Jacob’s Ladder

The practice of meditation called Jacob’s Ladder is a systematic approach I have discovered over time that uses the seven primary chakras described in various yogic traditions as an internal journey to ascend (and descend) with the risen Christ through the Seven Heavens. For the sake of brevity, I will not delve too much into how I discovered this path, except to say, I was in search of a practice that I could use with regularity that would not only place me in the presence of God, but enable me to gain understanding of what I was experiencing there. While I have been tacitly aware that within the apocalyptic world of antique Judaism out of which Christianity emerged there was a tradition surrounding the Seven Heavens which is first described in the Bible in the eleventh chapter of Isaiah and is alluded to rather opaquely in Paul’s notable experience in the Third Heaven as described in 2 Corinthians 12, I hadn’t given much thought to its potential relevance for contemporary spiritual practice until I read from St. Irenaeus of Lyon’s marvelous little treatise, On the Apostolic Preaching. I wholly recommend this work as an excellent entry into how the early church fathers were conceiving of the content of the Apostolic testimony to and about God’s self-disclosure in Jesus. Writing about the world of angels, Irenaeus says:

But this world is encompassed by seven heavens, in which dwell innumerable powers and angels and archangels rendering service to God, the Almighty and Creator of all, not as to One in need, but so they might not be idle nor useless. Thus the Spirit of God is active in manifold ways, and seven forms of service were counted by Isaias the prophet [see Isaiah 11:2-3; here Irenaeus is likely drawing from the Greek Septuigant translation of the Hebrew Scriptures] resting upon the Son of God, that is on the Word [Logos] in his human advent; for he says, ‘the Spirit of God shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of council and of might, the Spirit of knowledge and of piety, and the Spirit of the the fear of God shall fill Him.’ Hence, the first heaven, from the top, which includes the others is that of wisdom; and the second, after it, that of understanding; and the third, that of counsel; and the fourth, counting from the top, that of might; the fifth, that of knowledge; the sixth, that of piety; and the seventh, this firmament of ours, is full of the fear of the Spirit who illuminates the heavens. From this pattern Moses received the seven branched candlestick which continually shines in the sanctuary; since he received the service as a pattern of heaven, as the Word says to him, ‘You shall make everything after the pattern, which you have seen on the mountain’.

From On the Apostolic Preaching trans, Fr. John Behr, pp. 46-47

When I first encountered this section in Irenaeus, I was rather taken aback and did not know what to do with it. I remember asking the Lord what these things meant, and he simply said, “the heavens are all within you.” (I do have a somewhat conversational relationship with God, and generally his responses to my questions are invariably cryptic). I asked what he meant by this, and was met with silence in return. So, I shelved this concept in the back of my mind for a few years until I was discussing the concept of chakaras with a friend. This was a particularly enlightening conversation and set me on a course of study that culminated in a discovery of revelatory clarity. The Kundalini tradition had discovered something that was very much akin to the concept of the Seven Heavens, and what was more shocking was that the content of these chakras (conceived across multiple yogic traditions) are strikingly concordant with the Seven Heavens. While I hope to elaborate later, the seven chakras appear to be energetic centers of the soul which are mapped onto the physical body (whether on believes they are a physical component of the body, or are simply non-material is of less relevance here) that serve as internal portals into the Seven Heavens. The method of meditating through the Seven Heavens appeared in my mind as something incredibly simple – use the chakras as internal guideposts to visualize and meditate in the Heavens. Because the content of the chakras as they are generally conceived dovetail so well into the content of the Seven Heavens. So, learning about these two domains – of of the soul or psyche with respect to the chakras; the other of spirit or nous with respect to the heavens – has a kind of mutual benefit. While from a Christian perspective, I might have a somewhat different understanding of the chakras than the Kundalini tradition does, but studying them and their composition and function has been of tremendous benefit in grounding my experiences in the Seven Heavens.

It should also be noted that spending time in these Heavens is where we encounter specific gifts of the Holy Spirit that correspond to each Heaven, and confer upon us one of the Seven Virtues (though I have adapted these somewhat), and strengthen us against the Seven Vices (the terminology for some have also been adapted). The growth in the Virtues and battle with the Vices is not one of automatic victory, but one of progress through sustained effort and concentration. One cannot encounter the Presence of the Living God and not be changed in the process.

The structure of the method is as follows:

  • The Root Chakra (Muladhara) corresponds with the Seventh (and lowest) Heaven, which is the Heaven of Wonder (Wonder is the clearest and final goal of the fear of God, and within the semantic range of the words Scripture uses for ‘fear’). Here the gift of the Holy Spirit is also that of Wonder, which helps us grow in the Virtue of Temperance and gives the spiritual strength to combat the Vice of Despondence (or Acedia).
  • The Sacral Chakra (Svadhistana) corresponds with the Sixth Heaven, which is the Heaven of Devotion (described as piety in the Septuigant cited by Irenaeus, but utilizing the same Hebrew term for fear – here picking up on the concept of the fear of God as expressed in devotion or piety). Here, the gift conferred by the Holy Spirit is that of Devotion, which helps us grow in the Virtue of Justice and combat the Vice of Anger (or Wrath).
  • The Navel/Solar-Plexus Chakra (Manipura) corresponds with the Fifth Heaven, which is the Heaven of Knowledge (translated as a derivative of gnosis in the Greek Septuigant, and revealed da’at in Hebrew, referring less to a linear knowledge but a knowledge that arises from the depths, a kind of inner knowing akin to intuition). Here the gift conferred by the Holy Spirit is that of Knowledge (or gnosis), which helps us grow in the Virtue of Hope and combat the Vice of Devouring (or gluttony).
  • The Heart Chakra (Anahata) corresponds to the Fourth Heaven, which is the Heaven of Courage (or might, conceptually related to the Hebrew root gabor and Greek ischuos, which is a reference to strength or might, from which we gain courage). Here the gift conferred by the Holy Spirit is courage, which helps us grow in the Virtue of Willpower and combat the Vice of Resentment (or Envy).
  • The Throat Chakra (Vishuddha) corresponds to the the Third Heaven, which is the Heaven of Counsel (here the specific counsel is conferred in the Divine Court – the likely Heaven where Paul received his unutterable vision). Here the gift of the Holy Spirit is that of Counsel (i.e. the strategic and purposeful wisdom and advice given from the Divine throne, which is echoed and elaborated upon by the Heavenly Court), which helps us grow in the Virtue of Discernment and combat the Vice of Objectification (or Lust).
  • The Third-Eye Chakra (Ajna) corresponds to the Second Heaven, which is the Heaven of Understanding (derived from the Greek Septuigant as synesis and the Hebrew binah – here referring to the power of spiritual perception that gives rise to understanding). Here the gift of the Holy Spirit is that of Understanding (that is inclusive of the intuitive knowledge or gnosis of the Fifth Heaven and the rational powers of perception), which helps us grow in the Virtue of Faith and combat the Vice of Covetousness (or Greed).
  • The Crown Chakra (Sahasrara) corresponds to the First (and highest, all-encompassing) Heaven, which is the Heaven of Wisdom (translated as sophias in the Greek Septuigant and hokhma in the original Hebrew – ** Note: the role of Holy Sophia will loom large in this method). Here the gift of the Holy Spirit is nothing short of the Divine Essence – Holy Sophia, which is Wisdom, and this helps us grow in the Virtue of Love and combat the Vice of Pride

My current practice is exceedingly simple, for about 10 minutes every day, I meditate within one chakra and its corresponding Heaven. Sometimes I will linger longer, other times shorter. In general, this practice has been nothing short of illuminating. I have been notable meditation sessions where it has seemed like Divine light has coursed through the path of the chakras from root to crown and the Heavens have opened up in dazzling experiences of God’s presence. These heightened sessions, however, are not the norm, what usually occurs is simply silent, imaginative contemplation of any number of concepts (a Scripture verse, a stanza from a poem, a hymn) where there is a tacit awareness that I am in the Heavens with God in the presence of all his glorified creatures in the simple beauty of a Divine encounter.

The experience of using Jacob’s Ladder, ascending and descending the Heavens with the risen Christ has been, for me, a personally revelatory endeavor. As I elaborate on the method in the posts that will follow, I will certainly share some of those experiences. However, I am endlessly curious to see what others experience while utilizing this simple method. I do not doubt that the Heavenly encounters will be real, and of spiritual value as they are passed along to others.