John of the Cross: Clouds and Ladders

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Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of Him who has perfect knowledge? Job 37:16

“The steps and footprints which God is imprinting upon the souls that He desires to bring near to Himself, and to make great in union with His wisdom, have also this property, that they are not known. Wherefore in the Book of Job mention is made of this matter. By this are understood the ways and roads whereby God continually exalts souls and perfects them in His wisdom, which souls are here understood by the clouds. It follows, then, that this contemplation which is guiding the soul to God is secret wisdom…This secret wisdom is likewise a ladder. With respect to this it must be known that we can call this secret contemplation a ladder for many reasons. In the first place, because, just as men mount by means of ladders and climb up to possessions and treasures and things that are in strong places, even so also, by means of this secret contemplation, without knowing how, the soul ascends and climbs up to a knowledge and possession of the good things and treasures of Heaven.”

John of the Cross (1542-1591) in Dark Night of the Soul, translated by E. Allison Peers, 85-86. John was a Carmelite monk who is know for this famous work.

On a recent flight I was wondering “how the clouds hang” in the sky. Every wonder this? We don’t understand most of what goes on around us. That’s especially true with perfection or spiritual growth.

A person very close to me is going through a bit of a dark night of the soul. In mining John of the Cross in search of generous wisdom to pass on to that person, I come up with one thought after digging

We can’t fully understand the ways of God so we must trust the goodness of God. But how? Look at the clouds and get a different ladder. Climb not for things but for treasures of Heaven.

This is the tricky part, especially for those in a dark and discouraging place, which may be why John tends to use the word ‘secret’ a lot. You don’t figure this out until you lean into it.

To see the clouds we have to look up. Know anyone who is down? Encourage them to keep looking up. The God who holds those clouds holds them too. Don’t let them forget it.

And, tell them to go get a ladder, a different ladder than the one all their friends are using. This latter actively fills their minds with knowledge and true riches which can help set them free.

Or if they are struggling to ascend that ladder or too weak and weary, just love them generously. Maybe sit and look at the clouds with them. Though alone, I did today from my hotel room after the storm broke in Auckland.