Spirit: The Final Frontier

Space: The Final Frontier? - Star Trek: The Next Generation

Space: The Final Frontier?

It’s about time I ’fessed up: I am a big fan of science fiction in general, and of Star Trek in particular. Whenever I watch an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” I thrill to the grand voice of Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, intoning those inspiring words in the show’s opener:

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Yet as much as I enjoy venturing with Picard and his crew on an exciting voyage into the frontiers of space (as the human mind imagines it), there is always a little voice in the back of my head saying “Yes . . . but space isn’t the final frontier.” So I offer you this modified version of that famous call to exploration:

Spirit: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Humankind. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds of spirit, to seek out new ways of living and new levels of civilization, to boldly go where we have never gone before.

Spirit Trek

Let’s call it “Spirit Trek.” This truly is a voyage into the final frontier. Not the frontier of outer space, but the frontier of inner space. It is a voyage into the frontier of spirit. This is the voyage on which Jesus sends us when he says:

Truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again. . . . Truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:3, 5–6)

When Jesus originally spoke these words, Nicodemus, the religious leader to whom he spoke them, was confused. For someone steeped in a form of religion that involved mostly the observance outward rituals and literal laws, the things of spirit truly were a strange new world. It was unexplored territory. It involved a whole new way of living: a way of life inspired by deeper goals of faith in God and kindness toward our fellow human beings, rather than a life driven by a desire for more money, more power, more status, more possessions.

If all the people on earth, or even a sizable percentage of the world’s people, were to live in this new and spiritual way, the earth would see a whole new level of civilization: a civilization built on mutual respect and service rather than on competition and striving for domination. It would lead to a civilization, a world, being newly created in the pattern of the holy city, New Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God. And that is a place—no, it is a state of mind and being—where we, the human race, have never gone before. It is a whole new and very exciting way for us to live. It is a way of life that we long for in our heart of hearts as we struggle along in a world that seems so far from the heavenly ideal, and as we realize that we ourselves fall far short of the glory for which God, our Creator, designed us.

Out with the old!

As we look forward with longing for that great future age of peace, harmony, and mutual goodwill among all the peoples of the earth, let’s look back for a moment to another time when the churches of the Western world had fallen far from their heavenly state, and were concerned mostly with the material concerns of wealth and power.

By the eighteenth century, the Christian church had long since left behind spiritual power for worldly power. Some nations were under the sway of the Catholic Church; others were under the sway of various Protestant churches. People who defied the political power of the church usually did not live to tell of it. And when Catholics and Protestants met, it was often with drawn swords and murderous intent. The harps and clouds of heaven were taken very literally—and so was the fire and brimstone of hell. God was a God to be feared, and the Bible was a book to be literally and strictly obeyed. Yet under a thin veneer of civilization, the most cruel, inhuman, and degraded abuses went on largely unchallenged. It was the final pages of a dark chapter in a long and weary human history that abounds in dark chapters.

It’s no wonder that just as Jesus’ strange words of spirit and life confused and confounded his listeners, there was an equally confounded and confused reaction when another bold explorer of the world of spirit, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), published the first volume of his religious writings. In the opening lines of that work he wrote:

The Word in the Old Testament contains secrets of heaven, and every single aspect of it has to do with the Lord, his heaven, the church, faith, and all the tenets of faith; but not a single person sees this in the letter. In the letter, or literal meaning, people see only that it deals for the most part with the external facts of the Jewish religion. . . . Yet each and every detail down to the smallest—even down to the tiniest jot—enfolds and symbolizes spiritual and heavenly matters.

These are the opening lines of Arcana Coelestia, or Secrets of Heaven. The first volume of this massive spiritual work, written entirely in Latin, was published in London in 1749. It was followed by seven more volumes of heavenly secrets, each continuing the remarkable, and to many people, the unbelievable story of Swedenborg’s voyage into the strange new world of spirit as found within the pages of the Holy Bible.

Swedenborg published these volumes anonymously. It was not his intent or desire to start a church named after himself. Rather, he was focused on deepening people’s understanding of the Bible and aiding them with their spiritual growth and in their relationship with God.

In with the new!

Like Nicodemus, most of Swedenborg’s contemporaries regarded these spiritual voyages as strange and confusing flights of fancy. They asked, “How can these things be?” But Swedenborg had already replied to this question, quite calmly, in that first volume:

The Lord, in his divine compassion, has enabled me to understand the inner meaning of the Bible. This meaning contains deeply hidden secrets which no one has ever had the slightest conception of before now. It would be impossible to understand them without knowing what the other life is like, since this is what most of the Bible’s inner meaning refers to and describes. Now, however, I can tell about what I have heard and seen while I have been with spirits and angels during the last few years. I realize that many people will say it is not possible for anyone to talk with spirits and angels while still living in the physical body. Some will say I am hallucinating and some will say I am writing these things just to get a following. Others will make other objections. But none of this discourages me, because I have seen, I have heard, and I have felt. (Arcana Coelestia #67–68)

With these words, Swedenborg invites us to explore strange new worlds of spirit, to seek out new ways of living and new levels of civilization, to boldly go where we have never gone before. These are the voyages of the starship Humankind into the worlds of the spirit—the true final frontier.

That voyage begins simply, gently, yet oh, so powerfully in the opening words of the book of Genesis, which is the beginning of God’s Word to humankind:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:1–3)

To material, human eyes, these words seem to be merely an ancient, mythic account of the creation of the physical universe. Yet the light that God created with these words was not limited to the kind of light that our physical eyes can see. Not at all! The light that God creates is the brilliant inner light that illuminates our understanding. It is a light that enables us to see those amazing new worlds of spirit that Swedenborg found in his inspired voyages into inner space.

This is the light of spiritual truth.

The final frontier

The voyage of our own personal starship into the vast reaches of spirit begins when God opens our inner eyes to that deeper light, which radiates out from the Creator so gloriously. When our eyes have been opened to this light, we can never again be satisfied with the fleeting, temporary possessions and pleasures of this earth. Yes we will continue to appreciate the wonders of God’s creations in the material universe. But when our spiritual eyes are opened we see far greater wonders—wonders that had previously been hidden from our eyes.

God is calling each one of us to a voyage into that world far beyond the stars. It is an exciting voyage of discovery, because every discovery is not only tremendously enlightening, but intensely personal. On this journey we will discover our own ability to understand both ourselves and the people around us in ways that can heal past hurts and make new and deeper connections of trust and friendship.

On this journey, we will discover that beyond all the ways we have been stifled, beyond the ways we have stifled ourselves, there is a power of love within us that is greater than anything we had ever conceived of before. This power of love can propel us to deep and lasting joy as we express our love to one another through acts of kindness and compassion.

On this journey, we will make the most exciting discovery of all: that beyond all our power to grasp it, there lies at the center of the universe an infinite, powerful, intimate, compassionate, and intensely personal love. This love is in the person of the Lord God, our Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Spirit: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Humankind.

This article is edited from a talk I originally delivered on September 19, 1999.

For further reading:

 

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in Popular Culture, Spiritual Growth
7 comments on “Spirit: The Final Frontier
  1. Brian says:

    Thanks Lee, this one really put a smile on my face! 😀

    It’s interesting to note that Gene Roddenbery, the creator of Star Trek, had some ideas about humanity in the future that, at least on the surface, were in line with what Swedenborgians believe as well. He felt that we would outgrow our bigotries, desire for material wealth and enter into a new age of cooperation for the betterment of all mankind. I’m not sure what his spiritual beliefs were, but regardless of space travel, it sure would be something if by the 23rd or 24th centuries we could even be close to a world like that.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Brian,

      According to the Wikipedia article on him, Gene Roddenberry was a humanist. Apparently he didn’t identify himself as an atheist, and believed in some sort of God, but he rejected organized religion as it exists in present-day culture.

      Whatever his beliefs were about God and religion, as you say, he certainly did believe in the betterment of humankind, and in serving our fellow human beings—which, as you say, is very much in line with what Swedenborg taught. One of the reasons I prefer Star Trek to many other science fiction universes is the high morality and dedication to service to others that is at the core of its primary society and culture (the Federation). Of course, that gets tested, and sometimes violated, but it remains a constant in all of the Star Trek series.

  2. Rob says:

    The last episode showed us that space isn’t the “final frontier”. Remember Q and the paradox?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rob,

      Yes, despite the opening monologue, there are plenty of suggestions in Star Trek that there are frontiers beyond physical space.

      • Rob says:

        What I remember along those lines that really stands out is the episode with the “Traveller”; where he speaks of reality being a contiuum of matter, energy and thought.

  3. Amy Payne says:

    I remember seeing this on an old (possibly tripod) site years ago, and it seemed like the original writer of the “strange new spirit” intro had smoked too much pot, while I agree with it, changing the wordsfrom something popular isn’t the way to get your point across, originality is needed in the world just as much as everything else.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Amy,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      FYI, this article is an edited version of a sermon I preached over a decade and a half ago, when I was serving as pastor of a church in Massachusetts. You can see the original version here. I wrote it from scratch, out of my own thoughts. I’ve been a Star Trek fan for decades. I wasn’t aware of any other article on this theme, but if you can find a link to the one you’re thinking of, I’d be interested to see it. I can also certify that no drugs were harmed—or even touched—in the writing of this article. 😉

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