A few weeks ago, a colleague posted the above picture on Facebook. It generated a thoughtful and insightful discussion of ladders. We talked about how the ladder is not just a place on which we ascend, but also a place on which sometimes we must descend. We each climb our spiritual ladder at our own pace. Rabbi Elimelech, a Hasidic mystic, taught that if a person wishes to rise higher in their spiritual journey, they must have mastered the character traits of their lower level. He taught that a wise person would first test the safety of the rungs of the ladder to ensure they are whole and intact, so that you could return to them at any point if need be. All too often, we focus on the ascension as positive and think of descending as negative. However, there are some very healthy reasons for returning to a lower rung on the ladder. For example, sometimes we just were not ready for the next rung. Sometimes we have something we need to let go of before we can move forward.
Each step of the ladder requires us to take time to do the inner work needed to continue our journey. When I was doing my undergraduate work, there was a lesbian singer by the name of Meg Christian. She wrote a song called Look Within. In the song, she says great wisdom through painful experience is an inside job. Most spiritual leaders have undergone times in their spiritual climbs where they had to do that inside work so they could walk away with great wisdom.
For many people, Catholics and some Protestants, this is the season of Lent. When most people think about Lent, they think about having to give something up for 40 days, like beer, wine, chocolate, smoking, etc. However, Lent, from a spiritual perspective, is not about this temporary suspension of some habit, food, or beverage. Rather it is about doing the inside work which would enable one to ascend to the next rung of the ladder. Lent is about
L letting go;
E examining self,
N new understandings,
T time with God.
Lent is a time of self-examination, reflection, and re-commitment to one’s relationship with self and the Infinite. Lent is a time to slow down and reconsider the priorities and realities of our lives. Lent is a time for us to renew the process of transforming our lives to be all the Divine created and wants us to be. Lent then is our time to do the work so we can walk away with great wisdom and be ready to ascend to the next rung of our spiritual ladder.
Lent is about letting go, examining self, new understandings, and time with the Infinite. It is time to let go of ideas and values, which no longer work in our spiritual ascension. We are to let go of behaviors and attitudes that bring us out of a state of grace and peace with the Creator. We are to let go of behaviors, attitudes, actions, and relationships that are not about love. This is a time for us to let go. It is a time as the saying goes to let go and let God.
It is time for us to examine ourselves, our ways, our behaviors and look at how culture has dragged us down and separated us from the fullness of who the Divine is calling us to be. It is a time for us to examine ourselves and our lives through the lens of love. In doing so, we examine our selves by what God is because God is love.
When we stop to reflect on how we are a reflection of the Infinite who is love, then we begin to gain a more accurate understanding of who we were created to be. The focus is not about what we do for God or how we earn our living or how much money we make or what kind of car we drive or anything like that. It is about our developing a new understanding of who and what God created us to be.
This is a season for us to stop trying to fix ourselves by ourselves. It is time for us to stop seeing ourselves through the eyes of others. It is time for us to spend some time with God doing working on this inside job. It is time to do the inside work so that we can continue to ascend this spiritual ladder in our lives.