When I was little, I spent hours waiting for God. I listened so hard that I could feel the pulse in my eardrums and the sound of my own eyelashes. Mostly I heard God when I slept and dreamed. Sometimes I would enter the tumble-jumble of prayer: wild space, big and small at the same time joy. The quiet of growing plants soothed me; I recognized it.
When I was twelve, I found myself facing the threat of death. Just outside my bedroom door, the roaring fight might have taken me at any moment. I called out to God and listened deeply. What I saw in prayer surprised me: a ladder with sharp blades on the rungs, leading me to redemption. The lower rungs would be excruciating, but healing balm was ready higher up. I chose the ladder. I broke the cycle.
Later I read about St. Perpetua, who saw a similar ladder, this one with sharp implements along the sides of the rungs. When she climbed it, she saw Christ as the Ancient of Days. He fed her sweet cheese from his hand.
Sometimes in dreams I will see fruit on an orchard stretching into the distance farther than I can see. It is the fruit of Christ’s passion, and it is for us all to eat. He plucks it open and feeds us more easily than you can pinch off a piece of soft cheese to feed a loved one. But how do I pluck the fruit to share it?
Even when we dream of ladders to heaven as Jacob did, there’s a gap like the empty space under fire escapes. How do we grab the lowest rung?
I have pondered these images these many months. Ladders and pain, sweetness and fruit, the healing love of Christ and the way it flows to others when we listen for Christ with them. There is Mother with us, her cloak protecting us. She is a ladder, too. Her humility and love lead us like steps to God. Her pain was like swords piercing her heart.
What I have learned lately is simple: the rungs of the ladder to heaven are the swords that pierced Her heart.
Love is this way. We listen without shame in sorrow and pain and suffering and joy, and hearing God in it is contagious, like a mother’s song. I have often offered my work to God for healing, so that with it God might heal, so that with God we will heal. I have discovered that healing and love and hearing God are motherly truths; they take place in spaces made for them. We make spaces for each other to hear God. We become spaces together to listen and receive.
Maybe it will be that tomorrow in church you will be fed a morsel from Christ’s hand. Maybe you will listen for God in the cry of the child or the strange one. Maybe you will find yourself in a house formed from the bowed heads of all the listening saints. Lift your heart into the strain of music that they hear and echo. Let the sword pierce your heart, too.