Doug Tanoury (2)

St. John of the Ladder

St. John says that understanding
Is a deliberate lifting up of one’s self
And comes by slow and steady effort,
As if you are climbing a tall ladder
Ring by rung, hand over hand and
Step by step, where ascent is a
Vertical exercise of beating down vice
And stepping on them, one by one,
To raise yourself up.

In his cell, a lone penitent kneels
Head bowed deep in prayer,
As virtues move beneath his garment
And fly like white and tan pigeons,
A rapid flurry of wings flapping
Against the fabric of his hair shirt
As they escape, one by one,
To the window ledge and out
To the open air.

For me, insight comes all at once
Like a multi-vehicle crash on the interstate
Where cars pile up on each other,
One by one, at high speed
To the bang of metal on metal,
The boom of exploding airbags,
As red brake lights silently pulse
On and off bleeding out all my wrong
And mistaken notions.

I prefer the more modern methods of
Spiritual awakening in a midnight vigil
With cars lined up, one by one,
Awaiting neon lit enlightenment
Dispensed at the all night drive through
Of a fast food retail outlet and when the
Speaker crackles, I lean my head out
Of the car window and pray: “Please
Forgive me, for I have sinned…”

The Ladder of Divine Ascent or The Ladder of Paradise. A 12th-century icon described by John Climacus. Monastery of St Catherine, Mount Sinai.

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