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Seeing Angels

The 18th-century theological thinker Swedenborg offers a lovely lesson in prayer.


Traveling offers its surprises, those unexpected moments of discovery. Recently I was delighted to get a little lesson in prayer.

We were in Sweden, in Stockholm, and I wanted to see where the great 18th-century theological thinker and writer Swedenborg lived. 

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Alas, our guide told us, his house wasn’t really very convenient to where we were going. But she suggested that we visit a statue of Swedenborg in a small park.

We found the statue and paused long enough for a photo. He looked warm, genial, welcoming, thoughtful, just what I’d hoped. But at the bottom of the bust was a small frieze of a young girl looking up at the bewigged Swedenborg.

He seemed to be holding something out to her—a picture, a book, I couldn’t tell what. And our guide didn’t know.

“Let’s see if we can find a book about Swedenborg,” our guide said. “There’s a good book store here near the park.” 

She led us to a corner bookstore, one of those places that cry out to book lovers everywhere. A jumble of tomes, stacked here and there in no apparent order. A book lover could easily get lost.

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“Do you have anything in English on Swedenborg?” our guide asked. The woman went to a shelf and pulled out a handful of books. All of them in Swedish, alas. 

“We loved seeing his statue,” I said, but we wondered about that image of the girl. 

At once the proprietor of the bookstore burst into English. “You know that story about the girl, don’t you?” she said. No, we said. 

Then she told us. “Is it true that you can see the angels?” the girl evidently asked the scholarly Swedenborg. 

“Yes,” he replied. And then he held out a mirror to her. 

That was better than any book I could have taken home with me. Where is God? He is not so far away at all. All we need to do is look inside ourselves.

What a lovely lesson in prayer.

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