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.
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.