In Genesis 28 we met Jacob running scared from his twin brother Esau, who hated him not only for swindling him out of his birthright but for stealing his blessing. But Jacob was full of hope on his journey to find a wife. Then Jacob had a dream the showed him that there was more to his life than fleeing from his brother and finding a wife. He had taken a stone for a pillow and fell asleep. Verse 28 tells us, “He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” Above it stood the Lord. Interestingly, Jesus refers to this dream in John 1: 51, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”
The image of “Jacob’s Ladder” visualizes a vital principle for our spiritual life – descending before we can ascend. Henri Nouwen calls it “downward mobility.” We ascend to God by first descend into the reality of who we are. From the spiritual tradition we are exhorted to, “climb down, into our own passions that lead us to God.” Another adds, “Dive away from sin into yourself, then you will find steps on which you can climb up.” We can not practice “spiritual by-passing.”
I prefer “spiritual flight,” ascending to God, living on the mountain top, rather then having to descend into valleys of my life, where I hide from God. In AA they say, “The more secrets a person keep inside, the sicker he becomes.” I can easily believe the illusions created in my mind and live with the unreality I picture in my imagination. This is not reality. It is simply posing. I don’t know myself, nor do other know the real me. I can use my “spiritual improvement projects” to actually protect myself from God. I John 1:8 warns us, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth does is not in us.”
Descending does not mean we fix, search, or pry, getting caught up in “the disease of introspection” (Payne), but rather we listen to and awaken to what our life is telling us. Our soul thrives on reality, not illusion. I spent many years avoiding listening to what my soul had to say to me, not wanting to face my dark side. It was difficult to learn the practice of “tasting my sin,” while sitting in the ashes of my fallen state. But that is reality. Here a few helpful hints learned the hard way by a man who desires to be a soulful guy, that is, awake to my soul even when it is painful.
First, when you pay attention to your soul, you discover that Jesus’ presence is at the deepest place in your soul. Paul calls it a mystery, “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27). Please remember this – God’s presence is in you, “incarnational reality” (Payne). When you are attentive and listen, you meet God at the center, loving you. As you descend into this love you can accept the good, bad and ugly about yourself. Secondly, the light of God’s presence, helps in the acceptance of your hidden shadow side. We all need to be loved in our vulnerability and shame. Thirdly, we can accept the tension of not having arrived spiritually. We are a work in progress. We are “beloved sinner” on a journey of inner transformation. So men, don’t be afraid of descending. It is the necessary first step in ascending to God.