Guido’s Ladder to Heaven

Here are some thoughts about my struggle with contemplation and what I have learned about Lection Divina as one who aspires to be a Lay Cistercian. I try to follow Guido II’s four steps of seeking God.  The following is text from Guido II (1140-1193) Carthusian Prior author of The Ladder of Monks. Read it for yourself and make your own conclusions.


[of the Ladder]
ONE DAY while I was occupied with manual labor
I began to reflect on man’s spiritual work,
and suddenly four steps for the soul came into my reflection:



[and] contemplation


THIS is a ladder for monks (lit.“the cloistered”)

by means of which they are raised up from earth to heaven

It has [only a] few separate rungs, yet its length is immense and incredible:

for its lower part stands on the earth,
while its higher [part] pierces the clouds and touches the secrets of heaven.
JUST as its rungs have various names and numbers,
so also so they differ in order and merit;
and if one diligently searches out their properties and functions
– what each [rung] does in relation to us, how they differ from one another and how they are ranked-
he will regard whatever labor and study he expends as brief and simple compared with the great usefulness and sweetness [he gains].


FOR the sweetness of a blessed life:
Reading seeks;
meditation finds;
prayer asks;
contemplation tastes.
Reading, so to speak, puts food solid in the mouth,
meditation chews and breaks it,
prayer attains its savor,
contemplation is itself the sweetness that rejoices and refreshes.
Reading concerns the surface,
meditation concerns the depth
prayer concerns request for what is desired,
contemplation concerns delight in discovered sweetness. c


IN order to focus more clearly what we have already said at length, we will gather it into a summary. In what was said above it has been shown through examples how these three rungs interrelate with each other, and how they precede one another in both the orders of time and causality.

Reading, like a foundation, comes first: and by giving us the matter for meditation, it sends us on to meditation.

Meditation diligently investigates what is to be sought; it digs, so to speak, for treasure which it [then] finds and exposes: but since it is of itself powerless to obtain it, it sends us on to prayer.

Prayer, lifting itself with its whole strength to God, pleads for the desired treasure – the sweetness of contemplation.

[Contemplation’s] advent rewards the labors of the other three; it inebriates the thirsty soul with the sweetness of heavenly dew.

Reading accords with exercise of the outward [senses];

meditation accords with interior understanding;

prayer accords with desire;

contemplation is above all senses.

The first degree pertains to beginners,

The second to the proficient,

the third to devotees,

the fourth to the blessed.

  1. Contemplation is the end result of a process, not the beginning.  I could never just start with contemplation without building on a scripture reference (in my case Phil. 2:5). Brother Michael, OCSO, from Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Georgia, said that, if we read more than a sentence or a phrase, it is spiritual reading, not likely Lectio Divina.
  2. Repetition may be the mother of invention, but it is also a great way to lock into a mantra-like recitation of your Scriptural Lectio (spiritual saying or phrase).
  3. Lectio takes at least twenty minutes for the secular dust to settle so that I can focus, lose it, focus, lose it, and so on. In my Oratio portion of Lectio Divina (prayer), my prayers have been to allow me to be open to whatever God wants me to hear today.
  4. The most difficult part of Contemplatio or contemplation, the fourth step in Guido II’s four steps of the ladder, is letting go of everything that I have used previously to get to this stage. No words. No thoughts. No focus. No ideas. Just being aware that I am in the presence of The One and listen to what comes.
  5. God does not always speak to me in Contemplatio but always speaks to me in other ways. The non-speaking of God to me is greater than the speaking of humans. God does not need me to add to His glory and I am not God’s counselor. My goal is to show up each day consistently and persistently to wait for what God has to say. Like going fishing, sometimes I don’t catch anything, except the love of waiting for the Lord.
  6. That in all things, may God be glorified. –St. Benedict

One Comment on “Guido’s Ladder to Heaven


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