One of the primary sources we have for understanding how monastics engaged the practice of contemplative reading of scripture in the first centuries of the Church’s life is called The Ladder of Monks, by a Carthusian named Guigo II. “The ladder” was the practice by which monks considered the text before them and examined it with study and questions and commentary, but then also began to leave their intellectual work behind for the spiritual work of contemplating what was beyond the power of their rational mind to understand. One of the rungs beyond meditation on the text was prayer or conversation with God about the text, and one of the rungs beyond that was silent time with God.
I believe that much of what we do together in Christian spiritual practice is a way of getting to this place, a place where we may dwell simply in the presence of God and be strengthened and grounded there for the work and play of living to which God calls us each day. But we often need a little help getting there. Our minds want something to chew on; our reason wishes to “understand” the God we’re supposed to be speaking with. The “ladder of monks” was a way of combining all of these things, of sating our intellects with the desire we have for knowledge while releasing our hearts into a place with God where only faith and trust can go.
This is the core practice of our small groups which continue to meet on Zoom even as we turn to other, in-person meetings. It can inform everything we do together as a Church. At its core, the practice is to consider what lies before us—whether that be a passage of scripture, or an important decision, or a difficult feeling—to parse what we can of it and then, when our considerations are done, to turn to God in prayer and stillness. You can even do this right now, but it’s pretty great in community, too.
Our next series of small groups will begin later this summer, and regular formation and education offerings will return in the fall. In the meantime, we can all climb the “ladder of monks” in our daily lives. We can remind ourselves that sometimes there comes a moment in our thinking or study or worries when it’s time to put down whatever it is we’re meditating on and simply be with God – God who is present in all things and holds us through all things, whether we understand it or not.
— James Joiner+