“And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.”
What or who are the “angels of God”? They seem to be some kind of intermediaries between Heaven and Earth, God and Humanity. Are they messengers? Are they couriers? Do they bring things down to Earth from Heaven and take stuff back up again? They are continuously ascending and descending, as if they were on a conveyor belt. If Jacob had lived in the twenty-first century would he perhaps have had visions of an escalator instead of a ladder?
The angels create a connection between Heaven and Earth, a bridge to the stars. Where the connection was once broken, where the way to transcendence was severed, the angels can re-connect us. Interestingly, the etymological root of the word “religion” has precisely that connotation: re-ligare means to “re-bind” or “re-connect” (the word “ligament” comes from the same Latin root).
Jacob’s ladder is like a ligament connecting Heaven and Earth. If it was in a brain, it would be a synaptic connection between two neuronal networks. In any case, it is a tenuous pathway between two different worlds, the “earthly” and the “heavenly”.
So what is this ladder or pathway composed of? Well, in one word, religion. Religion is a very broad term encompassing beliefs and doctrines but also poetry, music, art, theology, philosophy and even science. But what is it? Where does it come from? A religious person would say it comes from God. It is the “Word” of God. Perhaps. But who actually speaks the “Word”? Who tells the stories and writes the poetry? Who sings the songs, plays the music, paints the paintings and icons, builds the cathedrals and expounds the metaphysics?
Us. But not any old us. Religion is the creation of human beings, but it is the particular creation of those human beings who have themselves ascended to Heaven, who have transcended the ordinary, mundane plane of existence. They don’t come back empty handed. They bring gifts and souvenirs from their travels. And these gifts, whether in the form of words, images, sounds, gestures, actions, these are the “angels of God”. This is what we experience as “religion” in the broadest sense.
There are basically two types of art: art that comes from “Heaven” and art that comes from the human will, from “Earth”. The first type is generally called “sacred art” and the second is “secular art”. The same is true of philosophy, music, dance, and all the human arts. The same is also true, in a more restricted sense, of what we call “science”. There is such a thing as “sacred science”, although we are much more familiar with the earth-bound secular variety.
The tragic predicament of modern people is that not only have we lost our belief in God, we have also lost our belief in religion and art. However many angels descend from Heaven, we are unable to ascend with them unless we actually believe in them. We have lost the “eyes to see” and the “ears to hear”.
Do you believe in Bach? If you believe, you will allow his music to escort you on angelic wings to the highest Heaven. You will ascend the ladder on an “angel of God”. If you don’t believe, you will stay exactly where you are, cynical and bored. Do you believe in the transcendent power of the Catholic Mass and the transformative power of Holy Communion? If you do, it will lift you up to God. If not, it won’t.
If you believe in the thing that sacred art and religion are pointing to, then you will believe in art and religion. If you believe in God you will believe in the angels of God. This means that you will make a conscious, intentional effort to put yourself in an open, receptive state of mind. You will allow yourself to be vulnerable. You will surrender. You will be humble, passive, willing. And the angels will carry you.
Then, if you continue to allow yourself to be carried, ascending and descending with the angels, you may even find that you eventually become an angel yourself, bringing gifts of great joy and splendour from God to His people on Earth.