#MondayMotivation: Sunday’s Sermon 11/17/19

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Conversation with Swedenborg’s Process of Regeneration

Rev. Alison Moore, Nov. 17, 2019

New Church of Montgomery, Cincinnati, OH

Genesis 28:10-16; Luke 6: 46-49; Divine Love and Wisdom 330

I left my composed sermon behind, due to a lack of ink in the host’s printer, but also following my own deep sense that speaking from my heart was the better thing to do this day.

The Readings:

Genesis 28:10-16 10 Jacob left Be’er Sheva and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

After the reading from Genesis, I invited the congregation to reflect on the detail that Jacob was to be a blessing. He wasn’t just to be blessed, he was to be a blessing to others. The path of regeneration opens to each of us a connection with heaven, which is like Jacob’s vision of the angels ascending and descending between us and God. It is the gate of heaven.

Luke 6:46-49 46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on sandy soil. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

After the reading from Luke I observed that I grew up believing my spiritual house was already built on a rock simply by virtue of being born into the right denomination. We “had” the rock, and it was everyone else whose house was built on the sand and that would fall. I now believe that we all build our houses on sand repeatedly until we learn what spiritual rock truly is. The process of spiritual growth and regeneration may mean that our spiritual house falls down several times, requiring us to re-examine the things upon which our beliefs are founded. I invited everyone to forgive themselves and be open to the times when the foundations of everything they believe seem threatened, because that is an invitation from God to grow.

Divine Love & Wisdom 330 The divine purpose of creation is that all humankind enter heaven. Every secondary goal in creation is in service to this primary goal. Because the whole focus of creation in on the regeneration of humankind, this focus breaks down into three areas of human life: our physical bodies, the development of a rational capacity, and ultimately our a spiritual life which grants us union with the Divine (which is heaven). We are united to the Divine by a spiritual life; but we cannot live a spiritual life without a developed rational faculty, and we cannot maintain a rational perspective when our physical life is unstable. Our body is like the foundation of a house; the rational faculty provides a sturdy dwelling; and because of these structures, spiritual consciousness flows in from the Lord, dwelling within them.

From this we can discern the priorities of providence regarding our lives: to support the health of our bodies, so that we can develop our rationality, so that we can be made spiritual and become joined to the Lord.

Following the reading from Swedenborg’s Divine Love and Wisdom, I highlighted that the very purpose of our lives on earth is to become angelic—that all of Providence is aimed at our spiritual growth—and that by engaging on this path of regeneration we are asking God to make us blessings.

The following is the best I can recall of what I said in lieu of a written sermon:

Welcome to this beautiful harvest feast celebration. It is a lovely thing to see the two congregations coming together in shared worship. As someone who left the one tradition in order to pursue ordination and the right to serve as a minister in the other, I know a bit about loss and about needing to find comfort within new traditions. And I imagine that, for some in this room, the ways we will worship this morning will feel unfamiliar.

I have come to understand the two traditions as representing the two directions of the cross. The Glendale New Church which comes from the “high church” or conservative branch worships in a very vertical way. The focus is on God. The relationship is between the individual and God, therefore there is discouragement of anything social and a preservation of what is called “a sphere of worship”. It favors silence in the sanctuary, and that all social conversation remains outside, in the hall and the rest of life. There is something beautiful about that.

The Montgomery New Church which comes from the original flavor Swedenborgians in North America is more casual. They hold the place of the horizontal bar of the cross, welcoming space for our connection with each other. There is hugging and quiet chatting in the sanctuary. Their art and music is more homespun. Their ornamentation and ritual tends to be simpler and their presence unpretentious. There is something lovely and comforting in that. It is unintimidating.

I see value in both. And I give each one of you here permission to be uncomfortable with things that are unfamiliar, and still to prefer what you prefer. I invite you to be curious about the unfamiliar practices, and to open in yourselves a way to appreciate the other without any need to feel inferior or superior. This is how we walk together. We can hold fast to what we love, without needing to invalidate things that are different.

So this morning, I want to talk about the way psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs can be in conversation with Emanuel Swedenborg’s foundations of regeneration. “Regeneration” according to Emanuel Swedenborg is the reason we are here—to become better people—to see the ways we are short-sighted and selfish and insensitive to others, and to make small changes daily as we seek to become better people. We are here to become a blessing to others. This process takes a lifetime of experience and learning (and sometimes big mistakes), and I think we are meant to be patient with ourselves, so that we don’t give up.

Maslow stated that there are five stages of human needs, each stage completely dependent on the previous stage for it to exist. The same way Swedenborg describes the health of the body and then a sound rational mind as necessary before a human can be regenerated, Maslow describes similar requirements that seem to map very well onto Swedenborg’s teachings.

Abraham Maslow’s most foundational human needs are the ones you might imagine if you were plunked down on an alien planet and knew nothing about how to survive. Immediately, you would need to know what is good for shelter, what is good to eat, and how to clothe yourself. You would need to be able to rest—to get sufficient sleep without needing to worry about remaining vigilant.

This leads to the next level of human need which is safety and security. Once our most basic physical needs are met, we need to know how to protect ourselves. What is dangerous? We need to know we can relax into knowing our physical well-being is not imminently threatened before we have time for higher pursuits. Security in today’s world financial security. We need to know where our next paycheck is coming from. And this brings to mind our many fellow citizens who are living paycheck to paycheck, trying to hold down three or more jobs to do so. This breaks my heart. This shouldn’t be. It seems to me that our duty, if we believe that all humans deserve the ability to be regenerated, is to see that many more members of society can earn a living wage with dignity, so that they can be freed up to grow spiritually, too.

The third level of human need, once our bodies are well cared for and our future is relatively secure, is love and belonging. We do better in a loving supportive community. We are designed to live in community, and it is life in community that invites us to see the ways we are falling short. I can’t help but think all of the people that I know who have been rejected from their family or community for reasons of gender identity, orientation, religion, skin color, or even their politics today. It is terribly hurtful, and reduces these people to a spiritual homelessness that can take a long time to recover from. I see so many people who have been rejected from their church communities, and the hurt is so deep, that they resolve never to be long to any church again. And I have to ask, if love and belonging in a safe social community is required for us to be able to regenerate, how are we serving these people by kicking them out of our churches and families? Ironically, these folks often go on to build for themselves a new social network that does love and support them. It does not reflect so well on the group that did the rejecting.

It is never simple. It is never black and white. It is usually in need of a lot more humility and love, regardless.

The fourth level of human need Maslow calls “esteem.” Esteem has recently been translated as confidence and could also be called faith. This “esteem” is not an arrogant certainty of one’s own correctness or superiority. This esteem is faith in the process of regeneration which could also be called trust in Providence.

“Esteem” requires first that we feel secure enough to face and acknowledge the ways we make mistakes without overwhelming shame. So many of us are prone to shame. Like Adam and Eve, we are more likely to cover up and hide our mistakes than be open and honest. This hiding and covering up prevents our growth. This hiding and covering up creates distance between ourselves and God, and distance between ourselves and each other. I submit that the real sin of Adam and Eve was not eating the fruit, but hiding and covering up out of shame. It was shame that made them hide. It was shame that made them distance themselves from God. They projected onto God an inability to forgive and stepped away. They didn’t even give God a chance.

This maps on to my experience of working with people trying to heal relationships. We seem so quick to blame, when in truth the one we find it hardest to forgive is ourselves. We use shame and blame outward to protect ourselves from feeling our disappointment with ourselves. We armor ourselves with feelings of superiority which are as fragile as glass. It is so easy to throw stones when we forget we also live in a glass house. Why is it so hard for us to see that throwing stones helps nobody? Our shame, like the snake, tells us we are not safe being open with God. Our shame is the opposite of the esteem we need to regenerate. We don’t need to be perfect to get to heaven, we need to trust that God’s providence, compassion, and wisdom are more than enough to get us to heaven if we would just stop hiding.

The fifth level and final level of human need according to Abraham Maslow is what he calls “Self-actualization.” In this state one become so connected with one’s gifts and abilities and loves that one serves intuitively and automatically and without self-consciousness. One is a blessing just in the way one shows up. That description sounds a lot like the outcome of regeneration. Regeneration removes the things that block our usefulness. “Usefulness” does not mean a sort of numb, endless serving out of some sort of obligation or selflessness. In heaven, “usefulness” means coming from joy to contribute to the joy around us. It is a way of being that is hard to imagine. But this is the promise of heaven.

Heaven means all of our basic needs are met. We are not struggling just to get enough sleep or enough food, or to pay the rent. We are supported physically and emotionally. We are safe and we are wanted. We are a desired part of our community where the things we contribute are valued and where we in turn value the contributions of others. The life of heaven will feel something like a really well executed sports maneuver (bump, serve, spike!), or being part of a really magnificent dance troupe successfully performing some brilliant choreography. Each person performs their part to their best, and because everyone is at their best, the combined outcome is brilliant.

This life on earth has only the rarest glimpses of what it could be. The path of regeneration gets all of us there faster and with less suffering.

So this is the summation of what I came to say this morning:

I came to say that we are here to become better people; that God is more than wise enough and powerful enough to lead us to heaven, even when we are having trouble forgiving ourselves and believing it is possible. Instead, let us love each other to bits. Let us do our best doing our own personal growth, and try to stay out of each other’s business. Let us do better at appreciating each other and not criticizing each other, the same way we each would really like it if others appreciated us more and criticized us less. Let us create together the world we need to bring heaven on earth.

Blessings as you go forward from this place. May you increasingly become blessings to each other. Amen.

Today’s topic was inspired by a TED radio hour on Maslow’s human needs.

#ThursdayTheology: #Regeneration, #Genesis & #Maslow

To give you an idea of where we are going this Sunday, here is Swedenborg’s idea of regeneration:

From the Montréal Theosophy Project.

[Swedenborg describes the stages of spiritual regeneration that can be found in Genesis, in Arcana Coelestia,] trans. John Clowes, (West Chester, PA:Swedenborg Foundation, 1998), §16-85



On the seventh and final day, God rests, satisfied with the creation

Microcosmic Correspondence:

This constitutes the highest state of perfection for the individual—a state in which there is complete union between his or her inner and outer selves.

Psycho-Spiritual Meaning:

Now, completely aligned with God’s will, so as to be scarcely differentiated from it, the celestial human being finds rest and peace: “Such is the quality of the celestial man that he acts not according to his own desire, but according to the good pleasure of the Lord, which is his ‘desire.’ Thus he enjoys internal peace and happiness.”

Here is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

Sunday Sermon – Guest Minister, Rev. Jenn Tafel

“Ask God For Help With the Harvest”

July 12, 2015

I talked to Pete and Gloria at our annual church convention a couple weeks ago about
topics for today’s message. We tossed ideas back and forth and the idea that took hold was
speaking to the theme of the year of spiritual uses: the call to bless. You see, our denomination has adopted a seven year cycle of themes: the year of the Lord, the year of the spiritual world, the year of divine providence, the year of regeneration, the year of spiritual uses, the year of the Word, and the year of the New Jerusalem. Congregations and ministers have the freedom to use these themes as they will. It’s been fascinating to see how these themes play out in my personal journey, the journey with my ministry and the collective members of our denomination. God is at work–no doubt!

Let’s begin with a definition of spiritual use. The way that I read what Swedenborg has to
say on this topic is that spiritual use is how God operates in the universe, on our planet, and within each of us–as uses originate from God and for the purpose of reaching others through charitable acts. Some folks say that a use is interchangeable with life purpose–as in, “Oh, have you found your use yet?” Or “My life purpose is teaching and that is my use.” Maybe a way to put it is that God is using the act of teaching to reach others and you are the vessel for this act. I know, semantics! Though, it is is important to understand the depth and magnitude of these keys concepts and the language chosen to express them.

Now, when I began to think about scriptural references for such a message, the first passage that came to mind was, “The harvest is plenty, but the workers are few.” When I’ve referred to this in conversation people echo back, “Oh yeah–I hear that!” Or “Tell me about it–we’re a Swedenborgian ministry!” Maybe this hits too close to home…but let’s unpack the story because I’ve found some potential inspiration–and that’s probably why I was guided to this text. What I found that has been left out of the picture is the next sentence in this passage.

It reads fully, ” Jesus said to the disciples, ‘The harvest is bountiful but the laborers are few. Beg the overseer of the harvest to send laborers out to bring in the crops.'” The next chapter of the Gospel then goes into detail on the calling of the disciples, their tasks, and how to manage these Here are some fun facts about the calling of the Twelve and their job assignments (David Guzik on studylight.org) with a commentary from yours truly:

• The main feature of this list is its diversity. Jesus chose His disciples from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences. About all they had in common was it seems that none of
them were privileged or from backgrounds of high status.

• How do we see that played out today? To me, this definition means that I would be
able to find myself among the disciples. Do we see an imbalance in those in power
claiming to be Christian and those who live out the teachings with no fanfare.

• Jesus did not only call the twelve; He also gave them power to do what He had called them to do. The same principle holds true today: whom God calls, God equips.

• This is an important reminder. Are we able to see the clues and ways that God is
providing for us to do God’s work?

• This is the first and only time in Matthew that the twelve are called apostles. “The word apostle literally means one who is sent out; it is the word for an envoy or an ambassador.” (Barclay)

“Called here for the first and last time apostoloi, with reference at once to the immediate minor mission and to the later great one.” (Bruce)

• This is profound. How are you being an ambassador for Christ? Not the religion–
the Messiah.

• Jesus was touring around the region of Galilee teaching, preaching, and helping needy people with miraculous power (Matthew 4:23). The sending of these twelve was a conscious expanding of that work. Now the work of Jesus was being done by many more than simply Jesus Himself.

• The mission required that the work go beyond Jesus. He understood that. How are
you inviting people to understand spiritual concepts, theology, teachings, and so?
What are best practices? What have you found that doesn’t work?

• “The word which is used in the Greek for Jesus commanding his men, or giving them orders is interesting and illuminating. It is the word paragellein. This word in Greek has four special usages. (i) It is the regular word of military command(ii) It is the word used of calling one’s friends to one’s help(iii) It is the word which is used of a teacher giving rules and precepts to his students(iv) It is the word which is regularly used for an imperial command.”

• What do you think about this? How would you respond to this command? Do we
gloss over the word commandment? How does this challenge us in the context of
our culture?

In one of my readings of the Bible Study Notes by Anita Dole, I remember her saying that
the twelve are aspects of us according to our different life situations and how we respond to said situations. Perhaps it isn’t an endearing compliment, but that’s reality. So, if we can imagine the harvest as a metaphor for the spiritual work God is doing on the planet (aka “uses”), our calling to be a blessing is to respond as the apostles did–job description in hand–as we participate in the This begs the question, “What does this look like in today’s world?” We aren’t literally the apostles with either their positive or negative qualities–though we might be on a spiritual level.

Many people in our culture are at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs–food on the table will always come before spiritual enlightenment. How can we boil this downs of that we may all participate? In our call to worship we recited what God seeks of us: “… to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.” Or even simpler: Love God and equally love the neighbor. Cornell West says that justice is what love looks like in public. How are you being love?

Be the blessing you are and be open to how God’s call is directing you to to be a blessing to
others–often the two go hand in hand.

When choosing the passage for our reading from the Old Testament, I was guided to the
story of the covenant between God and Abraham because Abraham was a person who followed God. He listened. The covenant was established and, as God promised, Abraham was the father of many and his legacy continues to play out today through three major religions on the planet.

We have the same invitation, the same freedom, and the ability to devote ourselves to the Creator and the commandments if we so choose.

What about the life of this congregation? How are you called individually and collectively?
Is your spiritual use in a building or in the community-–or both? Are you called to work by
yourself or with others? What about spiritual uses beyond denomination lines? Does
Swedenborg’s definition of spiritual use go beyond Convention, beyond Christendom, and
further? What does the New Church look like if we didn’t have conceived, imaginary, or physical barriers? This makes me think of building accessibility–creating a church build accessible to all is a great metaphor for a theology and community that is accessible to all.

These are questions for you to meditate upon. I will be lifting you up in prayer as you
contemplate the journey ahead.