledge of the cognitions of faith, or what amounts to the same, for those who have a knowledge of those cognitions but not of the goods that spring from faith, 1197, 1198. 'Smoke from the north' stands for falsity from hell - smoke being falsity arising out of evil, 1861.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 1197-1198, Arcana Coelestia 2450-2451)


[7] In the same prophet,

The city of hollowness will be broken down, every house will be shut up to prevent it being entered. There will be an outcry in the streets over [the lack] of wine, all joy will be made desolate, the gladness of the earth will be banished. What is left in the city will be desolation, and the gate will be smitten with vastation, for thus will it be in the midst of the earth, in the midst of the peoples. Isaiah 24:10-13.

'The city of hollowness' which 'will be broken down' stands for the human mind deprived of truth. 'Every house will be shut up' stands for lack of good - 'house' meaning good, 2233. 'An outcry in the streets over [the lack of] wine' stands for a state of falsity - 'outcry' having reference to falsities, 2240. 'Wine' means truth over which there will be an outcry because there is none, 1071, 1798, and 'streets' means the things that lead to truths, 2336. 'The joy which is being made desolate' has reference to truth, 'the gladness of the earth that is being banished' to good. All this shows what is meant by 'what is left in the city will be desolation' and 'the gate will be smitten with vastation'. The gate is said to be vastated when nothing but evils and falsities reign.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 2233-2234)


[8] In Jeremiah,

The roads of Zion are mourning that none come to the appointed feast. All her gates are desolate, her priests groan, her virgins are afflicted, and she herself is in bitterness. Her enemies have become the head, her foes secure, because Jehovah has afflicted [her] over the multitude of her transgressions. Her young children have gone away captive before the enemy. Lamentations 1:4-5.

'The roads of Zion mourning' stands for there being no longer any truths that come from good -'roads' meaning truths, 189, 627, 2333. 'All her gates are desolate' stands for all the entrances being occupied by falsities. 'Her enemies have become the head' stands for evils reigning.

[9] In the same prophet,

Jehovah has caused the rampart, and the wall of the daughter of Zion, to mourn; they languish together. Her gates have become pressed down into the ground; He has destroyed and broken her bars; her king and her princes are among the nations. The law is no more; even her prophets have found no vision from Jehovah. All your foes have opened their mouth against you, they have hissed and gnashed their teeth; they have said, We have swallowed her up; this is the day we have awaited; we have found, we have seen it. Lamentations 2:8-9, 16.

'Gates pressed down into the ground' stands for the natural mind when occupied by evils and falsities. 'Her king and princes are among the nations' stands for truths immersed in evils - 'king' meaning truth in general, 1672, 1728, 2015, 2069, 'princes' first and foremost truths, 1482, 2089, and 'nations' evil, 1259, 1260, 1849, 1868, 2588.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 1089, Arcana Coelestia 1259-1260)


[10] In Moses,

A nation from far away, from the end of the earth will distress you within all your gates until your high and fortified walls in which you trust come down in all your land. And it will distress you within all your gates, in the whole of your land. Thus will your enemy distress you. Deuteronomy 28:49, 52-53.

These calamities are found among the curses which Moses foretold to the people if they did not hold fast to the commandments and statutes. 'A nation from far away, from the end of the earth' stands in the internal sense for evils and falsities, that is, for those who are immersed in evil and falsity. 'Distressing them within all their gates' stands for sealing off every access to good and truth.

[11] In Nahum,

Behold, your people are women in the midst of you. The gates of your land have been opened wide to your enemies; fire has devoured your bars. Draw yourself water for the siege, strengthen your fortifications; go into the mud and tread the bitumen; strengthen the brick-kiln. Nahum 3:13-14.

'The gates of the land opened wide to enemies' stands for evils occupying the position where goods ought to be. In the Book of Judges, The highways ceased to be, and they went along by-paths; they went along twisting ways; the streets in Israel ceased to be. He chose new gods, at which point the gates were assailed - was a shield seen, or a spear, among the forty thousand of Israel? Judges 5:6-8.

This is the prophecy of Deborah and Barak. 'The gates were assailed' stands for an assault on goods and truths.

[12] In David,

Those who dwell in the gate plot against me; those who drink strong drink sing songs. Psalms 69:12.

'Those who dwell in the gate' stands for evils and falsities, and also for those who are from hell. In Ezekiel,

In the visions of God he was brought to the door of the inner gate which looked towards the north. There he saw the great abominations of the house of Israel. He was also brought to the door of the gate of the house of Jehovah which looked towards the north. There also [he saw] abominations. Ezekiel 8:3, 6, 14-15.

'The door of the inner gate which looked towards the north' stands for the place where interior falsities exist. 'The door of the gate of the house of Jehovah towards the north' stands for the place where interior evils exist. The fact that the falsities and evils are interior, and that it is an interior sphere in which such spirits and genii reside, see 2121-2124.

[13] In David,

Behold, sons are a possession of Jehovah, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like darts in the hand of a strong man so are the sons of youth. 1 Blessed is the man who has filled his quiver with them. They will not be put to shame, for they will speak with enemies in the gate. Psalms 127:3-5.

'Speaking with enemies in the gate' stands for having no fear of evils and falsities, nor thus of hell. In Isaiah,

On that day Jehovah Zebaoth will be a spirit of judgement to him who sits in judgement, and strength to those who turn back the battle towards the gate. They are also made senseless from wine, and err from strong drink. Isaiah 28:5-7.

In the same prophet,

They will be cut off who cause people to sin by a word, and who lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate and cause him who is just to turn aside to something empty. Isaiah 29:20-21.

In the same prophet,

Elam bore the quiver in the chariot of man (homo), [and] horsemen, Kir uncovered the shield, and the choicest of your valleys was full of chariots and horsemen; they positioned themselves at the gate. And he looked on that day to the armoury of the house of the forest. Isaiah 22:6-8.

In Jeremiah,

Judah mourned and her gates languished; the people were in black down to the ground, and the cry of Jerusalem went up. Their great men sent lesser ones to the waters; they came to the pits, they found no water. Jeremiah 14:1-3.

In the same prophet,

The elders have ceased from the gate, the young men from their singing. Lamentations 5:14

(References: Jeremiah 14:2-3)


[14] All these places show what is meant by 'the gate of enemies', namely hell, or those from hell who are constantly mounting an assault on goods and truths. They have their seat with a person, as has been stated, in his natural mind; but when the person is such that he allows goods and truths, and so angels, to enter in, the Lord drives away from that seat those who are from hell. And once they have been driven away, the gate to heaven, or heaven itself, is opened. This gate also is mentioned in various places in the Word, as in Isaiah,

A song in the land of Judah, Ours is a strong city, salvation will establish walls and rampart. Open the gates and the righteous nation that keeps faith will enter in. Isaiah 26:1-2.

In the same prophet,

Thus said Jehovah to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to put down nations before him, and I will open the loins of kings, to open doors before him, and the gates will not be shut; I will go before you and make straight the crooked places; I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut asunder the bars of iron. Isaiah 45:1-2.

In the same prophet,

The sons of the foreigner will build up your walls, and their kings will minister to you. They will keep your gates open continually, day and night they will not be shut. Violence will no more be heard in your land, devastation and ruin within your borders; and you will call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise. Isaiah 60:10-11, 18.

In the same prophet,

Go through, go through the gates; prepare the way for the people; level out, level out the highway. Say to the daughter of Zion, Behold, your salvation comes. Isaiah 62:10-12.

In Micah,

They will go through the gate, and go out by it; and their king will go on before them, and Jehovah at the head of them. Micah 2:13.

In David,

Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O eternal doors, and the King of glory will come in. Who is this King of glory? Jehovah strong and mighty, Jehovah mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O gates, lift up, O eternal doors. Psalms 24:7-10.

In the same author,

Celebrate Jehovah, O Jerusalem, praise your God, O Zion! For He strengthens the bars of your gates, He blesses your children in the midst of you. Psalms 147:12-13.

(References: Isaiah 14:1-2)


[15] From all these places it is evident that 'the gate of heaven' is the place where angels are present with a person, that is, where good and truth are flowing in from the Lord. Thus there are, as has been stated, two gates, to which the Lord refers in Matthew as follows,

Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the road is broad which leads away to destruction; and those who enter by it are many. For narrow and strait is the road that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Matthew 7:12-14; Luke 13:23-24.

In addition the gates to the New Jerusalem and the gates to the new Temple are dealt with extensively in Ezekiel and also in John, in the Book of Revelation. By these gates nothing else is meant than the entrances into heaven - see Ezekiel 40:6-49; 43:1-2, 4; 44:1-3; 46:1-9, 12; 48:31-34; Revelation 21:12-13, 21, 25; 22:14; Isaiah 54:11-12. And this is why Jerusalem is called The Gate of the People, Micah 1:9; Obad. verse 13.

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Footnotes:

1. literally, the sons of firstfruits

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(References: Genesis 22:17; Matthew 7:13-14; Obadiah 1:13)


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From Swedenborg's Works

Inbound References:

Arcana Coelestia 2943, 3187, 3672, 3721, 8327, 9338, 9927, 9954, 10447


References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

Apocalypse Explained 278, 375

Other New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:

Gates


Word or Phrase Explanations:

Break

Enemy

Gate

Inherit


Glossary of Terms Used by Emanuel Swedenborg

Thanks to the Swedenborg Society for the permission to use this translation.


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