03
Mar
13

Dark Night of the Soul, Lenten Observance, Day 31, 2013

Bk II, Ch.XVIII: Explains how this secret wisdom is likewise a ladder.
How is the secret wisdom like a ladder? I know, it seems almost like a riddle. We use ladders to ascend to where we keep our secret treasures stored, and with this divine contemplation and the secret wisdom it offers we ascend to union with God.
Ladders also allow one to go down as well as up. And so we can descend into humility, which is true greatness. Of course, one can also think (St. John doesn’t address this aspect) of falling off a ladder, or slipping downward, which is not the same as descending.
Considering it as a ladder, we also get a metaphor for the ups and downs that one goes under before one attains a quietness.
So we have this up and down until the soul finally becomes united with God, who is at the top of the ladder, which leans against Him, and then there is no longer need of the ladder. So the soul feels moments of exaltation and of humiliation in alternation. The idea of the ladder can also be seen in the story of Jacob and the ladder, a vision Jacob had in which angels were ascending and descending the ladder from man to God.
It is love that unites the soul with God, and this love may be imagined as a ladder or staircase, as St. Bernard and St. Thomas so imagined. St. Bernard spoke of their being 10 steps on this incline, but the ladder itself is beyond our ken, in any deep sense, as being something of God. God alone “measures and weighs it.” There seems an acknowledgement here that a metaphor can only take one so far, that it cannot fully express a truth, but just point us in that direction.
The image of a ladder going upward to God is one that fits in with an idea that God is above us in Heaven (somewhere in the sky). So that imagery (that of God above us) is already part of a way of thinking. Of course, the metaphor does not quite work if we think of God in everything and so there is no ladder up, but just an awareness of God in the world around.
I wonder if St. John himself broke out of the prison in which he was kept using a ladder, and whether that may have some significance for him. The image of Jacob’s ladder may be the chief reason for St. John using the metaphor, a metaphor which addresses the joining of the lowly world with the Lord Most High.

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