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“After these things, the word of Jehovah came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward….This one shall not be you heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.’ And He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed in Jehovah and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” Genesis 15:4-6

“Once I was out on a walk with some angels. We were walking in the world of spirits, which is midway between heaven and hell, the place where all of us first go after we die. There we are prepared, if we are good, for heaven; if we are evil, for hell. I was speaking with them about many different things, among which was the following.
    ‘In the world where I am currently living in my body, countless stars appear at night, large and small. They are all suns that transmit just their light to our solar system. When I noticed that there are also visible stars in your world, I reckoned that there are the same number here as in the world where I live.’
    Delighted by this topic of conversation, the angels said, ‘There could well be the same number. Every community in heaven at times shines like a star to those who are below heaven. There are countless communities in heaven, all arranged according to different feelings of love for what is good. These feelings are infinite in God; therefore there are countless feelings from him. Since these heavenly communities were foreseen before creation, I suppose that the stars were provided in the same amount, meaning that an equal number of stars was created for the world where people with a physical earthly body were going to live.’” True Christianity §160

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
-Alexander Pope,
An Essay on Man, Epistle I, 1733

I cannot find this exact idea stated in the Word. But we are told a great deal about hope. And eternity. Abraham’s life was dominated by his hope that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. And Swedenborg was buoyed by hope for the future of humans when he saw as many societies in heaven as there were stars.

We have a Concord grape vine on our small estate. The size of its crop has varied widely over the last four years. Every fall I carefully prune it back, right to the trunk, as I am supposed to. All that is left is a three foot long, gnarled stick, about two inches in diameter where it disappears into the ground, with a very dry, flaky bark. In the spring, it very much resembles the dead stems of last year’s raspberries, which are not far away.

And again this spring I worry that the dead looking trunk would never produce anything new or alive. Perhaps I had cut back too far! Maybe these vines have a limited lifetime. I know that our strawberries do not produce forever (at least the rarer, tastier varieties). I transplanted two rose bushes last fall, both with plenty of dead branches. One stayed that way while the other has sent up new sprouts. So my yard is giving me a mixed message, and my worry about the grapes continues.

But I had hope. It was based on an assurance that I was doing the right thing; that my experience was that the dead looking, woody vines sent out new shoots every year before. As I remember with delight the tasty, juicy fruit and the lush foliage in trellis that is the entry to our fruit garden, I am anxious lest it will all be gone!

Now imagine the hope that old Abraham felt when Jehovah told him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars! He already had a child by a handmaid, so he had some experience. And he was a herdsman, and knew first hand how God caused tremendous growth in a flock. But now God was telling him that he and his aged wife Sarah would have as many descendants as the stars, assuring his indefinite posterity. Surely he worried! And surely his hope sprung eternal!

Yesterday I looked at the grape vine. I saw nothing and was concerned. And then I remembered how I experienced this same worry last year (and likely the years before). The hope, the assurance, swept the worry away. I turned back and looked again, driven by the hope of seeing something. And sure enough, I saw one, then two, then three tiny sprouts growing out of that very dry and dead looking trunk! They are small, tender, and fragile. And yet I know they are hardy. Their greenness is the color of life itself-–a combination of the yellow sun and the brown earth and the blue water and air.

The miracle of life is displayed in plant life or the stars. It is my spiritual growth, and my salvation through Jesus Christ, and my eternal life. I certainly have periods when I feel lifeless. Life looks dry. Delight and inspiration feel absent. But that is not the case, for in fact, the Lord’s life continues to be present. And I can stop and remember that the Lord is the constant source of life that is flowing in, even though I don’t feel it. I can remember states of deep delight and great illumination. And then hope springs eternal. A small, green, living bud sprouts, assuring me of future fruitful times. It’s in the stars, if I will look up and remember!

Precursor May 2007