jacob's ladderIn her book Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies throughout the Ages, Ursula King writes: “A wealth of scriptural passages have inspired Jewish and Christian mystics alike. Through an allegorical reading of Scripture, the mystical significance of particular texts was heightened so that biblical images and teachings nourished Christian mystics through the ages. In the Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament, the book of Genesis includes the important teaching that the human being is created in the image of God. A fundamental insight for Christian mystical theology, this teaching expresses a vital truth about the relationship between God and his creatures, and also about the nature of the soul. Other important images from the Old Testament are Jacob’s vision of a ladder reaching down from heaven to earth, providing a connection between both realms; Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush on Mount Sinai; Isaiah’s awesome Temple vision of the Lord in glory; and the most fertile source of all, the Song of Songs, with its erotic and sexual imagery, which was mystically interpreted as symbolising the relation between the soul and God.”

It is worth noting that such allegories along are sometimes found within the text of scripture itself. For instance, in John 1 we read that,

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

Compare to Genesis 28 where Jacob has a prophetic dream of,

A stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

Such allegories also inspire Christian art. The above image, by Indian artist Jyoti Sahi is called, “Lord as Ladder of Perfection”. For the Christ-centred mystic, Jesus IS the stairway to heaven.

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