Emotion As Inner Meaning

And Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this that you have done to me? Why did you not point out to me that she is your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister?’ And I would have taken her for my woman. And now, look: your wife; take her, and go.”

The fact that he said, “What is this that you have done to me?” means that it caused him anguish can be seen from the outrage itself with which the words are said. The anguish, then, is explicitly voiced in these words. The inner meaning is such that the actual emotion implicit in the words is what makes up their inner meaning. (Secrets of Heaven (Arcana) 1492)

Secrets of Heaven, Swedenborg’s exegesis of Genesis and Exodus, offers many different methods of discovering the inner meaning of the Bible story. Most of the time it gives the correspondential meaning of several key words in a verse and then weaves them together in a coherent idea. Sometimes it refers to the general train of thought for the explanation. On rare occasions it describes the inner sense s opposed to the literal sense. But imagine looking for the inner meaning in the emotion behind the words!

The word I translated as “emotion” in the quote from Secrets of Heaven is the Latin word affectio. It is related to the verb afficere or “affect” and means being-affected-by. We tend to think of an emotion or feeling as something that comes from inside us and goes outward toward its object: love, affection, dislike or hatred – they all express our attitude toward something “out there”. But Latin looks at a feeling as the effect that the object has on us. So the resentment that charges Pharaoh’s words here can be seen less as an outpouring of anger than as a response to the loss that now touches his life.

This is a useful way to view emotions, in my experience. The more I see my negative emotions as my own private reaction to external stimuli, the more clearly I see I have no direct control over them. And the more I give up trying to control them, the less control they have over me.

Those “affections”, those indications of the effects that angels and evil spirits have on our souls, must be hiding behind every word of revelation, waiting to be discovered. What rich meaning the Word would have for us if only we could open our eyes to the emotions within it!

From an article in Theta Alpha Journal, by Lisa Hyatt Cooper

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