A Book Excerpt from "How I Would Help the World"

Now Featured at the Patheos Book Club
How I Would Help the World

By Helen Keller
Introduction by Ray Silverman

Chapter One
A Great River of Light

Since I was sixteen years old, I have been a strong believer in the doctrines given to the world by Emanuel Swedenborg. It was his mission to teach men to listen to the inward voice rather than to opinions and disputations. After many years of reverent study of the Bible, I gratefully wonder if I am not more indebted to Swedenborg for the faith that turns my darkness to light than I have yet realized. I acknowledge my profound indebtedness to Emanuel Swedenborg for a richer interpretation of the Bible, a deeper understanding of the meaning of Christianity, and a precious sense of the divine presence in the world.

I have many times tried to recall the feelings that led me to take Swedenborg's interpretation of Christianity rather than my father's; but I can find no satisfactory answer. It was with me as it was with Joseph Conrad, when an irresistible impulse urged him to go to sea. Like him, I took "a, so to speak, standing jump out of my associations" and traditions  --  and the rest is what I have grown to be. The theological teachings of Swedenborg are in many long volumes. The summation, the universal theology, is found in his magnum opus, True Christian Religion. Yet his central doctrine is simple. It consists of three main ideas: God as divine love, God as divine wisdom, and God as power for use. These ideas come as waves from an ocean which floods every bay and harbor of life with new potency of will, of faith, and of effort. To our conception of God, the Word, and the Hereafter, which we have received on trust from ages of unproved faith, Swedenborg gives a new actuality, which is as startling, as thrilling as the angel-sung tidings of the Lord's birth. He brings fresh testimony to support our hope that the veil shall be drawn from unseeing eyes, that the dull ear shall be quickened, and dumb lips gladdened with speech. There is among us a distressing indifference to all things of faith, and impatience at any effort to explain the laws of life in spiritual terms. The only really blind are those who will not see the truth -- those who shut their eyes to the spiritual vision. For them alone, darkness is irrevocable. Those who explore the dark with love as a torch and trust as a guide find it good. Blind people who have eyes know that they live in a spiritual world inconceivably more wonderful than the material world that is veiled from them. The landscapes they behold never fade. The flowers they look upon are the immortal flowers which grow in God's garden. Swedenborg's message is like the rock smitten by Moses, yielding sweet streams of healing water, even an abundance of truths for those who hunger and thirst in their pilgrimage through an age of materialism and selfishness.

The doctrines set forth by Swedenborg bring men by a wondrous way to God's city of light. I have walked through its sunlit ways of truth, I have drunk of its sweet waters of knowledge, and the eyes of my spirit have been opened, so that I know the joy of vision which conquers darkness and circles heaven. Of one thing I am sure; any effort is worthwhile that brings comfort to limited, struggling human beings in a dark, self-centered age; and Swedenborg's message has meant so much to me! It has given color and reality and unity to my thought of the life to come; it has exalted my ideas of love, truth, and usefulness; it has been my strongest incitement to overcome limitations. The atmosphere Swedenborg creates absorbs me completely. His slightest phrase is significant to me. There is an exquisitely quietening and soothing power in the thoughts of Swedenborg for people of my temperament. I wish I might be able to radiate the spiritual illumination that came to me when I read with my own fingers Heaven and Hell. All the days of my life since have "proved the doctrine" and found it true. If people would only begin to read Swedenborg's books with at first a little patience, they would soon be reading them for pure joy. They would find much to be glad of in heaven and enough to show them that the soul is everywhere, and enough to prove that love and God are so closely allied that we cannot know much about one and miss the other. His Divine Love and Wisdom is a fountain of life I am always happy to be near. I find in it a happy rest from the noisy insanity of the outer world with its many words of little meaning and actions of little worth. I bury my fingers in this great river of light that is higher than all stars, deeper than the silence that enfolds me. It alone is great, while all else is small, fragmentary.