Helen Keller’s Light in My Darkness was originally titled My religion when first published in 1927. Decades later, it was renamed—a fortuitous change—if only because it moves the discourse away from the provinciality of religion—into the realm of philosophy and the science of being. The publication details and simplifies the work of eminent 18th century mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg. Keller was an ardent proponent of Swedenborg, and once remarked: “He does such good to me that I long to scatter his teachings among men and women wherever I go.” Keller manages to separate the wheat from the chaff, identifying the core principles of Swedenborg’s Arcana Coelestia and Heaven and Hell. Her work is one of grace and compassion but forceful and direct, when moved. “Our generations are clogged in matter: a mirage,” she opines. She rails against “petty nationalism,” and our passion for fault finding. She is philosophical. Her arguments are sound, rational. Who is God? Why do we suffer if God is love? Why does the Bible appear contradictory? Keller, with unswerving belief in the Swedenborgian doctrine responds with unique clarity.
Keller rejects biblical torment and everlasting hell. According to her, we will be judged and will find ourselves in a place that is consistent with our affections. And if we are severed from the light—and are entangled in a mental hell—we are responsible—not God. Life is merciful and we can be reconnected to God with willingness to change our beliefs. This is a doctrine of hope and celebration of life in its many cultural and religious expressions. For Keller, the Christian bible is a compendium of man’s spiritual evolution, but she is mindful that everyone stands to be saved through belief in God and charity—not solely Christians. Christians, she states, cannot condemn others when they have failed to live up to the very fundamentals of their teachings. She writes: “The idea that vast multitudes are excluded from the blessings of salvation through Jesus Christ is giving way to a more generous understanding that God has other sheep who hear his voice and obey him. “He has provided religion of some kind everywhere and it does not matter to what race or creed people belong as long as they are faithful to their ideals of right living. The one principle to be remembered by all is that religion is to live a doctrine, not merely to believe one.”
Keller goes on to extol prophets of all religions—making particular note of Prophet Muhammad, adding: “The history of religious thought proclaims in trumpet tones that God has never left himself without a witness.” Keller’s life is definable by her acceptance, service and gratitude—her indissoluble belief in God’s love. In fact, central to this work is her painstaking effort to define love. Love, for this author is the building block of the universe—an unsung element. It cements all life—all kingdoms (mineral, vegetable, animal and human). Life is dry, cold and moribund were it not for its presence. This is the gift bequeathed to humankind. It moves and sustains us. It is inside us, encompassing all. Love is life. God is love, incapable of hate and violence. It is man who projects unto God his own anger and intolerance—hence our creator’s human attributes in the Bible. Keller is unequivocal: “It (love) is our inmost essence out of which our spiritual organism is formed, and what we perceive as love is only a sign of that substance. Love actually keeps our faculties alive, as the atmosphere gives the senses of touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing their sentient life.”
And later she cites Swedenborg: “Man knows there is such a thing as love but he does not know what love is.”
For some, Keller’s love seems an unfathomable, an unrealistic idealism in the face of wanton odium, violence and unbearable suffering. But it is man’s separation for God and his divine heritage that produces evil. Man is culpable for trampling on his own spark of divinity and the creation of his contemptible reality. Only a despot creates automatons—perfect and incapable of making decisions. God, she argues, has given us the gift of choice and the opportunity to be reborn, to spiritually regenerate ourselves after faltering. What greater gift is there? Keller’s extraordinary emergence from a tomb of darkness—stricken with blindness, and a hearing loss (in infancy)—to be celebrated by the likes of Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, and Jawaharial Nehru—and become the most impressive figure in history—only adds to her seal of authenticity and peerless wisdom. Keller once said that “the spirit fills the silent darkness with its own sunshine and harmony.” Indeed it is Helen Keller’s ability to create light from darkness—to see, hear and speak through an inner sense—and be of service to the world—that demands an honest study of this work. Our findings may prove Light in My Darkness the most important book ever written.
Light in My Darkness by Helen Keller
1980 Chrysalis Books (The Swedenborg Foundation, Pennsylvania.)
Revised and Edited by Ray Silverman
Ratings: *****: Essential
—Dr Glenville Ashby,
New York correspondent,