When I am walking the dogs, I am fortunate to be able to stand on the shore and contemplate the mystery of the sea. It embraces the whole earth, for it is continuous without interruption from the shores of the Arctic Circle to those of the Antarctic. Scientists tell us how essential the oceans are for life to exist on earth. The sea is very different to the land as it seems almost alive with its moods and rhythms. One moment it is dark and menacing, the next sky blue and calm. The security of the shore is the place where this ‘living’ creature interacts with us. We adapt to its tides. it reshapes our beaches and strews them with flotsam and jetsam from many miles away. We use it for travel, a source of food and pleasure.
This fascination with the sea is not just physical as there is a spiritual element to it too. We are so drawn to it, that homes in our country are valued more for their sea views. An explanation of this relationship is found in the concept that all things on earth correspond to spiritual realities. We are taught that the sea corresponds to facts. Its vastness reflects the vast number of facts available. This correspondence inspired Habbakuk to say, “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
Scientists are constantly adding to the number of facts available. From early childhood we are constantly gathering facts of all kinds from this intellectual ocean. The ones we learn and use are stored away in our memory. The Lord says that these individual facts are like the innumerable grains of sand which the sea deposits on the beach: (Psalm 139:17, 18), “How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand…”
Many of them we cannot still recall. As we age the sands of memory seem to get washed further out each year. But all is not as it appears. The Writings of Swedenborg teach that every fact we have acquired is never really lost. Swedenborg wrote that when we die, “we even take with us our natural memory, since we retain everything we have heard, seen, read, learned, or thought in the world from earliest infancy to the very end of life. However, since the natural objects that reside in our memory cannot be reproduced in a spiritual world, they become dormant the way they do when we are not thinking about them. Even so, they can be reproduced when it so pleases the Lord.”
In Luke 12:15, the Lord warns us about relying on the abundance of our possessions. He not only means materials ones but also factual knowledge. Many world leaders illustrate how human egos use these for their own self-centred ends. We are all prone to do this.
The Lord teaches in the same passage that the crucial thing is to be rich towards God. In other words, material possessions or factual knowledge should not be used to bolster our egos but used to enable us to better love our neighbour as ourself.
As I stand on the beach and look out with wonder at the sea, I become aware of the vast number of facts available to mankind. I have used a very small percentage of them. When I look at the grains of sand at my feet, I am reminded how many different knowledges have been part of my life. Then I call the dogs, turn and return to living, using the small riches of knowledge that I still retain to try and be rich towards God.
With all good wishes, Rev. John Sutton