32. Dealing With The Storms In Our Lives (6:14-21)

They who go down to the sea in ships, who work in the great waters; these see the works of Jehovah, and His wonders in the deep. For He speaks, and He raises stormy wind, and makes its waves high; they go up to the heavens; they go down to the depths; their soul is melted because they are in evil; they reel and stagger like a drunken man, and all their wisdom is swallowed up; and they cry to Jehovah in their distress, and He saves them out of their straits. He settles the storm to a whisper, so that its waves are still; and they are glad, because they are quiet; and He led them to their desired haven. (Psalm 170:23-30)

Then the men, seeing what miraculous sign Jesus did, said, This is truly the Prophet, the One coming into the world. Therefore knowing that they were about to come and seize Him, that they might make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain Himself alone. And when it became evening, His disciples went down on the sea. And entering into the boat, they were going across the sea to Capernaum. And darkness had already occurred, and Jesus had not come to them. And the sea was aroused by a great wind blowing. Then having rowed about twenty five or thirty stadia, they saw Jesus walking on the sea, and becoming near the boat, they were afraid. But He said to them, I AM! Do not fear. Then they desired to take Him into the boat. And the boat was instantly at the land to which they were going. (John 6:14-21)

…the particulars signify Divine spiritual things, which nevertheless do not appear in the letter; as the sea, the Lord’s walking upon it, …. the ship, His entering into it, …. and other things besides. But there is no need singly to explain here the spiritual things signified; let it be said only that the “sea” signifies the ultimate of heaven and the church, since there are seas in the outmost borders of the heavens; the Lord’s walking upon the sea signifies the Lord’s presence and His influx even into these, and consequent life from the Divine to those who are in the ultimates of heaven; their life from the Divine was represented by the Lord’s walking upon the sea; (Apocalypse Explained 514{21})

A powerful truth is that the Lord is fully present with us at all times despite how things may appear. In the imagery of the Lord feeding the five thousand we have illustrated that He is the source of all life, and that this includes the life of our thoughts and affections. However, we know from our own self reflection that not all that passes through our minds can be attributed to the Lord – much of it is very self centred and anything but heavenly. Yet this doesn’t detract from the truth that the source of the life of our thoughts and affections is the Lord, their quality however is another thing. We can think of the stream of our mental life as being like a river whose source is high in some mountain range. At its source the water is pure but as it descends it takes on the quality of the environment it passes through. For example, if it passes into an industrial area where wastes are discarded into its waters it becomes increasingly polluted with toxins. The fact that the river is now polluted doesn’t detract from the fact that at its source it is pure.

The life that flows into the deepest part of the human mind, its soul, is pure but as that life of love and wisdom makes its journey into the lower or more external reaches of the mind, it gives life to beliefs and affections that are polluted. They are polluted by evils and falsities that arise from believing the impressions which we receive through our natural senses. One such belief is that we are the source of our life, that what we experience as our thoughts and affections originate from within our own minds. But we know from the Divine Revelation that is provided in the doctrines for Spiritual Christianity, that this is not the case at all. That the truth is that all life flows in and that it originates in the Lord who is life Itself. We are merely recipients of His life, which in finite human minds takes on the quality of the loves and beliefs that we hold to.

So while the life is pure in its origin, its manifestation in us will reflect the quality of our mental environment. If that environment is polluted with the fallacies that arise from our senses due to the love of self and the world then, to that extent, our mind remains an image of hell. On the other hand, to the degree that our mind is a product of goods and truths drawn from the Word, our mind becomes an image of heaven. All that is good and true is from the Lord and all that is evil and false is from hell. This is such an important truth because once it is understood, we can be empowered to consciously reject evils and falsities as they arise in the mind and to acknowledge goods and truths as being from the Lord. It is in this act of refusing to attribute anything to ourselves that sets us in a state of true spiritual freedom in which a new heavenly sense of self can be born.

The casting off of the false belief that what we experience as our thoughts and affections as being from us is perhaps one of the greatest struggles in spiritual work. For when we speak of the senses, we often think only in terms of the senses that belong to the body which give form to our experience of an external world and its objects. But we also have a more inner dimension of sensation. We talk of feeling the physical objects of the world around us, but we also feel things within us. We feel emotions and affections, we attribute warmth, coldness, gentleness and violence to them, and sometimes use scents, visuals and tastes to describe them. These things are not felt as outside of us but within us. And to become aware or conscious of feeling anything whether it is on the outer or inner plane of life requires that we have organs able to detect the different qualities of sensation, for there is what is felt and there is the thing which is feeling what is felt.

The organs that detect and so give us the ability to feel emotions, or see the value of an idea or principle, are not physical but mental or spiritual. Now because these senses are spiritual and spiritual things are the things of the mind, our inner senses must belong to our spiritual body. In fact, it’s an appearance of the senses that the physical body feels anything, for what we think we feel in and by means of the body is actually felt by our spirit. Our bodies don’t feel, our minds do. This seems to be contradicted by our usual sense-experience which tells us that the body feels, but we can see from the following teachings for Spiritual Christianity that we are not to trust our senses…

…the majority of people who have not stopped to reflect on the matter do not know that all five senses are located somewhere else than within organs belonging to the body; so they think that when these organs cease to function through death no sensory perception remains, when in actual fact a person, that is, his spirit, then passes into a life of perfect sensory perception. (Arcana Coelestia 4652)

…it is not the body which sees, hears, smells, and feels through touch, but a person’s spirit. That being so, when the spirit sheds its body it retains the sensory powers it possessed when within the body; indeed these are now far keener. For that which belongs to the body, being gross compared with that belonging to the spirit, has blunted those sensory powers; and these have been made even blunter because of the person’s immersion of them in earthly and worldly interests. (Arcana Coelestia 4622)

What we learn from this is that our ability to perceive the things of the spirit is blunted due to the immersion of our senses in earthly and worldly interests. When we move away from what the Word teaches us is real and into what our natural senses try to tell us, we lose our connection with the Lord and those principles that we need to govern our perspective of life. The things of the spirit become less real for us as we look to external life to gratify the desires of the loves of self and the world. The result is that we place all the importance on those things that lack any eternal value, and value what is merely temporary. Earthly and worldly interests encase our spiritual senses in a dense dark world filled with ignorance and doubts. When our sense of ourselves is trapped in this level of life, we struggle to see that the Lord in the Word is fully present with us, looking to enable us in the spiritual goals and aspirations that belong to the internal man. But as long as we are striving from the natural man, His presence will appear distant, if not at times, completely absent.

The ebb and flow of spiritual life is such that we move from natural to spiritual states of life and back again. We experience the Lord as close to us at times and then distant from us. When we feel comforted, confident and at peace we sense in this that the Lord is near. Then there are times when we feel frustration, anxiety, and depression, and life becomes a struggle and, in these times, we feel as though the Lord is absent.

This process of feeling the Lord present and absent is captured very well in this story of the disciples’ struggle with the storm as they look to go towards Capernaum. We receive teaching from the Word, and it satisfies our need on a number of levels, as witnessed in the feeding of the five thousand. The excitement that is present when we come to see truths that have the potential to bring the changes into our lives that we feel we need, is felt as something good. We take hold of these truths believing this feeling of delight yet possessing truths is not what transforms us, it’s living from them, and the natural mind struggles to understand this. And so we must come to see the distinction between knowing and living from truth, but this distinction can only be realised through the experience of being brought to the end of ourselves. Through a submitting of the sense of self’s belief in its own wisdom to the authority of the Word and what it teaches instead.

So we see in the story that the crowd try to take Jesus by force and make Him a king but on seeing this, He withdraws to the mountain.

Therefore knowing that they were about to come and seize Him, that they might make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain Himself alone.

This is the natural mind’s response to experiencing the delight of seeing truths from the Word. For the natural mind, the natural man, is the crowd in us, the crowd of natural thoughts and affections. And here it thinks that it can take the things of spiritual life and make them serve it as their king. It thinks that it can take the things of religion and look to them to serve natural and worldly aspirations and goals. In extreme forms this tendency expresses itself outwardly in religious fundamentalism, but it takes other forms as well and is something we should become aware of in ourselves. In its more subtle forms, it takes an expression in situations when we insist that we know best and are unwilling to listen to another’s point of view or look to find a meeting ground in the exchange. Whenever this kind of attitude comes to the fore, we lose touch with the Lord, and this is described as Jesus withdrawing to the mountain.

When we begin to act from ourselves and not from the true spirit of the Word, we move away from the Lord which leads to the feeling that the Lord has moved away from us. It’s an important point, because the kind of thoughts that arise from the false belief that the Lord has moved away from us are very different to those based on the truth the Lord never moves. He is always present so if it feels like He is not near then it is we who have moved. The first response leads to us being passive, sometimes offended, if not angry that we have been left. We may even believe something is wrong with us which sees us then falling into states self condemnation and guilt. But if we believe what the Word teaches then our response will be to actively examine ourselves, looking to the Lord to find what needs dealing with and then moving forward with what is revealed to us.

When we act from false beliefs then self interest takes a hold of the spiritual principles that we have been learning and twists them to justify negative emotional states. This is described in verse 16 where we are told that

And when it became evening, His disciples went down on the sea. And entering into the boat, they were going across the sea to Capernaum.

To descend down to the sea is to move into a low state in regard to spiritual life. When we are not looking to apply the Word to our own life but can only see how it applies to others, we set ourselves up as judges and so enter a low state regarding our understanding of the Word. We become trapped in its literal sense, drawing material from it that justifies self righteous attitudes and so we lose touch with the inner sense which speaks to its application to the life of our own mind. The living principles represented by the disciples then enter a boat which corresponds to a natural understanding of what the Word teaches. This boat is what we use to move through life in and are the ideas that we have put together to navigate our way across life’s seas. The fact that Jesus is not present means that it’s a state of living from our own strength in the pride of our own intelligence which is further indicated by the statement that

And darkness had already occurred, and Jesus had not come to them.  

When we are in these states of life, we think that we are right and that the problems and issues which we face are caused by others. We can’t see that the issues and problems that bring us into negative emotional states have nothing to do with others outside of us but are the result of our attachment to false beliefs and conclusions which arise from the senses, and so darken our minds to the spiritual truths involved. The inner winds of these beliefs begin to blow about agitate our mind and increasingly we look to make more efforts in our own strength to overcome the way in which we are feeling. But without Jesus, that is, the Word, in our boat – without recognising that it must be the Lord and governor over our whole life including the inner life of our thoughts and affections – our levels of anxiety will only grow and rage as sea within us.

When the storm becomes too much, we begin once again to turn to the Word as the Lord and in this way, we are brought out of our senses, to our senses. We learn from this experience that we cannot overcome from our own strength. That we have moved away from the Lord by not believing the Word and this is the cause of our inner difficulties. That we are responsible for our states, for what we choose to believe. When, we see this and turn away from looking outside of ourselves for the causes of our condition, then the Lord appears walking on the sea and draws alongside the boat.

Then having rowed about twenty five or thirty stadia, they saw Jesus walking on the sea, and becoming near the boat, they were afraid. But He said to them, I AM! Do not fear.

We are then reassured by the realisation that it is the Word that is our Saviour, the I AM and we need not fear.  In this acknowledgment a desire arises for practise – to apply the truths that He offers as the Word, to take these into the boat which holds all of our ideas about spiritual life and to use these to navigate the sea our life. When we do this, then new land appears for us to journey with Him in.

Then they desired to take Him into the boat. And the boat was instantly at the land to which they were going.

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