05
Mar
13

Dark Night of the Soul, Lenten Observance, Day 33, 2013

Bk. II, Ch. XX: Wherein are treated the other five steps of love.
Sixth Step: Here the soul runs quickly to God and touches Him. The comparison is made to an eagle or other swift bird swooping down to get a refreshing drink of water, or of a hart doing likewise. Here we have action and hope and not the swooning of the Fifth Step. But the connection is a brief one.
Seventh Step: Here the soul gets quite bold and vehement in its boldness. The soul asks of God with some confidence of receiving it. It is on this level that Moses was when he entreated God to be merciful towards the Jews. And though St. John does not mention it, one might cite Abraham arguing with God over the fate of Sodom. I find that scene quite striking, and I’ve heard it said that, for many Jews, the idea of arguing or negotiating with God is a powerful one, and that such arguing and negotiating is what we are called on to do. In other words, the ongoing movement of the world is our responsibility as well. One has to be careful here, as one can become too bold and then all progress is lost and one is at the bottom of the ladder again. The Greeks have some myths like this – the story of the hero Bellerophon who rides Pegasus and defeats the monster Chimaera, but then figures he can fly all the way to Mt. Olympus and the gods cause Pegasus to throw him from a great height, and he falls to his death. That attempt by Bellerophon is an example of hubris, overweening pride, and that will get you in trouble.
Eighth Step: Here the soul grabs hold of the Beloved and will not let Him go. This step cannot be maintained however. If this state remained constant, one would be as in Paradise, something one does not have on earth. So one’s human existence is, it appears, a double one – you have the chance of seeing, or spotting, God for a moment, but the world which envelops us keeps us from maintaining that connection. Sounds rather like all those ads for cell phones – “Can you hear me now? Good.”
Ninth Step: This step is one of perfection and the soul is in union with God. St. John says that even if books were written of this step, most of it would still be untold. And he indicates that later he will treat on this, and so quickly leaves the ninth step. And the idea of union with God must be a personal idea – what must be union for one might make no sense to another. As I commented elsewhere, this reminds me of the Sophist who argued that there was no absolute truth, if there were we couldn’t know it (bound as we are in language), and if we somehow could know it, we couldn’t communicate it. Or as I heard attributed to Robert Frost regarding poetry – “If you can define it, it’s not poetry.”
Tenth Step: This step involves total assimilation with God. And St. John suggests that few experience this in life, that this beatific vision comes after death. And this does not mean that the soul becomes like to God, for God is still beyond the soul, but becomes of like nature to God.
So, in looking at the ladder, St John notes that the higher up one is on the ladder, the more of the secret is apparent to the soul, so that the higher steps are not secret (the soul can apprehend the greater truth). On the lower levels, though, one still has yearnings and there are matters that remain secret from the soul. He also adds that “love is like fire,” and spirals upwards (again the ladder image).

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