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Working Through Fallow Times with A Ladder of Monks

By Galina Krasskova

[Snip] I was blown away last week when I read Guigo II’s “Ladder of Monks.” I resisted reading it and put it off till the last moment but it’s a book that I think personally I shall continue to treasure for a long time. It’s written by a 12th Century Cistercian Abbot as a letter to his friend and spiritual brother Gervase. In it, with charming simplicity and humility, he lays out his process for engaging in what Christians call “lectio divina,” a type of engaged, close reading of spiritual texts that has the potential to lead to direct experience with God. While I’m still suspicious of any mysticism mediated by a text — I’ve seen what passes in Heathenry where reification and sometimes outright fetishization of the texts often supplants devotion to the Gods (perhaps in some misguided habitual desire for a “Scripture”?)— I was quite struck by the useful beauty of his four steps: reading, meditation, prayer, and finally contemplation (which in this text is more or less used as a synonym for direct experience with one’s God, i.e. mystical experience). The text is also replete with lush metaphors of wine and inebriation, wherein spiritual experiences are likened to the sweetness of the grape. He talks of the taste of God, speaking to the senses as mystics do, and of longing. Most importantly of all, he provides a cogent, carefully considered reasoning for those times when God withdraws His presence and I thought of every mystic and every god spouse that I have ever known when I read this:

“There is a common saying that too much familiarity breeds contempt. And so He withdraws Himself, so that He is not despised for being too attentive, so that when He is absent, He may be desired the more, that being desired He may be sought more eagerly, that having been sought for He may at last be found with greater thankfulness.” (p. 77).

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