The Ladder of Divine Ascent: Step 26
Written By: Anonymous
Grade: 10th Grade
Teacher: Fr. Noah Bushelli
Class: Level Vl Catechism
Issue: Set to Appear in the April Issue of the Newsletter
Feelings are not exactly my strong point, you may have noticed. I have a tendency to try to back everything with science and logic, as much as possible. So when the Ladder of Divine Ascent first arrived in the mail, I distinctly remember flipping through its pages and thinking to myself, seriously? This book is about emotions? Emotions are for wimps. This is going to be a piece of cake. But boyyy was I wrong. By the time we got to step 6, I realized my original outlook was pretty dumb. And by the time we got to step 10, it hit me that I was not the “epitome of logic” and all that, as I used to think I was. This “book about emotions” taught me just how ignorant I was. And this “piece of cake” exposed my weaknesses (which was pretty much everything, every step of the Ladder).
A big turning point for me was when, while researching a nice quote to put in a synopsis, I stumbled upon the simple yet profound proverb: “knowledge speaks, wisdom listens”. Suddenly, I realized that what I truly sought was not knowledge and intelligence, but wisdom and discernment. After that, I couldn’t wait until we got to Step 26 and could talk about discernment, my new favorite step of the Ladder. I was even tempted to read it ahead, but I just barely managed to convince myself to wait. And soon enough, we arrived. I was so excited to read it. But then, just like that, it was gone. We were moving on. The step was over with.
So I guess I’m sitting here at 8:00 pm writing this synopsis-turned-essay because I’m pretty sad to see the step go. This is sort of like my farewell letter; my written wish to meet discernment in person one day, the step I’ve read about and loved so much. Here are some of my favorite parts:
~Discernment in beginners is true knowledge of themselves (verse 1)
~Discernment is… purity of perception (verse 3)
~All of verse 7
~If some are still dominated by their former bad habits, and yet can teach by mere word, let them teach… for perhaps being put to shame by their own words, they might begin to practice virtue (verse 14)
~The “excellent alphabet” in verse 17
~Some… are by nature…prone to temperance, or stillness, or purity, or modesty, or meekness, or contrition. But others…to the best of their power force themselves; and though they occasionally suffer defeat yet… they are in my opinion higher than the former (verse 28)
~All of verse 58
And my two all time favorites:
~There are virtues, and there are mother virtues. So a wise man strives rather to
obtain the later. The Teacher of the mother-virtues is God Himself through his energies, while there are plenty of teachers for the daughter-virtues (verse 143)
~Do not be astonished if the demons often suggest to us good thoughts, and
intellectual arguments against them. The aim of our foes in this case is to make us believe that they also know the thoughts of our hearts (verse 154).
But anyway! Onward with the synopsis. In the section “Expert Discernment” St. John Climacus reveals to us the depths of discernment. Those who have truly mastered discernment, those who have become “experts”, so to speak, are able to perceive the will of God. In order to reach this level, we must not only be wise, but have attained stillness. In Step 27: On Stillness, St. John says in verse 21: “those whose mind has learned true prayer converse with the Lord face to face, as if speaking into the ear of the emperor… But those who live in the world petition the emperor amidst the clamour of all the crowds.” Clearly, in order for anyone to reach this level of discernment, he must also learn “true prayer” and attain to high levels of stillness. This goes back to what I wrote about a few synopsises ago, that all higher virtues are tied together.
And I guess that’s it, the last synopsis on my favorite step. I’ll come back to this step and reread it many times, but my greatest hope is that one-day I can meet discernment face-to-face, and possibly, just possibly, we can become friends.