The Seven Stages of a Spiritual Journey
Tiffany’s window series “Angels Representing Seven Churches” was inspired by the descriptions in Chapters 2 and 3 of the Bible’s Book of Revelation.
The Swedenborgian Church, which commissioned the windows, has in its theology that the letters to the seven angels of the churches can be read as the possibility of seven states that human beings can reach in their journey of spiritual development, and as seven stages of development that all individuals have access to in their spiritual journey.The weaknesses of each community, with warnings of the consequences of their actions, are addressed and promises for reform are highlighted. The gifts that will be received when these weaknesses are overcome are depicted in the hands of each angel. In the address of each letter to the angel of the church the scripture passages convey the idea that angels correspond to communities, types of people, and spiritual states.
The seven angels offer their gifts as rewards at the various stages of spiritual salvation humanity can experience, both individually and as a whole.
Ephesus represents people “who focus primarily on truth they have been taught and not on the good they could do.” This letter makes a promise to those who, seeing this tendency in themselves, change their desire to learn truth into a desire to do good: “I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the middle of the paradise of God.” This, in turn, allows them to receive “all loving-kindness from the Lord.”
Smyrna represents those who do good but “do not approach the Lord.” When living the truth, individuals know – but without acknowledging – that increased understanding comes from the Divine. Thus one believes that we “do good under our own power because we have the ability to do good.” In the letter to Smyrna the promise is, “be thou faithful until death, and I will give thee the crown of life.” The gift, a crown which adorns the head, represents the understanding that the Lord “alone is life, and from the Lord alone eternal life.”
Pergamos represents those “who come to equate religion entirely with doing good deeds and not at all with learning truth.” In this missive individuals are challenged to act communally, to do good things from the truth they know and to acknowledge God so that, within them, love and truth will be entirely at one. A promise is made “to those that overcome — a white stone and in the stone a new name written.” This gift represents that “truth united to goodness is inscribed not on our memories, but on our lives.” The “new name written” means God’s essential qualities: love, wisdom, mercy, innocence, freedom, peace and healing wholeness.
Thyatira represents those who “have faith that is detached from charity.” This letter challenges persons to let the truth guide us to do good and, through good deeds and relying on the Lord, to win victory over selfishness in order to live a new life. The letter states, “to those who overcome I will give power over the nations – and I will give them the morning star.” The gifts that result from successfully fighting temptations are “to rule over the nations” to overcome the evil and — represented by the dawn luminary — intelligence and wisdom given by the Lord.
Sardis represents those who live “only the outward appearance of charity and faith.” In the letter to Sardis one is challenged to continually seek the truth, yet to realize that what is learned is only confirmed within when one acts lovingly from the truth that is understood. We are promised that those who “overcome shall be clothed in white.” In the Word, white is mentioned in connection with truth because it originates from the light of the sun.
Philadelphia represents those who live in “truth based on goodness from the power of the word,” that is to rely on the Lord’s strength to fight temptation, and in turn, live in a reborn state. The letter to Philadelphia promises, “To those that overcome I will make a pillar in the temple of my God – and I will write upon them my new name.” This means that by becoming in this life one who “sustains the Lord’s church in heaven” we will be “protected and preserved.”
Laodicea represents those who “at one time deny and at another time acknowledge the Lord as the source of all that is good and true.” This letter challenges individuals to be diligent in keeping the Lord as a guide and not to revert to a belief that one does good or knows truth on their own. Promising “to those that overcome I will grant to sit with me in my throne,” the missive conveys that we will be “united with the Lord in heaven.”