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. ~ John 1:51
The revelation of the spiritual world in death is the greatest joy and an ineffable triumph for all those who, in this life, yearned for this spiritual world from which they had been exiled. But death is an inexpressible horror, anguish, and torment for those who did not want this spiritual world, did not know it, rejected it. ~ Sergius Bulgakov
Before meditating on the seven stages of the passion, we should, as the Meditations suggest, first clarify the story of Creation and the Fall. Then the meaning of Redemption can be understood in the context of the restoration of the state of being prior to the Fall. The Fall is an historical event, although not an empirical event. That is, there is no physical or archeological trace of it, but just a nearly forgotten memory that sometimes intrudes into consciousness.
Because of the lack of a corporeal body, the fall of the angels was conscious, deliberate, and self-willed. The demons are pure evil, revolt against God. The effects have been a perversion of creation, as the demons interacted with the world. They brought a sickness into creation, affecting the natural, the animal, as well as the human world.
Adam and Eve, before the Fall, were aware of living in God’s presence and the angels “ascending and descending”. Nevertheless, they have their “own” world over which they were given dominion. In some ways, this world seems to persist apart from God so that God has become today, if at all, a matter of faith. Since man had tasks to perform, he was not complete.
So even though there was the possibility of believing in a world apart from God, the Fall of man did not originate in his own consciousness, but rather from an external source. This was the whispered temptation of the serpent, itself a result of the Fall of the angels. Nevertheless, unlike their Fall, man’s Fall was not the result of a fully conscious rejection of God. Rather it was the result of deception, gullibility, and misunderstanding.
First there was the subtlety of the serpent’s deception and the naïveté that believed it. The misunderstanding was that knowledge could be achieved horizontally within the world (eating the fruit of the tree) without reference to any higher world. Man then came to know good and evil, i.e., a mixture: he was no longer fully good, yet he was still not fully evil.
The consequence was that the awareness of God and the spiritual world because obscured. The “garments of animal skins” refers to a densification of human existence. The center of gravity of the soul life descended in the direction from the spirit to corporeality. This new center was in the lowest three chakras, i.e., the animal life of man’s soul. These centers represent:
- Fear, anxiety, worry, and shame
- Sexuality, sensuality, and an attachment to the glamour of the world
- Hunger, the desire to take
This can be verified by meditation on the Creation and Fall. As we learned in the Letter on the Magician, Adam and Eve are archetypes, which “manifest themselves endlessly in history and in each individual biography”. Thus it becomes a matter of remembering what had been forgotten.
So now we can understand the purpose of death. The only way back to the awareness of higher worlds is total separation of the soul from the body, so it can reunite with the spirit. Obviously, this is what we call “death”. It is a harsh measure, yet the only effective option.
At death, the soul carries with it all its experiences of life, its acts and omissions, its sins and merits. It will become aware once again of the spiritual world and will know Christ as judge. It will then understand its life in its wholeness. Of course, an effort at that self-understanding should be made part of our spiritual task, in preparation for death.
If the soul’s mystical union with God is forgetting of the phenomenal world and recollection of God, death is simultaneously the call from above and forgetting what is below. As such, death is more like a dormition, a leaving behind of earthly life in anticipation of a return. The soul becomes the new body of the spirit, sort of an “astral” body. Yet the soul is also the form of the corporeal body, so at some point it will be the form of another corporeal body, a resurrection body.
The Redemption, then, aims at the elimination of death as the path of return to the state prior to the Fall.
As a reminder, these are the seven phases of the Passion. The meditations will being with the “washing of the feet”.
- Washing of the feet
- The scourging
- Crown of thorns
- The way of the cross
- The crucifixion
- The entombment
- The resurrection
Washing of the Feet
for some the superman has more attraction than the Son of Man, and because he promises them a career of increasing power, whilst the Son of Man offers only a career of “foot washing” ~ From Letter VII, The Chariot
Several years ago, at a Maundy Thursday mass, I was selected as one of the men whose feet would be washed by the priest. In my meditations, the memory of that event came back to me. I recall that I felt quite awkward and embarrassed. I was slow getting my sock and shoe off, forcing the priest to wait. The experience was unpleasant.
Like Adam and Eve, who felt ashamed in the presence of God and had to cover themselves, I likewise felt ashamed in baring my foot. Yet, if one’s whole being – spirit, soul, and body – is to be redeemed, then Christ has to descend all the way down to the feet. It is one thing to illumine the intellect or the heart, another one to bring it down to the feet, i.e., all of terrestrial life. In an early work, Valentin Tomberg explains:
The general effect of meditation consists in the fact that what is spiritual in a human being descends … into the human personality… Just as Christ bowed down before his disciples and washed their feet, so in every meditation the angel bows down and washes the feet of the meditator.
Once again, we “see” the angels ascending and descending.
Anonymous, Meditations on the Tarot
Sergius Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb
Valentin Tomberg, Inner Development