(Scaffolding for a range light on Lake Michigan. Photo © Scott P. Richert)
In Genesis 28:10-19, the patriarch Jacob dreams of a ladder, rising from the earth into Heaven. Watching, he saw "the angels also of God ascending and descending by it." In John 1:51, Christ tells His disciple Nathanael that He is Jacob's Ladder: "Amen, amen I say to you, you shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."
There is no way to Heaven but through Christ, and all who wish to be saved need to avail themselves of Jacob's Ladder. But the climb is not one that we make alone. In The Ladder of Divine Ascent, the most famous use of the story of Jacob's Ladder as an analogy for the spiritual life, the sixth-century Eastern Christian monk St. John Climacus urges his readers (primarily fellow monastics) to place themselves under a spiritual father and to remain in community. Those who attempt to root out their sins and conquer their passions by themselves quickly fall, and, like the man cleansed of the demon in Luke 11, "the last state of that man becomes worse than the first" (Luke 11:26).
When we see someone we care about struggling, we often say, "You don't need to go it alone." But when it comes to our own struggles, we all too often reject the help of others. If we wish to make spiritual progress, we need to accept the help of others. Then we can grow together in grace.
Christ is the only way to salvation, but our fellow Christians are the girders that help us see Jacob's Ladder for what it is: the strong and sure path to Heaven.