Part II: What if Pope Francis Knows Something?

The Connection between the Conscience,

Seeing the Will of God,

and Our Becoming Mystics

To students of the mystics, it is entirely expected that Pope Francis speaks of holiness, meekness, and humility at the same time that he speaks of mysticism and mystical knowledge of things Divine, of Godly realities.

Pope Francis knows that holiness and humility are the base, the foundation, of so many good things; and they are the necessary cornerstones of higher mystical understanding, and of a more mature relationship with the Holy Spirit, to which we are all invited and called especially today, in this time of Vatican II.

This is the second of three essays on the new Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate. The first essay noted how Vatican II and Pope Saint John XXIII call all people to be more empowered and mature participants in the Second Pentecost, the New Pentecost, that is happening now, in this time of Vatican II:

The first essay also sketched the vast arc of the new Exhortation, by taking up Pope Francis’ frequent citations (nine times) from the First and Second Letters of Peter. It noted how Pope Francis is following Saint Peter in outlining the human path to a more holy (and therefore more Spiritual) humanity. Early in his first letter, Peter makes, as we saw, a fascinating development of a verse from Leviticus: “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16) Then, early in his second letter, Peter tells us that we are to be participants in God’s own nature. (2 Peter 1:4) Obviously, a tremendous amount of progress is intended to occur in the course of our growth, according to St. Peter, for us to grow from the pursuit of holiness all the way to sharing in God’s own nature. In addition to being the leader of the Apostles, and the first Pope, Peter also has left us two precious letters that are Scripture.

A question may arise: How do we get from acting in virtuous and humble and holy ways, all the way to being participants in God’s own nature? How is it that we become mystics, as Karl Rahner, a primary theologian of Vatican II, urges us to become? Why does Pope Francis speak about mystical mysteries and mystical saints at the same time that he discusses holiness, humility, and meekness?

This second essay will take up these questions. It will begin by returning to the letters of Peter, and presenting an amazing discovery of a literary technique that Peter weaves into his writing, showing how humanity progresses from the pursuit of “holiness” to becoming “partakers in the Divine nature.” Then, the essay will show developments similar to Peter’s are also occurring in the Letter to the Hebrews and in the Acts of the Apostles.

Then we shall turn directly to Gaudete et Exultate, to observe Pope Francis’ superb development of these themes from the New Testament.

How the Letters of Saint Peter Show Us the Path

To a More Profound Union with God

As a prelude to the discussion of Peter’s letters, let’s review a trajectory of holiness that was discussed in the previous essay:

-This time, today, now, is the time of Vatican II. Pope Saint John XXIII said that the time of Vatican II is a New Pentecost, a new immediacy of relationship with the Holy Spirit (we will discuss this below).

Holiness strengthens and illuminates and cleanses our conscience.

-Our conscience is the primary organ with which we communicate directly with the Holy Spirit.

-Communicating directly with the Holy Spirit, we shall transform the world in the best and most beautiful ways. Karl Rahner, an influential theologian at Vatican II, said that the future Christian will be a mystic. This is happening today, thank God.


From these four points, let’s take the middle two points, which are the arc of trajectory of personal development in the faith:

Holiness strengthens and illuminates and cleanses our conscience.

-Our conscience is the primary organ with which we communicate directly with the Holy Spirit.

This practicing of holiness, which leads first to the refinement of our conscience, and then to a more direct participation in God’s life and being, are a hidden thematic development of Peter’s letters. This is also an important, though quiet, trajectory of development in Pope Francis’ new Apostolic Exhortation.

Gaudete et Exsultate mentions the conscience twice, in the final paragraphs of the document. The First Letter of Peter mentions conscience three times. Yet throughout Peter’s first letter, our conscience has a hidden companion. Let’s begin our survey of Peter’s first letter:

Pairs of Terms in Peter’s First Letter

The second verse of the First Letter of Peter speaks of our sanctification (our being made holy) and of our obedience. There is not yet any discussion of mystical realities or special participation in the being of God, or of working directly with the Holy Spirit. This emphasis on holiness and the living of the rudiments of our faith appears also in Gaudete et Exsultate, where cognates of “holy” appear at least 133 times in the English translation. In translations of the document in other languages, where, for example, the word “saint” is cognate with “holy,” there are over 200 appearances of words related to “holiness” in the Exhortation.

So from the outset, there is a great emphasis on practicing personal holiness, and on making strong, morally good choices. The same emphasis and reality is in the Bible’s letters of Peter. Saint Peter is going to show us the potential spectrum of development of holiness in our life, if we catch what he is doing.

He promises that by living a holy life, we shall begin to see “things into which angels long to look.” (1 Peter 1:12) Peter then tells us to get ready for a contest, or a battle (1:13) that will be fought largely in our minds/souls. He urges us to “be holy yourselves in all your conduct.” (1:15) Then comes his amazing improvement of the verse from Leviticus, “Be holy, for I am holy,” which was discussed in the first essay. (1:16)

Peter next speaks of a preliminary arrival, an early stage of advance, as if to a way station, or a base camp at the foot of a mountain that is to be climbed:

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” (1:22-23) This purity of love is not milquetoast. Rather, purity speaks of strengthened love, and of the growing strength of the person’s will to love well. This also shows that the person’s ascent to join more deeply into the “nature of God” is a journey with various parts. Peter’s letters take us through some of these stages.

First, he urges us to become purified, to become holy. Obedience is a large part of this. And Peter and Pope Francis are in agreement that this obedience is not merely to God and God’s rules, but also to a sincere love of the people in our community. The root of the word “obedience” is obedire, “listen.”

Also, obedience is a way of connecting our individual wills with a larger body. This is very important to the discussion of Peter’s letters that we are now beginning.

Obedience has further revelations: By listening and obeying the rules of our communities, and listening and performing the more nuanced requests of the community, we prepare ourselves for a deeper listening to the Holy Spirit. This shall be instrumental in developing our direct communication with the Holy Spirit.

Peter’s Literary-Mystical Way

Peter is going to show us precisely how this mystical ability to listen more deeply to the Holy Spirit develops in us. For the rest of his first letter, beginning in Chapter Two, he is going to present us with hidden pairs. We will discuss four hidden pairs of words in his first letter.

The first three of these hidden pairs place “God’s will” and our human “conscience” into a relationship with each other. It turns out that each person’s individual conscience has the capacity to become more thoroughly engaged with the Will of God, and this is the optimum development in every way. The fourth pair also has “God’s will,” but the term “conscience” will be replaced by something else.

These pairs have remained largely hidden for the last 1900 years. Let’s bring them into the light of this time of Vatican II and discuss them.

The First Hidden Pair

The first pair happens in Chapter Two. The will of God appears first. Peter writes, “For it is God’s will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of the foolish men.” (2:15) Peter calls us not to mystical intervention, but to simple good behavior, as a way of overcoming evil and strengthening community. This is God’s will for us, which we are free to obey, thereby having actual positive effects on our community and world.

Additionally, by having these first, slight thoughts about “God’s will,” the growing morally-awakened person is beginning to think of the larger picture, and of the greater community, and the good of the community. This is foundational for further growth in the Faith.

Right after this verse, Peter gives us specific instructions, such as “Live as servants of God. Honor all people. Love the community. Fear God [=have awe of God-given processes in life].” (2:16b-17a)

Continuing along this trajectory of development, Peter then presents the letter’s first appearance of conscience: “For one is approved if, conscience towards God, she/he endures pain while suffering unjustly.” (2:19) This shows that our conscience has vital early growth when it treats God’s goals as our own personal goals. We choose to have external good goals that are like God’s goals for us. Although our nature has not yet merged with God, nonetheless, our goals can certainly try to emulate the goals of God, and what God encourages us towards.

Pope Francis has echoes of this at many points throughout Gaudete et Exsultate, including in the title itself, which is taken from the end of the Beatitudes, at Matthew 5:12, where Jesus tells us to “rejoice and be glad” when we are reviled and persecuted on Jesus’ account. (Mt 5:11) So at this point of the letter there is no mystical insight in the faithful traveler’s experience, but there is much communal work to do, some of which may be difficult and painful. Experience tells us that authentic love develops in us when we engage this work; however, Peter will wait longer before showing us further fruit of this labor.

The Second Hidden Pair

The second appearance of this pair, “God’s will” and “conscience,” appears in Chapter Three. Peter says, “Keep your conscience clear [literally, “keep your conscience good”], so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (3:16) This sounds somewhat like verse 2:15 above, except that “conscience” has replaced “God’s will.” This replacement of “God’s will” with “conscience” is a miniature picture of the transformation that Peter is secretly presenting in the ongoing human development through his two letters.

Although “conscience” has just taken the place of “God’s will,” in the next verse we see that “God’s will” comes right back, mirroring how closely “God’s will” and our human “conscience” can operate together: “For it is better to suffer for doing right, if that should be God’s will, than for doing wrong.” (3:17)

By his suffering Christ was made “alive in the Spirit.” (3:18) Christ wants to “bring us to God.” (3:18) There are hints here of Baptism, which will be much more emphasized in the amazing appearance of Noah’s Ark in Peter’s letters.

The Center of the Four Pairs: Noah’s Ark

On the Ark were Noah and his three sons, and their wives. There were four pairs of people, four couples, eight people, on the Ark. Peter intentionally says the number “eight souls” during his discussion of the Ark at the end of Chapter 3 of his first letter. In his second letter, Peter says the word “eighth,” while again speaking of the Ark. (2 Peter 2:5) Pope Francis mentions the word “eighth” in the Exhortation. (Paragraph 115) We will discuss this below and in the third essay of this series.

The four pairs of “souls” echo the four word-pairs that we are tracing through Peter’s letter.

Baptism is a great new beginning for us humans. We appeal to God for a clean conscience (among many other realities of the Sacrament). So too in the Exhortation, Pope Francis is exhorting us to think about the function of our conscience (see Paragraphs 169 and 174, to be discussed below). We can reflect on our conscience. We can realize how vitally important our own conscience is to our ongoing journey. We can learn to listen to our own conscience. We may learn that our conscience has far more functions than we previously knew.

The four pairs will return many times in the rest of our discussion in this essay, and in the next essay, which discusses mystical Realities in the New Testament, and in Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, and in the Book of Psalms.

The Third Hidden Pair

The discussion of Baptism flows directly to the third appearance of “conscience.” (3:21)

In the second pair, we saw that the human “conscience” took the place of the “will of God.” As a further development, in the third pair, the “will of God” enters into the conscious life of the emerging human person, in the area of the human conscience and spirit. The conscience is meant to reign here, and through our conscience, the Holy Spirit. Our relationship with God deepening, and our conscience becoming healthier and stronger, the Holy Spirit tells us the will of God in more specific and direct and helpful ways. Our conscience conveys to us the direct messages of the Holy Spirit when we have entered into this phase of our Spiritual life!

And again, this is an invitation, ever fresh, ever waiting for those who have not entered into this phase of life quite yet. We might say that the will of God merges with our individual conscience/spirit’s awareness more and more frequently, seamlessly, and painlessly.

Concluding the discussion of Noah’ Ark and baptism, Peter restates Paul’s sayings about how our baptism allows us to participate in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ:

“And baptism, which this (Noah’s Ark) prefigures, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” (3:21-22)

After our deeper Spiritual “Baptism” in the Holy Spirit, we see that our human conscience is very much more clearly involved in dialogue with heavenly realities. Our conscience, with its heightened powers of awareness, places us in greater dialogue with the Realities of Heaven and of God. This is what Saint Peter is saying. So many references in Gaudete et Exsultate point to this as well. This is what Pope Francis wants to get us aware of.

Observing the great developments that the suffering of Christ did for Christ himself and for humanity, Peter then asks us to emulate the suffering of Christ: “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by mortal lusts but by the will of God.” (4:1-2)

Humanity has progressed so very far: we can both know and do the will of God, and we can live by the will of God. (See John 4:32-34) This is a momentous development. Our awareness of our connection to greater Realities is growing. Our conscience is connected to the Risen Christ, and therefore to his Holy Spirit, which he sent to earth, directly to us, after his Ascension. With this empowered conscience, now guided far more directly by the Holy Spirit of Christ, we can better know and perform God’s will.

Yet note how this progression is not empowered by magical formulae or secret incantations. Rather, the progress is connected to our suffering, suffering that happens when we are truly participating in the Body of Christ, the koinonia, the community. To drive this point home, cognates of “suffer” appear 16 times in 1 Peter. The mystical path involves immersion into the Body of Christ, and into our Baptism, and this will necessarily involve suffering. Additionally, there are a number of other terms that are connected to suffering as well, but they are from other word groups, not directly cognate with “suffering.” In fact, “suffering” has been a word that is found in the first three pairs of ‘conscience’ and ‘will of God’; and “suffering” will also appear at the fourth pair. More than a glue, suffering is a unifying cross that unites us to God. (Paul sees our human suffering as connected to the cross of Christ, and he sees the Cross of Christ as unifying and connecting all good things in Reality: “May I never boast of anything except the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14))

In this third pair, Peter speaks more deeply of the inner workings of the human person. He speaks of powerful deep drives of eros and sexuality, the misfiring of which is connected with lust. This shows how the process of purifying our conscience includes the wrestling with our will that happens as we overcome lust. The cross is again central here. Jesus, on the cross, says in John’s Gospel, “I thirst.” One meaning of this is that Jesus has achieved a fiercely true eros for humanity. Purifying our love is strengthening our love. And our suffering is a purifying fire that strengthens our love.

[Let’s not be overfocused on suffering, however. Suffering is not meant to be permanent, although some people seem to have more of it than others. Saint Mother Teresa suffered much, but also had radiant joy.]

By living holy lives, and by becoming ever-more-empowered members of the Body of Christ, the Church, we begin to live in the Spirit, according to God.

The Word of God, the Gospel, is preached to the world, and even to the dead. By allowing it to work in us, we better enact our Baptism: “For this is the reason the Gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the Spirit as God does.” (4:6; and see again 3:18)

Peter is emphatic that our life in the Spirit is rooted not in pie-in-the-sky pseudo-mystical weirdness, but in concrete participation in the community, the Church, the Body of Christ, which includes loving all people and caring for the poor: “Discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.” (4:7b-8) While focusing on the new presence of the Holy Spirit, and teaching us about this wonderment, Peter is always exhorting us to good behavior and caring communal awareness. (This is quite the opposite of how gnostics and Pelagians act, against which Pope Francis warns us in Chapter Two of the Exhortation.)

This “constant love for one another” is also the message of the letters of both John and Paul, and of all the New Testament, especially the Gospels and Acts. When we arm ourselves with this “same mind” as Christ (4:1), we always love and consider the community: “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” (4:10) We are to be empowered with Spiritual gifts and greater dynamic power in community; this power comes from God, and our mind is to be always more focused and aligned with God: “whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” (4:11)

The rest of Chapter 4 speaks more of suffering that we will experience as we enter more deeply into the Body of Christ, and participate more deeply: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (4:12) No, this suffering is to be fully expected. It’s simply an organic part of what it means for a person to be progressively worked deeper into the Body of Christ, and to become an empowered and functioning member of the Body of Christ. When you join the Church, expect that there will be trials in addition to the grace and light. We cannot have one without the other. On the positive side, know that the grace and light will always come, at many points along the journey.

Then, Peter, echoing the “9th Beatitude” of Matthew 5:12, tells us: “But rejoice in so far as you are sharing (koinoneite, cognate with koinonia, ‘community’) Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13) Rejoice and Be Glad is the title of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation. Peter’s letter echoes the words from Matthew that are the title of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation. Peter’s next verse is an actual Beatitude: “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed/happy, because the Spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.” (4:14) Today, the Spirit of God is resting upon the entire Church, desiring to lead us more deeply in the light of Vatican II.

The Fourth Hidden Pair

Peter urges us to obey the Gospel, which includes listening to its fullness. (4:17) We will enter yet more deeply into relationship with God: “Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will do right and entrust their souls to a loving Creator.” (4:19) Here we are, near the end of the Bible, talking about our ability as Christian persons to participate ever more deeply in the actual Will of God! This is the only path forward for our evolution. So why does Peter suddenly fly back to the first page of the Bible, and speak of God as a “loving Creator?!”

The answer is shocking. We are being invited to begin to imitate the life of the Trinity, and to enter into God’s own creative power! When “God’s will” appears here for the fourth and final time in Peter’s letter, at 4:19, there is no corresponding “conscience” as we have become accustomed to expect by now. Of course Peter did not forget to add it. Rather, “conscience” has been replaced by a tripartite development of the human person who is living the Christian life! Here is a tremendous metamorphosis in the Christian person who has learned to participate more deeply in the Body of Christ, in the community, in the Church:

“Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly (ekousios), as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly (prothumos). Not as lording it over the allotments, but becoming examples to the flock (tupoi ginomenoi tou poimniou). And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away.” (5:1-4)

For the experienced Christian who truly lives in the Spirit, our conscience transforms into a direct conduit between our will and God’s will. Our will merges with God’s will, in a glorious process of patient steady growth. This is demonstrated by the three terms that show how the mature Christian has blossomed into an adult agent of the Church, becoming a fully functional and participating member of the Body of Christ, looking out for entire community, reflecting goodness to each individual whom they encounter.

This is what Saint Peter is teaching us.

This is what Pope Francis is teaching us.

And this is the way to live the Church of Vatican II.

The Second Letter of Peter will begin to sketch what a Spiritual, humble, and loving humanity will look like. Peter shows us this by, for the first time in his writing, describing actual mystical developments in people’s lives.

Mystical Developments for Humanity in Peter’s Second Letter

What happens when, by living lives of holiness and authenticity, we begin to hear the calls and directions of the Holy Spirit through our conscience? What happens when we begin to more deeply know the Will of God, and so become co-creators with God in the ongoing Creation?

We begin to be more authentically Spiritual. Spiritual gifts are given to us.

First, let’s finish our discussion of the First Letter of Peter by noting how Peter, after showing us the tremendous metamorphosis of humanity that can happen when we have empowered consciences, places yet further stress on humility and diligence.

He mentions humility three times, another triple emphasis. (5:5-6) He warns us to “Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” (5:8)

Even in his first letter there are many hints about mystical realities, while Peter maintains a veil of regular normality about these things. For example, he says, at the end of some verses telling us to resist the devil, to “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brother-and-sisterhood throughout the world.” (5:9) All the way back in 60 A.D., Peter mentions global Christianity! And he mentions knowledge of similar experiences shared among this global Christianity, this Body of Christ. In this case, the shared experience is suffering. [It may happen that a somewhat advanced form of mystical participation in the Body of Christ is being able to understand how the suffering of the world is allocated among humanity, especially among the more connected members of the Body of Christ. (Another form of shared experience, not directly mentioned by Peter here, is being able to share thoughts, knowledge, and sense experience via something like telepathy. And there are other forms of mystical sharing in the Body of Christ too.)]

Yet the work always remains God’s, who shares with us: “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (5:10-11)

In his second letter, as we shall see, Peter begins to discuss mystical experience more explicitly and openly.

A hint of this development is in the discussion of the forms of knowledge that appear at the beginnings of both letters. The first letter mentions the “foreknowledge (pro-gnosin, 1 Peter 1:2) of God the Father” in the second verse of the letter. The entire thrust of the early part of the letter is on what God has done for us.

In his second letter, it seems that God is sharing God’s own divine knowledge with us. Three times in the first 8 verses of the letter, Peter prays for our knowledge and tells us how we grow in the “full knowledge,” epi-gnosin, of God. Knowledge of God is how we grow. This already is showing a process of us being given admittance to God’s own Knowledge, including mystical knowledge. This triple development of pro-gnosin into epi-gnosin mirrors the triple development of “conscience” (suneidesin) into “willingly” (ekousios), “readily” (prothumos), and the transformation into “examples for the flock” (tupoi ginomenoi). (1 Peter 5:2-3)

Centered within these three appearances of this “full knowledge” that God is giving to us, there is one of the most remarkable verses of the New Testament. As was discussed in the first essay, Peter tells us that we are being invited to become participants in, “partakers of God’s own nature.” (2 Peter 1:4) But this is astounding. God, as a reward for our growth, is granting us the possibility of participating not merely in God’s own knowledge, but also in God’s own nature.

Do you see how this gradual metamorphosis is described, beginning in Peter’s First Letter, by the slow merging of our human conscience (and will) with the will of God? The growth proceeds to the point where the leaders of the Community, the various shepherds (which can certainly include laity today) develop a concern and consciousness for the entire flock; leaders become cognizant for a much larger part of the Body of Christ, as they “lose” themselves, or merge themselves, into a larger body. The result of this glorious process of growth is not merely that our volition is in harmony with God’s volition, as wondrous as that is, no—God wants to give us far more. We are then called farther forward, to participate in God’s own nature!

Immediately after this amazing pronouncement, Peter gives us another image of the process of our joining into the nature of God. He paints the picture of a Staircase, or a Ladder:

For this very reason, you must bring all diligence [or “every effort”] to support your

Faith with virtue,

And your virtue with knowledge,

And your knowledge with self-control,

And your self-control with patience,

And your patience with godliness,

And your godliness with brother-and-sisterly love (philadelphian),

And your brother-and-sisterly love with [Divine] Love, (Agape).

2 Peter 1:5-7

As St. John says twice, “God is Love (Agape).” (1 John 4:8, 16) So here in his second letter, Peter is again telling us to participate in the Love that is God, or, in God’s own nature. (The First Letter of John follows the Second Letter of Peter in the canonical order of the Bible, and these two great Christian writers share many themes. In fact, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, the Letter to the Hebrews, share these themes.)

Notice that in this developmental Ladder, there are 8 terms from “Faith,” at the beginning, to “Love (Agape),” at the end. When we include “diligence,” there are 9 terms. We shall return to this in the third essay.

Peter continues by stressing the importance of our own action now, not merely the Divine initiation of Creation: “For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.” (2 Peter 1:11) We give thanks to God for everything, but it is up to us to get with the program and enter into heaven. We must strengthen and direct our will, connected with our ability to properly love, guided by our developing conscience (through which we communicate with the Holy Spirit), if we are to enter the “eternal kingdom,” which is heaven, the kingdom of God.

Verse 1:4, discussing our participating in “the nature of God,” shows us the goal of this journey in capsule form. The progressions elaborated in 1 Peter, which we discussed above, and the 9-part Ladder of 2 Peter 1:5-7, show us longer and more articulated images of our journey.

The Second Letter of Peter continues its discussion of things that are more overtly mystical. In verse 1:14, Peter shares with us some of his own mystical experience, namely, how “Our Lord Jesus Christ” showed Peter that he would die soon. In this, Peter is like a new Moses. The Torah, evidently, includes Moses writing into it his own death. (Dt 32:50; 34:5) In the next verse, 1:15, the connection with Moses continues, as Peter speaks of his “departure,” exodon, which is cognate with the word “exodus.” Jesus himself spoke of his imminent exodus on with Moses and Elijah on Mt. Tabor. (Luke 9:31)

Jesus is the new and best Moses. Jesus is a new Moses combined with the Burning Bush, where God said his verb-name, “I AM.” Moses was also a shepherd at the time he saw the Burning Bush. However, as 1 Peter 5:4 speaks of Jesus as the Chief Shepherd, we who are leaders in the Body of Christ are also shepherds, and we are also truly meant to be Moses-like leaders for the community, no matter what our official roles are. As we grow in the Faith, we are all leaders. We should not be surprised by what Peter is saying here, speaking of Christians being of a higher stature than Moses. Jesus himself says that those IN the kingdom of God shall be greater than John the Baptist, whom Jesus said was the greatest prophet. (Luke 7:28) Is Saint Peter saying too much? Well, as Peter will say a few verses later, Peter himself was told to write this (1:21), as we will discuss below.

Peter next speaks of how, on the “holy mountain” where Jesus’ Transfiguration occurred, he and the two other disciples heard the voice of the “Majestic Glory of God the Father” speaking a word to Jesus, saying, “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (1:17) As we become deeper participants in the Body of Christ, and in the nature of God, God the Father will say to all of us that we are his beloved children.

The privileged disciples heard this voice directly from heaven. (1:18)

This is one of the places outside of the Gospels where we are told of Divine events in the life of Jesus.

The next verse of 2 Peter shows us this personal fulfillment of the prophetic messages of the Scriptures being fulfilled in our own individual lives. And Peter says this in a beautiful way: “So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (1:19)

The mystically-laden discourse continues. Peter speaks of his own personal experience as an author of Sacred Scripture, and of the experience of all authors of Scripture; and in doing so he humbly returns to the previous letter’s discussion of will and the Holy Spirit: “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came into being by human will, but holy people of God, borne along by the Holy Spirit, spoke (it).” (1:20-21)

This process of becoming “borne along by the Holy Spirit” is the subject of the above reflection of 1 Peter.

The first chapter of this Second Letter of Peter has already had far more overt discussion of mystical matters than did the entire First Letter of Peter. And this is how Peter planned it, to show the fruit of our life’s ongoing relationship with the Holy Spirit. All people’s lives are meant to become gospels.

And just as Saint Peter does, so too does Pope Francis write a beautiful organic text that combines humility, meekness, and human holiness, with sets of stunning new hints of authentic mystical Reality.

We have treated Peter’s letters at some length because of the Apostolic Exhortation’s powerful resonance with these Petrine letters. Let us now, after two more words, turn to Gaudete et Exsultate.

The same judicious development of themes discussed by Peter continues throughout the Apostolic Exhortation. The discussion of meekness, humility, and personal moral goodness and holiness are always in close proximity to these discussions of more hidden, mystical Realities.

How the Letter to the Hebrews Shares

The “Conscience” and “Will of God” Theme with 1 Peter

In another stunning New Testament development, the Letter to the Hebrews shares in the fascinating pairing of the human conscience and the will of God. In Chapter 9 and 10, this letter has three appearances of conscience, followed by three appearances of the will of God. After this triple alignment, there will be two pairs of individual appearances of conscience and the will of God.

Chapter 9 of Hebrews begins with a caring discussion of the how the old tent of meeting, and the temple after it, were very limited. The old tent of meeting, which started during the exodus (mythically, anyway), is already long in the distant past for the author of the Letter to the Hebrews. However, the tent serves as a “parable” for the old stone temple, the second of which was standing in the time of the first Christians, a temple that was to be destroyed by the Roman legions in 70 C.E. The old stone temple and its systems of sacrifices are long outdated and wrong for the time of the New Testament, the Age of Christ. The stone temples of Jerusalem had blood sewer systems to remove the blood from the hundreds (thousands during festivals) of daily sacrifices there. This is strongly expressed in the Letter to the Hebrews author’s discussing the old systems of sacrifices, which “cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper, but deal only with food and drink and various baptisms, regulations for the body imposed until the time comes to set things right.” (Heb 9:9b-10)

The human person replaces the temple as the dwelling place of God after the first Feast of Pentecost. As Paul says, “You are the temple of God” (1 Cor 3:16) and “Your body is a temple for the Holy Spirit within you.” (1 Cor 6:19) The impermanence of the old stone temple was actually inscribed in the Scriptures at its founding. Both in 1 Kings 8 and the parallel account in 2 Chronicles 6, the prayers of Solomon and the building of the temple are replete with language about the human heart. The heart is at once the center and the totality of the human person. (Gaudete et Exultate mentions the “heart” about 48 times.) A chrysalis adjacent to the heart is the conscience, which blossoms in the Christ Event. (Importantly, the word conscience appears twice in Gaudete et Exsultate, near the very finale of the document, as we shall discuss below.) And as discussed above, with the Pentecost and the formidable new presence of the Holy Spirit, the conscience is the place where the human person hears the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, and learns to be a more empowered human agent of the Holy Spirit. The Letter to the Hebrews is showing how the human conscience is a great advance in humanity’s spiritual evolution, and is far more important than the old stone temple. A few verses later we hear: “ . . . how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the Living God!” (Heb 9:14)

The letter mentions the Holy of Holies; however, the author is boldly saying that the Holy of Holies is now the human soul, among whose central chambers is the conscience! This is why the conscience is such an important word in the New Testament, but doesn’t exist in the Old Testament.

To drive the point home, the author states, “Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach. Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshippers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have a conscience (confounded by) sin?” (Heb 10:1-2)

In these verses we have seen the first three appearances of conscience in the letter. Next, we shall have three appearances of the will of God. The first of these is brilliantly taken from Psalm 40, which says,

Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,

But a body you have prepared for me;

In burnt offerings and sin offerings

you have taken no pleasure.

Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come

            To do your will, oh God’

(In the scroll of the book

it is written for me.)”                                                -Heb 10:5b-7

Then, to Biblically underscore its great importance, the author repeats the Psalm’s phrase, “See, I have come to do your will.” (Heb 10:9a)

The author continues, “He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by that (God’s) will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb 10:9b-10)

The three initial appearances of conscience are spread out over much of Chapter 9 and the first verses of Chapter 10. However, once Jesus Christ comes and purifies our conscience through Baptism (see 10:5), the parallel initial three appearances of the will of God come to us very quickly, in just 4 verses (10:7-10).

This parallels historical fact. Humanity needed many millennia of development to arrive at a more empowered conscience. Today, however, our conscience provides us tremendous amounts of guidance, regarding the will of God.

In the next appearance of this same pair of words, the conscience again comes first. This time, it is preceded by the human heart, a human heart that has finally become true: “Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Heb 10:22) Like Peter, the unknown author of Hebrews stresses the vital realities of community and charity that permanently reside on the Christian Way: “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” (Heb 10:24) Baptism is also central for both Biblical authors.

Some verses later we again hear the matching appearance of the will of God, and how God’s will strengthens us in preparation for the reception of further gifts from God, and even for the encounter with God: “For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.” (Heb 10:36) This concludes the fourth appearance of both “conscience” and “will of God” in the letter, and the first individual pairing of these words.

The final pair of these words occur in the final verses of the letter. After a discussion of the communal leadership that is reminiscent of 1 Peter 5, there is an emphasis on community and conscience: “Pray for us; we are sure that we have a clear [good] conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you very soon.” (Heb 13:18-19)

Directly following this, in the benediction, is the final discussion of the Divine will: “Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Heb 13:20-21)

Notice the shepherd language that echoes the final chapter of 1 Peter. Additionally, as Hebrews closes with the blood of the Paschal lamb, so too does 1 Peter begin with that sprinkled blood.

This shows how the 5 appearances of conscience are carefully paired with the 5 appearances of the will of God in the Letter to the Hebrews.

Just as Pope Francis has many quotations from 1 Peter in the Exhortation, so too does he have a number of quotations from the Letter to the Hebrews. In fact, the very first words of Chapter 1 of the Exhortation are: “The Letter to the Hebrews presents a number of testimonies that encourage us . . . “ (Paragraph 3)

Paul, in Acts of the Apostles

This pairing of conscience and the will of God appears again in Acts of the Apostles, in a more understated way. The will of God is mentioned in Acts 21:14, and again at 22:14. Both instances involve Saint Paul. In the second telling of Paul’s conversion story, Luke has Ananias say to Paul, “the God of our fathers appointed you to know his will.” (Acts 22:14).

The phrase “will of God” disappears from Acts after this, to be replaced twice by Paul’s own “conscience.” In 23:1 he speaks from his “good conscience.” In 24:16, Paul says “And in this I exercise myself to have always a blameless conscience toward God and people.”

Space prohibits us from exploring this further here, but one may instantly see connections to the letters of Peter and the Letter to the Hebrews.

How is the Conscience Connected to the Will of God?

This consideration of 1 Peter, Hebrews, and Acts begs the question: So, how are the conscience and the will of God connected? Although we have already considered this question above, let us look at it anew from a different perspective. Let us consider practical applications of our new-found discovery of the “will of God,” or the voice of the Holy Spirit, being given directly to us.

In times past, the conscience was often merely considered to be a very simple indicator, an internal traffic light that told us to go or to stop. Here is an example of how it worked: Let’s say a young person has a decision to make that is bigger than usual decisions, and which is not totally clear. The decision the person faces causes some unease, some moral discomfort. Should the person do it or not? The “conscience,” according to the usual understanding, would then step in, giving the person permission to do the act, or, slamming on the brakes, and telling the person “No, don’t do it.” The conscience might have had an additional role: After the decision, if the wrong decision was made by the person, then the conscience sent guilt to the moral offender.

This description of the conscience is perhaps accurate, but it is very, very partial and misses realms of roles that the conscience can learn to participate in fully.

What if the conscience is the intelligent window within the soul through which we communicate with the Holy Spirit? And when a person is in a good moral state, and when that person has met the Holy Spirit and learned how to work with the Holy Spirit—what if the conscience can then develop further, and become the organ by which the will of God is constantly being transmitted to us? And, over time, what if the conscience, its strength being constantly increased by a person’s good decisions, becomes a constant reliable indicator of the will of God—provided that we are also receiving constant guidance and input from the community.

Let’s see how much this can empower and enable a person to become an active agent of the Holy Spirit now, in this life.

Let’s do this by considering the difference between “law” and the “will of God.” The “laws” that we have to deal with are usually proscriptive: “Don’t do that!” “Stop!” “Doing that action is forbidden!” “You must turn right here, you cannot turn left!” As we know, these laws are very helpful for society.

However, laws that modify our behavior are not the crowning achievement of individuals or of society. And this is precisely where the growth and evolution of our consciences has so often become bogged down. Our conscience is not merely a law-applier, an internal judge that says “Go” or “Stop.”

The will of God, however, is tailored to individuals. It is positive. It is most concerned with our growth as individuals and as a community. It is concerned with our ability to help other people, for the will of God can lead us to help other people in far more effective ways than we can help them if left to our own lights, even if we have vast experience already in helping other people. There is an amazingly wide spectrum of ways in which the will of God can help us in powerful ways. In Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis quotes 1 Thess 4:3, saying, “this is the will of God, your sanctification” (Paragraph 19). It is good to know that God’s will is our sanctification. This also makes us more enthusiastic to do God’s will.

So God’s will is for us. God’s will is helping us. God’s will leads us all the way to that summit of Divine-human sharing, as 2 Peter 1:4 says, in which we become “partakers in God’s nature.” So following God’s will is in our best interest, since our best interest is precisely what God wills. God loves us. God desires our authentic growth. God’s will actually does lead us in the best and most efficient avenues of our growth.

Laws are helpful, but they are not nearly as fulsome as the will of God is. If a person merely obeys laws but doesn’t practice much love and share much life in their earthly time, then their growth, in the eyes of God, might be much less than it could have been. The person may have avoided serious trouble by obeying the various laws one finds in life, but the person didn’t do much, especially by way of neighborly love, and contributing to the wider community.

However, what if a person can actually be led by the will of God, given to us by Holy Spirit? What if the Holy Spirit could say to you, “Hi, turn left at the next street. Now turn right. Keep going for a bit. Now turn left again down that side street. There, see that person by the dumpster?” You see a person slumped over and bloodied. The Spirit says, “I’m out. You’ve got it from here, friend.” And you quickly discover that the person by the dumpster has just been mugged and you later learn that this person has been going through a rough time in recent months. You help the person, and you then invite the person to your Church. Their life blossoms and they rediscover themselves and joyfully set off down the road of faith.

This might seem contrived, but exactly these sorts of events, in the Spirit, happen frequently in the lives of many people in the Church today.

In the above incident, if you had merely obeyed the laws, you might have gone home that afternoon and made yourself a cup of tea. Instead, by being able to discern the still small voice of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Kings 19:11-13), you saved a soul and greatly empowered the Body of Christ by bringing that person into the Body of Christ. And by bringing salvation to that person, you powerfully helped create and extend the Kingdom of God, on earth, now and in the future.

Do you see the difference between the person who merely obeys laws, and the person who has become an agent of the Holy Spirit? Both are good. But the one who becomes an agent of the Holy Spirit can bring home a tremendous bounty of fruit, the good earth of Mark 4 that produces 100-fold.

Most stories are not this simple, as our lives tend to be more complex these days, but some stories are that simple. And there are myriad other examples.

After my Spiritual awakening, when I was a teacher in the inner city of New York, an abuela (grandmother) who was a wisdom figure in the neighborhood was walking towards me when I left the school one evening. She engaged me in conversation, and said, “The Spirit sent me here right now.” She then told me that a particular person was going through a rough time and that I should seek him out and counsel him. Having asked around, with some ‘hints’ from above, I found him an hour later. He was indeed going through a rough time, and we talked. He emerged from the conversation happier and focused. Now, this fellow was, physically, a very strong young man. Weeks later, he told me that at that moment when I found him, he was mere seconds away from having gone to a local drug dealer and becoming part of his gang. (The dealer had offered him a lucrative job, both as a junior dealer and as muscle. If he had gone to meet the dealer, he would have walked away with a wad of franklins, becoming an instant Mr. Bling. He would then likely have been out of touch, from my perspective, for months or years, or until disaster struck him.) The conversation that I had with him had stopped him from introducing that great harm into his life. But it was not me who did it. It was the Body of Christ, through which great amounts of grace flow from the Holy Spirit, and the abuelita, and, at the tail end, a bit of action from me. It was a truly communal effort. It was the greater Body of Christ at work, saving that young man.

People who operate in the Holy Spirit have many, many stories like this.

We are all members of the Body of Christ. We are all invited to deeper participation in the Body of Christ, and we are invited to receive Spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit wants to give us to help and enable our deeper participation in the Body of Christ. This is especially the case now, in this time of Vatican II, a time that, as discussed above, Pope St. John XXIII has declared is a New Pentecost, a reality of a new immediacy of relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Here is another way to say this, regarding laws, in contrast with our greater ability today to do the will of God:

The Lord’s Prayer says, “Thy will be done.” We ask that God’s will be done. The Lord’s Prayer does not say, “Thy rules be followed inerrantly.” Of course, rules are good. They help society to function, they guide the proper upbringing of children so that they learn to act in wider society, and sometimes they prepare us for greater accomplishments in certain skills: the rules of musical instruments, sports, art, conversation, and writing, all help to make better practitioners of these skills; and, when the times are right, they prepare the practitioners of these skills to momentarily discard the rules like training wheels, and to dance more freely with the Holy Spirit.

The vast majority of ethical and moral rules should never be broken in our lives. There is no need to break rules, in the overwhelming majority of situations. However, the mere observance of these laws is nothing like the heights that our faith wants to lead us to. The rules train us, and they guide our development. In society, they keep society healthy and operational. Laws are wonderful. But they are not the final goal of things.

No, the Lord’s Prayer says “Thy will be done,” not, “Thy rules be administered to all.” The Holy Spirit wants us to do God’s will, and will only show us how to do God’s will if we want to! To do God’s will is exciting. To do God’s will is to engage life more fully. If we tell the Holy Spirit that we are open to being an agent of God’s will on earth, and so build up the Body of Christ in this manner, the Holy Spirit will respond. Jesus came to teach us relationship with the Holy Spirit. This is the fullness of life that he promised us (see John 10:10). The strong help of the Holy Spirit is mentioned all through his Farewell Discourse in John’s Gospel (Chapters 13-17), and throughout the New Testament. The letters of Paul, Peter, John, and Hebrews all speak of it too. The Holy Spirit communicates God’s will to us once we have learned the languages of the Holy Spirit and learned how to listen to the still, small voice of the Spirit that slowly arrives to us via our conscience.

What is Gaudete et Exsultate About?

The first paragraph of this Apostolic Exhortation does not have a thesis statement, however, it does set the stage for the document, which has 177 numbered paragraphs:

  1. “REJOICE AND BE GLAD” (Mt 5:12), Jesus tells those persecuted or humiliated for his sake. The Lord asks everything of us, and in return, he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence. The call to holiness is present in various ways from the very first pages of the Bible. We see it expressed in the Lord’s words to Abraham: “Walk before me, and be blameless” (Gen 17:1). [Emphasis added, as in all quotations from the Exhortation below.]

There is no thesis statement yet. In the next paragraph, Pope Francis presents the thesis statement as a “modest goal”:

  1. What follows is not meant to be a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions helpful for understanding this important subject, or a discussion of the various means of sanctification. My modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities. For the Lord has chosen each one of us “to be holy and blameless before him in love” (Eph 1:4).

While these two paragraphs are adjacent to each other in the text of the document, they hiddenly contain, from the first to the second, the entire arc of human history and Salvation History. The Genesis quotation from God’s message to Abraham is God speaking to a humanity that has not yet been in a deep personal and volitional relationship with God. In a way, this represents God waking humanity up, and the very beginning of humanity’s learning to pursue things that are good. This quotation closes the first paragraph of the work.


Pope Francis says in the second paragraph that his “modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness.” He could not have said this in the first paragraph, because he was pointing far back to Abraham’s very basic and simple, and new, relationship with God. But in the second paragraph, Pope Francis replaces the paragraph-closing quotation of Genesis with one from Paul’s (or a close student of Paul’s) Letter to the Ephesians. In the Genesis quotation, God tells Abraham to be “blameless,” to not sin. In the quotation from Ephesians, Paul tells the people “to be holy and blameless before him in love.” Do you see the huge amount of human spiritual evolution that is traversed between these two quotations? Paul has taken the original line from Genesis 17:1 and added at least two vital elements to it: Paul tells us to imitate God in holiness, and also to be a humanity that is founded in Love. (Below, in Paragraph 10, Pope Francis will quote from Leviticus and 1 Peter about the Lord’s command to holiness.)

Here is the more full context of the quotation from Ephesians 1:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who blessed us with every Spiritual blessing in the ‘heavenlies’ in Christ; according as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, for us to be holy and unblemished before him in love, predestinating us to adoption through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of (God’s) will.” (Ephesians 1:3-5)

The progression from Abraham all the way forward to Saint Paul, the co-worker with the Holy Spirit, is simply immense. And within these initial paragraphs, there are other vital historical arcs:

The first word of the Exhortation is “Rejoice,” or, GAUDETE. This word is cognate with GAUDIUM, which is the first word of Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, one of the two central constitutions of Vatican II. Therefore, Pope Francis is intentionally underlining the span of time between the 1960’s actual meetings of the Council, and the time now, in 2018, 50+ years later.

What happened in the 1960’s with the Second Vatican Council? Well, Pope St. John XXIII said that this time would be a New Pentecost, as we have discussed above.

We are now 50+ years after Vatican II. Pope Francis is telling us to live deeply the truths and the developments that Vatican II revealed to us. Having been working the earth of our hearts for some decades, the promise of Vatican II is unfolding and blossoming today. The Holy Spirit is indeed among us like never before.

There are many mystics in the world today. Recall that Karl Rahner, the main theologian of Vatican II, said that the future Christian would be a mystic, or Christianity would no longer exist.

So where are we?

We are on the threshold of a great advance for humanity—an advance that has been predestined by God.

Let us proceed to the Exhortation’s third paragraph, which begins Chapter One:

  1. The Letter to the Hebrews presents a number of testimonies that encourage us to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us (12:1). It speaks of Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Gideon and others (cf. 11:1-12:3). Above all, it invites us to realize that “a great cloud of witnesses” (12:1) impels us to advance constantly towards the goal. These witnesses may include our own mothers, grandmothers or other loved ones (cf. 2 Tim 1:5). Their lives may not always have been perfect, yet even amid their faults and failings they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord.

Why Gideon?

Gideon knew what it was like to work with God. And Gideon is an example for us in forming a direct relationship with God. Often God tests us before giving us Spiritual gifts. One night, the Spirit of God really pushes Gideon to the limits of his faith. He was a judge of the ancient Israelites. Before a battle, God told Gideon to send most of his army home. Obviously, this is not a normal thing for a leader to do before a battle. Gideon, very nervously, did this. Then, with diminished troops, Gideon was able to surprise the enemy and win a resounding victory. His trust in God was the right call, it turns out.

Gideon’s faith in God must have been far more solid after this episode. If, later, the Spirit of God asked him to do things that seem risky, Gideon would have been far more willing and much less hesitant in leaping to obey God’s subtle commands, that is, in doing God’s will.

In fact, this episode with Gideon has powerful resonance with everyone who has been through a dark night of the soul. This is very much how the Holy Spirit works today, especially in our initial “boot camp” training times under the Spirit.

After Gideon he also mentions our mothers and grandmothers. There may be a very clear tactical reason for this. Women, especially loving women with experience in the Church, are often in a direct relationship with the Holy Spirit, although these women might never discuss it. Perhaps Pope Francis is mentioning that it is now time for these women to be more forthcoming in their discussing the ways of the Holy Spirit. Also, he may be asking these women to consider ways in which they could more directly teach people about the relationship with the Holy Spirit.

The fourth paragraph of the Exhortation has an emphasis on our communion with those in heaven and on earth:

  1. The saints now in God’s presence preserve their bonds of love and communion with us. The Book of Revelation attests to this when it speaks of the intersession of the martyrs: “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; they cried out with a loud voice, ‘O sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge?’” (6:9-10). Each one of us can say: “Surrounded, led and guided by the friends of God… I do not have to carry alone what, in truth, I could never carry alone. All the saints of God are there to protect me, to sustain me and to carry me.” [This first non-Biblical quotation of the Exhortation is from Pope Benedict XVI’s first homily as Pope.]

Let us now return to the opening words of the Exhortation, the “Gaudete et Exsultate” of Matthew 5:12, from the end of the Beatitudes that begin the first truly public words of Jesus Christ in history, and his first public words in the Bible.

Paragraphs 3 & 4 also speak Christians who are in heaven right now, reflecting, again, history; the Body of Christ is the beneficiary of the fact that 2 millennia of departed Christians are now interceding for us in heaven. Also, as people become more Spiritual, it is more possible to imagine this community that, right now, spans both heaven and earth. 1 Peter 5:1 has a hint of this too, when Peter speaks of the glory he participates in: This is speaking of the interpenetration of heaven and earth, of heaven and Church; and this is a project which is already 2000 years underway. When we sing the Litany of Saints, they are standing right beside us in the church. Additionally, these saints are with God right now.

The next paragraph considers again historical processes, as well as events in history:

  1. The processes of beatification and canonization recognize the signs of heroic virtue, the sacrifice of one’s life in martyrdom, and certain cases where a life is constantly offered for others, even until death. This shows an exemplary imitation of Christ, one worthy of the admiration of the faithful. We can think, for example, of Blessed Maria Gabriella Sagheddu, who offered her life for the unity of Christians.

Pope Francis deliberately makes us consider the processes, in history, where agents of the Church examine the lives of people who may become officially recognized as saints. This makes us consider, as well, the actual processes by which we may become more saintly, more holy, and possibly achieve sainthood ourselves now, in this life. How we become emissaries of Divine Love on this Earth. How are lives become holy, enriching the community around us.

And Pope Francis chooses a recent holy woman, a “Blessed,” who is herself on the way to Canonization. In the same way, all of us are on the way to holier lives, to new processes of growth in holiness. Blessed Maria Gabriella Sagheddu is one who leads the way for us.

Pope Francis is always grounding his high Spiritual message in the basics: Humility, holiness, service, and genuine actions of mercy for other people.

At the same time, he wants to bring the Church into the positive growth that Vatican II envisions for us. He wants us to have living relationships with the Holy Spirit, not merely to try to “do good” by our own lights and safely inside the rubrics of faith, and the legislative laws that are in place. Rather, he wants us, as individuals and as the unified Body of Christ, to guide more fully by the Holy Spirit. We can walk directly with the Holy Spirit. We can be directly led by the Holy Spirit.

In the next section of the essay we shall consider how Pope Francis commends all people in the Church to a path that is at once meek and mystical.

Specific Themes in Gaudete et Exsultate

God Talks To Us. We Are Invited to Listen

Pope Francis, and all humble true mystics, tells us that God initiates the contact. Speaking of errors of the gnostics, he writes, “It was forgotten that everything ‘depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy’ (Rom 9:16) and that ‘he first loved us’ (cf. 1 John 4:19).”            (Paragraph 48)

God’s early words to us, as individuals, often encourage us to holiness. And Pope Francis’ entire Exhortation is about holiness.

If we prove able, with God’s grace, to make good decisions, this is a positive first step for us in our life. And if we start to see, and to make sense of, the ways of the operation of the Holy Spirit in our life, this too is positive growth. Our prayer life may grow deeper. The Scriptures may start to open up their marvelous depths and their personal revelations, to us.

And something else may happen:


In the English translation of the document, the word “sign” appears about 13 times. The Holy Spirit very often communicates to us through signs.

However, in this essay we shall not explore the specific features of these signs and languages, and of what they might be. Let us save that for a future essay.

Growth in Mystical Aptitude and Perception

Life is about growth. We are creatures of Growth, and creatures of Healing. God wills our Growth, our Healing, our Sanctification, our strengthening and preparation for the weight of glory that is eternal life.

The word “grow,” and cognate terms, appear about 19 times in the English version of the Exhortation. 8 of these 19 appearances occur in the repeated phrase, “grow/growth in holiness.” Other terms and phrases of growth, such as “develop,” “transform,” and “process,” occur at least 45 times.

And as mentioned above, the word “holy” appears about 133 times. In various other languages, it is about 200 times.

So what is all this growth in holiness leading towards?

It’s leading to the transformation of us and of our Church and our world that Vatican II is about. Again, Karl Rahner, the main theologian of Vatican II, says that the future Christian will be a mystic, an operative of the Holy Spirit, an agent of the Holy Spirit. If not, says Rahner, then there won’t be Christianity.

Thus, we see that “history” is a major theme of the Church. And the word “history” appears 11 times in Gaudete et Exsultate, although language referring to historical processes appears far more frequently than that. Thus, we have strong emphasis on both personal development and global historical development. The human person and the larger communities to which we belong, especially the Body of Christ, are growing together.

Let’s return to the “signs” that were mentioned just above. The Holy Spirit communicates with us in many ways. And when the Holy Spirit begins to really talk more fully and individually to us, the means of communication that the Spirit employs can be surprising.

The Holy Spirit likes style, but can also be austere. The Holy Spirit likes expression, but can also be an efficient minimalist. The Holy Spirit relishes all languages, but also likes new simple languages of only a few characters (and with such simple unexpected languages the Holy Spirit can teach us something like astrophysics). As a commanding general in the field, the Holy Spirit likes issuing simple orders to us; we are the Spirit’s soldiers. We receive the simple orders, and act on them. This helps the Body of Christ, the Church, to grow on Earth.

The New Testament, especially the Gospels, Acts, the letters of Peter, Hebrews, John, and Paul all show myriad hints of the Holy Spirit communicating with us in these mystical ways.

This is the hidden generated groundswell movement of Gaudete et Exsultate, Rejoice and Be Glad.

When we have done some perseverance and growth in the Faith, we may well be invited into a direct relationship with the Holy Spirit. Modern people and events like Vatican II, Pope Francis, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), Karl Rahner, St. Mother Teresa, Pope Blessed Paul VI, Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope St. John XXIII are pointing the way: we are to become a more mystical humanity.

Which is to say: We are to become more authentic Christians, with ever-growing love for neighbor and God, and with a direct relationship with the Holy Spirit.

That Pope Francis is clearly inviting us to deepen our relationship with the Holy Spirit is abundantly obvious in Gaudete et Exsultate. Here are some statements that point in precisely this direction, urging us to a direct relationship with the Holy Spirit:

Mystical Language in the Exhortation

-In Paragraph 8, Pope Francis quotes a powerful statement from Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross:

“The greatest figures of prophecy and sanctity step forth out of the darkest night. But for the most part, the formative stream of the mystical life remains invisible. Certainly the most decisive turning points in world history are substantially co-determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions. And we will only find out about those souls to whom we owe the decisive turning points in our personal lives on the day when all that is hidden is revealed.” (Paragraph 8)

One of the joys of being a member of the Body of Christ is knowing when your own sacrifices are helping another member of humanity. Or helping the growth of the entire human family.

She says that the holiness, prayer, and effort of hidden saints are deeply involved in both global and individual history. This makes good sense, because we are all members of the Body of Christ. Many hidden athletes of prayer are fully operational power plants for the Body of Christ—but unknown to the majority of people.

-The hiddenness of the great contributions of the saints and good souls who have gone before us is reflected also in the apparently “informal” ways that the Holy Spirit communes with us as individuals. Soon after the above quotation, Pope Francis references another great Carmelite mystic, St. John of the Cross:

“Indeed, when the great mystic, Saint John of the Cross, wrote his Spiritual Canticle, he preferred to avoid hard and fast rules for all. He explained that his verses were composed so that everyone could benefit from them ‘in his or her own way’. For God’s life is communicated ‘to some in one way and to others in another’.” (Paragraph 11)

It is worth noting that Saint John of the Cross is perhaps the favorite author of Pope Saint John Paul II. The young Karol Wojtyla wrote his first doctoral dissertation on the question of “Faith” in Saint John of the Cross.

-Following this, Paragraph 12 speaks of women and their special abilities, mentioning also the “genius of woman.” A forthcoming book discusses how, in their New Testament letters, Peter and Paul are telling men to listen to women, because women may be closer to the Holy Spirit than men typically are.

This would be a positive contribution to the ways in which we consider the letters of the New Testament.

-Pope Francis mentions how we are meant to deal directly in the things of God:

“In this way, led by God’s grace, we shape by many small gestures the holiness God has willed for us, not as men and women sufficient unto ourselves but rather ‘as good stewards of the manifold grace of God’ (1 Peter 4:10).”          (Paragraph 18)

Immediately after this, he mentions how “The New Zealand bishops rightly teach us that we are capable of loving with the Lord’s unconditional love, because the risen Lord shared his powerful life with our fragile lives . . . ‘Christ shares his own risen life with us. In this way, our lives demonstrate his power at work . . . ’” (Paragraph 18)

-Immediately after this, we again hear of God’s will, and how that will of God desires and helps our growth in Godliness: “A Christian cannot think of his or her mission on earth without seeing it as a path of holiness, for ‘this is the will of God, your sanctification’ (1 Thess 4:3).” (Paragraph 19)

God wills our growing closer to God, and our sharing in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4)

-Similarly, we identify with Christ and his will: “Your identification with Christ and his will . . . ”                  (Paragraph 25)

This tells us that the will of God is deeply involved in our own identity.

-Learning how to follow the divine will has wonderful outcomes for us: “Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you, and you will be faithful to your deepest self.”                        (Paragraph 32)

-Soon afterwards we hear more echoes of this: “Do not be afraid to set your sights higher, to allow yourself to be loved and liberated by God. Do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit.”                     (Paragraph 34)

-Again, “If we let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit . . . ”

(Paragraph 42)

All of the above quotations from Gaudete et Exsultate are inviting us to a real growth in Spirituality, including mysticism. This next quotation sharpens that focus further. With the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we can actually develop the ability “to see the real and possible steps that the Lord demands of us at every moment, once we are attracted and empowered by his gift. Grace acts in history; ordinarily it takes hold of us and transforms us progressively. If we reject this historical and progressive reality, we can actually refuse and block grace . . . ”                                       (Paragraph 50, emphases added)

-Pope Francis knows what the Letter to the Hebrews, and 1 & 2 Peter, are saying about the merging of our conscience with the will of God. The next paragraph says that we can actually “walk in union with him.” The Pope urges us not to be afraid of God’s “presence.” In this deeper union with God, “we will know the pleasing and perfect will of the Lord (cf. Rom 12:1-2) and allow him to mold us like a potter (cf. Isaiah 29:16). So often we say that God dwells in us, but it is better to say that we dwell in him, that he enables us to dwell in his light and love.”           (Paragraph 51)

-Once we connect with the Holy Spirit in this more overt and mystical way, the journey continues and gets more exciting. Yet we still remain humble before God’s gift: “Only on the basis of God’s gift, freely accepted and humbly received, can we cooperate by our own efforts in our progressive transformation….. (In this way) his free gift may grow and develop within us.” (Paragraph 56)

-The emphasis on the Spiritual connection continues, as we should let ourselves be “led by the Spirit in the way of love.”                      (Paragraph 57)

-And the next paragraph urges us not to ignore the “promptings of the Spirit.”

(Paragraph 58)

All this might sound as if the Church is taking off in a wild new direction. But this is not the case. The Body of Christ, and the living connections of the Church, has grown tremendously in the last 2000 years. The Church is growing, like a young tender tree that has finally reached the right year in which to bring forth its first fruit. In fact, Pope Francis gives us many reassurances that we must never lose the core Gospel message, and that some things should never change, even as the Church grows and develops: “At the center is charity. Saint Paul says that what truly counts is ‘faith working through love’ (Gal 5:6) . . . ‘love is the fulfillment of the law’ (Rom 13:8-10). ‘For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’.’(Gal 5:14)”                                    (Paragraph 60)

-Again, Pope Francis speaks of the obvious mysticism of the Church that is seen in so many places and persons of our glorious history. We should celebrate the “luminous mysticism so evident in the lives” of the Church’s saints.                  (Paragraph 100)

Now, Friedrich Nietzsche was an occasionally clever writer who had his own personal pet project to destroy Western civilization. He was a fairly sick fellow, and went insane and incommunicative in the final years of his life. One of his humorous comments was, “Methinks these redeemed ones ought to act a bit more saved.” He was saying that Christians don’t always live in full relationship to what our glorious faith is actually saying about the miracles that we are participating in on a daily basis. In response to him, we can happily hold up the tremendous fruit of the 2000 year history of the Church, including astonishing new developments such as what we are entering now:

-Why shouldn’t the Spirit be leading us to new epochs of our history, of Salvation History? Pope Francis writes a bit later in the document: “The prophets proclaimed the times of Jesus, in which we now live, as a revelation of joy. ‘Shout and sing for joy!’ (Isaiah 12:6).” Pope Francis immediately continues with four more Old Testament quotes encouraging us to praise, exclamation, and joy. (Paragraph 123)

And in exactly this way, just as we are now living in the times of Jesus, so too are we now living in the times of Vatican II, which is a great step forward for the Church into deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit.

-And as we grow into deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit, the glad living bonds of our koinonia, of our community, will deepen also and become resplendent with joy and brotherly/sisterly love. Pope Francis says, “Here I am speaking of a joy lived in communion, which shares and is shared, since ‘there is more happiness in giving than in receiving’ (Acts 20:35) and ‘God loves a cheerful giver’ (2 Cor 9:7). Fraternal love increases our capacity for joy, since it makes us capable of rejoicing in the good of others: ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice’ (Rom 12:15).” This last expression is quite mystical, as it speaks of losing ourselves into a larger body, which is a powerful part of the reality of mystical participation in the Living Body of Christ.    (Paragraph 128)

-Again, even as we are called to enter into a more full, a more mystical relationship with God and the Church, for the foreseeable future we are still utterly dependent on the initiatives of God: “We need the Holy Spirit’s prompting.”     (Paragraph 133)

Indeed, the initiative of God, who loved us first, was present at the first Pentecost, when those in the Upper Room “’were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness’ (Acts 4:31).”   (Paragraph 133)

-Pope Francis reminds us of how unfathomably strong and free God is: “God is eternal newness.” And God wants us to learn how to participate in this radical newness, which is vital for our future.           (Paragraph 135)

-And yet, in living this Divine newness, we are always in dialogue and relationship with our beautiful Church’s past: “In every situation, may the Holy Spirit cause us to contemplate history in the light of the risen Jesus. In this way, the Church will not stand still, but constantly welcome the Lord’s surprises.”      (Paragraph 139)

Indeed, this is precisely what Vatican II calls us to as well. The Council urges us to go back to the beginnings and sources of our Faith, even as we are counseled to read “the signs of the times.”

-Pope Francis presents to us the remarkable Paragraph 142: “Each community is called to create a ‘God-enlightened space in which to experience the hidden presence of the risen Lord.’ Sharing the word and celebrating the Eucharist together fosters fraternity and makes us a holy and missionary community. It also gives rise to authentic and shared mystical experiences.          (Paragraph 142, emphasis added)

In the same paragraph, Pope Francis begins a hidden string of 4 pairs of saints; the pairs are always saintly woman-man friends or relatives. These saints are:

Saint Benedict,                       and Saint Scholastica

Saint Augustine,                    and Saint Monica


Mary,                                      and Joseph

Saint John of the Cross,        and Saint Teresa of Avila

Right in the middle of them is Jesus. The first two pairs are on Paragraph 142. Mary and Joseph, with Jesus, are in Paragraph 143. Saint John of the Cross is in Paragraph 148. His dear friend Saint Teresa of Avila is in the next paragraph, 149.

This is also a nod to Saint Peter’s letters, both of which allude to the four male-female pairs of people on the ark. (And let’s not forget that the four pairs of people mirror the four pairs of conscience/”will of God” terms.)

The third essay of this series with take up these four pairs of holy male-female friendships in greater detail.

-As we near the end of the document, the emphasis on Unity grows. The Body of Christ is One, even though we remain many free individuals, each person unique. Our journey “can only make us identify all the more with Jesus’ prayer ‘that all may be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you’ (Jn 17:21).” Jesus’ words here, of mutual indwelling, are obviously mystical and mysterious and hard to fathom. Yet he clearly wants us to participate in this Unity.          (Paragraph 146)

-The next paragraph informs us that we can actually develop a “habitual openness to the transcendent.” Obviously, this also speaks quite clearly of a deeper Spiritual awareness of “what” our God is choosing to do with us.          (Paragraph 147)

-In the next paragraph he quotes Saint John of the Cross, who advises us: “Always go to God and attach your heart to him.” Earlier in the same paragraph he again quotes Saint John of the Cross: “Endeavor to remain always in the presence of God, either real, imaginative, or unitive, insofar as is permitted by your works.”     (Paragraph 148)

-Then Pope Francis quotes the good friend of Saint John of the Cross, that is, Saint Teresa of Avila, another great mystic of the Church. She too speaks of the presence of God: “We all have need of this silence [in prayer], filled with the presence of him who is adored.” Pope Francis builds upon Teresa’s thought: “Trust-filled prayer is a response of a heart open to encountering God face to face.” Again, the deeper encounter of prayer that is given to the mystics is suggested to and offered to all members of the Body of Christ.                      (Paragraph 149)

Continuing the Thread of Commentary:

What Pope Francis Is Doing in Chapter 5,

As He Concludes Gaudete et Exsultate

The fifth, final chapter of Gaudete et Exsultate brings to the discussion a more detailed treatment of human activity that we can practice in our spiritual growth. One of the concluding events of the document is a recommendation for us to practice the daily Examen of Conscience, which is a beautiful way for us to better know the internal geography of our soul and psyche; we shall discuss this below.

Combined with this, there is a good emphasis placed on the skill of discernment. Discernment is both a human skill and it is one of the 9 Gifts of the Holy Spirit, particularly the “discernment of spirits” (see 1 Cor 12:10).

There are many reasons why discernment is an important skill and Spiritual aptitude for us to develop in today’s world. We are potentially overwhelmed by communication, media, technology, information, opinions, and projected politically-motivated tugs at our emotions.

And if humanity continues on this rapid pace of technological development, then the technological innovations occurring in life and in society will hit us even faster.

It is at precisely this point that this “deeper immediate relationship with the Holy Spirit” that is the overt topic of this paper, and which is a slightly more subtle topic of Pope Francis’ Gaudete et Exsultate, can especially help humanity.

Let’s say a person is navigating the internet to gather local and global news. The slightest nudge from the Holt Spirit could lead that person to alight upon an important story at a site, a story that is good for that person to see. The person might be in a position from which to help resolve the issue at hand: by sharing it on social media, or by starting a petition to raise awareness and bring about an effective response, etc. This is one of the many benefits of a more global humanity, which we are/becoming in today’s world.

Another example: a scientist is wondering what direction in which she/he should take their research. A few suggestions from the Spirit, all subtle and known privately by the scientist, could help her to choose the best path forward to a wondrous breakthrough discovery, and avoid developments that would harm humanity, as science and technology become more powerful in this era. (Some people think that science proceeds automatically in the direction in which it is “meant” to grow, to forge new discoveries of the operation of the natural world. But this is emphatically not the case. To study the ways in which a few people decide how the powerful eye of science will be focused in one direction, and not in others, is a fascinating topic to learn. Therefore, it would be good to introduce the subtle guidance of the Holy Spirit to the ways in which the directions of scientific research are chosen.)

Legislators could make better laws and systems and models for the workings and laws of government.

Diplomats could be given hints about the best way to resolve situations, and to create peace in all lands.

Therapists and counselors can know far more potently how to help their patients. Teachers can know more precisely how to help their students. Parents can be guided in various kinds of decisions on how to raise their children. In workplaces, all the employees can work together to build a more healthy and happy community in their workplace. Imagine a world where all of our workplaces are sources of joy and community and human growth, without unnecessary contention, difficulty, envy, and selfishness.

And as these realities spread and deepen and coalesce with each other, our knowledge and understanding of the Body of Christ will bloom.

The Holy Spirit can guide humanity in every situation in which we find ourselves.

Now imagine the globe, or large tracts of humanity, all being led by the Spirit in a billion different social situations. If such a condition obtains, then we will be a far more advanced form of a “united humanity.” Then we will truly be brothers and sisters all. Then we will be on the same page, playing to the same score. Such a humanity will be far more empowered as we proceed in the best possible directions forward, for our present health and for our future evolution. Consensus will be reached quickly on pressing questions, such as how we might best respond to the global warming and environmental degradation that is happening now. The best paths forward, the best resolutions to these concerns, will be forged in a humanity that is united by the subtle suggestions of the Holy Spirit, who always prefers to operate behind the scenes.

How do we, as individuals, get to a place where we can help humanity reach such a stunning plateau, such a marvelous vista?

Pope Francis’ answer is disarmingly simple: the Examen of Conscience. This is a way for us to activate our new, living relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Let us now turn to Chapter Five:

The fifth, final chapter of the work is the shortest chapter, with only 18 numbered paragraphs, not counting the final two paragraphs that are the conclusion of the Exhortation. Let us now continue our commentary on various key points of the Exhortation:

-Chapter Five begins with a discussion of the reality of evil, and the devil, in the world. The chapter is entitled Spiritual Combat, Vigilance and Discernment. This appearance of the word “Discernment” is the first of 17 appearances of this word in the chapter. The first sentence is: “The Christian life is a constant battle.” (Paragraph 158) Yet a moment later there is also sweetness in this struggle: “The battle is sweet, for it allows us to rejoice each time the Lord triumphs in our lives.” (158)

Jesus triumphs, and the triumph is in us.

-Then the Pope speaks of the first missionary mission of the disciples, in Luke’s Gospel. Completing this mission, the disciples joyously reported back to the Lord and told him of their successes. “Jesus himself celebrates our victories. He rejoiced when his disciples made progress in preaching the Gospel and overcoming the opposition of the evil one: ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’ (Lk 10:18).” (Paragraph 159)

-Then he gives us a strong, healthy suggestion for our life’s journey: “Along this journey, the cultivation of all that is good, progress in the spiritual life and growth in love are the best counterbalance to evil.” (Paragraph 163)

-The Spiritual life has its simple phases, where things are set before us in great clarity. However, there can also be subtle complexities in the Spiritual growth we undergo. Sometimes logic itself seems to wobble in front of the logic of the Kingdom of God: “Christian triumph is always a cross, yet a cross which is at the same time a victorious banner, borne with aggressive tenderness against the assaults of evil.” (Paragraph 163, which is quoting from Evangelii Gaudium)

-Jesus says, in his Farewell Discourse in John’s Gospel (Chapters 13-17), “My peace I give you. Not as the world gives peace do I give peace.” (John 14:27) So despite the opening sentence of this chapter from Pope Francis, that describes Christian life as a “constant battle,” there are also, paradoxically, many joys to be found along the way: “The path of holiness is a source of peace and joy, given to us by the Spirit. At the same time, it demands that we keep ‘our lamps lit’ (Lk 12:35) and be attentive.” (Paragraph 164, emphasis added) The intriguing phrase “At the same time” shows us how the Spiritual life will also teach us how to handle multiple states of affairs at one and the same time. This too is mystical. Adroit multi-tasking is a Spiritual gift.

-The section of the chapter entitled “Discernment” begins with Paragraph 166. He says that discernment is “an urgent need,” and speaks of the necessity of discernment for this current time: “The gift of discernment has become all the more necessary today, since contemporary life offers immense possibilities for action and distraction, and the world presents all of them as valid and good.” (Paragraph 167) He continues, “We can navigate simultaneously on two or more screens and interact at the same time with two or three virtual scenarios. Without the wisdom of discernment, we can easily become prey to every passing trend.” (Paragraph 167) This speaks of the crucial ability, discussed above, to be able to choose the best course out of ever-widening spectrums of choices before us.

Along with this, is shows how the human person may, with mystical guidance from the Holy Spirit, develop new capacities to deal with multiple issues at once. Again, formal laws of logic may be suspended a bit in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul says things like this frequently. In fact, saying something that is actually subtly different from a similar expression in Genesis, Paul says in Ephesians 5, “The two become one.” He is not talking merely of a wedding ceremony, but of something mystically deep and profound, where the regular way of things may be newly expanded in mystical ways. God moves both within, and far beyond, conventional logic.

-Speaking of the potential of discernment in these times, let us quote Paragraph 168 in its entirety:

“This is all the more important when some novelty presents itself in our lives. Then we have to decide whether it is new wine brought by God or an illusion created by the spirit of this world or the spirit of the devil. At other times, the opposite can happen, when the forces of evil induce us not to change, to leave things as they are, to opt for a rigid resistance to change. Yet that would be to block the working of the Spirit. We are free, with the freedom of Christ. Still, he asks us to examine what is within us—our desires, anxieties, fears and questions—and what takes place all around us—‘the signs of the times’—and thus to recognize the paths that lead to complete freedom. ‘Test everything; hold fast to what is good’.(1 Thess 5:21)”

-Discernment works hand-in-hand with the mystical gifts that God wants to give us. In fact, discernment will help us to gauge and measure and understand mystical communications more deeply and precisely: “Discernment is necessary not only at extraordinary times, when we need to resolve grave problems and make crucial decisions. It is a means of spiritual combat for helping us to follow the Lord more faithfully. We need it at all times, to help us recognize God’s timetable, lest we fail to heed the promptings of his grace and disregard his invitation to grow.” Yet again, Pope Francis is speaking to us directly about mystical awareness and aptitude.

How, then, do we achieve the ability to enter into a more mystical relationship with the Holy Spirit, if this stage of life has not begun for a person yet? In this same paragraph, Pope Francis urges all people to practice the Examen of Conscience: “For this reason, I ask all Christians not to omit, in dialogue with the Lord, a sincere daily ‘examination of conscience’. Discernment also enables us to recognize the concrete means that the Lord provides in his mysterious and loving plan, to make us move beyond mere good intentions.” This last sentence of the paragraph begins with the third mention therein of ‘discernment’, and speaks again of our becoming more aware of the mystical communications that the Holy Spirit may saturate us with.                   (Paragraph 169)

A very brief outline of how to practice the Examen of Conscience is available here:

-In discussing Pope Francis’ next paragraph, I want to proceed with great care: “Certainly, spiritual discernment does not exclude existential, psychological, sociological or moral insights drawn from the human sciences. At the same time, it transcends them. Nor are the Church’s sound norms sufficient. We should always remember that discernment is a grace. Even though it includes reason and prudence, it goes beyond them, for it seeks a glimpse of that unique and mysterious plan that God has for each of us, which takes shape amid so many varied situations and limitations.” Never should we ignore the teachings of the Church, or think that a person is capable of moving beyond them. Much rather, with humility, we realize that when the Holy Spirit starts speaking to us directly, there is simply no human authority that is greater than the Spirit. This is a source of confidence for the trying times of following the Spirit’s lead, those “Gideon moments.” In these times, our growing abilities of discernment and our faithful experience of life in the Church both help us in this new and exciting work with the Holy Spirit. This paragraph, like the previous one, has three appearances of the word “discernment.”

And despite the fact that we are capable of dancing and flying with the Holy Spirit in a radically new relationship, the concrete bedrock reality of our Faith is eternally the same: “It has to do with the meaning of my life before the Father who knows and loves me, with the real purpose of my life, that nobody knows better than he. Ultimately, discernment leads to the wellspring of undying life: to know the Father, the only true God, and the one whom he has sent, Jesus Christ (cf. John 17:3). It requires no special abilities, nor is it only for the more intelligent or better educated. The Father readily reveals himself to the lowly (cf. Mt 11:25).”      (Paragraph 170)


-The discourse on real mystical experience continues: “The Lord speaks to us in a variety of ways, at work, through others and at every moment.” Pope Francis then emphasizes the importance of prayer in our life, “which enables us better to perceive God’s language, to interpret the real meaning of the inspirations we believe we have received, to calm our anxieties and to see the whole of our existence afresh in his own light. In this way, we allow the birth of a new synthesis that springs from a life inspired by the Spirit.”               (Paragraph 171)

-Pope Francis does not want us to misinterpret, or pridefully overinterpret, the messages of the Holy Spirit. Nor does he want us to miss the signs of the Spirit, or remain inactive after we have correctly read them: “Nonetheless, it is possible that, even in prayer itself, we could refuse to let ourselves be confronted by the freedom of the Spirit, who acts as he wills. We must remember that prayerful discernment must be born of a readiness to listen: to the Lord and to others, and to reality itself, which always challenges us in new ways.” Prayerful listening and discernment also lifts us above the shortcomings of our habitual mindsets: “God may be offering us something more, but in our comfortable inadvertence, we do not recognize it.” (Paragraph 172)

-The role of the Church does not change in this era of Vatican II, this era of the Second Pentecost: “Naturally, this attitude of listening entails obedience to the Gospel as the ultimate standard, but also to the Magisterium that guards it, as we seek to find in the treasury of the Church whatever is most fruitful for the ‘today’ of salvation. It is not a matter of applying rules or repeating what was done in the past, since the same solutions are not valid in all circumstances and what was useful in one context may not prove so in another. The discernment of spirits liberates us from rigidity, which has no place before the perennial ‘today’ of the risen Lord. The Spirit alone can penetrate what is obscure and hidden in every situation, and grasp its every nuance, so that the newness of the Gospel can emerge in another light.”            (Paragraph 173)

-In this journey with a direct relationship with the Holy Spirit, we must never think that we know it all, or become smug: “An essential condition for progress in discernment [of the Holy Spirit’s direct participation in our life] is a growing understanding of God’s patience and his timetable, which are never our own.” Then Pope Francis encourages us to never forget generosity and kindness. He concludes the paragraph with a consideration of the often difficult “mysterious logic” of the Divine: “For happiness is a paradox. We experience it most when we accept the mysterious logic that is not of this world: ‘This is our logic’, says Saint Bonaventure, pointing to the cross. Once we enter into this dynamic, we will not let our consciences be numbed and we will open ourselves generously to discernment.” This is the Exhortation’s second and final mention of the conscience.           (Paragraph 174)

-The opening of our life to the light of God’s gaze is not a cause for fear, but is something that should give us comfort: “When, in God’s presence, we examine our life’s journey, no areas can be off limits. In all aspects of life we can continue to grow and offer something greater to God, even in those areas we find most difficult. We need, though, to ask the Holy Spirit to liberate us and to expel the fear that makes us ban him from certain parts of lives.”            (Paragraph 175)

We see that this is a fulfillment of the call of Vatican II. But this is not a strange thing, a new contraption imposed on the Church. No, much rather, as we have seen by the Exhortation’s magnificent and deft allusions to Scripture, the 2 millennia of Salvation History that has been riding upon the arc of the Church are reaching the next development promised to the Church precisely in the developments of Vatican II.

The Spiritual leaders of the Anglican Church know this too. For example, there is a superb new film-and-discussion series that a group of enlightened Anglicans has made, called Alpha. One of the remarkable things in the series is that it actually begins to broach mystical operations that happen in the life of the Church and the lives of individual people. For example, coincidence (which we might also call by its technical Spiritual name, synchronicity) appears in very many of the films of the series. Additionally, there is hands-on teaching in the series about how to discern the direct, yet subtle, signs and communiqués of the Holy Spirit. This is the strong beginning of global Christianity talking, more openly and in new ways, about mystical realities becoming more familiar with the individual lives of all people, as well as the larger Church. And the series has good ecumenical sharing, as Catholic cardinals, nuns, monks, and the preacher to the Papal household appear, some of these people giving multiple talks in the films. People of other denominations share their own wisdom, knowledge, and experience too.

Another wonderful Anglican, Professor N.T. Wright, has a new book, The Case for the Psalms. The book is a truly excellent discussion of the Psalms. However, in the Afterword, he does something radically new: He discusses 12 specific cases of how the Psalms have had powerful mystical and Spiritual effects in his own life. We shall discuss his book more in the third essay.

And people of other denominations are aware of the deep moves of the Holy Spirit in the world today.


The first essay presented the endpoints of a journey that Saint Peter presents in his two letters in the New Testament. That essay notes how the beginning of the First Letter of Peter calls us to be holy, a verse which is echoed early in Gaudete et Exsultate. From this call to humility and holiness in his first letter, Peter then promises humanity’s arrival to a grand new reality for us: That we are to become “partakers in God’s nature.” (2 Peter 1:4)

This wide-ranging essay attempts to add details to the journey between these endpoints of the map laid out in the first essay. It has traced in greater detail how, hiddenly, Peter has charted this journey for us in 1 Peter. The journey involves become more aware of our conscience, listening better to the voice of the conscience, and learning the many capacities of the conscience, which, in the past, many of us have not developed. Our conscience is shown to be connected with the Will of God. Peter shows this connection by hiddenly pairing the terms “conscience” and “will of God” in 1 Peter, as the essay has presented above.

The unknown author of the Letter to the Hebrews does the same thing. “Conscience” and “will of God” are paired in the letter. This too is discussed in the essay above.

And Luke, in Acts of the Apostles, may be saying something similar, in a more subtle way.

This essay then turns to Gaudete et Exsultate, and traces how the document is full of allusions to mystical awareness and the organic development of our Spiritual life.

This essay concludes by considering Pope Francis’ emphasis upon discernment in these amazing times, and by encouraging us to take up a personal practice of the Examen of Conscience, to better know our own conscience and, because of this greater familiarity with our conscience, to be better co-operators with the Holy Spirit. (Perhaps the Holy Spirit will make an overture to more individuals in these days.) And with the counseling of all persons to take up the daily Examen of Conscience, Pope Francis, in a very quiet way, makes a strong connection to the radical new discoveries, in 1 Peter, the Letter to the Hebrews, and Acts of the Apostles, to the possibility of our knowing the will of God. With empowered consciences, and therefore knowing far more precisely the will of God, we will begin to be the Spiritual humanity that Vatican II is calling us to be now.


The Examen of Conscience


The Examen of Conscience is a wonderful practice for developing our Spiritual life and for seeing far more deeply into the universe of our interior self. It takes just 2 or 3 minutes daily, and grants us much valuable self-knowledge.

We can consider the Examen as having developed in three stages. In the desert of Egypt, the first Christian monks, those great Ammas and Abbas, developed an initial form of the Examen that is fairly close to the way we have it today.

A couple centuries later, Pope Saint Gregory the Great, a second-generation Benedictine monk, Pope, author, inventor of Gregorian Chant, and Spiritual master, made some adjustments to the Examen, and listed the 7 deadly sins, or capital vices, which are used in the Examen.

Almost a millennium after St. Gregory the Great, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, made another slight overhaul of the Examen, and this is the form that most people use today.

The Examen is a way of taking inventory of our inner self. It is done gently, always gently. For us modern people, who have more to integrate and incorporate in our mental lives, it is very good for us to learn how to “Be Gentle With Yourself.”

It is good to remember this, because we do not conduct the Examen by regarding our successes or our positive virtuous actions of the day, although these good things may appear to pass in review as, during the Examen, we consider the day that we have just lived. If we were to intentionally focus on the good things we did, our pride would instantly swell and balloon. All spiritual teachers know that it is far more effective to focus on the 7 capital sins, which are the 7 basic categories under which our sins can be regarded.

We might call them the 7 Unhelpful Tendencies, the 7 main vices, or, as Pope Saint Gregory the Great called them, the 7 deadly sins.

We can make a list, using an acronym, making it easy to memorize and cycle through each evening as we do the Examen:

P          Pride

A          Anger

L          Lust

E          Envy

G          Gluttony

A          Avarice (Greed)

S          Sloth


The acronym is PALEGAS.

At the end of the day, we can take 5 minutes, or less, to conduct the Examen. Here is how:


How To Do the Examen

-Sit comfortably. Exhale, if you wish.

-Thank God for the day.

-Ask God to be with you as you do the Examen, and ask for God’s help in making honest observations and discernments.


-Go through the 7 sinful tendencies. Simply observe where you may have done them during the day. If you feel like it, as you are observing and recalling them, you can ask for God’s help in specific areas.

-Conclude with a short prayer of gratitude to God for the day, and ask for God’s help in becoming a person of greater faith.


Once we do this just a few times, we will notice amazing things. Our awareness of our internal life suddenly expands magnificently. One of the fruits of the Examen is that we very quickly get a far deeper and more comprehensive view of our interior landscape.

We become more self-aware during the day. Our self-knowledge grows. We become better at understanding other people. We become far more in-tune, knowledgeable people regarding the working of the mind and soul.

Best of all: Our conscience becomes stronger. And then, in our individual lives, the Conscience may develop into the organ through which we have direct communication with the Holy Spirit. The Conscience then blossoms into the faculty by which we become co-operators, agents, of the Holy Spirit.



Our souls are beautiful gardens. As loving gentle gardeners, we want to aid in the growth of the God-given plants, fruit trees, and realities therein.

If we notice weeds, we need not get frenetic in uprooting them. Rather, we let the light of awareness shine on them. God does the rest. They will go away. The vices wither, and the good things keep growing.

This practice has another positive effect: After we have done this for a short time, we notice that we are much more deeply in touch with our self. We are better observers of our own life, and interior networks of thoughts, impulses, moods, and actions.

The Examen almost conducts itself when we have become accustomed to it. And our learning increases. We can do it while we are driving or washing the dishes once we have incorporated it into our routine.

The Examen empowers us as it develops our communication with the Holy Spirit.


(The image is of Pope Saint Gregory the Great)

What if Pope Francis Knows Something?

What if Pope Francis knows something? What if he knows how the Holy Spirit is working in the Church and in the world today? What if Pope Francis is a mystic who knows the modes of communication of the Holy Spirit?

And why does this new Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, emphasize holiness so much? Holiness is always a good thing for Christians to strive for. Is there a need for a new document to urge us to Holiness? Why now?

One answer to these questions is disarmingly simple:

-This time, today, now, is the time of Vatican II. Pope Saint John XXIII said that the time of Vatican II is a New Pentecost, a new immediacy of relationship with the Holy Spirit (we will discuss this below).

Holiness strengthens and illuminates and cleanses our conscience.

-Our conscience is the primary organ with which we communicate directly with the Holy Spirit.

-Communicating directly with the Holy Spirit, we shall transform the world in the best and most beautiful ways. Karl Rahner, an influential theologian at Vatican II, said that the future Christian will be a mystic. This is happening today, thank God.

Some background:

In the late 1950’s, Pope St. John XXIII was made the Vicar of Christ. However, when the elderly Cardinal was elected to the Papacy, it was expected that he would be a short-term leader of the Church, and simply keep the Church moving ahead until it was his time to kindly pass away and go to heaven, allowing for a new conclave of the Cardinals to elect a “more permanent” leader of the Church. He was expected to be a “caretaker Pope” and not rock the boat.

Well, Pope St. John XXIII surprised the world.

One day he called a press conference at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. This Basilica is in Rome, but some miles away from the center of the city.

Besides the cameras and press, and many faithful, there was also a group of Bishops and Cardinals there at the press conference. Pope John announced a Church Council.

And the assembled Bishops and Cardinals almost fell over in shock, en masse.

A major Church Council is a rare event in the life of the Church. And the resultant Vatican II proved to be an important event in the ongoing journey of the Church.

Later, when talking about the Council that he had called, Pope St. John, the Good Pope, said something outrageous. He said that the time of Vatican II—that is, TODAY—would be a New Pentecost. A Second Pentecost.

This is an outrageous thing for a Pope to say.

A “New Pentecost” means:

1) We have a new immediacy of relationship with the Holy Spirit, and,

2) A new birth of the Church.

Let’s focus on the first of these: We have new immediacy of relationship with the Holy Spirit.

After the Pentecost, the Apostles certainly had a new, direct relationship with the Holy Spirit. Just read the Acts of the Apostles. A bunch of scared and confused men, huddling together behind locked doors in the Upper Room, suddenly exploded out and became super-charged pinballs, bouncing all over the eastern Mediterranean, founding churches, healing people, teaching many, and performing miracles. Some Apostles may have travelled even further, visiting India, Spain, and elsewhere.

Something happened to these earliest saints. Their lives were transformed by a new relationship, a direct relationship, with the Holy Spirit. To say it more clearly: They were in direct communication with the Holy Spirit.

Many times in Acts, the Apostles and other disciples received direct communication from the Holy Spirit. These communiqués were perfectly tailored to help the disciples in their various missions, and often averted wrong turns for the new leaders of the young Church.


How does it work? How might one commune directly with God? With the Spirit of the Risen Lord?

Mystics know how. People who have entered into a direct relationship with the Holy Spirit know that there are various ways and multiple modes in which the Holy Spirit can communicate directly with us.

Gaudete et Exsultate beckons us to be holy. This is the first step in becoming mystics. And Pope Francis speaks about mystics and mystical experiences in this Apostolic Exhortation. Pope Francis is urging us to be holy, so that we might be given the chance for a direct relationship and direct communication with the Holy Spirit.

Now, is this interpretation of Gaudete et Exsultate over the top? Is it wrong to think that the Holy Spirit, after 2000 years of beautiful growth and holy developments in the Church and the world, wants to bless us with the next stage of our Spiritual evolution?

To check this theory, let’s turn to the back of the Bible, to a less-known, relatively small book of the Bible, called the First Letter of Peter.

Two Beacons in the Letters of Peter

Lighthouses have saved the lives of countless sailors. Navigating at night, sailors near lighthouses steer by the light that these lighthouses freely give. A lighthouse is like a navigational star that has been planted on earth. The light that lighthouses share helps us to avoid rocks, dangerous shallows, and gnarly reefs and surf.

They help us to continue, and then to finish, our journeys to new home ports.

The two letters of Peter contain two great beacons that help us to chart the continuing voyage of our Church and world. Pope Francis’ new Gaudete et Exsultate has eight cited quotations from 1 Peter, and one cited quotation from 2 Peter. That is a great deal of emphasis for two relatively small and seemingly less-important epistles of the New Testament.

The first lighthouse of Peter is early in his first letter: He writes, “Because it has been written, ‘Be holy as I am holy’.” (1 Peter 1:16) Peter is directly referring to Leviticus 11:44, where God is telling the Israelites not to eat the “creeping crawlers” that move about the surface of the earth, including insects and such. God is trying to get the ancient Hebrews to look up, and to think of the bigger picture. God tells the Israelites, “For! I (am) YHWH the-God-of-you, and you-sanctify-yourselves and you become holy-ones, For! I (am) holy.” (Lev 11:44)

By being taught not to eat insects and creeping crawlers, the Israelites begin to become more human. They emulate the image of God better.

Saint Peter is going to take this verse and radically transform it into an evolutionary blueprint for us.

The original Greek of the First Letter of Peter says, “Through/because it has been written, ‘Be-you-becoming holy, for I AM holy’.” (1 Peter 1:16) Peter has taken the verse from Leviticus and reshaped the verb. He has made our evolutionary journey to holiness an ongoing activity, a developmental process! “Be-you-becoming…”

Pope St. John XXIII, in calling together Vatican II, knows that we are now at a special phase of this amazing journey with God. And Pope Francis quotes 1 Peter 1:16 in paragraph 10 of Gaudete et Exsultate.

Peter does several other recastings of the verse from Leviticus. While he gives humans  the wonderful verb of developmental becoming, genesthe (cognate with genesis), Peter attributes the potent verb of being to God, “…for I AM holy.” This reminds us of the name of God that was told to Moses at the Burning Bush. God is the fullness of being. God is pure being, pure verb, pure fire, pure action.

God invites us to join God there. We, for our part, are slowly entering these waters.

Jesus takes the divine name, I AM, and applies it to himself all throughout John’s Gospel. What is even more remarkable is that he wants us to learn how to live this name ourselves. The wonderful fellow born blind, in John 9, learns this from Jesus, and applies the divine name, I AM, to himself. The blind person stands for all of us, of course. (See John 9:9)

This verb of being is not present in the Leviticus quotation from the Old Testament. Peter is intentionally telling us to be hungry for greater participation in the dynamic being of God.

How do we participate in this verb of being that represents God Godself?

Well, Peter’s modification of the verse from Leviticus helps us here too. In John (and in Mark), when Jesus says “I AM,” the Greek is ego eimi. The ego means “I”, and the eimi means “I am.” Jesus is participating in the Being of God, and wants to share that participation with us.

Yet Peter splits the name of God, and places the word “holy” between them. He writes, ego agios eimi, “I holy AM.” Peter thus teaches us:

How do we participate directly in God?

How do we live the call of Vatican II?

How do we become empowered co-operators with the Holy Spirit?

By being holy.

In being holy, we become more close to God, and God will reciprocate by helping us along the journey towards God.

In being holy, we participate in the very life and activity of God.

The Second Beacon of Peter’s Letters

The second lighthouse in Peter’s letters occurs very early in the Second Letter of Peter. Peter writes that we are becoming “participants of God’s nature.” (2 Peter 1:4) That drives the point home. Wow. God wants to give us God’s own nature, an even deeper participation in God’s own Being.

And again, the Greek is very telling here. The phrase “God’s nature,” or “Divine nature,” is Theias fuseos, in the original Greek text. Theias is related to Theos, God. And Peter again splits this phrase and places a new word in its center: Theias koinonoi fuseos, “partakers of God’s nature.” These “partakers” or “participants” are us! And the word koinonoi is cognate with koinonia, which means community, and is a synonym for Church.

We participate in God’s own Divine nature not as individuals, but as community.

Holiness among all the individual members of the community, and of the Church, helps the Body of Christ to be more holy, more strong, and therefore helps the One Community, the One Church to participate more powerfully in God.

As a community we become embraced by God, within God, even as we become more empowered as individual workers in that community.

The next essay will discuss Gaudete et Exsultate in more detail. This quick reflection has merely charted some key points of the journey.

In closing, Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation has many calls to humility. In the light of such high hopes and promises that God reveals to us in the Scriptures, humility is an appropriate response.

The lowest angel is far more brilliant than the 100 smartest people in history, combined. And the highest angel is nowhere near the holiness of God. This awareness should help us to be humble. Our journey will take a while. But we’ll be prepared for each step we take.

God invites us on this journey. Towards greater friendship, and family, with God Godself. Humility helps us to be more holy, and to move closer to God.

As we make this voyage into greater relationship with God, into living our call from the beginning, the call to be the image and likeness of God, it is good to know that we have many great lights, like Saint Peter and Pope Francis, to guide us as we journey.

(The next essay will explore more complex and intricate systems of reference that Pope Francis has woven into Gaudete et Exsultate.)

Missing Numbers: A Tiny Note on the Mysterious Gospel of Q


Lacking Numbers:

A Brief Thought on the Q Gospel

This brief note has one main purpose: To observe that there are very few numbers in the reconstructed text of the Q Gospel.

The two-source hypothesis states that the Gospels of Matthew and of Luke have two main sources: Both rely upon the earlier Gospel of Mark, and also upon a lost text, an early collection of Jesus’ sayings; this lost collection is known as Q, a name which comes from the German word for “source,” Quelle. This surmised lost text has been reconstructed in various ways in recent decades, after scripture scholars first came up with the theory of Q in the early 19th century.

All four canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) have many numbers in their texts. These numbers often have complex interconnections within each Gospel, and connections to other realities, often external. Additionally, the four canonical Gospels, and the Gospel of Thomas, all are overflowing with knowledge of the Mystical Psalm Structures; usually, this knowledge is represented with numbers in the text.

Upon reading various versions of the Q text, it is clear that there is a dearth of numbers in these sayings, which is a very different situation from what we find in the Canonical Gospels.

That is the only point of this brief reflection, to note that there are very few numbers mentioned in the Q text, in comparison to the four canonical Gospels.


A Possible Interpretation of this Fact

When he was actively leading the Church, Pope Benedict XVI gave classes on the Gospel of Thomas, and encourages believers to read this miracle gift from the desert of Egypt. Additionally, the Gospel of Thomas has parallels to the first 114 Psalms: Saying 1 speaks to Psalm 1, Saying 2 to Psalm 2, and so on, all the way to Saying 114 and Psalm 114.

However, as beautiful, good, truthful, and spiritual as the Gospel of Thomas is, it simply does not carry the sheer amazing weight of spiritual knowledge and depth that the four canonical Gospels have. There is no comparison. The four Gospels are simply in a class by themselves.

And the four Gospels are full of numbers in their texts. These numbers are often in conversation with the Mystical Psalm Structures.

An example: When the Holy Family is inside the temple in Luke 2, after their encounter with Simeon, who sings the Nunc Dimittis, the Family is approached by the Prophetess Anna. In describing Anna, Luke seems to waste words, something that the ancients never did. He’s redundant. He says that Anna is very old. Then he says her age: 84. And he notes that she was previously married for 7 years. And that she was a member of the tribe of Asher—and an ancient Israelite could not have thought of the word “tribe” without seeing the number 12. If we moderns miss this number 12, Luke gives it to us again a mere three verses later, when he relays that Jesus again went to the temple when he was 12 years old (Luke 2:42).

With these numbers, 12, 7, and 84, Luke gives us the formula that is hidden in the Psalms, a formula which generates the flying of the angels, in precise choreography, upon the Mystical Psalms Ladder.

There are many things like this happening in the New Testament. In his Gospel, John reconstructs the steps of the Ladder before our very eyes.

Almost all the New Testament authors are aware of these realities.

How did they learn these things?

Did the Apostles know?

Did Jesus teach them to the Apostles, or to others?

Did Jesus’ Spirit teach Paul, as Jesus promised in John 13-17? Did Paul teach the community and the majority of the New Testament authors? Or, was there a hidden thread of oral tradition from the time of Jesus to the time of the New Testament authors, that with them reached a (hidden) literary explosion in the New Testament? (The thunder happened then, but we don’t hear it for a while.)

Not all scholars agree that the Q source is real. Austin Farrer says that if there are two texts that have much agreement (i.e., Matthew and Luke), then rather than postulate a source text (Q), it is more scientifically elegant to consider that one text (Luke) is working from the earlier text (Matthew). I do not currently have an opinion about Q, as I would like to study theories about Q in more detail.

The few numbers that are in the reconstructed Q may be significant. For example, the 5 yoke of oxen could be speaking of the Psalms and the Torah. The 100/99 sheep, and the 10 coins, could be important too. However, Q has far fewer numbers, relatively, than the four Gospels do.


[An initial discussion of the Mystical Psalm Structures is here:

A forthcoming book discusses this further.]

A Center of the Entire Bible: The Tiny Book of Ruth


Ruth: An Analytical Commentary

Appendix E to the Red Line of Hope


Because the Book of Ruth is so central and pivotal to the entire development of the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures), here is the entire text with commentary, commentary that is specifically in dialogue with the Red Line of Hope:


Chapter 1

1 And it came to pass (va-yehi), in the days that the judges judged, that there was (va-yehi) a famine in the land; and a man from Beth Lehem Judah went to live in the fields of Moab, he and his wife, and his two sons.


-The temporal setting of the Book of Ruth is established in the first va-yehi “and-it-was” clause; the book begins in the days when the judges judged. We have seen above how much of a painful time this was for human evolution, the time of the judges. It was a necessary but difficult stage, and very awkward, like a child growing through errors.

            However, the second “and-it-was” clause speaks of a family, and a journey to a better existence. This family will help usher in a new period of human history, leading to the advances in humanity represented by David and Solomon, the fruition of the Red Line of Hope.

            -The word “Judah” helps us to recall Tamar from Genesis 38, whom we discussed above. She will reappear at the end of the story.

            -The word “two,” u-shene, is cognate with shani, the word that is the Red Line of Hope.

            -Bethlehem is the birthplace of David and Jesus, two fruits of the Red Line of Hope.

2 And the name of the man Eli-melech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites from Beth Lehem Judah; and they came into the fields of Moab and stayed there.

-The name Elimelech reminds us of Eli, whom we will meet in just four chapters, at the beginning of the First Book of Samuel. This, along with the first verse, helps us to see the Book of Ruth as representing a central pivot point between a past and a different future for ancient Israel, and for humanity.

            -Looking forward, four (4) chapters after this, in 1 Samuel 1, the same formula will be used to present and name the two wives of Elkanah, “Hannah” and “Peninnah.”

            -Moab is often considered a terrible enemy of Israel. Here, the poor family goes there and is given warm hospitality, and they are even welcomed to join the society, becoming part of the fabric of this new land.

3 And Naomi’s husband, Eli-melech, died; and she was left, and her two sons.

4 And they took wives to themselves, women of Moab; the name of the one, Orpah, and the name of the second, Ruth; and they lived there about ten years.

5 And they also died, both of them, Mahlon and Chilion; and the woman was bereaved of her two children and of her husband.

-Job is an early book of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). The Book of Ruth was inserted much later. Here, Naomi is like a female version of Job.

            -This also reminds us of the Book of Tobit, where seven (7) marriage relationships are destroyed by deaths of men, caused by the evil demon Asmodeus.

6 And she rose up, she and her daughters-in-law, and turned back from the fields of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that YHWH had looked favorably upon His people, to give bread (lehem) to them.

            -We are given verbal echoes to Sodom and Gomorrah here. Women and men have both suffered in these two stories. Naomi has become pure sorrow.

            -“She heard.” The previous woman of the Red Line of Hope, Rahab, also heard some news from afar, when she told the two spies: “For we have heard how YHWH dried up the water of the Red Sea for you, when you came out of Egypt; and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites….”

            -We shall discuss “bread” below. Bread is leading the movement of the story, a bit like the manna in the desert led the Israelites for 40 years in the desert.

7 And she departed from the place where she had been, and her two daughters-in-law with her, and they went in the way to return to the land of Judah.

-Again, there are echoes of Sodom and Gomorrah. She travels from desolation with her two daughters-in-law, like Lot and his two daughters. Her daughters-in-law had for a time been paired with her two sons, a bit like the strange complementarity between the visiting angels and Lot’s own daughters. This puts an angelic focus on Ruth, which becomes more concentrated as she is the only daughter-in-law who travels with Naomi to her homeland.

8 And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, Go each return to the house of her mother; may YHWH deal kindly with you, as you have done with the dead, and with me.

-After Judah’s two sons died, Judah told Tamar to return to the house of her father (Gen 38:11). Naomi reverses the Feminine-Masculine roles again, telling them to return to the house of their mother. The woman of the Song of Songs also speaks of her mother’s house.

            -Naomi attributes divine love, hesed, to these two foreign women. This is a tremendous compliment. Centuries later in Bethlehem, divine love would become incarnate in Jesus.

9 May YHWH grant to you that you find rest for yourselves, each in the house of her husband; and she kissed them, and they lifted up their voice and wept.

10 And they said to her, Surely we will go back with you to your people.

11 And Naomi said, Turn back, my daughters; why should you go with me? Are there yet sons to me in my belly that they should be husbands for you (lachem)?

-In the word lachem we hear another strong echo of the war/bread word, lehem.

            -As Tamar was promised the youngest son of Judah, so too here Naomi speaks of (the impossibility of) future marriages for these women in Naomi’s house; two verses earlier, in verse 9, she speaks hopefully of their future marriages.

12 Turn back, my daughters, go; for I am too old to belong to a husband. Though I should say, There is hope for me, and I should be tonight with a husband, and also I should bear sons;

13 will you wait for them, that they might grow up?

-This is an allusion to Tamar’s being promised to marry Judah’s youngest son, Shelah, after Judah’s first two sons have died after having been married to Tamar. Recall that God struck both of them dead, just like Naomi’s two sons have died.

            In fact, Judah told Tamar to wait for his third son, Shelah, to grow up (Gen 38:11). The entire work of the Red Line of Hope has been involved with the growing-up, the maturing, of humanity.

Would you endure not to be with a husband?

No, my daughters, for I am much more bitter than you, for the hand of YHWH has gone out against me.

-This “going out” of the “hand” reminds us of the birth of Tamar’s twins, and the origin of the Red Line of Hope.

14 And they lifted up their voice, and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

15 And she said, See, your sister-in-law has turned back to her people, and to her gods; you turn back after your sister-in-law.

-This is like Judah instructing his second son, Onan, to marry Tamar after his first son, Er, had died (Gen 38:8). Ruth, however, chooses a different route.

16 And Ruth said, Do not beg me to leave you, to turn back from following you; for where you go I go, and where you stay I stay; your people (shall be) my people, and your God my God.

17 Where you die I shall die, and there I shall be buried; may YHWH do to me, and more so, if (anything but) death part you and me.

18 And she saw that she had strengthened herself to go with her, and she ceased to speak to her.

-This is a huge hint about the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s hidden, mystical languages.

19 And they went, two of them, until they came to Beth Lehem;

-This verse is speaking about the Red Line of Hope leading humanity to events in Bethlehem: one of them being the birth of David, the other being the birth of Jesus Christ.

And it came to pass, as they came into Beth Lehem, that all the city was moved at them, and they said, Is this Naomi?

-The city is unified in their strong feeling for Naomi.

20 And she said to them, Do not call me Naomi (pleasant); call me Mara (bitter), for the Almighty (Shaddai) has dealt very bitterly with me;

-Four (4) chapters after this, in 1 Samuel 1, Hannah will call herself “bitter,” marat, because she has not yet borne a child (1 Sam 1:10).

21 I went out full, and YHWH has brought me back empty; why do you call me Naomi (pleasant), since YHWH has eyed me, and the Almighty has done evil (ra) to me?

(There is one “and” here, at the beginning of the verse. This speaks of how community can rejuvenate us and keep us going. It is a foreshadowing of what will happen later in the story.)

            -There are reverse echoes here of Psalm 126, which is an important Psalm for the Mystical Psalm Structures.

22 And Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, with her, who returned from the fields of Moab; and they came to Beth Lehem at the beginning of barley harvest.

-Beth Lehem and the barley harvest: Notice that bread has been a crucial theme from the beginning to the end of this chapter. As mentioned in the book above, the Hebrew word for “bread,” lehem, is also cognate with the Hebrew word for “war.” With David, Beth Lehem will be the house of war. With the promise of Jesus, Beth Lehem will again be the House of Bread.


Chapter 2

1 And Naomi (had) a kinsman of her husband’s, a mighty man of the family of Eli-melech; and his name (was) Boaz.

-In the first temple, one of the two pillars is named Boaz. Three chapters after this verse, in 1 Samuel 1, Eli is seated by a post near the temple door at Shiloh (1 Sam 1:8).

2 And Ruth of Moab said to Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor. And she said to her, Go, my daughter.

-Hannah will hope that God will “look upon” her affliction (1 Sam 1:11).

3 And she went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and her chance happened, the portion of the field (belonging to) Boaz, who (was) of the family of Eli-melech.

-In the original Hebrew, there is much happening in this verse. First, the Holy Spirit leads her to Boaz’ field. Then, it is as if she is making the field more fertile and pregnant.

4 And, behold, Boaz came from Beth Lehem, and said to the reapers, YHWH be with you. And they answered him, YHWH bless you.

5 And Boaz said to his young man who had been set over the reapers, Whose (is) this young woman?

-This verse shows us how Boaz has developed a very tender and caring heart within the framework of the patriarchal system of that time.

6 And the young man who had been set over the reapers answered and said, She is a young woman of Moab, who came with Naomi from the fields of Moab.

7 And she said, Please let me glean, and I shall gather among the sheaves after the reapers; and she came and has remained since the morning, even until now; she sat in the house a little while.

-This is another reversal of Feminine-Masculine—a man is speaking the speech of a woman.

            -The interesting final phrase of the verse, about being in the house for a bit, is an allusion to Hannah spending time in the house of God at Shiloh, a mere three chapters after this (1 Sam 1). It also foreshadows Ruth’s being in the house of Boaz.

8 And Boaz said to Ruth, Do you not hear, my daughter? Do not go to glean another field, and also do not leave this; and you shall stay close to my young women.

-When Eli first sees Hannah praying, he did not hear her voice, because she was praying silently: “her voice was not heard.” (1 Sam 1:13)

9 Your eyes (shall be) on the field which they shall reap, and you shall go after them; have I not commanded the young men not to touch you? When you are thirsty, then you shall go to the vessels and shall drink from that which the young men draw.

-This is in direct contrast to the bad behavior of Eli’s sons regarding their abuse of women, and their misuse of the sacred vessels and sacrifices in the house of the Lord. (see 1 Samuel 2)

10 And she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the earth, and said to him, Why have I found grace in your eyes, that you should notice me, a stranger?

11 And Boaz answered and said to her, It has been fully revealed to me all that you have done with your mother-in-law, after the death of your husband; and you left your father, and your mother, and the land of your birth, and came to a people which you had not known yesterday three (3). [meaning that Ruth didn’t know this land]

-This language of Ruth leaving her father and mother echoes the language of Genesis, the 6th Day, when a man leaves his parents to marry a woman. Note the continued reversals of masculine and feminine roles, as women strive to develop their “animus” and men strive to develop their “anima,” as with the unexpected kindness and thoughtfulness of Boaz, which elicits a surprised response from Ruth.

            -The appearance of the number 3 here can signify newness. Additionally, Ruth is the third (3rd) woman of the Red Line of Hope.

12 YHWH shall repay your work, and your reward shall be complete from YHWH, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.

-More echoes of Psalm 63, with “under whose wings.”

            -“Complete” is the Hebrew “shlemah,” which sounds like “Shlomo,” or, Solomon. In fact, a midrash states that Ruth was present when Solomon ascended to the throne, so she quite literally saw her work “complete” in the crowning achievement that is Solomon, or that Solomon represents for our human evolution.

13 And she said, Let me find grace in your eyes, my lord, because you have comforted me, and because you have spoken to the heart of your handmaid; and I surely am not as one of your handmaids.

-comfort: David and Bathsheba: David does the strangest thing: He comforts a woman in her mourning. (Today, of course, we have evolved in some ways, and such behavior would be expected.)

14 And Boaz said to her, At meal time come here, and you shall eat of the bread and dip your morsel in the vinegar. And she sat at the side of the reapers, and he reached out roasted grain to her, and she ate and was satisfied, and had left over.

-Her eating to satisfaction, and the extra grain, echoes all 6 bread-multiplication miracles in the 4 Gospels.

            -The dipping motion is reminiscent of Jesus’ action at the Last Supper, at the Institution of the Eucharist. Around this action of Jesus, Peter and the Beloved Disciple (who could certainly be the Evangelist John) share in a secret language of signs. This shows that men can also participate in the language that earlier was known to women only.

            -The vinegar (John 19:29) is also reminiscent of the Cross scene in John’s Gospel, where the masculine Beloved Disciple “takes into himself” the feminine Mother of Jesus (John 19:27). At Ruth 4:16, Naomi will take into her chest the child Obed, from whose offspring will arrive Jesse, David, Solomon, and, much later, the foster-father of Jesus. We will discuss this more at verse 4:16 below. This also echoes the action of Adam giving birth to Eve through his chest, and Thomas returning into the chest of Jesus in John 20.

15 And she rose up to glean, and Boaz commanded his young men, saying, She shall glean even between the sheaves, and you shall not cause her to be ashamed;

-We hear language hear reminiscent of Joseph. Recall that the Joseph story was a capsule in which appeared the story of Tamar.

16 and also you shall surely pull out for her of the bundles, and shall leave; and she shall glean, and you shall not restrain her.

17 And she gleaned in the field until the evening, and beat out that which she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley.

18 And she took it up and went to the city, and her mother-in-law saw that which she had gleaned; and she brought out and gave to her that which she had reserved after she was satisfied.

19 And her mother-in-law said to her, Where have you gleaned today? And where have you worked? May he who noticed you be blessed. And she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked, and said, The name of the man with whom I have worked today (is) Boaz.

20 And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, Blessed (is) he of YHWH who has not forsaken his kindness with the living and with the dead; and Naomi said to her, The man (is) near (of kin) to us; he (is) of our redeemers.

21 And Ruth of Moab said, And he surely said to me, You shall stay close near the young people whom I have until they have completed the whole of the harvest which I have.

-Again, there is a reversal. A woman is speaking the speech of a man.

22 And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, Ruth, Good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, and that (men) may not attack you in another field.

-Looking backwards, a crime, like that done to the Levite’s concubine, has just been averted by the good man Boaz, who, according to Matthew, is the son of Rahab. Looking forward, the potential violence of men on women is again reminding us of the unsavory actions of the priestly sons of Eli.

23 And she stayed close to the young women of Boaz to glean, until the completion of the barley harvest, and of the wheat harvest; and she lived with her mother-in-law.

-Again, this reminds us of the Beloved Disciple taking into himself the mother of Jesus, at John 19:29.


Chapter 3

1 And her mother-in-law Naomi said to her, My daughter, do I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?

2 And now, is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose young women you have been? Behold, he (is) winnowing the threshing floor of barley tonight.

3 And you shall bathe, and anoint yourself, and put your garments upon you, and go down to the threshing-floor; do not let yourself be known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking.

-“bathe”: the next and final woman of the Red Line of Hope, Bathsheba, will also have an important bath in her story.

            -The “anoint yourself” may indicate that in the relationship of woman and man, it is often the intuition of the woman that is the first developing knowledge of a new action in the life of the couple.

            -At the end of her beautiful hymn in 1 Samuel 2, Hannah speaks of the “anointed one.” (1 Sam 2:35)

4 And it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall note the place where he lies down, and shall go in and uncover his feet, and lie down. And he will tell you that which you are to do.

-This is like the instructions of Eli to young Samuel, which we will encounter in merely 4 chapters after this episode, in 1 Samuel 3.

5 And she said to her, All that you say, I will do.

6 And she went down to the threshing-floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law commanded her.

7 And Boaz ate and drank, and his heart (felt) good; and he went to lie down at the end of the heap. And she came in secretly and uncovered his feet and lay down.

-Later, in the David Story, two men will be killed when their “hearts are good.” These are Nabal, whose wife Abigail will become David’s wife, and Amnon, David’s son, who is killed by his half-brother Absalom.

            -Psalm 104:15 also mentions wine gladdening the heart. Later in the same verse, oil and bread are mentioned. Boaz will be taken from sleeping on the earth, from the “mere” nature of Psalm 104, and, led by Ruth, will enter into the fullness of Salvation History.

8 And it came to pass, at the middle of the night, that the man trembled and turned himself, and behold, a woman lying at his feet!

-This is a powerful scene. On the one hand, it is humorous: Of course one would wake up when a beautiful woman joins one in sleep. On the other hand, there is something of the awe of creation, such as in the first chapters of Genesis, here.

9 And he said, Who are you?

And she said, I (am) your handmaid Ruth, and you shall spread your skirt over your handmaid, for you (are) a kinsman-redeemer.

10 And he said, Blessed (be) you of YHWH, my daughter; you have dealt more kindly at the latter end than at the beginning, not to go after the young men, either poor or rich.

-In Boaz’ words is an arc of time, such as is the Red Line of Hope.

11 And now, my daughter, do not fear; all that you say I will do to you, for all the gate of my people know that you (are) an able woman.

12 And now, surely (it is) true that I (am) a kinsman-redeemer, but also there is a redeemer nearer than I.

13 Stay tonight, and it shall be in the morning, if he will redeem you, well; he will redeem; and if he does not delight to redeem you, then I will redeem you, (as) YHWH lives. Lie down until the morning.

-This entire dialogue is powerfully reminiscent of the nocturnal dialogue between elderly Eli and the young boy Samuel, which will occur a few chapters after this in 1 Samuel 3.

14 And she lay at his feet until the morning, and rose up before one could discern another.

-Again, there is a sense of time and historical evolution in this verse.

-An ancient midrash speaking of universal love may be alluding to this. The midrash goes something like this:

And he said, Let it not be known that a woman has come to the floor.

15 And he said, Give me the covering which is on you, and hold on to it. And she kept hold on it, and he measured six (measures) of barley, and lay (it) on her; and she went in to the city.

16 And she came in to her mother-in-law, and she said, Who (are) you, my daughter? And she told her all that the man had done to her.

17 And she said, He gave me these six (measures) of barley, for he said, You shall not go empty to your mother-in-law.

-The double-mention of “six” represents the Mystical Psalms Ladder, which we will not discuss at this time. This Ladder also represents the Female, the mature human person, and the pregnant (seeded) womb.

18 And she said, Sit, my daughter, until you shall know how the matter falls, for the man shall not rest until he has completed the matter today.


Chapter 4

1 And Boaz went up to the gate and sat there; and, behold, the near kinsman of whom Boaz has spoken was passing by.

-Is Boaz mystically connected, just like Ruth, and especially Naomi? Has Boaz been taught by Rahab, whom the inspired Evangelist Matthew says is the mother of Boaz? Does Boaz know the Spirit?

And he said, Such a one, turn aside, sit down here! And he turned aside and sat down.

2 And he took ten (10) men of the elders of the city, and said, Sit down here. And they sat down.

-Again, the 12 men, including the potential redeemer and Boaz, who are now all sitting according to the instructions of Boaz, also represent the Mystical Psalms Ladder.

            -This may also be an early foreshadowing of the 10 concubines of David who are raped by Absalom on the roof, and the 10 brutes of Joab who torture Absalom while David is at the city gate. This story of the death of Absalom is involved in the circumcision of David’s heart, which is at the center of the entire evolutionary development of the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures).

3 And he said to the near kinsman, Naomi, who has returned from the fields of Moab, will sell a portion of the field which (belonged) to our brother, to Eli-melech.

4 And I said, I would uncover your ear, saying, Buy (it) before those sitting and before the elders of my people. If you will redeem, (then) redeem; but if you will not redeem, tell me so that I may know; for there is no one besides you to redeem, and I after you. And he said, I will redeem (it).

5 And Boaz said, In the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, then you have bought (it) from Ruth of Moab, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead over his inheritance.

-Throughout this dialogue are allusions to Jacob’s purchasing of the tomb where he was to be later buried (see Genesis 23).

6 And the near kinsman said, I am not able to redeem for myself, lest I mar my own inheritance; you redeem for yourself my right of redemption, for I am not able to redeem.

7 And this formerly (was done) in Israel for redemption, and for changing, to confirm every thing, a man would drew off his sandal and give to his neighbor; and this (was) the attestation in Israel.

-Moses was instructed by God to take his sandal off at the burning bush. This was a most powerful manifestation of the power and being of God.

            Yet in the Book of Ruth, God stays out of the (direct) action. God wants human beings to be nice to each other. And they do this. In this story, everyone acts in the most charitable way possible. Everyone tries to help everyone. As a result, God stays quiet, and blesses everyone.

            Recall that Naomi tells Ruth that she, Ruth, acts with divine loving-kindness, hesed. Slowly, the love of God is becoming something that humans can participate in with more agency and authority. This is a major theme of the Book of Ruth. So, the sandals are exchanged with each other. Every human being on the planet is holy ground, the holy land.

8 And the near kinsman said to Boaz, Buy for yourself, and drew off his sandal.

9 And Boaz said to the elders, and all the people, You (are) witnesses today that I have bought all that (belonged) to Eli-melech, and all that (belonged) to Chilion and Mahlon, from the hand of Naomi;

-This almost sounds like a wedding.

10 and also Ruth of Moab, the wife of Mahlon, I have bought for myself for a wife, to raise up the name of dead over his inheritance; and the name of the dead shall not be cut off from among his brothers, and from the gate of his place; you (are) witnesses today.

-There is something also deeply redemptive about this verse, as if the errors of human history are being here addressed and healed, including those sins of Er and Onan, and of Judah. Psalm 103 discusses Salvation History.

11 And all the people who (were) in the gate, and the elders, said, (We are) witnesses! May YHWH make the woman who is coming in to your house as Rachel and as Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel; and may you do worthily in Ephratah, and proclaim the name in Beth Lehem;

-A pair of sisters are mentioned here. Although these two are not part of the Red Line of Hope, there is the theme of Feminine connectedness here.

12 and let your house be as the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, of the seed which Jehovah shall give to you of this young woman.

-To a person reading this book for the first time, it might seem just plain bizarre that Tamar and Perez would be mentioned here. Perez’ brother Zerah, who was mentioned adjacent to the story of Rahab, is not mentioned here.

13 And Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her; And YHWH gave her conception, and she bore a son.

14 And the women said to Naomi, Blessed (be) you this day without a redeemer; and let his name be called in Israel.

15 And may he be to you a restorer of soul/life, and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, has born him, who is better to you than seven (7) sons.

-This gives hints about the next chapter of the Bible, 1 Samuel 1. A mere fifteen verses after this, we hear the echo in: “Her husband Elkanah said to her, ‘Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat: Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you then ten sons?’” (1 Sam 1:8)

            -There is a hint about Bathsheba again, whose name means “Daughter of 7”. Bathsheba is the fourth woman of the Red Line of Hope, the wife of David and the mother of Solomon. Ruth was a wisdom teacher of Bathsheba: a midrash states that Ruth was present when Solomon ascended to the throne. Bathsheba was given the throne on Solomon’s right. Ruth was the power behind the thrones.

            -With the assembly at the gate, we now have “gate,” “7,” and “12.” This is the climbing formula of the Ladder, the Ladder that appears in the Psalms, in the Psalms whose mythical author is David, who is about to make his very first Biblical appearance in two (2) verses as a modifier, and in seven (7) verses as a more developed person.

            -A Moabite woman loves her Hebrew mother-in-law. This proves that YHWH wants people of the world to overcome racism and superiority. All people are equal, and all are meant to love each other. All four women of the Red Line of Hope are foreigners, goyim. However, everyone has a role to play, and everyone is worthy of love. John’s Gospel says that salvation comes from the Jews. We all have different roles at different times. Women are often on the front lines of forging friendships between peoples. Additionally, this verse is again echoed in 1 Samuel 1:5, where of Elkanah and Hannah, the text reports “he loved her.” The deep and rich music of love between peoples on a national and global scale, and of the developing blossoming of greater love between woman and man, is here beginning to play.

16 And Naomi took the child, and laid him in her bosom, and became nurse to him.

17 And the neighboring women gave him a name, saying, This is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed; he is the father of Jesse, the father of David.

18 And these (are) the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron,

19 and Hezron fathered Ram, and Ram fathered Amminadab,

20 and Amminadab fatherered Nahshon, and Nahshon fathered Salmon,

21 and Salmon fathered Boaz, and Boaz fathered Obed,

22 and Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.


-These last five (5) verses are identical to the parallel generations in Matthew 1:3-6, at the very beginning of the New Testament.

-The final word of the book, in the original Hebrew, and in most translations, is “David.” The Book of Ruth has been placed into the middle of the historical books of the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) as a sort of hinge, a pivot-point. The fact that the final word of the book is “David” shows how important David is to the ongoing development and divinely-led evolution of Humanity.

            -With the theme of ‘continuity’, there are far more connections between the Book of Ruth and the first chapters of 1 Samuel than we have here discussed.


In conclusion:

            In this final chapter, the name “Perez,” the breachmaker, appears three times, and “David” appears twice. As mentioned above, the name of Solomon is hinted at in the text.

            Additionally, there is strong textual agreement between this concluding genealogy and the genealogy of Matthew that opens the New Testament.


            The tiny Book of Ruth is abundantly full of references to earlier and later books of the Bible. Ruth suffered and rose again in love. Her love changed the course of Salvation History, leading humanity away from a defensive and fearful posture, pivoting us, turning us, to a more loving posture, towards a loving shared existence and interdependence with all other people, and with the cosmos.

Frederick Douglass: Mystic of the Bible and of the Holy Spirit–The Hidden Structure of His “Narrative of the Life”


Frederick Douglass the Mystic,

And the Hidden Structure of His First Autobiography:

His Employment of the Mystical Psalms Ladder


Frederick Douglass’ first autobiography, entitled Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, has long been known as an immensely powerful account of the evils of slavery, and of the kinds of sufferings undergone by millions of slaves. Additionally, Frederick Douglass’ skills as a writer, thinker, orator, champion of moral Truth and decency, and tireless worker for Justice, are also known and enshrined in national and global memory. He may be the most authentic American hero we have.

What has not been known is that Frederick Douglass is also a mystic. His Narrative is overflowing with references to hidden mystical realities in the Bible. Shakespeare does this too. Douglass himself will nod to Shakespeare’s hidden discussion of the Mystical Psalm Structures, as we shall see.

A central Psalm Structure is the Ladder.

The entire Narrative has been carefully constructed by Douglass to present anew the Mystical Psalms Ladder in the very architecture of his book. He does this in multiple ways.

This essay is a first attempt to chart how Douglass incorporates the Mystical Psalms Ladder into the very structure of his Narrative.

As a prelude to the discussion of the Ladder, the first part of the essay will discuss how Frederick Douglass was in a mystical relationship with God, with the Holy Spirit. Douglass, like other mystics, was in a living relationship with the Holy Spirit.

After that treatment of the holiness of Frederick Douglass, the rest of this essay will discuss how he engineered the Mystical Psalms Ladder into his work. Part II will discuss the Ladder Structure he uses for his work, the amazing Chapter X of the Narrative, and other realities. At the end of the work is a discussion of how Douglass and Shakespeare also make

(The text used for this essay is Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (Written by Himself), in the edition by Barnes and Noble. The fine Introduction and Notes for this volume are written by Robert G. O’Meally.)


Part I

Frederick Douglass the Mystic:

His Direct and Indirect References to the Holy Spirit


Frederick Douglass became closer to God. While he does not speak much about his relationship with God, what he says is revealing.

To say it from another angle: It being the case that there are hidden mystical structures in Douglass’ book, it should not be surprising that he speaks directly (if briefly) of his relationship with the Holy Spirit. Here is an excerpt from the next-to-last paragraph of Chapter V:

…Going to live at Baltimore laid the foundation, and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity. I have ever regarded it as the first plain manifestation of that kind providence which has ever since attended me, and marked my life with so many favors. I regarded the selection of myself as being somewhat remarkable.

And two sentences later, the final paragraph of Chapter V:

I may be deemed superstitious, and even egotistical, in regarding this event as a special interposition of divine Providence in my favor. But I should be false to the earliest sentiments of my soul, if I suppressed the opinion. I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence. From my earliest recollection, I date the entertainment of a deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its foul embrace; and in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained like ministering angels to cheer me through the gloom. This good spirit was from God, and to him I offer thanksgiving and praise.

However, after this initial declaration of the Holy Spirit’s closeness to him, and the obvious fact that he is a beloved child of God, the references to the Holy Spirit become more veiled. The rest of this section shall explore these later allusions to experiences of the Holy Spirit.

In the third paragraph of the next chapter, which is a long paragraph, his current ‘master’, Mr. Auld, scolds Mrs. Auld, because she had the audacity to teach young Frederick the initial lessons of reading. Mr. Auld goes on a tirade about why this would be a bad development for white people, who benefit from the unpaid work of slaves, and for the slaves themselves. Now, this conversation had a profound effect on young Douglass. Immediately after Auld’s rant, Douglass writes:


These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty—to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. It was just what I wanted, and I got it at a time when I the least expected it. Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master.

Now, this might seem less like the Spirit’s guidance, and more like overhearing a nasty conversation between the master and his wife. However, a Spiritual teacher once said that we can learn from any thing that we might hear, spoken by anyone. To say it differently: the Holy Spirit can give us valuable hints and knowledge through any medium the Spirit chooses, including words of idiots and enemies. In the second sentence of this paragraph, Douglass indeed calls this discovery a “special revelation.”

Words of people can hold messages that last a long time for us. In Chapter VII, he meets two kind Irishmen who suggest to him that he break for freedom. He remembered their suggestion for a long time afterwards, starting a habit of thought that helped lead to his eventual freedom.

The long Chapter X is perhaps the most important chapter of the Narrative. It begins with Douglass, on his first day at a new farm with a new master, being ordered to do something he had never done before. The evil Mr. Covey gives too-hasty instruction to Douglass about the means to guide the left-hand and right-hand oxen of the cart he was to move and load. Why does Douglass give us this information? The story he tells could as easily have been told without this information about the ox on the right and the ox on the left. And Douglass does not waste words.

However, it happens that “left” and “right” are part of the language of the Holy Spirit. Chapter X is full of hints and allusions to the subtle but direct communication of the Holy Spirit, as we shall see. Douglass begins the chapter with a nod to a concrete and real part of the (yet hidden) language of the Holy Spirit.

Right after this is a strong allusion to a highly spiritual author, Dante. In the Comedy, his main work, various guides appear and lead Dante through the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, resulting in a glimpse of the Beatific Vision. After the yoke of oxen take off running out of control, crash the cart, and cause general chaos in the forest, Douglass writes, “…How I escaped death, I do not know. There I was, entirely alone, in a thick wood, in a place new to me.” This solitude in a new strange forest is a direct reference to the first words of Dante’s Inferno.

Because of this fiasco with the oxen, Douglass is severely whipped.

A few pages later, we come to one of the low points, a nadir, a depth, such as we encounter in the Inferno. Douglass says that he has finally been broken by the evil Mr. Covey. “I was somewhat unmanageable when I first went there, but a few months of this discipline tamed me. Mr. Covey succeeded in breaking me. I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!” And paragraphs later we have another echo of the Inferno, as Douglass says, “I am left in the hottest hell of unending slavery. O God, save me!”

It is telling that Douglass speaks of the “soul” and the “dark night.” The “dark night” is a technical term in spiritual conversation. It is a time when God enters our life more intimately. It seems at first to be all smoke, confusion, pain, chaos, and suffering. However, it is ultimately positive, as God is doing powerful healing work in our soul, and equipping and preparing us to be greater accomplices of the Holy Spirit. The “dark night” yokes us to the Holy Spirit. Recall the yoked oxen from the beginning of the chapter. St. Luke, the Beloved Physician, competes with St. John as the most spiritual writer of the Bible, if such an outrageous statement can safely be made. In his Gospel and in his Acts of the Apostles, Luke shows numerous times how profoundly he understands the ways in which the soul and the Holy Spirit can learn to work and dance together. If we learn how to access the deep subterranean rivers of Luke’s work, he is teaching us constantly the language of the Holy Spirit! This journey that Luke describes has difficult times and suffering, but leads to union with Christ, and to Paradise.

Back to Dante: In his journey to Paradise, Dante must pass through the depths of hell first. St. John of the Cross, who is one of the best writers on the “Dark Night of the Soul,” says that we must pass through the Cross.

This is a cross-time, a crucifixion, for Douglass. Having escaped the worst evils of slavery in his early youth, the first part of this year that he is forced to spend with evil Mr. Covey, however, is a living hell.

He was tempted to murder Covey, then to take his own life. However, he “…was prevented by a combination of hope and fear.” This too is the Holy Spirit at work. The Holy Spirit understands humanity with more intimacy than we can imagine. The Spirit knows precisely how to activate our emotions to assist us along the path that we must walk in the healing and growth that the Spirit wants to give us. “Hope” keeps us going. “Fear” keeps us sane and stable while we undergo the wildness of the Spiritual Journey. “Fear of the Lord” is a great virtue in the Bible; it could also be translated as “Awe of the Lord,” and could be interpreted as “Frequent Sheer Amazement with new parts of the Journey and of Life.” When we really see the handiwork of the Holy Spirit, it is stunning. Frederick Douglass knows that there is a Divine friend helping him. Quoting Job, Douglass says he knows that, “There is a better day coming.”

A few pages later, still in Chapter X, we see Douglass working hard in the afternoon of one of the hottest days of August that year. He was sick, and he collapsed. Mr. Covey hears the stoppage of the work, and comes storming over. Evil Covey takes a wooden stick, and smashes Douglass’ head, which will soon cover him in blood, from the “crown of my head to my feet.” We are reminded of the Passion of Jesus. Douglass collapses back to the ground. However, right after this, Douglass is able to make a temporary escape from evil Covey to his main “owner,” a move which saves Douglass’ life and prepares the way for his eventual permanent escape. A very slight line, just four words, shines a hidden but huge light upon the close observation of the Spirit upon the situation of Douglass. In fact, in this very slight line, it seems that the Holy Spirit directly intervenes. Right after Douglass receives this shattering blow to the head, when he is already sick and weak, Douglass says: “In a short time after receiving this blow, my head grew better.” Well, how did that happen? Usually, people who are sick, weak, and undernourished, when they are struck a vicious blow on the head, tend to become more unwell and immobile! So how did “my head grew better” to be able to walk the 7 miles to his more permanent master and to effect the eventual escape that will propel Douglass to a new mode of existence? Perhaps this was a direct intervention by the Holy Spirit. There is not a document scribed in gold to mark the occasion. Rather, there is a subtle but clear healing. He is able to rise, temporarily escape, and find refuge 7 miles away. A few minutes later, Covey realizes Douglass has fled. Furious, Covey pursues him, but fails to find him.

Finding a temporary haven with Master Thomas, he rests that night, and achieves some recuperation. However, the next day, Master Thomas sends him back to the evil Covey. Covey spots his arrival, and approaches Douglass with “…his cowskin, to give me another whipping.” Seeing this, Douglass gives him the slip and hides in the cornfield. It was as if he did this unconsciously. He says, “My behavior was altogether unaccountable.” This too is highly Spiritual. When we are working more deeply with the Holy Spirit, sometimes we do things that surprise us. We react and respond in situations with new skills we did not know we had, as if a sudden inspiration bequeathed new gifts to us.

Douglass makes another temporary escape-retreat, and runs into his acquaintance Sandy Jenkins, a slave who has a free wife. Sandy gives him a mysterious lesson about the ways and language of the Spirit. “He told me, with great solemnity, I must go back to Covey; but that before I went, I must go with him into another part of the woods, where there was a certain root, which, if I would take some of it with me, carrying it always on my right side, would render it impossible for Mr. Covey, or any other white man, to whip me.” (The italics are Douglass’.) Douglass is immediately skeptical, and rejects the idea. However, Sandy really got his attention, “with much earnestness,” imploring and reasoning with Douglass to do it. Douglass did it. It worked.

Now: Neither the Holy Spirit nor Douglass abide by witchcraft or spells or other forms of “magic.”

However, Sandy could be impressing upon Douglass some truth about the right side.

In the language of the Holy Spirit, the “right side” often means “No.” It can also signify to the person receiving the signal that they should resist whatever is happening, or being said, in an encounter with another person. In the remaining six months that Douglass would spend with Covey, perhaps the Holy Spirit was shifting gears with Douglass, teaching him powerful skills of resistance.

So the main import of this story is not the magical talisman effect of the unnamed “root.” Rather, the Holy Spirit was coaching Douglass on the activation of the hitherto dormant portions of his animus (that part of the psyche complementing the anima), bringing his soul to a greater state of integration and power. After this, Douglass indeed becomes more and more an eminently powerful person, and will grow in virtue and strength for the rest of his life.

The new posture, the new attitude of Douglass, will soon be tested. In one of the most thrilling episodes of the book, Covey cunningly bides his time, and then eventually tries to corner Douglass and give him a severe whipping and beating for his previous disobedience and independent behavior. What happens next is nothing short of a revolution in the life of Douglass, enabling everything that follows in his glorious life to develop.

In the fight that Douglass eventually has with Covey, Covey and his sidekick “attempted to tie my right hand.” They failed. It is as if they are trying to restrict the developing portion of Douglass’ psyche, his ability to resist. Douglass sharply kicks Covey’s assistant under his ribs, knocking him out of the melee.

Another liminal, spiritual event occurs later in Chapter X. Douglass and several of his friends were planning to escape on a Saturday evening. Friday night was a sleepless one for Douglass, as one might imagine. He was especially anxious, because he was the leader of the group. He writes of Saturday:

“The first two hours of that morning were such as I never experienced before, and hope never to again. Early in the morning, we went, as usual, to the field. We were spreading manure; and all at once, while thus engaged, I was overwhelmed with an indescribable feeling, in the fulness of which I turned to Sandy, who was near by, and said, ‘We are betrayed!’ ‘Well,’ said he, ‘that thought has this moment struck me.’ We said no more. I was never more certain of any thing.”

Why would the Spirit inform him that his first attempt at escaping was about to fail? Perhaps so that he would not be stunned when the owners and authorities confronted them. He would be prepared when it happened.

Additionally, he had to destroy the fake permission-to-travel letter that he had previously written, and he needed to have his wits about him to destroy it. Indeed, the destruction of that letter seems to be another plan of the Spirit. When the slaves are captured before they could make their departure, a fight broke out between them and the authorities: “During the scuffle, I managed, I know not how, to get my pass out, and, without being discovered, put it into the fire.” The Spirit was helping him here.

In conclusion to this part of the essay, near the end of Chapter X, when Douglass is kicked in the eye, this may be a reference to a mystical experience that accompanied the difficult incident. We shall discuss this more below.

This section has considered ways in which Douglass clearly or quietly alludes to events that reveal action of the Holy Spirit.


Part II

An Overview of the Mystical Psalms Ladder

In the Narrative


Frederick Douglass’ first autobiography is in the shape of a Ladder, specifically, the Mystical Psalms Ladder that the Holy Spirit hid in the Book of Psalms.

Some necessary background: The Holy Spirit chose the least organized book of the Bible, the Book of Psalms, to be the bearer of amazing mystical patterns, which are both beautiful and important, and which carry a great deal of meaning and application for us today. A forthcoming book shall present these wonders. Because is has not been published yet, this part of the essay could be a bit dense; however, one may still understand the basic developments that are being charted in this present essay. Here is a rough draft of the introduction of the Psalms material; this introduction provides pictures and information about the Ladder of the Psalms:

In the first 12 or 13 centuries after Christ, there are at least twenty theological Christian writers who know of the Mystical Psalm Structures. All the Evangelists and most of the New Testament writers know these marvels. Later Christians who know the Mystical Psalm Structures include St. Antony of Egypt, St. Evagrius Ponticus, the unknown author of the Gospel of Thomas, St. Benedict (Founder of Western monasticism), and, much later, St. Teresa of Avila, her friend St. John of the Cross, and, in Greece, St. Gregory Palamas.

Perhaps with Petrarch in the 13th century, the river of “those-who-know” picks up and switches riverbeds, over to the poets. From Petrarch, the knowledge eventually moved to some of the English Sonneteers, including Philip Sidney, William Shakespeare, Lady Mary Wroth, and later, Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

It makes sense that the poets learned, or were shown, these wonders. After all, the Psalms are poem-prayer-songs.

Later English-speaking poets who know include Wallace Stevens, Owen Dodson, and Maya Angelou. (Angelou alludes to several features of Frederick Douglass’ work.)

Rainier Maria Rilke, the German poet, knew, as do Jorge Luis Borges and Pablo Neruda, who wrote in Spanish.

Although theological themes inundate his book, and although his writing is often inspired and extremely powerful, Douglass’ Narrative is neither poetry nor theology. It is prose literature. And the Narrative may be the first prose literature to include a knowledge of the Mystical Psalm Structures. The fact that this literature is an autobiography of a slave who becomes free is telling.

A bit more background: Until now, all of these authors have kept their knowledge secret. They have not shouted out what they knew about these Mystical Realities in the Bible. This is fully in accord with the plan of the Holy Spirit, who wanted and planned for these matters to be kept in precise small circles of those who know. Now, however, is the time for Humanity to embrace these wonders—indeed, they are not for Christians alone, but also have tendrils and rivers of connection to Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and more.

Such a thing might seem impossible. However, it is true.

Section A:

The Shape of the Narrative

            The hidden Ladder of the Psalms has 12 steps. Douglass’ Narrative has 12 parts. Using Roman numerals, there are 11 numbered chapters in the Narrative, I – XI. And there is the Appendix, which is the 12th part.

The 12 parts (11 chapters, plus the Appendix) of the Narrative form a direct parallel with the Ladder and its 12 steps. This is an important and basic feature of the Narrative; it is one of the ways in which Douglass’ work incorporates the structure of the Mystical Psalms Ladder.

Here is the shape of the Mystical Psalms Ladder, from the link given above. The numbers that make the Ladder are the numbers of those Psalms:



144                 138

132                 126

120                 114

108                 102

96                   90

84                   78

72                   66

60                   54

48                   42

36                   30

24                   18

12                   6


Note that the left side of the Ladder is formed by the numbers that are multiples of 12, all the way to “12 squared,” 144. The 25 Psalm title numbers that form the Ladder are all multiples of 6.

Douglass gives us many clues that he knows about the Ladder, and uses it as the main architectural structure of his book.


The word “ladder” appears once in the work, in Chapter VII. It is in a paragraph that begins, “In the same book, I met with one of Sheridan’s mighty speeches on and in behalf of Catholic emancipation. These were choice documents to me. I read them over and over again with unabated interest. They gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want of utterance. The moral which I gained from the dialogue was the power of truth over the conscience of even a slaveholder. What I got from Sheridan was a bold denunciation of slavery, and a powerful vindication of human rights.” Douglass is here referring to the Irish and Catholic fight for liberty out from under the horrific enslaving and colonization of Ireland by Britain. Ireland won its fight for freedom in the early 20th Century, but the repercussions from their brutal enslavement are still being worked out and healed in the society today. (Today, the Irish are champions of liberty, helping people in other parts of the world in their struggles for freedom and Justice.) In Northern Ireland, the British still rule over the land, a situation which had led to a great deal of fighting. Recently, in the 21st Century, a fairly successful peace has been in place for some years now.

Sheridan’s book helped Douglass awaken and realize the sheer injustice of slavery. At first, Douglass had no idea what to do in the predicament, that is, the predicament of his better understanding the history of slavery and its wrongness. Douglass: “It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out.” (Emphasis added.)

The “pit” is actually in the Psalms Ladder, at its bottom. Psalms 6 & 12, which form the bottom and first step of the Ladder, are both strong laments. Psalm 6 has personal bodily illness and suffering, and Psalm 12 has societal sickness (which applies well to the scourge of slavery). Additionally, the three Psalms on the lower right side of the Ladder, Psalms 6, 18, and 30, all have the pit of hell mentioned, “sheol.”

Of those people in history who have known of the Mystical Psalms Ladder, the vast majority (of whom I am aware) are Catholics. Did a Catholic at some point teach Douglass of these mystical realities? Did a Christian from another denomination teach him? Did the Holy Spirit teach him directly? These are questions I would like to discuss with scholars of Frederick Douglass.

The next paragraph in Chapter VII again mentions Irish allies. Douglass says, “The light broke in upon me by degrees. I went one day down on the wharf of Mr. Waters…” This is an allusion to the opening lines of Plato’s great dialogue, The Republic. We shall discuss another Platonic dialogue later. Returning to the quotation: “I went one day down on the wharf of Mr. Waters; and seeing two Irishmen unloading a scow (large boat) of stone, I went, unasked, and helped them.” A conversation ensues, and it is here that the Irishmen suggest that he escape to freedom. This conversation helped move the teenage Douglass to further consider the option of escape. He “remembered their advice, and from that time I resolved to run away. I looked forward to a time at which it would be safe for me to escape.”


Another powerful reminder of the Psalms Ladder in the Narrative is the frequent appearance of the number 12. (Recall, the Ladder has 12 steps.)

There are many numbers that appear in the Narrative, and a disproportionately large occurrence of the number 12 features among them.

12 is the first number that appears in the book, and it appears 3 times in the short Chapter I. The number 12 will appear 9 times in the volume, including a matched pair of instances of the word “dozen.”


The Ladder of the Psalms represents many realities. One of the realities symbolized by the Ladder is the Feminine, the Woman.

The fourth paragraph of Chapter I is a heart-wrenching account of how his mother visited him a handful of times when he was a child. She had to walk 12 miles, after her work was done, at night. (Jacob, in Genesis 28, sees an early version of the Ladder at night.) She then had to be back to her place by dawn the next day to work. She left when she had gotten little Frederick to sleep. (Jacob saw the Ladder in a vision in his sleep.) This appearance of “12” is already the third appearance of the number in the book, and it appears close to the number “7,” in the same paragraph.

It is clear that at this early point of his book, Douglass is referring in many hidden ways to the Ladder. These hints dance in the liminal space of our psyche. Further, the placement of “12” near “7” is not an accident:

Psalm 12 has the number “7.” Every literary mind knows that 7 x 12 = 84. This formula is hidden in Psalm 12, and sends the angels in flight to their next destination, Psalm 84, at the middle of the Ladder. This is the first flight of the angels on the Ladder, and it starts the long flight process of the angels up and down the Ladder. St. Luke the Evangelist, in his Gospel, gives us this same formula in Chapter 2, when the Holy Family enters into the temple. The Prophetess Anna is exactly 84 years old at the time. She was previously married for 7 years. She was a member of the tribe (of which there were 12) of Asher. In case we miss this appearance of the number 12, a few verses later we are told of Jesus being in the temple again when he is 12 years old.

Douglass’ mother was an angel ministering to him, at night, as often as she could, until she died when he was a tender 7 years old.


A quiet and understated fulfillment of the Narrative is in Chapter XI (Chapter 11) when Douglass marries his wife, Anna.

In the Psalm Structures, the first structure is the Pillar, which is made of the Psalms that are multiples of 21. These 7 Psalms form the Pillar. Here is a representation of the Psalms Pillar:










The masculine Pillar goes with the feminine Ladder. And the climbing of the angels on the Ladder can represent physical love between husband and wife.

The Ladder and the Pillar have three shared numbers: 42, 84, and 126. These numbers are also alluded to in the Narrative.

Chapter VII has the number 7 in its first sentence, just as the number 12 is in the first chapter of the book, in Chapter I. However, there are other numbers in Chapter VII that we’ll here focus on.

Later in Chapter 7, Douglass says to some young friends on the street, “You will be free as soon as you are twenty-one (21), but I am a slave for life!” (The italics are Douglass’.) Three sentences later, Douglass reflects, “I was now about twelve (12) years old, and the thought of being a slave for life began to bear heavily upon my heart.” (Again, the italics are Douglass’.) So we have two sentences that are connected to each other by the same words being italicized by the author, Douglass. And in these two sentences are the numbers 12 & 21.

The words “I am” are also italicized in the first sentence. This is the name of God, a name which Jesus applies to himself, and which he encourages us to use as well, like the man born blind in John 9, who also applies the name to himself. (See also Jesus’ discussion of Psalm 82 in John 10.) In John’s Gospel Jesus wants to give us the fullness of life. However, it is obvious that a slave might find it rather difficult to experience the fullness of life while a slave. Likewise, it could be difficult to know oneself to be a child of God, while a slave.

He describes his won freedom in Chapter XI, and this is something like Paradise at the top of the Ladder. Soon after Douglass escapes slavery, he marries Anna, and 12 & 21 unite. They will have five children together.

This section of Part II has considered how the shape of the Narrative is intentionally echoing the shape of the Mystical Psalms Ladder.


Section B

Apparent Departures from the Ladder Schema,

And the Amazing Chapter X;

Cross and ‘Chi’;

The Ladder Re-Built


Section A has considered how the Narrative directly incorporates the shape of the Mystical Psalms Ladder. However, there are also ways in which the Narrative departs from, or makes changes to, the form of the Ladder.

The first 9 chapters of the Narrative are fairly short. In the editorial arrangement of the fine Barnes and Noble edition, each of the first 9 chapters is between 3-6 pages. However, Chapter X jumps out to a sharply contrasting, much longer, 29 pages in length. This is intentional. Douglass is telling us something. What is he telling us?

Following Chapter X, Chapter XI also more-than-doubles the length of all the first 9 chapters, at 12 pages long. And the Appendix is 7 pages long.

(I am not attributing significance to the “number of pages” of the chapters, which is an editorial happenstance of each particular printed edition; however, the title numbers of the chapters themselves, like the numbers of the Shakespeare’s sonnet titles, are specifically chosen by the author. Nevertheless, the number of pages of each chapter is a reliable benchmark for showing relative lengths, which is the only point I’m making here.)

We’ll now turn to the vital Chapter X:


Some Features of Chapter X


Why is Chapter X, the 10th chapter, so long?

This is the chapter where Douglass stands up to one of the most evil masters he had, and turned the tables on him. There are many other things occurring in Chapter X as well.

The length of Chapter X does at least three things:

1) It makes the shape of a Cross.

2) It makes the shape of the Greek letter chi, which looks like ‘X’, and which is connected to the literary technique of chiasmus.

3) It makes the Human Person, with two arms and two legs, represented by the letter ‘X’, situated on/in the Ladder.

Please bear with me here. We’ll tap a few different topic areas, but they are all related with each other.

-The New Testament’s original language is Greek. Christ is spelled like “Xristos.” The Greek letter chi sounds like a “K” and looks like a large X. Entire lectures could be given around these facts. The ancients report that the shape of chi, the X, is writ large in the heavens, and re-presents Christ there. We shall discuss this below.

-The Psalms Ladder also forms the shape of a human person, as well as the shape of a house.

-Chapter X is the chapter in which Frederick Douglass beats the system and stands up straight, an erect freedom-searching man who has taught himself to read and write, and who is consciously planning his escape. And he slaps down a violent attacker, a “master,” who intended to do him harm. It is the great pivot point in the life of Douglass. His soul, his person, stands up straight for the first full time.

-The erect person is one of the themes of the chapter. The “ X “ represents the full measure of a man, of a human person, who is in the image of Christ.

-This erect standing person is between two straight lines. The Roman numeral X is flanked by numbers IX and XI. So with some contraction, we have:

I X I                 (the person within the two sides of the Ladder)

This is the tall standing person in/on the Ladder, in the House. The ‘I’ on either side of the person, ‘X’, are the two sides of the Ladder. Recall that ‘X’ represents the person, standing tall and strong. The dignity of God’s image and likeness.

            The comparative great length of Chapter X represents Frederick Douglass standing up straight, standing tall, climbing the Ladder, being the Ladder, and eventually heading up, north, due north, to freedom. To a more ‘heavenly’ status. (There are other meanings too.)

Chiasmus and Cross

The shape “X” is also connected to the literary form known as the “chiasmus.” In his excellent introduction, Robert G. O’Meally speaks of how Douglass utilizes chiastic structures throughout the Narrative. I am indebted to Professor O’Meally for pointing out the central chiasmus of the book. In Chapter X, Douglass says:

You have seen how a man was made a slave;

You shall see how a slave was made a man.

Robert Louis Gates also speaks of the importance of this chiasmus.

If we take this sentence and present it in its chiastic elements, we could portray it like this:


You                             man    slave

You                             slave   man


More simply, we could put in letters as symbols for the words “man” and “slave”:

A C : C A


A          C

C          A


As we see, the “man-slave” and “slave-man” arrangements form an X. This is the basic form of the Chiasmus, which is frequently found in the Bible, other forms of ancient literature, and some kinds of poetry.

The pages of the Bible are overflowing with this kind of literary structure.

The word “chiasm” itself has the letter “chi,” X, in itself.

With his repetition of “You,” that is, “Us,” he establishes his own personal journey of development as a new model springing directly from the ancient Biblical model. And he sends out a bridge from himself to every person who reads his work. Douglass has become a Full Member of the Body of Christ. Like the great saints before him, he can speak with a fuller authority now. The Spirit has taught him.

The form “X” also represents the cross, especially the Cross of Christ. Many of the ancient theologians of the Early Church spoke of how the chi, “X,” is written in the heavens in the meeting of the celestial equator and the ecliptic. (There are many internet sites that discuss this phenomenon in our astronomy.) Together, the celestial equator and the ecliptic form a giant “X” in the heavens, from our perspective here on Earth. The ancients spoke of how this is both Christ, and the Cross, writ large in the Universe. Plato’s Timaeus discusses this 400 years before Christ. The character Timaeus, from this dialogue of the same name, later appears blind in Mark’s Gospel, and is healed by Jesus! The Christian writer and martyr, Justin, also claims this as a sign of Christ (Xristos in the original Greek) writ large in the skies. Here, however, the Cross is also the Door, the Portal, the Gate, that it truly is. Here the Cross is written in a large glorious letter in the Heavens.

Paul says, “Through the cross of Christ . . . the cosmos has been crucified to me, and I to the cosmos.” (See Galatians 6:14) This powerful act of joining, having traversed the portal of the cross, becomes a good joining, a glad union. Today, we might connect this to Jungian Synchronicity: A sign of spiritual maturity is when external events in the world/cosmos have a special correspondence, or ‘synchronicity’, with internal events in our thoughts, imagination, or past. This is a sign that our personal self, the microcosm, is coming into alignment with the macrocosm, the exterior cosmos. It is the Holy Spirit that guides this process.

The same happens for Frederick Douglass. Early in Chapter X, there is the beautiful and poignant account of how on Sunday Douglass stands looking down on the Chesapeake Bay, and sees many sails of wondrous ships moving on the water, travelling around the globe. The globe is here known to be a sphere, and represents the macrocosm. At the end of Chapter X, the microcosm that is Frederick Douglass will achieve enlightenment when his “eyeball” nearly explodes from a vicious kick. The spherical “eyeball” represents Douglass, in his semi-spherical “head” (another theme of the Timaeus); through his suffering and virtue, Douglass has come into harmony with the sphere of the cosmos. Spiritual awakening. The microcosm of the person achieves synchronicity with the vast macrocosm of the universe. After this, the language of the Holy Spirit is constantly available to him now.

The Length of Chapter 10 Forms the Cross-Bar of the Cross,

and a Line of the Chiastic ‘X’

The chi-X-structure is also in the structure of the Narrative; at the same time, the structure of Douglass’ work is also a Cross: The first 9 chapters are uniformly short. Chapter X is long, much longer than the previous 9. It is the Crossbar of the Cross; it is also the second line of the chiastic ‘X’. The slave is Christ on the Cross. The freed slave, having passed through the chiastic portal, is similar to the Resurrected Christ, or is similar to the tall person (X) standing on the Ladder.

What is the Cross? It is a door, and it is also a time of passage. Paul, again, sees the cross as the instrument of his mature joining to the cosmos. Through the Cross, Paul and Douglass learn the language of the Holy Spirit. Because it is so important for us today, let us repeat: part of the language of the Spirit is Synchonicity. Carl Jung speaks of this. We have “inside” us a cosmos that is the endless infinite glorious expanse of each individual soul. And we have “outside” us the cosmos that we physically see and participate in. When a soul advances in direct relationship with the Holy Spirit, that soul may experience many instances of Synchronicity. We might think of Synchronicity as “Meaningful Coincidence.” It has been said that “coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” Such a concrete, discrete, accumulation of events of coincidence, of Synchronicity, in the life of a growing soul, is a sign that the person is growing in relationship with the Holy Spirit, and is achieving Integration.

Paul and Frederick Douglass and Christ, through the Cross, have been joined to the cosmos, and the cosmos to them. They became Integrated Beings.


Frederick Douglass teaches, as do Christ and Paul, that through our sufferings, through our crosses, we attain greater dimensionality, a fullness of relationship to the cosmos. If you look at a photograph of Douglass, you know that you are seeing an enlightened human being.

Douglass stands up. Chapter X jumps out to great length. His long trek north is not narrated in this book, surprisingly, because Chapter X represents it in a more full way. He escapes from 2 dimensions of reality into 3 dimensions of reality, or to greater dimensionality. Like Christ and Paul and so many others before him, he is joined to the great ‘X’ of the heavens, and his interior cosmos, his soul, enters a state of greater conscious relationship with the cosmos that we see day and night, the universe about us.

The Ladder Person, or, the Person Who Climbs the Ladder

There is much more happening in the Narrative.

The shape of the book itself, from first chapter to last, shows this astounding growth of the Human Person. Above, we discussed this shape, the image of the Ladder Person, the Person Climbing the Ladder:


Notice that there is some, but not much, discussion of love and marriage among the slaves, because the “masters” made life so difficult for them, and would often break up relationships and families when they sold slaves.

Nevertheless, Douglass makes literary connections between the growing stature of the person, and their participation in love relationships.

Here is yet another way of seeing a structure of the Narrative:


Chapter I        The desecration of person & marriage

Chapter X       Growth and Desire

Chapter XI     True Marriage Achieved

Appendix       Mockery of erect person—a warning for us


Chapter I has the shocking description of the whipping of his Aunt Hester by the evil rapist Mr. Plummer, whom Douglass describes as a “savage monster.” As we shall see, his is like the evil demon Asmodeus from the Bible’s book, Tobit. He kills the marriage relationship, among other things.

At the end of Chapter I, we see a false and brutal elongation of the human person, a mockery of the Ladder Person. Hester is a beautiful woman. The evil Mr. Plummer takes her to the kitchen to whip her savagely. “After crossing her hands, he tied them with a strong rope, and led her to a stool under a large hook in the joist, put in for the purpose.” Notice that he chooses the verb “crossing”; additionally, Hester’s hands and arms now form an “X,” the “chi” that we have discussed. She will be crucified, like Christ.

“He made her get upon the stool [Ladder mockery], and tied her hands to the hook. She now stood fair for his infernal [Psalm 6 of the bottom Step 1 of the Psalms Ladder has the word “hell,” or “inferno”] purpose. Her arms were stretched up at their full length, so that she stood upon the ends of her toes.”

Her position here is a mockery of the full stature that the person achieves in Chapter X. Her status and the treatment of her body and her entire person is a mockery of the person represented by the Ladder, which the forthcoming book refers to as the Ladder Person.

She is fully stretched, not for glory yet, but for torture and demonic hatred.

She is brutally whipped by Plummer, as the “warm, red blood” flows, “amid heartrending shrieks from her.”

The child Frederick, terrified and shocked, hid in the closet.

Why did Plummer do this to Hester? He wanted to rape her, and she wasn’t there in the evening to be raped by him. So he was angry with her.

Why wasn’t she there? Because she was friends with another slave, Ned Roberts, and had spent time that evening with him. This is the reason for Plummer’s brutal treatment of Hester. Not only did his plans for rape/entertainment get foiled by her not being there, but she was also independently enjoying a love relationship with a man that she truly cared for. He really is like Asmodeus.

In Chapter X, the human person grows. Specifically, it is Frederick Douglass, of course, but it is also a template for all of us. Chapter X has the central chiasmus of the book, which we discussed above, in which Douglass tells us that we will see a slave transform into a man.

Douglass says, in the middle of his fight with Covey, “I rose.” The verb “rise” is a Resurrection term from the Gospels. Eternal Victory achieved through the Cross.

Again, as discussed above, using Roman numerals, the shape of:

I X I represents also the Ladder Person, which will be discussed more in the book on the Mystical Psalm Structures.

In Chapter XI Douglass marries his love, Anna.

In what seems like a modest description of a modest wedding, when Douglass has made his escape, he is joined by his “intended wife,” Anna.

It is also a felicitous coincidence, perhaps divinely arranged, that the name “Anna” itself has a chiastic structure! Her name is also a palindrome; it is spelled the same forwards and backwards.

In Chapter I, Hester’s tied wrists formed a terrible chiastic x.

In Chapter XI, the Beloved Anna’s name forms a chiastic X, as does every loving couple.

However, in the Appendix, there is the mockery of the erect, standing person. We shall discuss this below.


Doors and Gateways

Jacob, in Genesis 28, has a mystical experience. He sees a divine ladder in the night. God and angels are there. Angels are ascending and descending the ladder, which connects and joins Heaven and Earth. (This ladder is alluded to by Jesus at John 1:51; Jesus gives us something far better than what Jacob was made to understand. In John’s Gospel, Jesus, and Humanity, become the Ladder. We are the Ladder. Douglass is teaching us this fact too.)

The next morning, Jacob is completely thunderstruck at what he had experienced in the preceding night. He says, “This is none other than . . . the gate of heaven!” (Gen 28:17)

The Psalms Ladder, which is related to the ladder Jacob saw, is also a gate.

Douglass uses “gate” and “door” language in a fascinating way in the Narrative.

In the final words of Chapter XI, the last chapter, Douglass says that doing the work of speaking up for Justice can be like a cross for us. Yet this is also a door of promise. Perhaps Douglass is giving us, here and now, a prophetic message: Solving race relations in the world today is not easy; however, it is the door, the only door, to the survival and thriving of our human family. Each person must become aware that every human person is made in the image and likeness of God. Let us proceed in Love. If we can achieve this realization, everything else will be taken care of.


The Terms “Door” and “Gate” in the Narrative

The words “door” and “gate” occur 27 times in the Narrative. 16 of these appearances, well over half the appearances of these words, occur in Chapter X. Again, Douglass is trying to get us to see something.

Among other themes, some of which we have discussed, this chapter is emphasizing how it is a portal of the book, and of Douglass’ life. As the chiastic structure of the cross nears its center, where the crossbar is nailed to the cross, here in the density we find the door to life and the expansion of the human heart.


The Numbers “12” and “6” in the Narrative

One of the complexities of mystical writing is that the author may be referring to several things at once. This is the case with much writing that employs metaphor and symbol. However, there is a special density of intersecting meanings when the Psalm Structures are involved in a literary work.

A Slight Digression with Psalms 114 and 120

Chapter X, the 10th chapter, is, as we have mentioned, parallel to the 10th step of the Mystical Psalms Ladder. The 10th step of that Ladder is formed by Psalms 114 & 120. We shall see references to both these Psalms in this chapter. When Douglass fights the evil Covey, and grabs him by the neck, Covey is terrified. “He trembled like a leaf.” In Psalm 114, terrified mountains, at the sight of the exodus, jump up and down, trembling, as it were. When he grabbed Covey hard by the throat, at the same time he says that “I rose.” This is also like the exodus, the journey of spiritual maturity, that occurs in Psalm 114.

Psalm 120 is especially about the anger and rivalries and the tough fighting, the bitter strife with others, that often occur in life. Chapter X has the only four references, all subtle, to the number 120 in the book: 1) “6 miles” and “20 years old” appear in adjacent sentences, within a very bitter story of a woman who was forced to get pregnant and bear twin slaves whom would be owned by Covey (6 x 20 = 120). 2) When Douglass has his epic battle with wicked Covey, the struggle lasted for two hours (120 minutes). Does this seem a bit long? Is Douglass employing poetic license here? He could well be poetically expressing the human bitterness that occurs in life, especially a life that has known much suffering, especially the life of a slave. 3) Later, when he is about to be betrayed the first time he is planning their escape, he says, “The first two hours (120 minutes) of that morning were such as I never experienced before, and hope never to again.” This describes the dread and tension of the waiting period, before they found that they had indeed been betrayed. 4) While working at the shipyard, he states that he needs “a dozen pair of hands,” which would be 120 fingers. This may seem humorous, but it’s a typical example of the mystical authors’ language, which includes mathematical formulae, when they refer to the Psalm Structures.

In the language of the Holy Spirit, one of the things that the number 120 represents is bitter strife. Additionally, Psalm 120 is on the 10th Step of the Ladder, which is parallel to Chapter X of the Narrative. Hence, the four subtle appearances of the number 120 in this chapter.


Back to “12” and “6”

So as we have seen, Chapter X is true to its place on the Ladder, and speaks of Psalms 114 and 120. However, there seems to be a new true beginning in Chapter X. Douglass enters the most mature phase of his life. For this reason, we celebrate a good appropriation of the 1st step of the Ladder, a joyful sense of the entrance to the Ladder. So Douglass will return us, in this same Chapter X, to a new consideration of the numbers 6 and 12, which we find on the first, or bottom, step of the Ladder, far below 114 and 120.

In the above diagram of the Ladder, we see that the bottom step is formed by Psalms 6 & 12. Douglass has subtle references to the numbers 6 and 12 at perhaps ten places in the Narrative. However, six of these ten references to “6 and 12” occur in Chapter X. This is again a tremendous concentration of a particular literary theme in Chapter X.

The Ladder is a door, a gateway, as we have discussed. Psalms 6 & 12 have a special role as the “gate of the gate.” Their being the first step emphasizes their role as a portal. They are also the only Psalms to have the musical term “hasheminith” (which appears in the Hebrew superscriptions of both Psalms), emphasizing their partnership, like a pair of decorated gateposts at a gate. The only time this word appears in the Book of Psalms is in the superscriptions to Psalms 6 & 12.

Chapter X has the great turning point in Douglass’ life, when he turned the tables on the evil Covey, and fought for his own dignity. This is the crucial prelude to his escape.

We are at the center, in several ways. There are the multiple appearances of 6 (6 of 12) months.

The “center” or “turning point” is also emphasized by the fact that Chapter X has a heavy emphasis on pairs. The chapter begins with the pair, the yoke, of oxen. Right after this story, Douglass says, “I lived with Mr. Covey one year. During the first six months, of that year, scarce a week passed without his whipping me.” This is the first time that Douglass divides the year into two groups of six months each. A bit later in the chapter, “wretched woman”, the “miserable woman,” Caroline, gives birth to twins. Another pair. Douglass begins the next paragraph: “If at any one time of my life more than another, I was made to drink the bitterest dregs of slavery, that time was during the first six months of my stay with Mr. Covey.” This is the chapter’s second mention of the division of the year into a pair of 6-month halves.

Douglass continues to emphasize the neat division of the year into matching halves: “I have already intimated that my condition was much worse, during the first six months of my stay at Mr. Covey’s, than in the last six.” Note that here we have the word “six” twice in the one sentence. He continues: “The circumstances leading to the change in Mr. Covey’s course toward me form an epoch in my humble history. You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man. On one of the hottest days of the month of August, 1833 . . . (emphasis added)”

Back to the chiasmus: Here, at the third mention of the division of the year into two very different six-month segments, we find the moral center of the book: the powerful transformation that happens in the soul and life of Frederick Douglass. This is the portal through which he passes to become the champion of humanity we know him as. At the same time, he is placing subtle if strong emphasis on the numbers 6 & 12, which Psalms form the first step of the Ladder, the “gateway of the gate.”

Yet there is more happening here too. Due to the contract signed by his master, he spent a calendar year working for Covey, from January 1, 1833, to January 1, 1834. The beginning of the story of his radical transformation happens in August, which, as Professor O’Meally also notes, is the 8th month of the year, not the center of the year. So again, the author Douglass is employing artistic license in forming his story, dividing the year into two halves of six months. Now, this could be simply to form a nice doorway through which he will emerge to freedom. Or, by his real emphasizing of the numbers 6 & 12, he is pointing to his true discernment of the Ladder and his flight up this Ladder to the North, and to a stage of life closer to Paradise.

That Douglass is taking his turn as the “Person on the Ladder” is brought home after his minor escape from Covey, when he returns to his more permanent master: “From the crown of my head to my feet, I was covered with blood.” This reminds us of the cruel treatment of Aunt Hester in Chapter I. However, it is also more positive than that: this is also Douglass’ beginning passage into the state of an enlightened, stronger soul. It is an image of a warrior on the battlefield, or of an infant being born.

Two pages later, the emphasis of Douglass being born through a portal appears again, when he is “half out of the loft,” working hard, when Covey attacks him, beginning the epic battle. In the beginning of the fight, they converse. Douglass writes, “He asked me if I meant to persist in my resistance. I told him I did, come what might; that he had used me like a brute for six months, and that I was determined to be used so no longer. With that, he strove to drag me to a stick that was lying just out of the stable door. He meant to knock me down. But just as he was leaning over to get the stick, I seized him with both hands by his collar, and brought him by a sudden snatch to the ground.” This is the fourth time he mentions the division of the year into two halves of six months.

We emerge into the better, second half of the year: “The whole six months afterwards, that I spent with Mr. Covey, he never laid the weight of his finger upon me in anger.” This is the fifth and final reference to the numbers 6 & 12 of that year.

The next paragraph, glorious, is full of allusions to the Ladder:

This battle with Mr. Covey was the turning-point in my career as a slave. It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived within me a sense of my own manhood. It recalled the departed self-confidence, and inspired me again with a determination to be free. The gratification afforded by the triumph was a full compensation for whatever else might follow, even death itself. He only can understand the deep satisfaction which I experienced, who has himself repelled by force the bloody arm of slavery. I felt as I never felt before. It was a glorious resurrection, from the tomb of slavery, to the heaven of freedom. My long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact.     (italics and underlining added)


His resurrection traces the direction of the Ladder. The Psalms Ladder has hell at the bottom of the Ladder and heaven at the top. There are more allusions to the Ladder throughout the rest of the chapter. Speaking of the year following the pivotal year with Covey, Douglass says, “The year passed off smoothly. It seemed only about half as long as the year which preceded it.” Why does Douglass add this impression? “Half as long….” This is another re-fashioning of a year into a 6-month segment. AH! He is building the next steps of the Psalms Ladder. St. John, in his Gospel, does the same! Both authors are building the Ladder before our eyes! If we take half a year and add it to the 12 months of the preceding year, we have 18 months. And Psalm 18 is the first half of the second step of the Psalms Ladder. The conclusion of the second year takes us through 24 months. And so we have the full second step of the Psalms Ladder, smartly worked into the text by Douglass.

This warping of time by Douglass matches and reverses another similar experience. In Chapter VIII, he must go back to his original master’s place: “I was absent from Baltimore, for the purpose of valuation and division, just about one month, and it seemed to have been six.” Yet again, we have the time span of 6 months. This time, however, it is imaginary, an entity of our inner experience, just like our experience of the Psalms Ladder!

At this point, an earlier text appears in a new light: the first sentence of the same Chapter VIII has the phrase “three years and six months” in it. Three years is 36 months, and Psalm 36 is the second Psalm of step 3 of the Psalms Ladder. The extra “6 months” he mentions would make a total of 42 months. And Psalm 42 is the first Psalm of step four of the Psalms Ladder. If we have not yet connected this to the Ladder, he gives us an additional clue: “ . . . after a sail of about twenty-four (24) hours, I found myself near the place of my birth.”

“42” is also an interesting number because, as a multiple of both 6 and 21, it is both a Pillar Psalm and a Ladder Psalm. Psalms 84 and 126 are the only other Psalms that share this quality. Later in Chapter X, there shall be an allusion to the number “84.” And there are also very subtle allusions to the number “126.”


Enlightenment and the Psalms

The conclusion of Chapter X has other sets of connections to the Psalms.

Near the end of the chapter he is working much more independently, building ships at Fell’s Point, in Baltimore. He assisted “in building two large man-of-war brigs.” When he arrived there, there was a rush, driven by the yard owner’s contract, to quickly finish building the ships, and Douglass found himself “…at the beck and call of about seventy-five men.” The number 75 reminds us of the journey of the ancient Israelites into Egypt, from which they would make their exodus hundreds of years later. (See Acts 7:14) That journey of about 75 persons was led by Jacob, on the way to see his son, and former-slave, Joseph; and Jacob had previously seen the ladder in Genesis 28. However, 75 is also half of the number of Psalms, 150. And in the small part of the chapter that follows, we shall have that number, 150, referenced three times.

There is also a lot of chiaroscuro in the rest of the chapter, a combination of light and shadow. At first, despite the hard work, the shipyard seems to be a relatively happy and free workplace, where “white and black ship-carpenters worked side by side,” with many of the black men being free. Eventually, however, troubles arose, and Douglass found himself about to be attacked by four white men: they “…came upon me, armed with sticks, stones, and heavy handspikes. One came in front with a half brick. There was one at each side of me [like the crucified Jesus], and one behind me. While I was attending to those in front, and on either side, the one behind ran up with the handspike, and struck me a heavy blow upon the head.” Douglass was stunned, and fell. The four began beating him. Douglass regathered his strength, and began to rise. “Just as I did that, one of their number gave me, with his heavy boot, a powerful kick in the left eye. My eyeball seemed to have burst.” At that point, the attackers left him alone.

When Douglass is perfectly surrounded by his attackers here, he is alluding to Psalm 88, which is the most hopeless Psalm in the Psalter. The enemies form a perfect circle around the Psalmist, as if an atom is about to be split. Yet directly after this Psalm, according to the sequence of another of the Psalm Structures (the Interwoven Menorahs), there is resurrection.

While the injuries were painful, the nearly-exploding eyeball could also represent enlightenment, as is discussed above. Douglass was tenderly cared for by his master and mistress after this, and perhaps, unknown to them, he was also visited by God’s own angels, who taught him mystical realities, including the Psalm Structures. Immediately after the fight, Douglass writes, “All this took place in sight of not less than fifty (50) white ship-carpenters, and not one (1) interposed a friendly word…” This “1 and 50” is the first allusion to the number 150. This is exactly the language that people enlightened by the Holy Spirit use to speak of such things.

In the second-to-last paragraph of this long chapter, there is an evolutionary hint about the movement from the 7-branch menorah to the more universal 9-branch menorah. Douglass also says, “…my wages were a dollar and a half a day.” This, of course, makes $ 1.50.

In case we don’t get this, Douglass underlines and emphasizes it at the beginning of the chapter’s final paragraph: “I was now getting, as I have said, one (1) dollar and fifty (50) cents per day.” (emphasis added)

In the Appendix, he will write the word “psalm.”

After this conclusion to the chapter, my own partially-educated guess is that Douglass had the Psalm Structures revealed to him directly by the Holy Spirit, by God or God’s angels.

Chapter XI (Chapter 11) and the Ladder

The discussion of the Ladder continues. Douglass speaks of the underground railroad and the upperground railroad (his italics) in the same sentence. This is not an actual rail line, but the secret system of helping slaves escape along certain routes and sheltering havens to freedom in the north. Harriet Tubman is a famous conductor of this railroad. Literally, however, the train tracks of a physical railroad are the shape of the Ladder: the two rails are the two sides of the Ladder, and the wooden railroad ties are the steps or rungs of the Ladder. Maya Angelou, another mystic who knows of the Ladder, will make use of this fact in her poetry.

In the same paragraph, he mentions “step,” “footprints,” twice mentions “flying,” once mentions “flight,” and “hover over him.” These are all terms that allude to the climbing motion on the Ladder. In the same paragraph, the terms “south,” “north,” “line,” “infernal,” “enlightening,” “watchfulness,” and “light” all allude to various stations along the journey on the Ladder.


Section C

Frederick Douglass and William Shakespeare, Employers of Irony

(Parodies of the Ladder Schema)


Frederick Douglass was born a slave and suffered exceedingly in the first two decades of his life, until he won his freedom.

Shakespeare’s was a different kind of suffering in his very young years, as a forthcoming book will discuss.

Both men are great writers, wordsmiths at the uppermost reaches of their art.

Yet both men knew incredible suffering, and had, either in their past or at the time of their writing, anger at God. Such anger at God is righteous, and, happily, it is not permanent. It is a necessary part of our developmental process. God can take our anger; human beings are much less equipped than God is to receive the brunt of our anger.

The Psalms often direct anger directly at God. This is Scripture. God likes it when we take out our anger before God. When a person has reached that level of growth, that level of intimacy with God, then God likes direct and frank conversation. The Psalms can help us to express our anger to God. One Psalm calls God a drunken warrior who missed the battle. Another Psalm refers to God as the shepherd who let his sheep be plundered by the enemy (Douglass makes fine use of this latter image).

Both Shakespeare and Douglass vent major spleen, either towards God, or about people, utilizing the Mystical Psalm Structures. Each does this in unique ways.

The forthcoming book on Shakespeare discusses how Shakespeare was badly abused as a child. Without the help of psychologists, it took him quite a few years to get himself sorted out and recollected again. And the recollection left astonishingly wide spaces and gaps in his psyche. He seems to have been in love with both a man and a woman—such confusing situations can happen in the wake of childhood abuse. (We are just now beginning to have mature understanding and conversations about such trauma in the lives of people; this will bear positive fruit, as we can better help their healing, and prevent such abuse in future generations.)

For now, however, let us leave the discussion of Shakespeare’s life at that; enough has been said for the purposes here.

Shakespeare’s re-presentation of the Mystical Psalms Ladder in the Sonnets is an amazing achievement. It is highly complex and richly textured, incorporating many levels of reality and Scripture and poetry and history, in the volume’s 154 sonnets. (Douglass published his Narrative when he was a very young 27 years old; the Sonnets is a work that Shakespeare spent decades on, by far his most complex and developed work…) However, Shakespeare also pulls a prank on God. The top step of the Psalms Ladder is formed by Psalms 138 and 144. In Shakespeare’s parallel Sonnets 138 and 144, Will makes a stunning parody of the Ladder:

Please permit a brief discussion of some of the poems near the end of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. I do not want to take the attention away from Douglass, here at the end of the essay; however, to see the lethally cutting parody that Douglass is here employing, we need to take a look at Shakespeare’s treatment of the same part of the Psalms Ladder.

Shakespeare and the Top of the Ladder

Psalms 138 and 144 are the top of the Ladder. Psalm 150 is the heavens above the Ladder.

It is striking that Shakespeare’s parallels to these, Sonnets 138 and 144, were known to have been shared by Shakespeare years before the publication of the Sonnets in 1609. Perhaps Shakespeare had planned, early in the process of the composition of the Sonnets, to have 138 and 144 in their respective places, forming the top rung of the Sonnets’ version of the Ladder.

One can see why Shakespeare has done this.

Both Psalms are parodies of relationship, and more and less humorous. However, in comparison with their parallel partners in the Psalms themselves, these two sonnets are spastically funny.

Psalm 138 speaks of an arriving among the Elohim—this term “Elohim” could mean “God,” or “angelic beings,” or even real, virtuous leaders among humanity. In this wonderful company, whoever belongs in this gathering, praise of God shall be sung. One is meant to receive the strong impression that a good sense of fulfillment and happiness and community accompanies this pure joyful singing.

Shakespeare, however, is reflecting in Sonnet 138 about how lovers may lie to each other to avoid having their relationship hit rocky turbulence. The imperfections of the two individuals have not yet been worked out, “And in our faults by lies we flattered be.” (138.14) So instead of Psalm 138’s health, arrival, and celebration of friendship in realms divine, the two self-conscious lovers lie and, topically flattered by these lies, achieve an uneasy peace and harmony.

He sews the structure of the Psalms Ladder into this sonnet, saying that “On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed,” alluding to the two sides of the Ladder. (138.8)

On the top step of the Psalms Ladder, Psalm 138 is paired with Psalm 144, which is a celebration of incredibly joyful human community. In a rare appearance of the words “daughters” and “sons” both, together, there is also a cosmic fecundity; Mother Earth responds to this peaceful joyful human community by blessing us, all of us, with bounteous harvests in every way.

Constructing the top step of his version of the Psalms Ladder, Shakespeare pauses to reflect on the hurts of his own life. The ungodly sufferings he went through as a child, most of which the world has not yet known about… The ruptured community he grew up in, and suffered in, following difficult religious civil wars… The awful parodies of human relationships that he was trapped in as a mere child in school, tricked and treated badly by an adult… The very difficult, albeit finally successful recovery from these things, having been ultimately saved by Anne Hathaway…

Shakespeare is speaking to God directly in Sonnet 144.

It’s personal.

Will is saying, “You really mauled me God. (Or, God, you stood by while these things happened to me.)” Now, Psalm 144 celebrates sweetness of community and growth among humans. So Shakespeare responds to this by saying that this blessed community of Psalm 144 is an unfulfilled promise, unreal—or, if not unreal, well, it has certainly not yet been achieved in his own life. (Douglass was a stronger person than Shakespeare; and Shakespeare, fairly strong and good at recovery, may here be simply making humor; as a mystic, Shakespeare had faith that God will follow through on his promises, and he had reaped much bounty himself in life, knowing his plays and poetry are among the best ever made…) Nevertheless, his Sonnet 144 is a parody of the Psalms Ladder, of Psalm 144, and of the Holy Trinity, as his sonnet has a love triangle, the passing of venereal disease, much cheating, psychological doubt, the failure of what today we might call the “normal binary” of male-female sexual relations, intentional betrayals, and generally vile behavior and attitudes.

Mocking the Ladder, angels fall from heaven to hell. And even the upward climb of the angels on the Ladder is mocked: A good angel gets fired out of hell like a cannonball, after having suffered corruption!

Conversions happen, but bad ones: an angel becomes a “fiend.” (In Chapters VI and VII, Frederick Douglass recounts his shock when his new mistress treats the young Frederick with kindness and love. However, the “fatal poison” of being involved with slavery in any capacity turns this once kind person into a nasty one, “and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon.” Douglass is here seizing upon the fallen angel of Sonnet 144, comparing the angel repeatedly to his fallen mistress!

Forming a nice parallel to the words “both sides” (of the Ladder) that appear in Sonnet 138, so too does Sonnet 144 have the words “both” and “side.”

What are we to conclude? Here at the top of the Ladder, has Shakespeare turned on us, or will he show us the way, through tremendous suffering and hurt, to love?

The Triumph of Love in Sonnet 150

Love wins.

Humanity is growing. Love is growing among humanity.

The sonnet begins, “O, from what power hast thou this powerful might/ With insufficiency my heart to sway?”

A bit later the plaintiff asks, “Who taught thee how to make me love thee more [?]”

Something amazing happens in the final line of Sonnet 150, which is a parallel place to the very end of the entire Book of Psalms.

Shakespeare writes the word “beloved.”

“Beloved,” in Hebrew, is cognate with the word “David.” It is also cognate with God’s nickname for Solomon, “Jedidiah.” Jesus, a much later fruit of the “line of David,” is also called “Beloved” by God. Douglass called his fellow slaves, with whom he studied the Scriptures for a blissful though brief time, “beloved.” (see Chapter X)

Psalm 150 is a rocking party jazz dabka big band swing throw-down blues concert fiesta party in the house, in the gathering place, in the town square, in heaven. There is much music and dancing and pure celebration. It is a par-tay.

Psalm 150, and the Book of Psalms, concludes, “Praise Yah!” Allelu-Yah!

This “Yah” is a diminutive of YHWH. A nickname for YHWH. Like ‘Jedidiah’.

YHWH is still the great God of the Old Testament.

But Shakespeare is playing with this, and he’s replaying what Psalm 84 does, in the orbit of equidistant (and largely identical) Psalms 60 and 108. All three are Ladder Psalms. All three Psalms have the word “Beloved.” But Psalm 84 applies this, right in the center of the Psalms, to God! God is the little beloved darlin’ of humanity! Yahweh is a love object, hunted and pursued by humanity!

Shakespeare makes it all a glorious hot mess.

If we read Sonnet 150 from the point of view of God, then God is the beloved, and wants to be beloved of humanity.

If we read Sonnet 150 from the point of view of Humanity, then Humanity is the beloved, wanting to be beloved of God. Knowing that we have earned this (sic—theology would not agree, however…).

So. After the rough and tumble of life, Shakespeare has realized that God’s plan is really good. Love grows. That’s the basic reality of the state of things.

We all want to love, and we all want to be loved.


Douglass’ Appropriation of Shakespeare

Douglass knows what Shakespeare is doing. He knows that Will is mocking the top step of the Ladder.

But Douglass’ situation is more urgent. And Douglass doesn’t merely mock the top step, no, he throws it right out the window. Into the trash. There is no Chapter XII. He stops short. He blows up the bridge.

Or does he?

He knows that slavery is rotting the heart of the nation. It is evil for slaveowners, for slaves, and for those who have to live anywhere near this situation. Douglass would strongly get our attention focused on this great evil in society. Because he knows its corrosive affects on all souls involved.

He is saying that if we do not fix this great injustice in society, we will be crippling our community, and rendering everyone incapable of accessing the Ladder. Although there is no Chapter XII, Douglass does provide for us a 12th part, the Appendix to the book. Like Shakespeare’s 12th step, this Appendix is also a parody of the top step of the Psalms Ladder.


To summarize:

The Bard makes of bawd of Psalm 144, and the entire Ladder, and life under God, in the ludicrous Sonnet 144.

But Douglass has a far more urgent situation in which he exists than does Shakespeare. Millions of his brothers and sisters are living in the hell that is slavery. And Douglass is writing this 20 years before the end of the Civil War. Perhaps it is tough for him to imagine what would have to happen for slavery to end.

When Douglass figured out Shakespeare’s Ladder schema, and his mockery of the Psalms, he perhaps smiled briefly? Perhaps he was not able to laugh. Maybe he laughed later, after the Civil War? I don’t know. (For the first time in decades, I picked up the Narrative mere weeks ago, saw his structure, and realized that I could not delay in writing this initial survey. From this present point of my life, I shall be studying Douglass until they bury me.)

Douglass does not engage in the poetic burlesque of Shakespeare. He keeps his language and his content much more noble than Shakespeare’s language and conversation; however, Douglass is just as familiar with the worst ills that can appear in human society, the just plain boiling livid situations that sometimes obtain. Douglass wants us to rise and meet the challenge. To overcome the ills that happen. He wants for Christians to actually be Christian. For all to get along in love and harmony. Although the Appendix is a parody, actually, parts of Chapter XI of the Narrative show the paradise that is promised in Psalms 138 and 144, atop the Ladder. We can achieve a just and a loving society. He urges us to.

So we see here that Douglass is doing something more serious than Shakespeare. And yet, there is much more than this going on in the final parts of the Narrative.

Frederick Douglass is doing something far more serious. He is saying that if we do not become a society of love and equality, then we will destroy the Ladder, for all people.

Either we all climb the Ladder, or none of us do.

This is the challenge for our time.

Douglass’ referrals to Shakespeare’s parodies are not humorous. Nor are they subtle personal conversation between him and God. No. They are directed at all people on earth. They are for you and me, today. It is the perfect time capsule from the past to the present now. Douglass is grabbing us by our lapels, saying, Now! Now! Now! Now is the time for people to drop the fear and the greed that has been destroying our progress, causing more evil wars, and making a mockery of our political institutions. Now is the time to reach out to each other in the reality of trust, mutual respect, and love. Because this is the only reality that a future humanity can abide in. If we do not now reach this societal stage of sharing, interdependence, and love, we are all going to be toast. Goodbye, world. Goodbye, humanity. What a horrid thing to do to our children.

Let us look more closely at the Appendix of the Narrative.

After a fairly happy Chapter XI, the attack on false religion, especially false, fundamentalist Christianity, takes off in the Appendix.

Douglass begins the Appendix by making a big distinction between the “slaveholding religion” and true Christianity. He says that there is the “widest possible difference” between them.

Frederick Douglass will have many references to Shakespeare’s parodies in this Appendix. For example, he gives us selections from two poems, which is itself an allusion to the two poems of Shakespeare at the top of his Ladder, Sonnets 138 and 144.

The second of these Appendix poems is actually entitled “Parody.” This is a shocking statement, coming at the end of the book.

There are more ways that Douglass recasts his angst and anger, similar to the Bard. We have discussed Sonnet 144, and the absolutely side-splittingly funny mockery of the Mystical Ladder that Shakespeare has made for us, and especially for God. Sonnet 144 is like Shakespeare’s own complaint to God.

Douglass alludes to Sonnet 144 five times in the Appendix! He does so also elsewhere in the Narrative, but the Appendix has a flashing neon light pointing right at Sonnet 144! It is very clear. However, Douglass is directing this anger to us, not to God.

In the first paragraph of the Appendix, Douglass quotes the Scottish poet Robert Pollok. Regarding the evil admixture of slavery in Christian society, he says, “Never was there a clearer case of ‘stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in’.” While this instance here is a direct quote from Pollok, it is not too far from the sentiments of Sonnet 144. Douglass shall soon draw much closer to Shakespeare. He makes a close pass to the heart of the Hebrew Scriptures: “The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time.” Maybe this is why none of the slave owners were led to an awareness of the Mystical Psalm Structures.

In the above essay we have traced the development of the Ladder Person, that is, how the emerging and growing human person rises in stature, integrity, and true nobility. But the more full stature of humanity, which has begun to arrive to us in Chapter X and Chapter XI, is also mocked by Douglass here in the Appendix: “The dealers in the bodies and souls of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other.” (Emphasis added.)

There is the Appendix’ second allusion to Sonnet 144: “Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other—devils dressed in angels’ robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.”

A bit later Douglass quotes most of Matthew 23, where Jesus really lays into the Pharisees, chief priests, and scribes! This quotation contains the words “heaven” and “hell,” and so we have a third echo of Sonnet 144.

Douglass then says what Pope Francis and so many other great Christians have said: “They attend with Pharisaical strictness to the outward forms of religion, and at the same time neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith. They are always ready to sacrifice, but seldom to show mercy. They are they who are represented as professing to love God whom they have not seen, whilst they hate their brother whom they have seen.”

Then Douglass presents a mocking song-poem entitled “A Parody.” It is a parody of a popular hymn from the South called “Heavenly Union.” The first line of the parody has “saints and sinners,” a fourth allusion to Sonnet 144.

The 4th and 5th lines of A Parody say, “And preach all sinners down to hell,/ And sing of heavenly union.” This is the fifth allusion to Sonnet 144.

The parody also has allusions to the Psalms and the Ladder: “We wonder how such saints can sing,/ Or praise the Lord upon the wing…,” and “lay up treasures in the sky,” and “fly.” Quoting a creature from the Psalms, they’ll “preach and roar like a Bashan bull,” and two verses later “seize old Jacob by the wool.” Here, Jacob, who saw the ladder in Genesis 28, is a slave.

Perhaps the harshest part of A Parody is this stanza near the end:


Another preacher whining spoke

Of One whose heart for sinners broke:

He tied old Nanny to an oak,

And drew blood at every stroke,

And prayed for heavenly union.


Douglass seems well aware of several mystical veins of ore in the Bible, not just the Psalms. He is strongly alluding here to the death of Absalom, dangling in the “heart” of the “oak tree,” when nasty Joab comes over and drills three javelins through his “heart.” Slaveowners are, um, Joab. Or even worse than Joab. And Absalom is a difficult foreshadowing of the crucifixion of Jesus. In the Old Testament, if parallels the “raising” of Solomon to the throne, and for a brilliant nanosecond, Solomon represents the integration that will permanently enter Creation through the Cross and painful elevation of Christ.

But just because Jesus made this possibility of global integration possible for us, it does not mean that we have automatically achieved this (sic)!

No, we have to work on our implementation of the good human integration that Jesus and the Cross have made possible to us. Jesus wants all of us to become mystics and holy and strong and good and intelligent and integrated and wide-seeing and big-hearted and loving people, just like Frederick Douglass.

Obviously, we have not gotten there yet. Some people have, but we have yet a mighty ways to go.

Part of our challenge is learning how to share the more-than-ample resources that we have in the world. There is no reason for people to be starving or homeless or uneducated.

Frederick Douglass knows the Bible and the Bard. But his message is more urgent and more Biblical than Shakespeare’s. And by virtue of his incredible journey, Frederick Douglass can command more moral authority than Shakespeare. Today, Douglass is a voice of prophetic Justice. He speaks of the demands of Justice for all our world today.

Let us thank God, and Frederick Douglass, for this stunningly beautiful and Truthful work of American literature. A prayer: May we learn from him.




For those wishing to do research on the Narrative, some notes and links, including all the numbers in the text of the Narrative, are available here:

Our Imagination, Poetry, and the Holy Spirit


Basic Exercises for Learning the Communication

of the Holy Spirit

Wallace Stevens and William Shakespeare:

The Holy Spirit, Poetry, and the Training of the Imagination

First Essay

            Poets Wallace Stevens and William Shakespeare have the same accents (stresses) on their names, and the same initials. Their names are double trochees, with the accent on the first syllable of all four first and last names: WOLL-iss STE-venz and WILL-yam SHAKE-spear. Of these four word-names, ‘Shakespeare’ is drawn out to a greater length, and occupies more airtime, and takes more time to pronounce, when we say it aloud. There is also a longer pause between the two syllables in the name, Shake—Speare

Stevens, no doubt, gave some thought to this reality, as the poetry of Shakespeare is a large inspiration and source to the poetry of Stevens.

These two poets are among a series of poets who secretly discuss mystical realities of the Bible in their poetry. Some of the important contributors to this tradition include Petrarch (who may have originated it among the poets), Philip Sidney, Shakespeare, Lady Mary Wroth, Anne Bradstreet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jorge Luis Borges, Stevens, Pablo Neruda, Owen Dodson, and Maya Angelou. This list is not at all conclusive: other poets know, and perhaps many others know. Personally, I do not know how they kept all this a secret for so long. The Holy Spirit can be a stern taskmaster, however, and that may be the answer to this part of the puzzle.

This series of essays will show the working relationship between two of these poets, Shakespeare and Stevens. A separate book is being prepared, discussing Shakespeare, whose Sonnets may be the most complex reflection on the Psalms and the Mystical Psalm Structures that has been made by humanity. At this point of my research, if there is an author who comes the closest to Shakespeare in depth of commentary on these mystical realities, it is Stevens.

This Essay

            This essay will start the series slowly. It will show how several of Stevens’ poems are clearly about vital topics and episodes of the Bible.

But this is only part of the story. The poetry of Shakespeare and Stevens is a poetry that has overly many levels of meaning and reference. The poems often have many levels, and are very deep.

A purpose of their poetry is to train us.

What is their poetry intended to train us for?

It is intended to train us to learn the languages of the Holy Spirit. Then, when we are more familiar with the various methods of the Holy Spirit’s communication with us, we are more free to live and move and have our being in the world with more and better conduits of input and inspiration for our actions, words, and thoughts.

The imagination, the somewhat regulated use of the imagination, is a central part of the training that we undergo to learn the Spirit’s languages. Making up a potential tremendous storehouse chock full of references that are the content of the languages of the Spirit, for each one of us individuals, is the Bible. And the Qur’an. (Shakespeare and Stevens both have references to the Qur’an.) And there are other storehouses of language content too.

The training conducted by the Spirit, especially if we want to learn Her ways deeply, can have difficult learning times, a bit like boot camp. However, the younger a person starts in learning the languages of the Spirit, and in learning the Bible, the better. (In the future, if we help build the way for the future generations, the most difficult thing that they will experience in their youth and education will be the study of human history.)

Poetry and the Spirit

            A phrase, even a word, can activate acts of connection-making in the psyche, involving consulting our memory. And the context in which a phrase or a word appears can also help the phrase to tap a particular memory. Or a number of memories. The context that a poem creates can help steer a word to its mark.

Shakespeare and Stevens are masters of referring to one or multiple other realities by the use of a word or small group of words. In their huge range of art, they can make these allusions in many different ways. The Holy Spirit likes this versatility, flexibility, and precision these two poets have used to make these allusions. And the Holy Spirit wants us to develop our own versatility, flexibility, and precision in reading these allusions by these great makers of poetry.

This activity takes us to greater meaning. And to a greater density of meanings. This accessing of greater meaning, and of greater densities of meaning, helps develop our soul.

All of this helps our relationship with the Holy Spirit. We understand Her and Her languages better. Also, the more our faculties get practiced and happily resolved to working with Her, the less energy it takes to follow Her gentle guidance.

A final caveat before we begin: Every so often, in reading the poetry of Stevens, there are terms that seem to be racist. Stevens, however, was not a racist. He is making commentary on the culture of his time, and on the culture of earlier times. We shall discuss this in greater detail in future essays. It is good to know that he wants the human soul and mind to be utterly as free as possible. Any sort of prejudice would clutter the human mind. In The Man with the Blue Guitar, for example, Stevens wants to jangle and peel all prejudices out of the human person’s psyche.

Some Poems of Stevens,

And Their Referents

            In this main part of the essay, we’ll present some poems of Stevens. Questions will be asked, like, “What is this poem referring to in the Bible?” Already, that question is a bit too advanced and complex. It is better to start with questions like, “What does that word connect to?” and “What mood do you feel in the way Stevens has set this scene?” Then, it is easier to ask, “What is this poem referring to in the Bible?”

(Shakespeare and Stevens both knew the Bible incredibly deeply. Although both are credited in dealing in exciting new ways with secular topics, which is true, they know and refer to the Bible so very often. Shakespeare may have helped translate the King James Bible, and had the Psalms memorized. And he may have placed his own name in the KJV of Psalm 46. He was practically personal friends with David, Uriah, Bathsheba, Paul, and Jesus Christ. They all dance in and out of so many verses of his writing. Stevens knew this about Shakespeare, and he himself learned the Bible well as a child. Learning this, then, about Shakespeare, he would have redoubled his study of the Bible. His first volume of poetry was published when he was 44 years old, after he had studied the Bible for decades.)

The first volume of poetry he published is Harmonium, which has 85 poems in it, according to the version of Harmonium given in The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. The 7th poem of Harmonium is Domination of Black.



At night, by the fire,

The colors of the bushes

And of the fallen leaves,

Repeating themselves,

Turned in the room,

Like the leaves themselves

Turning in the wind.

Yes: but the color of the heavy hemlocks

Came striding.

And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.                                                          v. 10


The colors of their tails

Were like the leaves themselves

Turning in the wind,

In the twilight wind.

They swept over the room,

Just as they flew from the boughs of the hemlocks

Down to the ground.

I heard them cry—the peacocks.                                                                            v. 18


Was it a cry against the twilight

Or against the leaves themselves

Turning in the wind,

Turning as the flames

Turned in the fire,

Turning as the tails of the peacocks

Turned in the loud fire,

Loud as the hemlocks

Full of the cry of the peacocks?

Or was it a cry against the hemlocks?                                                                     v. 28


Out of the window,

I saw how the planets gathered

Like the leaves themselves

Turning in the wind.

I saw how the night came,

Came striding like the color of the heavy hemlocks

I felt afraid.

And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.                                                          v. 36



Questions for Domination of Black:

What does the first verse remind you of?

Hint: What does it remind you of in the Bible? In the New Testament? What does it remind you of that is repeated in all four Gospels? What difficult night? For whom?

In the Bible, Moses and David dealt with guilt for actions they committed. So did Peter and Paul in the New Testament. There are repetitions. The first four verses of the poem seem to be outside. Then, the fifth verse tells us that we are in a ‘room’. Why this switch, or transition, or unexplained movement, or double reality?

What are the hemlocks?

What are the peacocks?

The last verse of the poem has an act of memory that is caused by an emotional state. When Peter, later in his life, recalled thousands and thousands of times his mild (compared to Judas) betrayal of Jesus, is it possible that the event itself, which in the hours after Jesus’ suffering and death caused him such shame and grief—is it possible that after the Great Turn, after the Resurrection, that the cry of the rooster could for him be a source of joy and encouragement?

Could the cry of the rooster each morning be for him a healthy dose of humility (self-knowledge) and a gentle, humorous greeting from Jesus? A reminder and a prod to start the day well, on fire as Peter was with the Holy Spirit?

Next Poem

            The Biblical Psalms that are numbered in the 50’s have several references, in the Biblical superscriptions of those Psalms, to the life of David.

In your copy of The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, it is useful to take a pen in hand and number the poems of each collection in the book. At the first poem of each volume in the book, write “1” or “1st” by the title of the poem, and so on.

If night and darkness were themes that vied to hide the tremendous colors of the peacock in Domination of Black, this following poem immediately bursts not quite with color but with outrageous play of language, and wildness, as if of sportive behavior in a wild springtime:




Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan in caftan

Of tan with henna hackles, halt!


Damned universal cock, as if the sun

Was blackamoor to bear your blazing tail.


Fat! Fat! Fat! Fat! I am the personal.

Your world is you. I am your world.


You ten-foot poet among inchlings. Fat!

Begone! An inchling bristles in these pines,


Bristles, and points their Appalachian tangs,

And fears not portly Azcan nor his hoos.



Questions for Bantams in Pine-Woods:

This is the 51st poem of the book.

Psalm 51 is about David’s big sin with Bathsheba. And then, with Uriah.

What things in this poem remind you of David?

What things here remind you of the famous springtime of 2 Samuel 11?

Are there connections between this poem and Psalm 51?

In the title of the poem, why is ‘Bantams’ plural?

What is going on in this poem?


‘Purgation’, ‘Purgatory’, and ‘Karma’ are areas where there is a tremendous amount of overlap between Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism (including Zen). This area has already been explored in interreligious dialogue, and promises exciting new venues of sharing in the future. Now, in this poem, the number 10 appears. And there are 10 verses in the poem.

Could this be related to David and Absalom? Recall that when David picked up and fled from Jerusalem because of the approach of rebellious Absalom, Absalom was advised to rape David’s 10 concubines on the roof of David’s palace, in the sight of the sun. Absalom followed through on that advice, committing that sin(s). A short time later, when Absalom is hanging in the oak tree by his hair, stuck and immobile, Joab is told of his presence there, and wanders over, surrounded by a group from his army. Joab picks some brutal brutes from his troops to torture Absalom for a while. How many torturers does he choose? 10.

So Absalom performs a purgative/karmic time when he’s hanging in the oak tree, which is also an image of Christ hanging on the cross.

But this episode of purgation-karma of Absalom is told within a wider episode of David’s own purgation-karma. Recall that on the same roof of the palace, he either seduced or raped Bathsheba. And then killed Uriah. His own purgation-karma for this was the death of his son Absalom at the hand of Joab. David wept and grieved.

This is the circumcision of David’s heart, and the strengthening of the human heart and conscience for our evolution forward.

The circumcision of David’s heart is reflected in Absalom his son’s death. The Hebrew text mentions the word ‘heart’ twice in one verse: Absalom, awkwardly hanging by his hair, is in the ‘heart’ of the oak. After Joab’s 10 soldiers do their work on Absalom, Joab strolls over and rams 3 javelins through Absalom’s ‘heart’. A sort of union happens here, as this is also the circumcision/maturing of David’s heart.

Third Poem

            This next poem has to do with geography, and with the relationship between nature and artifice, constructed realities that people make.




I placed a jar in Tennessee,

And round it was, upon a hill.

It made the slovenly wilderness

Surround that hill.


The wilderness rose up to it,

And sprawled around, no longer wild.

The jar was round upon the ground

And tall and of a port in air.


It took dominion everywhere.

The jar was gray and bare.

It did not give of bird or bush,

Like nothing else in Tennessee.


Questions for Anecdote of the Jar:

How many verses is this poem?

Regarding this poem, is it a coincidence that Tennessee and Israel have the same number of syllables? Additionally, is it a coincidence that TEN-nes-SEE and IS-ra-EL have stresses on the first and third syllables of both words?

David was the subject of the previous poem. Soon after David was his son Solomon.

This is the 52nd poem of the book, immediately following Bantams in Pine-Woods. What was Solomon allowed to build that David was not allowed to build?

How many verses are in this poem?

What is Stevens saying about the old stone temple?

Tennessee is far from Palestine. But have Christianity and Islam reached Tennessee?


4th Poem




The disbeliever walked the moonlit place,

Outside of gates of hammered serafin,

Observing the moon-blotches on the walls.


The yellow rocked across the still façades,

Or else sat spinning on the pinnacles,

While he imagined humming sounds and sleep.


The walker in the moonlight walked alone,

And each blank window of the building balked

His loneliness and what was in his mind:


If in a shimmering room the babies came,

Drawn close by dreams of fledgling wing,

It was because night nursed them in its fold.


Night nursed not him in whose dark mind

The clambering wings of birds of black revolved,

Making harsh torment of the solitude.


The walker in the moonlight walked alone,

And in his heart his disbelief lay cold.

His broad-brimmed hat came close upon his eyes.


Questions for Palace of the Babies:

Psalm 84 celebrates the temple in Jerusalem. In Psalm 84 a mother bird raises baby birds in the temple of Solomon, or, more likely, in the second temple of Jerusalem. How does this poem remind you of that?

What later baby was presented in that temple on the 8th day of his life? (see Luke 2)

If Wallace Stevens is making a direct interpretation of Psalm 84 and the temple children/baby birds as referring to Jesus, how could the plural baby birds become the 1 Jesus? Could Stevens be referring to the Body of Christ? Is the Body of Christ the new temple?

Also: The new temple is the human heart. This is already in the Old Testament. In various books of the Hebrew Scriptures, as Solomon receives instruction about the temple-building from David or from God, and as Solomon makes prayers and prepares the people for the building of the temple, the word “heart” appears frequently, receiving great emphasis. The entire purpose of the stone temples in Jerusalem was to prepare humanity to receive the Holy Spirit.

In fact, it would be perverse of humanity to return to that type of temple, with its blood sacrifices. Actually, The Man with the Blue Guitar, mentions “the sewers in Jerusalem” (v.187); this refers to the blood sewers of the two ancient temples of Jerusalem; blood sewers were needed to take away the blood of the sacrifices. Stevens, like the New Testament, is showing how we have evolved beyond this. Stevens’ Sunday Morning mentions “The holy hush of sacrifice” (v.5); he is again referring to the ancient Israelite temples, as “silent Palestine” is mentioned a few verses later (v.14) and the “dominion of blood” (v.15).

It is disturbing that there are fundamentalist Jews today who want to destroy the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque and build a third temple. They want to have sacrifices there, so, yes, there would be blood sewers there once again.

Paul says “You are the temple of God.” He also says, “You are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.” The entire thrust of the evolution of humanity is about how the human person is intended to grow in intelligence, goodness, and strength as we evolve, with the guiding help of the Holy Spirit.

The “palace of the babies” is also the woman, and the womb. The Mystical Psalms Ladder also represents the womb. A forthcoming book on the Mystical Psalm Structures shall take this up at greater length.


5th Poem




In Oklahoma,

Bonnie and Josie,

Dressed in calico,

Danced around a stump.

They cried,


Ohoo” . . .

Celebrating the marriage

Of flesh and air.



The dialogue by the cross in John 19 is one of the culminations of everything in the Bible. The Beloved Disciple takes into his own self the mother of Jesus. This is an icon of human integration, and the possibility for all of us to do this in our own lives. A forthcoming book, The Red Line of Hope, discusses this in greater depth.

With this information, how can this poem be considered to be discussing the crucifixion of John 19, and the dialogue at the cross?



Bonus Section:



6th Poem


Here is Sonnet 53 from Shakespeare.

Why is this sonnet proof that the Bard of the Avon visited Florence?



What is your substance, whereof are you made,

That millions of strange shadows on you tend?

Since everyone hath, every one, one shade,

And you, but one, can every shadow lend.


Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit

Is poorly imitated after you.

On Helen’s cheek all art of beauty set,

And you in Grecian tires are painted new.


Speak of the spring and foison of the year:

The one doth shadow of your beauty show,

The other as your bounty doth appear,

And you in every blessèd shape we know.


In all external grace you have some part,

But you like none, none you, for constant heart.



What famous statue is in Florence?

Could the hair of Michelangelo’s David be being referenced in the second verse?

In the fourth poem above, Palace of the Babies, in the final line where the “hat” is pulled down, could Stevens be referencing a different Florentine statue, the David of Donatello?

How might this also be alluding to Peter? (The final line; also, Peter’s shadow in Acts of the Apostles)


7th Poem

This poem is the 29th poem from the second volume of Stevens, Ideas of Order, that is in The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens.

How is this poem in dialogue with Sonnet 53 from Shakespeare?





A little less returned for him each spring.

Music began to fail him. Brahms, although

His dark familiar, often walked apart.


His spirit grew uncertain of delight,

Certain of its uncertainty, in which

That dark companion left him unconsoled


For a self returning mostly memory.

Only last year he said that the naked moon

Was not the moon he used to see, to feel


(In the pale coherences of moon and mood

When he was young), naked and alien,

More leanly shining from a lankier sky.


Its ruddy pallor had grown cadaverous.

He used his reason, exercised his will,

Turning in time to Brahms as alternate


In speech. He was that music and himself.

They were particles of order, a single majesty:

But he remembered the time when he stood alone.


He stood at last by God’s help and the police;

But he remembered the time when he stood alone.

He yielded himself to that single majesty;


But he remembered the time when he stood alone,

When to be and delight to be seemed to be one,

Before the colors deepened and grew small.



What things in this poem remind us of David? Of Shakespeare? Of Peter and the first poem above, Domination of Black? (especially the last line of Anglais…)

Stevens can be playful. If we exchange the word “Psalms” for “Brahms,” with which it rhymes, how does this make David appear more in this poem? How Peter?

“Anglais” and “police”; what might these words be alluding to?

Perhaps angels?

When Paul was on the steps of the temple in Acts 21:35, could the “police,” the Roman soldiers who carried him on the steps, be in Stevens’ mind?

“Ruddy,” from verse 13, is a David word. What else in this poem could be describing the final years and death of David?

How is this poem related to Palace of the Babies, above?

In the penultimate line, there is the number “one.” How does this relate to Sonnet 53?


8th Poem


How is this poem proof that Shakespeare visited Rome?



Sonnet 48

How careful was I, when I took my way,

Each trifle under truest bars to thrust,

That to my use it might unusèd stay

From hands of falsehood, in sure wards of trust.


But thou, to whom my jewels trifles are,

Most worthy comfort, now my greatest grief,

Thou best of dearest, and mine only care,

Art left the prey of every vulgar thief.


Thee have I not locked up in any chest,

Save where thou art not, though I feel thou art,

Within the gentle closure of my breast,

From whence at pleasure thou mayst come and part;


And even thence thou wilt be stol’n, I fear,

For truth proves thievish for a prize so dear.



What is shown in the Arch of Titus?

Shakespeare is not making fun of the Romans taking of the 7-branch menorah from the temple at the time when the temple was destroyed. He is celebrating the transition of humanity to something far greater. The Mystical Psalm Structures have, as one of the main mystical structures there, the Interwoven 9-Branch menorahs. These celebrate the human family around the globe, celebrating each person, and every human society. This is Sonnet 48. Psalm 48 celebrates Jerusalem. Sonnet 48 celebrates the entire globe becoming holy, and Humanity with it.

All, or nearly all, of the 154 Sonnets have similar hidden structural orderings in them. This architectural ordering, hidden, of nearly all the Sonnets emphasize the two interwoven 9-branch menorahs of the Interwoven Menorahs of the Mystical Psalm Structures. This file shows this pattern in the Sonnets:

These menorahs are about the evolution and bright future of humanity.

Back to Sonnet 48: The word “even,” which has within it “Eve,” is in verse 13:

This sonnet is celebrating:

-The transition from Adam to Eve; her “birth” from Adam; the new emerging Feminine

-The transition from Jerusalem to Rome, and to the entire globe

-The transition from the old stone temple to the living Body of Christ; all humanity is now the place of the Holy Spirit’s residence in our hearts.


The first five of these poems have shown how Wallace Stevens is able to refer to specific episodes from the Bible with the adroit use of words, tone, and context(s).

Our being able to recognize these is good practice for the kind of image-recognition and situation-recognition that the Spirit likes us to be able to perform. The more we can do this, the more productive work we can do with the Holy Spirit.


The last three poems show how the conversation and the references can become more complex, and how one poem can move through different eras of history.

Priscilla Teaches Paul the Ways of the Holy Spirit


Priscilla and the Role of Women

In Paul’s Hidden Journey of Growth and Integration:

The Vast Interior Exodus of Paul

In Acts of the Apostles

(An Appendix for the Red Line of Hope)



Simply standing there, Paul appears first to us as a mystery.

As we read Acts of the Apostles, we know that eventually Paul, the fiery, assured, evangelizing Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, converts to Christianity. But how will this happen? Will Paul remain the same person and merely switch sides, becoming a Christian? Or will he go through a radical and long transformation as he more deeply enters the Christian Way, as he more deeply participates in the Body of Christ?

Reading the New Testament, one could think that when Paul converts to Christianity, he simply switches the same drive and confidence and zeal from the narrow confines of Pharisaical Judaism over to the Christian Way. Indeed, Paul seems to have the same energy of conviction, the same fiery zealotry, for the God he serves, pre-conversion and post-conversion alike.

However, this is not the case. In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke will describe, in a very subtle way, the long trajectory of development that Paul undergoes. And a married couple, Priscilla and Aquila, will play a huge and central part in Paul’s growth into becoming the St. Paul that helped found the Church and still intervenes for us today. Indeed, a key part of Paul’s growth and development is his discovery of the Feminine, and, like Solomon and Jesus before him, his ability to be taught and led by the Feminine.

This appendix will trace Paul’s growth, as it is presented to us by Luke in Acts of the Apostles. Although Paul starts being a vocal supporter of Christ and the Church immediately upon his conversion, his conversion also marks the beginning of a long, and far more subtle and important, series of transitions in Paul’s life and service to the Way, to the growing community of the Church, the Body of Christ. This appendix will trace especially these more subtle stages of Paul’s growth, stages that have to do with Paul’s ongoing strengthening (purification), ability to work Directly with the Holy Spirit, his growing capacity to appreciate and listen to the Feminine, all of which result in his continually better love and service to the community.

How Paul First Appears

His first Biblical appearance (in the canonical order of Bible) is Acts 7:58. He is simply standing there. He stands silent, without much description, during the stoning of St. Stephen, who had moments earlier seen Jesus and God in a vision, in heaven. Stephen has been quite loud in reporting his vision, at the end of his absolutely magnificent speech. However, Saul has stood there silently, taking it all in; if he does say or do anything, we are not told it.

This passive appearance of Saul/Paul, as cloaks are laid on the ground at his feet, piques our curiosity. Who is this? What is he like? Is he a monster? As readers of the text, it draws us further into the story, and into the mysterious initial appearance of a person who will later become the very vibrant Paul. But it will be a while before we reach that person, that stage of Paul’s development.

Luke, of course, is operating on several levels at once. The passive and undeveloped Paul also represents each one of us. How will we respond to the call of Christ in our life? How will we celebrate through our thoughts, words, and actions the sheer stunning fact that we are participating members in the Body of Christ?

The hidden growth of Paul has much to teach each individual person.

After Stephen,

And a Glance Forward

            When we last left Saul, he was standing before us, saying nothing, observing Stephen’s martyrdom. Two verses later, to begin Chapter 8, we learn that he “approved of their doing away of him (Stephen).” So we learn about Saul’s will, and his desire. He approved of the act of stoning Stephen to death. Still, we do not yet see Saul in motion.

Then we hear of a persecution that began against the Church that day.

Finally, at 8:3, we see Saul in action: “But Saul was ravaging the Church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.”

Besides telling us about Saul, this verse provides a sort of mirror-reverse image of Paul’s later ministry and development. Saul, a rabbi and a Pharisee, sees the old stone temple, with its sewers to transport away the blood of the animal sacrifices, as the center of the universe (a separate appendix deals with the transfer of the temple to the human community and the human person’s heart). Christianity will soon teach, in Paul’s inspired words, that “You are the temple of God,” and that “You are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.” The human person, and the human family, become the main location of the Church. The family house, the human “beit” (the old stone temple was called the “house,” beit) becomes the new center, replacing the old stone temple, the cultic “beit.” Saul, a Pharisee, saw the temple as the true “beit,” or house, the true center of the cultic rites.

For Christianity’s first few centuries, because of many persecutions, before Churches could be built above-ground in public, the human family home was also the place where the Eucharist, the Agape Feast, was celebrated. Later, we will see that Priscilla and Aquila have such a Church in their own home.

Saul, however, invades the first House-Churches, wanting to destroy these places, and destroy all Christianity, chasing proper cultic worship back to the stone temple with its blood sewers, confining it there.

Later, as a Christian himself, Paul will go from city to city, house to house, establishing such Churches, and teaching people the Love of Christ, the Love of God, the Way of the Holy Spirit.

As we shall see, Priscilla and Aquila are huge helps to Paul in his amazing trajectory of evolution. They teach him surprisingly much.

Additionally, we see the Greek text of Acts very specifically tell us that Saul was “dragging off both men and women,” and throwing them in prison. It is highly noteworthy that the text mentions “women.” Saul, a strict Pharisaical rabbi, would have thought very little of women. He formerly had utterly no notions about “equality” between men and women. “Woman” was responsible for the Fall, in his eyes, and was no more than a lesser image of the “man.” Rabbi Saul was no friend of women.

However, by the end of his evolution, Paul is happily appointing women as leaders of churches, and organizers of the Church community. He is taught by Priscilla and other women. He learns that the Holy Spirit loves the Feminine, and has myriad Feminine traits Herself. By the end of his women-led training, Paul’s smart but cramped intellect finally clicks and comes alive, blossoming into a beautiful Cathedral organ, capable of playing many notes, chords, postures, songs, and accompaniments.

This is how Acts of the Apostles, and Luke’s two books in the Bible, end: With Paul achieving integration. The last verses of Acts of the Apostles are sheer understated magnificence. Luke is also presenting Paul to us as a model for integrative growth in each of our individual lives. And, perhaps we will not be surprised to learn that Acts of the Apostles, which may have been written after the initial version of John’s Gospel, has references to the great scene of integration, the crucifixion of John 19, where the Feminine finally reenters the Masculine.

And the individual Paul will love both the women and the men equally.

Towards the Conversion

            When we left Saul, he was charging into Christian homes, hauling the people off to jail, and basically destroying the Church in the first verses of Chapter 8. He then disappears from the textual narrative for a while. We next see him in Chapter 9, where we learn that his early animus and anger has not abated one bit: “Meanwhile, Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1-2) The next verse begins the story of Paul’s famous journey to becoming a disciple of Jesus himself. Paul is knocked off his horse by Jesus, and sees the light of Christianity, and has an initial understanding of the Body of Christ. (The horse is not actually mentioned in the text of Acts, but there may be spiritual reasons that it has become part of the living history of the story.)

By verse 20 of the same Chapter Nine, Paul is beginning to evangelize for the Way in the city of Damascus: “And immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God’.” (Acts 9:20) The Greek term here for “proclaim” is ekerusse, which is cognate with the word “Kerygma,” a term which Christians often cite as expressing the core realities of Christianity. This word reappears many more times in Acts.

Two verses later Paul is still increasing the pitch of his proclaiming for the Reign of God: “Saul became increasingly filled with power and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah.” (Acts 9:22) In the next verse, Paul begins to be persecuted by the Jews, and must flee from Damascus in order to continue his preaching.

Upon returning to Jerusalem, “He went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they [too] were attempting to kill him.” (Acts 9:28-29) Despite the fact that they were trying to kill Paul again, he continues speaking more boldly, and arguing for the faith.

The Church is growing: “Meanwhile, the Church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear (awe-wonder) of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.” (Acts 9:31)

The storyline of Acts then switches back to Peter for several chapters, in his final actions of the Bible; Paul then returns again in Chapter 13, and becomes the main character of Acts for the rest of the book. Of Paul and his companions, the text says, “So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit . . . when they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the Word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John also to assist them.” (Acts 13:4a, 5)

And John joins Paul here. This likely is historical fact. At the same time, this could be a nod from Luke, to celebrate the literary friendship between the authors of John’s Gospel and Luke-Acts. These two authors, perhaps more than any others in the Bible, are keenly aware of how the Holy Spirit operates, and of how human beings can learn to be direct co-operators with the Holy Spirit. They have much to teach us that we have not yet discovered in these sacred texts.

The verb attributed to the apostolic group here, “proclaimed,” katengellon, is related to the Gospel word “evangelize.” Paul, on his first “official” mission for the Church, is certainly on fire with the enthusiasm of someone who loves their new faith and vocation. His old personality has made a strong switch over to the Christian Way. He has not yet learned subtle ways of communication, as his old strength and force-of-habit are evident as he shares the message and spreads the Word of life. A few verses later, he encounters a capable, intelligent proconsul named Sergius Paulus, who is currently being counseled by an erring magician, a false prophet, named Bar-Jesus. Saul, here becoming “Paul” for the first time, goes for the proverbial jugular in his tirade against Bar-Jesus: “But Saul, also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him, and said ‘You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now listen—the hand of the Lord is against you, and you will be blind for a while, unable to see the sun.’ Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he went about groping for someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.” (Acts 13:9-12, emphasis added) [This entire episode is a fascinating study of how the Holy Spirit can direct us in specific actions we encounter. A separate essay discusses this, here.]

Obviously, Paul is still breathing fire on occasion—although he’s now doing it along a more Christian axis. The Holy Spirit is using his talents as they are, and will also be teaching and schooling Paul, as his own education is far, far from complete.

In the next 1½ chapters, Paul will:

-speak out boldly (13:46)

-shake the dust off his feet as he’s forced out of a town (13:51)

-go into a Jewish synagogue and speak (14:1)

-proclaim the Good News (14:7)

-with Barnabas, be mistaken for Zeus and Hermes (14:12)

-get (nearly) stoned to death, then get resuscitated (14:19-20)

-proclaim the Good News to another city (14:21)

In all of this, it seems as though we are seeing a Christian version of the same old energetic, zealous, and fiery Saul.

However, we also see that there is a slow awakening to more subtle modes of communication from the Holy Spirit. And with this awakening, there is a greater concern for individual members of the Way. Paul’s charity, his love for human beings, grows. It seems that Paul is slowly learning a deeper resonance with individual human beings, rather than being a blaring loudspeaker for rabbinical Pharisaism who merely changed his tune over to Christianity. Paul begins seeing people. For example, in Iconium and Antioch, “They strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith.” (14:22a) He is tending to the people, not merely shouting words of dogma and doctrine.

Paul’s learning is not without a combination of suffering and great humor. After he is stoned to death’s doorstep, he immediately teaches the people, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.” (14:22b) This is Luke, and perhaps Paul himself, employing humor. Like Paul, Peter’s ongoing healing and growth also sees much comedy, as the above link discusses.

Acts 15 features the Council of Jerusalem, the first Council of the Church. Traveling to the Council, encountering some individuals who started saying that Christians had to be circumcised according to the custom of Moses, “Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them . . .” (15:2) More arguing, we see.

Then, after the Council, Paul and Barnabas argue with each other, and go their separate ways. “The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company.” (15:39a)

Paul is still strongly preaching and disagreeing with people, but, as he leaves the Council, he is also obediently delivering the decisions that the Council of Jerusalem reached. This too has a profound blessing on Paul’s personal life. Slowly, he is becoming more mellow, more able to listen, and more open to the mysterious manifold operation of the Holy Spirit. “As they went from town to town, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the Churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.” (16:4-5)

And Paul is learning obedience directly to the Holy Spirit as well as to the human leaders of the Church. In the very next verse, after showing that he can obediently be a part of the Church’s operations, he receives direct commands from the Holy Spirit: “They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.” To receive a direct command from the Holy Spirit, even if it’s a command to do the opposite of what one would expect or desire, is a grace and a privilege.

Soon after this seeming rejection from God, to which they are nevertheless obedient, they have a dream-vision, and discern that the next leg of their missionary journey will be to Macedonia. In Paul’s dream, a man of Macedonia beckons them to help. So they go there. And there they have an experience that reveals something feminine in a masculine setting. They arrive in Macedonia, to the city of Philippi, which is “a Roman colony.” (16:12) The literary context is quite masculine: It is a colony conquered by the ‘masculine’ Roman legions. Additionally, there is the “man of Macedonia.” And the city is named after the great emperor Philip, but is now ruled by the Roman Empire as a colony. The setting is highly masculine.

Suddenly, as if by serendipity, they encounter a precious woman, and the color purple: “On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us.” (16:13-15)

Notice that the narrator has surprised us by switching to the 1st-person-plural voice, “We . . .” In the verses right after he obeys Church and God, and is persuaded by a woman, he starts participating more deeply in the Body of Christ, the lived experience of the entire communal Church. We. He is no longer just an isolated zealot, no, he is learning that he is a member of the Body of Christ, and he is actually participating more consciously and more fully in that Reality. And he suddenly is surprised by never-before-seen capacities of the Feminine.

Paul may have been deeply affected by witnessing the transformation that occurred in Lydia, as she “opened her heart . . .”

Next, Paul encounters a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination. Paul acts selflessly, merely being the mouthpiece for the operation of the Holy Spirit, as he says to the spirit possessing her, “’I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her’.” (16:18) He does not pridefully command the evil spirit in his own name, rather, he now better knows his connection to the Body of Christ, and invokes the name, Jesus Christ.

However, this upsets her owners, who have Paul and Silas seized and dragged to the agora. There, they are stripped and beaten with rods. They spend the night in prison, until God or an angel breaks them out. Before the jailbreak, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” (16:25) Note the transformation. Paul is singing. The action he is engaging in is more like Peter and John and the others at the very beginning of Acts. Paul is becoming a more well-rounded person. Song, music, the body making beautiful song, also shows Paul’s slow transformation. Indeed, Lydia, the open-hearted lover of gorgeous color, has already affected him too. The narrow confines of his psyche are becoming expanded, under the caring guidance of the Holy Spirit. Next, the divinely-triggered earthquake knocks the prison doors wide open, unfastens the chains, and shakes the foundations of the prison. From a psychological perspective, Paul’s psyche is being lovingly massaged and opened by the Holy Spirit.

Paul then not only prevents the jailer from committing suicide, he baptizes his entire family.

The Transformations of Chapters 17 & 18

Paul’s ongoing journey of integration continues with subtle clues in Chapter 17.

Recall that Paul was just in prison, and had an experience of being subjugated by the law and authorities, just as he/Saul had done to the early Christians. No longer the Pharisee, he simply must have had greater empathy for the prisoner and the downtrodden. He understood them better, and therefore better appreciated the conditions that they were emerging from.

Additionally, Lydia’s home, for a short time, became home base for Paul. He spoke often with her. For the first time, the verb “dialogue” appears in Paul’s actions, signaling a greater opening to the Spirit and to people on his own part.

Coming forth from Lydia’s home for the last time, he travels through Amphipolis and Apollonia, arrived at Thessalonica, and entered the synagogue. What does he do in the synagogue? Still in his masculine habits and one-track mind, Paul does what it was his “custom” to do. “And as the custom with Paul, he entered to them (in the synagogue), and on three sabbaths reasoned-dialogued with them from the Scriptures, opening and setting forth that the Christ must have suffered and to have risen from the dead, and saying, ‘This is the Messiah, Jesus, whom I announce to you’.” (17:2-3)

This is tremendous progress for Paul. He echoes the verb that Lydia has performed before him—he “opened” the Scriptures. The masculine habits, his “custom,” are still there. He was still preaching at them about the Scriptures and about Jesus, and what he said was “right”; it was not “wrong.” However, his manner was still lacking. He himself was not as open, available, and divinely flexible to his listeners as he might be. Paul was not a fully formed student of the Word, although he is growing considerably.

And the new verb dielegeto appears here, which can mean reasoning, arguing, or dialogue, with which it is cognate. This is an advance for Paul too. Perhaps Lydia inspired this in him as well. This verb has a spectrum of possible meanings. We shall see Paul growing in these two chapters, 17 & 18, in the continuum of meanings of this term. Priscilla and Aquila will convey him far along this conduit.

Dielegeto is also cognate with Logos, with Word-Speech-Act, the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus the Christ. We are all words spoken by God, developing words, yearning and reaching for the fullness of our meaning. Paul is developing too.

This is another connection between John’s Gospel and Luke’s Scriptures.

And just a few verses later Paul would converse with more Greek women, and his journey would continue to Athens, the ancient home of the initial discussions of the logos, the word, in the more pre-Christian sense. (17:12, 15)

Paul will, in fact, engage the verb dielegeto for the second time, in a synagogue in Athens, and also with goyim, Gentile Greeks in the agora, every day, probably at the same times each day. So Paul is expanding his scope, trying to engage both Jews and Greeks. This expansion is vital to the real growth of the Logos in Paul’s mind, soul, communications, and being. When we allow the Logos to dwell within us and work deeply with us, the Logos works in so very many ways within us, most of which we cannot see.

So Paul engages in dielegeto with both Jews and Greeks! Paul, already knowing multiple languages, is also learning how to “be” in many different cultures and interpersonal settings. The full interior keyboard of his skills is slowly being opened and tuned by the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps the verb dielegeto is meant to continue into next verse where Paul has some argument-discussion-dialogue with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers (17:18). However, these fellows have no idea what Paul is talking about, so the term dielegeto seems here to have achieved a very low end of the spectrum of its potential meanings, more like and argument, or a disagreement. Positively, Paul is engaging an ever-widening spectrum of human beings. He is learning that there are many different human journeys in this world, and that all people are fascinating and have things to say and contribute to the human conversation. Athens, for Paul, is an explosion of new logoi, new words and philosophical outlines of understanding reality. In a humorous turn in Athens, some of the philosophers say that Paul is a spermologos, a chatterer or babbler, someone who throws words like seeds everywhere. This may have negative and positive connotations at the same time, and perhaps it reminds us of the proto-parable, the Parable of the Sower, found in all three Synoptic Gospels, and referred to in other ways in John’s Gospel.

Yet through all this, Paul is learning love.

He’s seeking his neighbor. In trying to incorporate all people into the Body of Christ, he realizes that this is not easy work. Positively, he’s learning to see people. For who they are. In themselves. He is learning to see them with God’s sight. And when this happens, his love for them automatically grows. And this growth in LOVE is what allows Paul to more deeply enter, himself, into the Koinonia, into the Body of Christ.

Paul then gives his famous speech in the Areopagus of Athens. Verse 17:30 speaks of history and human evolution, but we cannot delve more deeply into the verse here. Paul is also evolving in his own life, certainly, as all of us do in our own individual journeys of faith. Additionally, he sees the shape of history, 1½ millennia before ‘history’ becomes a science. He understands something of the will of God for the macrocosm, for all being. Just as there is history, and a forward-driving purpose, a telos, for the entirety of Creation, so is there also a trajectory of development for every individual life, the microcosm, including the life of the individual named Paul of Tarsus.


Paul is ready. Paul is now ready for a great new school and teaching from God. Paul is now ready for Priscilla and Aquila.

Before we proceed to the major events of Chapter 18, one more item, first. At the end of the speech in the Areopagus, a woman named Damaris joins the Way.

Athens is the first home to both the Logos, Word, and also to Sophia, Wisdom.

Wisdom is venerated not only by the Greeks; Lady Wisdom is an important figure in the Old Testament. Her only New Testament appearance, at the literal level, is in Luke 7:35, where, shockingly, She is said to be a mother to both Jesus and John the Baptist. Jesus is the one who mentions this. However, Lady Wisdom has been said to be behind every word of the New Testament.

Now, with both Sophia of the Greeks and Lady Wisdom of the Old Testament in our minds, let’s go back to Paul’s first appearance, which is also St. Stephen’s final appearance, when Stephen is making his glorious exit via his great speech and subsequent martyrdom. Paul is inert. It’s like he’s only half there.

Paul is missing the Feminine. He doesn’t understand it, although he is now growing in this regard. In his speech at 13:16, reviewing the history of Israel, Paul never mentions the Feminine, or any female characters from the Old Testament.

Does Stephen mention the Feminine?

Oh yes.

Not only was Stephen instrumental in resolving the disputes between the Jewish and Greek widows in Jerusalem, he mentions an important woman in his speech: Pharaoh’s daughter, who was also Moses’ foster-mother. Moses was surrounded by loving women, like a river of life, in his first months and years of life: His mother, the midwives who disobeyed Pharaoh’s order, his sister, and the Pharaoh’s daughter, who raised him. But Stephen goes beyond merely mentioning Pharaoh’s daughter. When he is discussing her, he also brings in Egyptian Lady Wisdom!

“And when he was abandoned, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. So Moses was instructed in all the Wisdom of the Egyptians…” (Acts 7:21-22a)

In our Bible today, there is actually Egyptian Wisdom Literature in the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament, especially in the Book of Proverbs.

St. Stephen, in his final appearance of the Bible, is already far more open than Paul is after Paul visits Athens, and where he gives yet another major speech without mentioning the Feminine. Paul will grow much in the next years, happily.

Stephen is described as “a man full of grace and the Holy Spirit.” (6:5) Perhaps he was already wise too, because when the Twelve mentioned that the Seven should be chosen for the table serving, they said that the men chosen should be “full of the Spirit and of Wisdom,” and Stephen was chosen for the Seven. (6:3)

“Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.” (6:8) He was challenged in argument by many, “But they could not withstand the Wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.” (6:10)

So Stephen was arrested on trumped up charges, and put to death. Saul witnessed his death, and heard his speech…

Even after his conversion, Paul is not yet this advanced as Stephen yet. Stephen has referred to women in Salvation History, and to Lady Wisdom. Paul has not mentioned women yet, although he does sense that something is missing.

In Paul’s speech in Athens, Paul knows that he has not found the fullness of the full picture yet. He knows that it’s not merely in Plato, or Aristotle, or Homer, or the Stoics or Epicureans, or any of the other enormous Greek literary or philosophical figures. What is it that Paul senses is missing, as he talks of the Unknown God?

Stephen has mentioned, positively, the Feminine, Wisdom, and Foreign People who are important. And this is what Paul is missing, and what Paul is waking up to.

At the end of his speech, Stephen, who is obviously capable of great lateral, horizontal openness and bridge-building, as he speaks positively of women, Egyptians, and Egyptian Wisdom, (the Feminine Turn) suddenly has a shockingly vertical mystical experience, the Spirit Turn. He sees the “heavens opened,” a reference to the Mystical Psalms Ladder (see John 1:51) and sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

Paul has utterly no notion of any of these Realities, either.

Even after his conversion, it will be quite some time before he arrives at a greater understanding of these things. The Holy Spirit, after his further human integration, will lead Paul there.

The Wisdom Literature of the Bible, especially the Book of Wisdom (Wisdom of Solomon), the Book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), parts of Baruch, and Proverbs give us some tangible hints, as do many places in the New Testament, about this mysterious operation of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit now sends Paul to meet Priscilla and Aquila.

Acts 18:

The Tentmakers

Paul lived with Priscilla and Aquila. This is very important. They were teaching him about the deepest interpersonal relationship and communication that Paul would have in his life.

Priscilla and Aquila make three (3) appearances in Acts of the Apostles; the three appearances are all in Chapter 18. Immediately after each of these three appearances, the Apostle Paul will register great evolutionary leaps in his ongoing growth, in his own personal development, in his working relationship with the Holy Spirit. The author Luke has made these giant steps forward for Paul, despite their importance, quite hidden in his very subtle art.


The scene is already set by the Holy Spirit at the beginning of Chapter 18. Both parties have unusual events that make their meeting opportune. Priscilla and Aquila and all Jews have just been kicked out of Rome by the pagan Emperor Claudius. This will also happen in brutal ways to the Christian community, with persecutions later. And Paul, in a departure from the norm, has peacefully parted ways with his traveling companions Silas and Timothy (17:14). He is free and unburdened by fellow travelers, and is ready to learn from these experienced Christians.

#1) The first appearance of Priscilla and Aquila

The chapter begins:

“After this he (Paul) left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. He (Paul) went to see them, and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers.” (Acts 18:1-3)

Thus Priscilla and Aquila make their first of six appearances in the Bible. To a new reader of the Word making a quick perusal of the text, this sounds calm, even homely; a nice break from the constant comings-and-goings of Paul.

However, there is quite a lot going on here, once we start attending to the text more closely. Recall the vital scene in John 19, where the Beloved Disciple (all of us, potentially) takes the Feminine, the mother of Jesus, into his very self. Something similar is happening here. (The fact that the name ‘Aquila’ means ‘eagle’ is another Johannine connection, as the eagle is the symbol of John.) Priscilla and Aquila take Paul into their residence, into their hearts, into their work, into their relationship. Additionally, there are hints that Paul does not have much to teach them, and that rather, it is the other way around! They teach Paul! Paul’s name is not even mentioned in the first four verses of the chapter (according to the best Greek manuscripts). They are not daunted by his grand reputation. He immediately becomes their student, and he recognizes this fact as clearly as they do. He is being taught deep communication by them. They lived and worked together. They would have gotten to know each other very well. Paul, it seems, never married. He would have learned loads of knowledge of relationship by living and working with them, having not had the “school of charity” that is married life. The Holy Spirit is nothing if not relational. Priscilla and Aquila were a strong loving couple, and they knew hardship; they were kicked out of Rome by the Emperor Claudius, perhaps losing much in the process. Such hardships as they endured are often a sign that the Holy Spirit has been working with them.

Priscilla would have been schooling him. For the first time in his adult life, this former hardline Pharisee would have been being taught, and subtly ordered, by a woman.

The caring couple sent him like a schoolboy to teach at the synagogue each sabbath. Note that Paul’s name is not in the fourth verse of the chapter either, when he’s in the synagogue. Meaning: This is not the same old Paul preaching in his traditional ways. He is doing new things in his proclaiming, things that have been taught to him by Priscilla and Aquila. Additionally, his teacher-hosts, Priscilla and Aquila, would have been evaluating Paul on every talk he gave in the synagogue: “Every sabbath he would argue-dialogue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks.” (18:4)

To try to convince someone is proof of the fact that the speaker is actually cognizant of the condition of the psyche and/or soul of the other person. Again, Paul is no longer merely throwing down dogma, and moving on to the next waiting group of ears. He is more deeply engaging the people. He is learning from Priscilla and Aquila.

To further emphasize his change: Missing is the phrase from Chapter 17, “as was his custom.” Paul, following the lead of his teachers, is charting new terrain, even though the outward appearances of events look quite familiar.

Soon thereafter, the new audience opposes Paul, rejecting his message. Paul’s response (sic) is fascinating: “When they opposed and reviled him, in protest he shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’ Then he left the synagogue and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshipper of God; his house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the official of the synagogue, become a believer in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized.” (18:6-8)

Notice Paul’s greater flexibility and improvement in ability to strategize. He says he’s going to the other side of the world from the Jewish establishment, to the goyim, the Gentiles, and he goes to the house next door to the synagogue, just a few feet away! Obviously he remains interested in the Jewish community there, because the leader of the synagogue leaves the synagogue and goes to the family house to join Paul and Christianity! Paul is becoming a better strategist as well, thanks to his coaching from Priscilla and Aquila. (Titius Justus’ house was where Paul gathered the community for Eucharist and preached and taught, not where Paul lived.)

At the same time, Paul is genuinely open to the new. Another sign of openness and life. He starts to become the Apostle to the Gentiles.

He continues to live with Priscilla and Aquila. In fact, when Paul leaves Corinth after 18 months there, Priscilla and Aquila leave with him. They make a voyage together. And so we have the three tentmakers making a voyage together. This is the Exodus that is being recalled; this is Paul’s Exodus towards greater integration, which we will discuss just below. (Recall that tents played a key role in the Exodus in the Book of Exodus.)

For a moment let us respect and try to imagine the enormous change that Paul is undergoing here. Perhaps this is the reason why Jesus appears to him in a vision as 18:9, and reassures him. Paul, you are on the right course. Jesus encourages him, telling him to continue speaking and doing his evangelization.

#2) They Exodus together: The Second Appearance of Priscilla and Aquila

Here is the next account of Priscilla and Aquila. Again, they are intimately involved with Paul’s life and journey:

“After staying there for a considerable time, Paul said farewell to the believers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had his hair cut, for he was under a vow. When they reached Ephesus, he left them there…” (18:18-19a)

1 and ½ verses summarize the Exodus. This is Paul’s Exodus journey of integration and further growth in the Spirit, taught by two masters, Priscilla and Aquila.

Again, the amazing Luke hides what is happening under typically Pauline actions. “When they reached Ephesus, he left them there…” More likely, Priscilla said to Paul, “Go now. Get to work.”

Notice also that Priscilla’s name precedes the name of her husband, Aquila, here. This is very important. In the ancient world, if a woman’s name was mentioned at all, it was always after her husband. Luke does an inversion of the usual order here to show her importance and her leadership.

There may be something else at work here. Paul made a vow. He cut his hair. Recall in our above study of the Book of Judges, there were some episodes where women got treated very badly. Jephthah the Judge makes a stupid vow, to sacrifice to God whoever he sees first when he returns from his victory. He sees his own daughter. He sacrifices her in obedience to the vow. (Judges 11:29-40)

Paul may have been doing deep inner healing in his final time with Priscilla and Aquila.

They travel together. Exodus. Paul’s voyage of growth. Tentmakers, making the new Ark, the Church, in human hearts and families and communities.

Perhaps we might call this voyage “Paul’s Exodus towards the Human Person.”

#3) The Microcosm-Icon of Apollos; Paul’s Magnificent Growth: The Third and Final Appearance of Priscilla and Aquila in Acts of the Apostles

It seems that while Paul is out of the picture for a moment, Priscilla and Aquila have one more thing to do. Here is their last appearance in Acts:

“Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man well-versed in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately.” (18:24-26)

This is a picture of precisely what Priscilla and Aquila did for Paul!

Luke paints a picture of Apollos that could almost perfectly be Paul. Even their names sound alike, poetically, in the original Greek: Paulos and Apollos. And the description of Apollos’ evangelization sounds like the early Paul, as he thundered away in the synagogues. While the name ‘Apollos’ reminds us of the mighty ancient god Apollo, recall that Paul has already been called the god ‘Hermes’, and in Chapter 28 some residents of Malta will consider him to be a god.

Slightly strange things abound here, as in a parable. Things that are just a bit odd, or a bit too coincidental, seek to get our attention to engage in something.

I propose that Luke, in giving us this snapshot picture of Apollos and his time with Priscilla and Aquila, is in one stroke showing us what Priscilla and Aquila actually did for Paul. Apollos’ appearance here is a microcosm-picture of their total teaching of Paul. They brought him into deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit.

There is another clue that Luke gives us: Isn’t it a bit odd that they transferred their entire deeper knowledge of Christ and the Way to Apollos by merely “pulling him to the side” and having a quick chat? Again, perhaps this minor incongruity is meant to get us to think about what else is being said here by Luke. The parables in the Gospels often work in this way, by having a bit of an odd detail that, when pushed by the reader, unlocks the parable for us. Luke’s “Parable of Apollos” here is much more subtle than the great parables of the Gospels, however.

So too, the knowledge that the Holy Spirit may choose to impart to us is far more subtle than “regular” channels of teaching can communicate.

Continuing on this tack, a look at the Greek shows that Priscilla and Aquila did not merely pull Apollos to the side; actually, they “took” him. This is perhaps stronger language. And this word, proselabonto, is cognate with the verb when the Beloved Disciple “took,” elaben, the mother of Jesus into himself, just as Priscilla and Aquila took Paul into their lives to teach him more deeply the ways of the Spirit.

Apollos and Paul have similar Spirit-words to describe them. Apollos is “boiling in the Spirit,” zeon toi pneumati. Earlier in the same chapter, Paul is “pressed by the Spirit,” suneiketo toi pneumati.

Other questions abound. Why does Apollos appear only at this scene, to then disappear for the rest of the book? Why does Paul circle immediately back to Ephesus precisely when Apollos leaves, to occupy the place where the triad of Priscilla, Aquila, and Apollos had been a very short time before? (This is not to say that Apollos is a fictional character; he is a real person, he appears in Paul’s letters, and is a saint throughout the Christian Churches. However, Luke is also free to use him in a literary manner as a mirror of Paul, and to use this episode as an icon of the entire program of Priscilla’s teaching of Paul. In fact, special dyads, that is, friends and brothers who appear in pairs, are very present throughout the New Testament.) The brief snapshot appearance of Apollos further supports the claim that Luke is tapping him in this discussion to show a facet of Paul, a different perspective of Paul, without actually saying that this is Paul. Luke is saving this knowledge for those who unlock his text, and for those of future times.

All of these similarities between Paulos and Apollos invite, urge, us to take the single story of Apollos, to see it as a template, and to then apply this template to Paul. What Priscilla and Aquila did for Apollos is a mini-snapshot, an icon, of what they did for Paul over 1½ years. Paul himself will say in his letters, “We are all parts of each other.” So Paul and Apollos mirror each other and shift places with each other for a time. Voyages over geography mirror voyages in the soul.

In the ancient world, Christians lent themselves to literary usage for related causes. In the great Life of St. Antony by St. Athanasius, Athanasius puts particular theological arguments into the mouth of Antony at the end of the book, arguments which probably Antony did not take up. However, Antony’s self, his being, his life, had become an open book of the Gospel. In fact, this vita, this Life of Antony, spread like wildfire through the Mediterranean region, taught about the connectedness of the Body of Christ, reached millions through the centuries, and helped bring Augustine and countless others into the Church.

Concluding the discussion of Apollos, here is a list of some common realities shared by Paulos and Apollos:

-names, which echo each other’s

-places; both were at Ephesus right after each other, then Corinth

-both spend vital time with Priscilla and Aquila

-Luke gives similar descriptions of them, including:
-love of Scriptures that both men have

-their powerful rhetorical style in teaching

-similar experiences of the Holy Spirit

-both have conversations regarding John’s Baptism and the Spirit’s Baptism

Paul the Human Being

That this is precisely what Priscilla and Aquila have done for Paul is apparent in his next appearance right after the final mention of Priscilla and Aquila. We see Paul engage in his most human, most compassionate, most understanding dialogue of the entire New Testament. Paul actually, in the text itself, asks questions of people! He gauges where they are at! He might even be, finally, interested in the opinions and thoughts and feelings of other people! This is a tectonic plate shift of evolutionary advance in the development of Paul’s psyche and soul, and his ability to work with the Spirit. And yet, at the first few glances, it looks like merely another episode in the long story of early Church work:

“While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the inland regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—altogether there were about twelve of them.” (19:1-7)

Clearly, Paul has grown a great deal already, thanks to Priscilla and Aquila. And at this point, Paul certainly would be a great champion of Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia; earlier in his career, Paul would have been made nervous by it, because it is not a literalist, fundamentalist document; a fundamentalist document would not have to be concerned about interpreting the Scriptures, but merely applying the laws that other people had instituted, or reading the Scriptures at merely the surface level. But now, years later, when Paul understands so much more about the need to meet people where they are at, Paul would love Amoris Laetitia, the work of a great pastor of souls. In fact, St. Luke is called the Beloved Physician, which also reflects a warm and clear light on Luke’s great pastoral emphasis as well. (Col 4:14) To see this, one need look no further than his very detailed yet subtle charting of the amazing development of Paul’s soul. Like a doctor working on a patient’s charts.

Paul has done almost a carbon copy of what Priscilla and Aquila did with Apollos. He is, at the very least, imitating Priscilla and Aquila. Or, more deeply, he is engaging in a different activity altogether, an activity taught to him by them:

Part II

Living with the Holy Spirit

What is Paul doing? What are Priscilla and Aquila doing in their teaching Apollos/Paul about the deeper baptism, the deeper engagement with the Holy Spirit?

What if this is not about a mere different baptism? What if this is about not merely the “baptism” of the Spirit, but about learning how to work directly with the Holy Spirit?

They are teaching about how to work directly with the Holy Spirit. And when we work more directly with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit wants us also to expand and to develop our humanity, to become more human, to discover and to activate and to utilize the full spectrum, the entire keyboard, of the talents and abilities that are latent in our souls.

Iranaeus said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” Today this phrase is used as an antiphon in the prayers at monasteries.

Priscilla and Aquila taught Paul life. They taught him how to live as a fully alive human being.

As a more developed, expanded, well-rounded person, Paul also has become a much better co-worker with the Holy Spirit.

This is one reason why Acts of the Apostles is so important for us today. Pope St. John XXIII said something shocking: He called today, the time a Vatican II, a “Second Pentecost.” This means 1) a new immediacy of relationship with the Holy Spirit, and 2) a new birth of the Church. This is a shocking thing for a Pope to say. What did he mean? Perhaps he meant that we can have a deeper relationship directly with the Holy Spirit. This is happening today. Perhaps the Church Herself is going through this Pauline transformation… Some people today have already become deeper cooperators, co-operators, with the Holy Spirit. Usually there is some training, a ‘spiritual boot camp’, that us new recruits have to go through before we arrive at this place of more-enabled discipleship, just like what Paul underwent in his 18 months with Priscilla and Aquila.

And Paul will need these skills. For the wildest part of Paul’s journey has not yet begun.

His trip to Jerusalem, where he is arrested, is a powerful conclusion to his “free” public ministry. We see Paul having to think on his feet, and having to dialogue with many people in many walks of life. He also shows a great understanding of the mechanisms of civil, military, and religious power structures, utilizing all of his abilities to continue his journey towards Rome, ultimately.

Then there is the shipwreck. Luke’s telling of this story near the end of the book, in the last two chapters of the 52 chapters of Luke-Acts, is telling. The shipwreck happens over many days, and yet Paul keeps everyone focused on what they must do, and all souls survive the shipwreck, safely arriving at Malta. Paul is preaching at great depth at the same time that he’s arguing and giving instructions about the best way to keep the ship in the best condition, and avoiding further destruction. During this extended episode, some scenes border on the comic, the ludicrous. He stops the soldiers from murdering prisoners. Imagine the onboard chaos of a ship stuck on the rocks. Only his deep relationship with the Holy Spirit, and the development that has happened in his own self, allows him to pull off this heroic feat.

There is something else about Paul’s echoing of the discussion of baptism and the Holy Spirit, right after Priscilla and Aquila discuss this with ‘Apollos’. Again, Luke the physician and teacher of US is making something here seem a bit special, a bit out of focus: This again is a powerful literary link between Apollos and Paul, but it is acausal, it is synchronistic. The connection of these events is not causal, no—it is synchronistic. And the Holy Spirit likes working with synchronicity, with cycles and repetitions and coincidences in our life. When unusual repetitions occur in our life, let us perk up our ears and listen deeply: the Holy Spirit may be knocking, inviting us to a deeper stage of relationship.

Events and Statements that Show Paul’s Greater Integration

and Development in the Last 10 Chapters of Acts of the Apostles

(As the book has not been published yet, parts of this section may appear particularly dense and abstract. The reader is invited to jump ahead to the conclusion.)

Paul has already achieved some of the most significant thresholds of learning that he is to achieve in life, thanks to Priscilla and Aquila and many others. In this section we shall quickly move through the last chapters of Acts, leading to his arrival in Rome. We shall highlight a few important events that reflect Paul’s greater insight and growth, and the deeper operation of the Spirit rendered more visible.

The Holy Spirit is now far more prominent in Paul’s thoughts:

-At 19:21, Paul “resolved in the Spirit” to go to Jerusalem. This voyage to Jerusalem will build up tension and excitement as he moves closer to his goal. It will be his final journey as a free man. (Similarly, a decisive turning point in Luke’s Gospel is after the Transfiguration, when Jesus too resolves to go to Jerusalem. Much of Luke’s Gospel occurs during this journey of Jesus.)

-Paul says that he is eager to be in Jerusalem, “if possible, on the day of Pentecost.” The Feast of Pentecost is the Birthday of the Church, the day when the Holy Spirit came to the disciples of Jesus with a powerful new closeness.

-Paul explains that he is making this voyage as a “captive of the Spirit.” (20:22)

-In the same discussion, he adds that “the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the Good News of God’s grace.” (20:23-24)

We see that he speaks of the Holy Spirit much more than previously, and that he is living in a real and truly direct relationship with the Holy Spirit. Such a relationship is possible for us to achieve today too.

There is a density of meaning in the next parts of the voyage:

-Women and families appear again when Paul and his company arrive and prepare to depart from Tyre:

“When our days there were ended, we left and proceeded on our journey; and all of them, with wives and children, escorted us outside the city. There we knelt down on the beach and prayed and said farewell to one another. Then we went onboard the ship, and they returned home.” (21:5-6)

-Soon thereafter they arrive at Caesarea, “and we went into the house of Philip the Evangelist, one of the Seven, and stayed with him.” (21:8) In the list of the Seven he appears right after Stephen! (6:5) He, like Stephen, helped at the “tables” and worked with the Greek and Jewish women of the community in Jerusalem. As Stephen spoke of the Feminine and of Wisdom in subtle powerful ways, Philip’s own family will seem to physically incarnate the women of the Red Line of Hope: “He had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy.” (21:9) It is as if the women of the Red Line of Hope have come to congratulate Paul on his growth and his recent embracing of the Feminine and the Holy Spirit.

-Then we get a scene that reminds us of Jesus’ prediction of forced suffering that Peter will undergo, from John 21. Immediately after the four daughters of Philip appear, “While we were staying there for several days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. He came to us and took Paul’s belt, bound his own feet and hands with it, and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, “This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles’.” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.” (21:10-12) In John’s Gospel, Jesus says something similar to Peter at the end of John 21. Peter and Paul both truly become physically joined to the will of God, with force, despite the fact that Peter and Paul are radically free souls at those later points of their life.

What happens next is absolutely fascinating. Recall that above we considered the circumcision of David’s heart, an important part of his personal evolution. Something similar happens to Paul. As everyone is here imploring Paul not to go to Jerusalem, he says in a rare moment of revealed personal emotion, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?” (21:13) David wept like never before at the death of Absalom. The circumcision of David’s heart here concluded.

Happily, David’s purification resulted in his being better able to know the will of God. This happens much more powerfully for Paul. Paul’s conscience, after having been a murderer, is becoming cleaner and stronger, allowing him to be more receptive to the very subtle communiqués that tell him directly the will of God. Paul says in the next verse, “The Lord’s will be done.” (21:14) Paul, now more advanced in the Spirit, will also mention the Lord’s will and human conscience at more points as the story proceeds (22:14; 23:1; 24:16) (The two letters of Peter deal in magnificent hidden ways with the connection between the will of God and the enlightened human conscience.)

They arrive in Jerusalem: “When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present.” (21:18) The elders tell him to do something that may be connected to both the current religio-political situation, and connected also to Paul’s earlier sins of killing an undisclosed number of Christians in Jerusalem, before his conversion. The elders say, “So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them and pay for the shaving of their heads.” (21:23-24a)

Above, we considered a density of meaning at Tyre, then a greater density of meaning at Caesarea with Philip, his four daughters, and others. Now, at the temple in Jerusalem, we shall encounter a simply tremendous density of meaning.

“Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having purified himself, he entered the temple with them, making public the completion of the days of purification when the sacrifice would be made for each of them.” (21:26) There is a deep process of healing, restoration, and atonement occurring here, on multiple levels. The Holy Spirit likes multitasking, or, to say it better, a plethora of converging meanings in a sign or in an event. The learning Christian soul relishes the opportunity to work out these hidden meanings.

Suddenly, some Jews from Asia recognize Paul, and tell the Jews of Jerusalem about him! And they say that “he has brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” (21:28b) The Jews then come together in a scene that reminds us of Sodom, Gomorrah, and Gibeah: “Then all the city was aroused, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut.” (21:30) Recall that at Sodom, Gomorrah, and Gibeah, as we discussed above, the doors were all slammed shut and locked. Also like Sodom and Gibeah, the crowd of men wanted to drag a visiting man out of the house. The towns-people united in violence. The quest for meaning had ceased, and they were riveted to a violent intent.

The people were trying to kill Paul, but were interrupted by the arriving Roman soldiers, who intervened and saved Paul. The tribune ordered him to be bound with two chains, reminding us of the shani, the double-cord, that is the Red Line of Hope. This comes not many days after Paul met the four prophet-daughters of Philip, who also are the Red Line of Hope, come to life.

Recall that we have just discussed how Paul’s life represents not only the moving-evolving from Saul to David, but also from David to his son Solomon (with references to another son of his, Absalom). We shall see that latest progression here at the temple:

Solomonic Moments,

Absalomic Moments:

Paul on the Ladder, the Steps of the Temple

            Luke 2 presents a gentle converging of things ancient and new, as the Holy Family goes into the temple on the 8th day of young Jesus’ life. The temple, in an early instance of literary personification, comes to life and welcomes Jesus in the persons of Simeon and the Prophetess Anna, who is “very old,” and who then is described as being precisely 84 years old, and who had been married for precisely 7 years at an earlier time in her life. Simeon then sings the temple’s swan song, the Nunc Dimittis (or Canticle of Simeon), for the long work of the old stone temples is now finished, and the temple will disappear some decades later. The scene is one of the most beautiful in the Bible, and packed with many levels of meaning; for example, the numbers that generate the flight of the angels on the Mystical Psalms Ladder are here given us by Luke.

On the other hand, when Paul appears at the temple at this fairly late chapter of Acts, there is a riot, attempted murder, the throwing of dust in the air, a foreign intervention, and all manner of chaos. All this was caused by Paul walking into the temple.

Recall in the book above that David was a moment of human evolution far beyond crazy old King Saul. David registered many positive developments, including an appreciation for the Feminine, a desire for God, and a slow awakening to compassion and mercy. And David allowed also for this progress to continue developing after him. This is seen in the elevations of his two sons.

Paul’s own life retraces this evolutionary movement in the three generations of people centered on David’s life (Psalm 72 also has three generations of people around David). Paul was born as Saul. Then he became Christian, and his growth really accelerated, similar to David at various points of his life. And, Paul will also have moments that echo David’s sons, continuing the evolution beyond mere David.

In the book above we discussed how Absalom and Solomon, two sons of David, in their contrasted moments of being ‘raised’, are a matching pair of icons, a diptych of the good and the difficult parts of our human evolution. Both of these moments, the suffering of Absalom hanging in the tree, and the Wisdom and integration happening with Solomon in his snapshot appearance as a good, just king, raised to the throne, are apparent in Christ’s crucifixion. Of course, the suffering is only momentary, and the good developments develop into eternity.

Paul, too, has a moment of incorporating both these “Absalom and Solomon elevations” into his own life. It happens on the steps of the temple.

The entire scene is ‘Absalomic’ in a sense, because Paul is arrested, vulnerable, and charged with crimes against Israel and God, similar to Absalom hanging by his hair in the tree, when he has rebelled against the rule of his father David, and is about to be killed by the menacing Joab. From this event at the temple, Paul will eventually be executed too.

Yet the author Luke, the Beloved Physician, also sews gentle reminders back to the best moments of Solomon, when he too was raised, raised rightfully to the throne of his father David. Recall that this is the moment when Solomon/humanity achieved an early integration with Lady Wisdom/ the Feminine/ Bathsheba, as a throne was placed by his own precisely for her. Then, his first decision as king is to quell a rebellion. He thus secures the kingdom and consolidates his rule.

His second decision as king is to decide the difficult case of the two women fighting over the one live baby. Not an easy situation to wade into and resolve. Solomon says after hearing both women speak, “One says, . . . , while the other says . . . “ (1 Kings 3:23). There is a back-and-forth, unresolvable seemingly, and the discourse is stuck.

The same thing happens with Paul before the people. After the tribune arrives, and Paul is bound with two chains, “Some in the crowd shouted one thing, some another; and as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks.” (21:34) After the multiple references to the Red Line of Hope, we have a clear reference to the Mystical Psalms Ladder, just as we did back in Luke 2: “When Paul came to the steps the violence of the mob was so great that he had to be carried by the soldiers.” (21:35) Here, Luke the Magnificent paints a comical picture of the Ladder, as the Roman soldiers become the ‘angels’ carrying poor Paul up and down the steps!

The high comedy continues: “Just as Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, ‘May I say something to you?’ The tribune replied, ‘Do you know Greek? Then you are not the Egyptian who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?’” (21:37-38)

The tribune has clarified for us that Paul is not Moses.

Yet this also implies that Paul is a sort of new Moses. And Christianity is a religion of love.

This is also a gentle mockery of the founding myths of the Israelites, who, even according to Joshua and Judges, murdered their way into the Holy Land after arriving from their desert sojourn.

The proper interpretation of the Torah, more and more as history develops, is about Love and universality, and less about fixed religious borders, the temple, and cultic rites.

To form an inclusio around the “Moses question,” we have again the word ‘steps’. Paul has received permission from the tribune to address the people, and “Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the people for silence; and when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying…” This echoes the moment when God gave to Moses the 10 Commandments. “God spoke the following words, saying…” But also, St. Luke the Intelligent seems to make a mistake here. The people spoke Aramaic, not Hebrew. It was the language of the people of Palestine at this time. Everyone spoke Aramaic.

Why does Luke do this? Perhaps because he is getting our attention to look at something related but different. Luke has just written the words “Greek” and “Hebrew.” It turns out that the Mystical Psalm Structures are best seen in the Hebrew numbering system of the Hebrew Scriptures, not in the Greek Septuagint, that is, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, which has a slightly different numbering system for the Psalms. Luke is giving us yet another clue about the Mystical Psalm Structures. In the middle of the riot at the temple, Luke is giving us further direction about the Mystical Realities.

(Another parody of the Psalm Structures’ Ladder happened at 19:35, where a legend claims that a statue of the goddess Artemis fell from heaven to earth, for the good people of Ephesus to venerate.)

During his speech to the people, Paul says “After I had returned to Jerusalem and while I was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw Jesus…” (22:17-18a) This is a clear reference to Jacob’s vision of the Ladder in Genesis 28. Jacob saw the Ladder in a vision in his dream. The next morning, Jacob “was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven’.” (Gen 28:17) The Mystical Ladder is a new house of God, a new temple, and the gate of heaven. Jesus says the same thing in John 1:51, when the Son of Man/ Future Humanity becomes the Mystical Ladder, the new temple of God. And Paul says, “You are the temple of God.”

Jacob names the place where he slept, the place where he had a vision of the future humanity, Beth-el, the house of God.

As the Torah does, so too does Luke stress the goodness of blessing over cursing, of charity over violence. Paul’s speech is ended when he mentions the vision in the temple, and Jesus’ words to him, telling Paul to go to the nations, the ethne (similar to the Hebrew insult term goyim, nations).

But the people cannot take any more. They start shouting, “Away with such a fellow from the earth!” (22:22a) Luke gently takes their angry words, and converts them into a charitable wish: may Paul ascend the Ladder from earth to heaven!

There is another radical displacement here. The second time that “steps” are mentioned, the steps from which Paul is now speaking are the steps of the barracks, not of the temple. The temple is no longer central to the faith. The earth, the cosmos, all space and time, are now holy. The Shekinah has left the ‘house’, the beit. The Holy Spirit is now in human people, and every place is holy.

Some more wry humor is coming from Luke: Another appendix deals with “The Abimelech Errors,” a Biblical string of apparent mistakes that confuse names in the Hebrew Scriptures, often related to the high priest of Israel. Mark 2:26 is a New Testament continuation of this string of mistakes, as Jesus apparently mistakes Abiathar for Ahimelech. Well, the string of errors continues here with Paul, who is addressing the council a short time after the riot at the temple. The high priest orders that Paul be slapped, and Paul is slapped. Paul retorts, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting there to judge me according to the law, and yet in violation of the law you order me to be struck?” (23:3) The people nearby explain to Paul that this is in fact the high priest, whom Paul had insulted. Paul says, “I did not realize, brothers, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a leader of your people’.” (23:5) And so “The Abimelech Errors” continue, making here what is perhaps the Biblical conclusion to this fascinating string.

However, the high irony continues, and focuses next on a kind of dis-uniformity in the Jewish religion. Paul notices that there are Pharisees and Sadducees in the council (sanhedrin), and mentions that he himself is a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. The text says “One part is Sadducees, and the other Pharisees,” echoing the language of the two women fighting over the one baby before Solomon. (23:6)

He adds, “I am on trial concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead.” (23:6) This causes discord and consternation among the two sections of the sanhedrin, as they disagreed with each other. Luke adds, almost as a parenthetical remark, “The Sadducees say there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three.” (23:8)


Often during times of closeness to the Holy Spirit, when we are learning and being trained to be better co-operators with the Spirit, there are periods when we have less contact with our birth family. This helps break old habits, among other things. And to this point of Acts, there is no detail of Paul’s interaction with his own family members given to us.

Happily sometimes, after some Spiritual training has been done, we might have a sudden reconnection with our family. This happens for Paul.

There is a plot to kill Paul, including vows and fasting on the part of the would-be Jewish assassins. Suddenly, like an interesting deus ex machina, “the son of Paul’s sister heard about the ambush; so he went and gained entrance to the barracks and told Paul.” (23:16) Paul then perfectly works the Roman system of authority, communicates this information, and the detail assigned to guard Paul is given heavy reinforcements, and Paul’s journey happens without event. Paul’s family appears in the nick of time and saves him.

Then, Paul must defend the faith before various leaders and kings. The irony continues. When Paul speaks to the political-executive leader of the area, the Roman governor Felix, the poor fellow becomes frightened when Paul begins talking about justice, self-control, and the coming judgment. (24:25) Luke even uses the dialogue word, dialegomenou, here, to explain Paul’s attempt to communicate with Felix. However, the effort did not achieve much ‘high dialectic’ here, because Felix is holding out in the hopes of a nice bribe.

Felix, whose name means “happy,” is replaced by Porcius Festus, whose name means “Pig Fest” or “Pork Festival.” Porcius becomes good friends with the Israelite king.

Paul gives his famous defense, or ‘apology’, before Porcius and king Agrippa and their wives. Paul has just been welcomed into the presence of Agrippa for the first time here, and addresses him primarily. But eventually Porcius cuts Paul off during his speech, and informs Paul that he is insane. Porcius and Agrippa beat a hasty departure.

The Sea Voyage and the Shipwreck

            The long journey over the sea to Rome is a masterpiece of Lucan literature, but we cannot delve deeply into it here. Here, Paul must show extreme calm and more adroit management skills while he holds together sailors, soldiers, prisoners, concerns for cargo, concerns for whether or not the prisoners should here be simply executed, all as the ship slowly disintegrates over days, as it suffers under a violent storm, then is grounded upon a shoal, eventually shattered into pieces.

Paul’s cool leadership saves the day, and not a single life is lost.

A quick note about contemporary Church theology: Pope Francis has likened the Church to a field hospital. A field hospital is not, for example, as neat and orderly as Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. At a field hospital, there can be injuries and difficulties that the medical staff does not have the proper equipment to treat in established procedures, and so some spontaneous decisions have to be made to make the outcome the best possible for the patient, to help them on their way to full health. It would be nice if hospitals all had perfect suites of medical professionals and the exact equipment needed for each medical emergency. But that is fantasy, not reality. So in a field hospital, we try to help everyone in the best possible way, making many judgment calls along the way.

This is exactly what Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia calls for, this kind of loving, caring response to people in confusing and unfair social situations, where the resources of the world are so grossly and unfairly and disproportionately not yet shared among all people.

Paul would agree with Pope Francis. At the end of the shipwreck scene, those who could swim swam, and for the others, planks and other materials of the ship were used as floatation devices. “And so it was that all were brought safely to land.” (27:44b)

A few years ago, in an essay on religious formation before a conference for religious formation teams, a wise teacher who knew the Bible very well wrote, “In today’s flood, we need to teach people how to swim to each other.” Indeed.

They land on the island, and build a campfire to warm up. Carrying wood for the fire, a snake leaps out of the branches and bites Paul, fastening onto his hand. This reminds us of the serpent on the pole in the desert of the Exodus, and how anyone who looked upon the serpent was healed of their snakebites. (Numbers 21:8) Today, the symbol of the medical profession is the based on the Rod of Asclepius, a serpent on a pole. This too is another image of Absalom, and of Jesus on the cross. (And of Jesus the healer.)

Having landed at Malta, Paul cured many people on the island.

In the final chapter of Acts, there is another reference to the twins, Perez and Zerah, of the Red Line of Hope. And there is another nod to Apollos, and the teachers of Apollos and Paulos, the dear Priscilla and Aquila: “Three months later we set sail on a ship that had wintered at the island, and Alexandrian ship with the Twin Brothers as its figurehead.” (28:11) The word ‘figurehead’ could also be translated as ‘ensign’; the Greek word is parasemoi, which is cognate with ‘semiotics’, the science/art of signs.

They eventually reach Rome. Paul has become a great leader in many ways. At the same time, he is not merely independent, he needs the Church, he lives and moves and has his being in the Body of Christ: “The believers from there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage.” (28:15)

In a dramatic non-statement of what was becoming well known in the ancient Church community (the Mystical Psalm Structures), Paul taught about Jesus both from the “law of Moses and the Prophets.” (28:23) Luke skips over the “Writings” of the Hebrew Scriptures, the ketuvim, which include the Wisdom Literature and the Psalms, which by now Paul loved very much.


            The last two verses of Acts are stunningly understated. A first glance at the text seems to reveal that Paul lived in relative ease for two years in Rome, and taught people about the Faith. But the reality is much more—Paul has, in the last two verses of Luke’s Biblical writing, achieved total freedom and total co-operation with the Holy Spirit. As much as is possible in this life, Paul’s will has become one with the Will of God. This is the grand achievement of Paul’s life. To make it more wonderful, Paul, now totally integrated and totally free in the Spirit, will teach souls in Rome for two full years. (Presumably, he then goes to his martyrdom.) Paul is burning his most pure fire and living the most productive life in these last two years, his time in Rome. Here are the last two verses:

“He lived there for two whole (holen) years at his own (idioi) expense/rented dwelling and welcomed all those coming in to him, proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all freedom and without hindrance.” (28:30-31)

There are many remarkable things here. Paul is still in physically restricted by a chain (28:20), but has achieved what the book above has discussed as integration. He has perhaps finally worked out the karmic/purgative atonement for all his sins of murdering Christians and any other sins he may have committed. More than that, however, he is interiorly free. The Holy Spirit, as part of Paul’s ongoing journey of integration, healing, atonement, growth, and spiritual fruition, has given Paul a lot of challenges. However, for the two last years of his life there is physical stillness. His exterior battles are over, as are his physical journeys. Now, having worked hard for the faith and having cooperated in the Spirit’s program for his own spiritual growth—that is, having helped the Spirit’s plan for his own life to proceed—Paul is now to reap a profound harvest at the end of his life. For two years, at the height of his powers and the most developed Christian self that he has developed in his life, Paul will be a pure teacher and guide for the faith. The Christians of Rome, and Italy, and beyond, will pour to Paul for teaching and help in those years. Having already founded Churches in Asia and Europe, and assisted the Church in Palestine, he will now give immense teaching and guidance to the young Church in Rome. In fact, Luke deliberately describes these two years as “two whole (holen) years,” indicating that they were an abundantly full time. And as holen is cognate with our words whole and holistic, this is also an indication of the integration and wholeness that Paul has achieved. And for two years he will be a font of this teaching, as a being entirely in tune with the Holy Spirit. We can only imagine the conversations that transpired in his cell.

Finally, there is the matter of Paul’s self, or of his dwelling, his idioi. This is the same word, with a different ending, as the idia of John 19:27, when the Beloved Disciple took the mother of Jesus into his own self, into his very being. We discussed how this is one of the culminations of the entire Bible, and represents the integration of the human person and the entire human society, along the horizontal Feminine-Masculine axis. We become humanly mature. And seconds after this, Jesus will breath forth the Holy Spirit from the cross, allowing our mature Humanity to now grow exponentially with the Spirit along the vertical axis, connecting and joining heaven and earth (Spirit and Humanity).

Paul has been helped by women and men, especially by women like Priscilla. He lived with a deeply and powerfully married Christian couple, Priscilla and Aquila (with Aquila representing the eagle of John’s Gospel). Now, like the Beloved Disciple of John 19, he has achieved integration, thanks to them. And for two whole years, two opulently full years, he will take into his soul all who come to him, welcoming them. This is also an important picture of the Body of Christ, which Paul speaks of often. Paul, through his growth, learned about how we are all parts of each other in the One Lord. Now, he is teaching other early Christians about this Reality also. And with Priscilla and Aquila having helped Paul achieve a deeper understanding of, and participating with, the Holy Spirit, we might rightly imagine that Paul was teaching many levels of instruction, teaching perfectly all people, at whatever level they were able to receive.




1)        Professor Merrilyn Mansfield has a superb essay that charts New Testament discussion of “John’s Baptism” and the “Baptism of the Spirit.” While this appendix has a different focus, her research is important. Her paper, Priscilla and Aquila Teach an Apostle, is here:

2)        Special thanks to Dr. Peter Ajer, with whom I discussed this material.

3)        To avoid putting too much information in this appendix, I have not mentioned that following Paul’s time with Priscilla and Aquila in Chapter 18 of Acts, there is another sudden abundance of hidden references to the Mystical Psalms Ladder. Perhaps they taught him about these marvels too. The forthcoming book on the Psalm Structures will take this up in greater detail. Those wishing to see an initial account of these Mystical Realities can read this draft here:

A Rare Huge Mistake at Mint Press News

Hi Friends,

I’m very disappointed that Mint Press News has not lived up to its usual level of journalistic excellence. In this, my first written response to this poorly-researched, inaccurate, attack-article on Pope Francis, I only want to report one thing.

The main article that the author, Whitney Webb, draws upon, is one by the Church-hating Bill Van Auken over at Global Research.

Van Auken’s article was published three days after Bergoglio became Pope. In his hateful haste to attack the new Pope and the Church, he wrote a deceitful and sloppily-researched article. In fact, it’s so bad, that he claims to have a photograph of Bergoglio and the truly rotten dictator Jorge Videla. Only problem: the bishop in the photograph is not Bergoglio! HA HA HA!

Whitney, your vicious attack on the Pope, who is truly a good and holy man, is based on an article that does not even have the right picture! It misidentifies the bishop in the picture as Bergoglio, but the future Pope was not even made a bishop until 1992, many years later. So, Ms. Webb, the fellow in the picture is about 30 or so years older than Bergoglio was at the time. HA HA HA!

You see, Fr. Bergoglio had been a priest for less than 4 years when he was put in charge of the Jesuit province of Argentina.

Additionally, the fellow in the photo is bald, and Bergoglio has never been bald in his life. HA HA HA!

Wow. Talk about garbage reporting. Research much, Whitney?

Here’s the link to her serio-comical source article:

And here’s a link to the unfortunate hatchet job by Ms. Webb at Mint Press News, from a couple of days ago:

This brief note has highlighted the fact that the source article does not even have the right photograph for Fr. Bergoglio. There are other things to mention too, which, regrettably, I hope to get to soon. I dislike wasting my time having to clean up after the mess that is Ms. Webb’s sloppy-false screed. And I’m simply aghast that Mint Press News published this trash.

The Dialogue between the Qur’an and the Psalms

The Qur’an identifies the Book of Psalms by the term Zabur three times. On the first two of these occasions, the Qur’an refers to the Zabur and also to Dawood, David (see Ayat 4:163; 17:55; 21:105). And within these three verses, or Ayat, the Psalms are emphasized in special, quiet ways.

Everyone who has read our Scriptures knows that there is much conversation between the texts. Themes and characters from the Hebrew Scriptures are discussed in new ways in the New Testament, and then they are considered in fresh and different ways yet again in the Qur’an.

We see this ongoing conversation present, quite obviously, on the literal level of the text. Every page of the New Testament is in overt dialogue with the Hebrew Scriptures. And every page of the Qur’an is in open communication with both the New Testament and the Hebrew Scriptures.

However, this dialogue between the Scriptures also has numerous other levels, levels that we have only begun to discover.

For example, the individual Surahs of the Qur’an have a direct parallel relationship with the Psalms of the same title number. Surah 1 shares literary features with Psalm 1, Surah 2 with Psalm 2, and so on, all the way to Surah 114 and Psalm 114.

This essay demonstrates and explores this connection between our Scriptures. It shall present the strong literary ties between 9 pairs of Surahs and Psalms of the same title number.


Surah 1 and Psalm 1

A clear and effective way to see the connections between the Surahs and the Psalms is simply to compare Surah 1 and Psalm 1.

Surah 1 and Psalm 1 are both short, yet have many shared words and themes, including:

-Both discuss the good path, and the unhelpful path.

-Both infer choices we are to make. Both guide us in making good choices.

-Both discuss the Day of Judgment.

-Both discuss negative types of behavior that are good to avoid.

-Both make interesting use of the word “and.”

And there is a more subtle, but powerful, connection:

-The Hebrew name of the Book of Psalms is Tehillim, which means, “The Praises”; and the second verse of Surah 1 of the Qur’an states “all praise is due to Allah”; meanwhile,

-The word “Qur’an” means “The Recitation,” and the verb in Psalm 1 that we humans are encouraged to practice, “higeh,” means to recite, murmur, repeat, ponder upon, and wrestle with.

-Therefore, the title of each Sacred Scripture, the “Quran” and the “Tehillim,” is mentioned, in translated form, in the first verses of the Other sacred text!

It is now abundantly clear that Surah 1 and Psalm 1 are connected with each other. Allah-God loves this sort of deep and meaningful wordplay and relationship between the sacred texts.

The Qur’an and the Psalms begin with each other, with a dialogue. (Psalm 1 blatantly begins in this way, in that it mentions the Torah, twice, in its first verses. So the Book of Psalms begins by recommending itself, and all Scriptures, to inter-textuality and dialogue.) This is tremendously important.

As this dialogue continues, it grows more subtle.

By the time that we arrive at the final Surah of the Qur’an, Surah 114, the connections between each Surah and Psalm, while remaining highly meaningful, will be much more understated.


Surah 22 and Psalm 22

Psalm 22 is the main Psalm of the Crucifixion of Jesus. While the New Testament’s deep discussion of Psalm 22 cannot be taken up here, important appearances of Psalm 22 in the New Testament are: Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34; Jn 19:23. Additionally, Luke 23:43 is reminiscent of the joyful conclusion of Psalm 22.

Also, when Jesus is mocked during the Crucifixion, there are further references to Psalm 22.

Surah 22 of the Qur’an has at least forty-five (45) allusions to Psalm 22. This is a conservative count, not including the very subtle connections between them. Here are a few demonstrations:

Verse 1: “O people! Guard against (the punishment from) your Lord; surely, the violence of the hour is a grievous thing.” Jesus, in John’s Gospel, speaks of the “hour” that he will go through at his Passion and Crucifixion. Indeed, Psalm 22 highlights exactly the difficulties and the violence of this event, as does this first Ayah of Surah 22.

The Qur’an’s next verse discusses pregnant and nursing women. Echoing this, the Psalmist of Psalm 22 says: “For you (God) drew me forth from the belly, and made me secure on the breasts of my mother. Upon you I was cast from the womb, from the belly of my mother you have been my God.” (Psalm 22:10-11) Surah 22 is entitled The Pilgrimage (Hajj); we see in the transfer of the infant Psalmist, this movement from the womb to God, a powerful repetition of the theme of life, development, and pilgrimage of Surah 22. In Psalm 22, the Psalmist is undergoing a difficult passage of this pilgrimage, as difficult as the shock and outrage that the infant feels when being born/delivered from the womb.

Again, the suffering people in Ayah 22:2 are so stunned and bewildered by the punishment that they seem to be “intoxicated”; likewise, the ranting complaints of the Psalmist in Psalm 22 are of similar hyperbolic expanse, because of the great pain. Ayah 22.2 concludes, “the chastisement of Allah will be severe.”

Just as Psalm 22 alludes to the actual process of delivery at birth, a few Ayat later, at 22:5, there is another mention of “wombs,” and Allah will “Bring you forth as babies, then that you may attain your maturity, and . . . (eventually) die.” This again is echoing the processes of birth, life, and death of Psalm 22. There is much more hidden in this one verse, Ayah 22:5; recall that at the two-thirds mark of Psalm 22, there is a radical shift in perspective, as the Psalmist suddenly has been given insight, knowledge, and possibly a mystical experience—and the Psalmist spends the rest of the Psalm praising God in some of the most joyful verses of the Bible. Jesus, on the Cross, certainly recited this Psalm to its conclusion, celebrating the Resurrection that he had rock-solid faith in, even as he was dying in pain. Ayah 22:5 also speaks of the Resurrection, without mentioning Jesus by name. The end of this Ayah speaks of sterile land being transformed by rain; with the rain, the earth “stirs and swells and brings forth of every kind a beautiful herbage.” This too echoes the Resurrection experience at the end of Psalm 22. And the earth itself gives new birth.

In its own right, Psalm 22 concludes with future “unborn generations” of new people who will attest to these things themselves, in joy.

Again praising these true processes of life, Ayah 22:6 declares, “This is because Allah is the Truth and because he gives life to the dead and because he has power over all things.”

Although Psalm 22 begins with bitter suffering, it ends with radical joy and praise, without mentioning actual “Resurrection.” However, for Christians and Muslims, the notion of the Resurrection is clearly present in the Psalm’s final verses. Psalm 23, following Psalm 22, is often read at funerals, because it too speaks powerfully of the processes of life, of our ongoing pilgrimage, and also speaks of the Resurrection without mentioning that term. Ayah 22:7 says, “Allah shall raise up those who are in the graves,” and Ayah 22:9 mentions “the day of Resurrection.”

Again, echoing the good things promised by the approaching Psalm 23, with its restorative waters and meadows and feasts, Ayah 22:14 promises, “Surely Allah will cause those who believe and do good deeds to enter gardens beneath which rivers flow…”

In fact, Surah 22 has glimpses of the future joyful harmony of Córdoba and Andalusia, when Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived in peace. Ayah 22:17 mentions “Jews” and “Christians.” Forecasting the shared worship spaces of Córdoba, Ayah 22:40 speaks of “cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques in which Allah’s name is much remembered…”

Nor does this picture of harmony in civilization preclude the tough work of healing and repentance that all individual souls must undergo. We have discussed the exuberant “reversal” or “change” that occurs at the two-thirds point of Psalm 22. In a complex literary maneuver, Ayah 22.22 reverses this reversal! Sometimes the healing and purification last longer than one might choose (sic): “Whenever they desire to go forth from it, from grief, they shall be turned back into it, and taste the chastisement of burning.”

Following this verse, Ayah 22:23 sounds like Psalm 23 again: “Surely Allah will make those who believe and do good deeds enter gardens beneath which rivers flow; they shall be adorned therein with bracelets of gold and (with) pearls, and their garments therein shall be of silk.” This ongoing transformation, this Hajj, this pilgrimage, changes our own speech and capacities of communication: “And they are guided to goodly words, and they are guided into the path of the Praised One.” (Ayah 22:24) Human speech improves.

Ayah 22:35 mentions hearts that “tremble,” just as Psalm 22 speaks of the fear/awe of the Lord.

The Qur’an’s dialogue with the Psalms often employs hidden humor. Psalm 22 mentions that the Psalmist feels like a “worm.” Surah 22 transforms this into a way of speaking of the creative power of Allah, as the unbelievers’ false gods do not have the power to create a “fly.” (Ayah 22:73)

The humor itself has multiple purposes. For example, it shows the manifold ways in which Allah can transform suffering and shame into goodness and celebration. This is a good model for spiritual leaders, who can often assist in times of healing and transition by the discerning deployment of humor.

Ayat 22:58, 59, 61, 63 and 66 allude, in unique ways, to the transformation from the suffering of Psalm 22 to the gardens of Psalm 23.


Surah 23 and Psalm 23

The previous section discussed how Surah 22 and Psalm 22 address developments and processes, which are connected with pilgrimage and Hajj. These journeys of growth and transformation often have difficult episodes that lead to better states of being and higher orders of awareness.

Early in Surah 23 this entire developmental process is rehearsed in verse 23:14, “then we made the seed a clot, then we made the clot a lump of flesh, then we made (in) the lump of flesh bones, then we clothed the bones with flesh, then we caused it to grow into another creation, so blessed be Allah, the best of creators.” In addition to its resonances with Psalms 22 and 23, this Ayah has connections to Ezekiel and Paul.

A single reading of Surah 23 reveals at least twenty-five clear echoes from, and allusions to, Psalm 23, the famous shepherd psalm. Ayah 23:1 says, “Successful indeed are the believers.” This is an obvious parallel to the sense of “arrival” or “success” that is found in parts of Psalm 23. Ayah 23:2 continues examining the process of those “Who are humble in their prayers,” showing that the “successful” nature of the first Ayah is attributable entirely to Allah-God. And the term “prayers” reminds us of “psalms.” Humility, already highlighted by the Qur’an, will increase even more in importance at the conclusion of the Qur’an.

Part of Psalm 23 is the re-appropriation, or actual first appropriation, of the Garden, of the fullness of Creation. Ayah 12 reminds us of this: “And certainly we created humanity out of an extract of clay.” The next Ayah discusses “resting place,” which also reminds us of Psalm 23.

Ayah 23:19 brings us deeper into this garden paradise: “Then we cause to grow thereby gardens of palm trees and grapes for you; you have in them many fruits and from them do you eat.” Although we cannot explore it here, the next verse moves from palm tree to olive tree in what is perhaps a ‘softening’ or intentionally ‘gentle’ interpretation of the Torah: “And a tree that grows out of Mount Sinai which produces oil and a condiment for those who eat.” (Ayah 23:20) We also see in this Ayah the olive oil and the banquet of Psalm 23. The feast continues in Ayat 23:33 and 23:51.

The overflowing cup of Psalm 23 becomes an overflowing valley in Ayah 23:27. The “valley,” of course, is another feature of Psalm 23. (Valleys that have suffered also become joyfully watered in Psalm 84, as a result of pilgrimage.)

The “paths of righteousness” of Psalm 23 are mentioned in Ayah 23:49, which has another allusion to the Torah: “And certainly we gave Musa (Moses) the Book that they may follow a right direction.”

Immediately following this, Ayah 23:50 sweetly brings Mary and Jesus into the paradise of Psalm 23. In doing this, the Qur’an unites two New Testament people in a setting within a Psalm of the Hebrew Scriptures: “And we made the son of Marium and his mother a sign, and we gave them a shelter on a lofty ground having meadows and springs.”


Surah 78 and Psalm 78

Psalm 78:23-24 speaks of the doors of heaven being opened, and food raining down upon the Israelites in the desert. Recall that Jacob, in Genesis 28, called the Ladder that he had seen in the vision the “gate of heaven.”

Similar to Psalm 78, there is an opening of heaven in Surah 78: “And the heaven shall be opened so that it shall be all openings.” (Ayah 78:19) There are many other verses in the Qur’an that speak of heavenly doors being opened and good things being bestowed upon humanity.

There are other connections between this Surah and Psalm. Also, this opening of the heavens is related to the Mystical Psalm Structures, discussed in a forthcoming essay. See also John 1:51.


Surah 82 and Psalm 82

Once in a course at the GTU in Berkeley, the esteemed Professor Donn Morgan (of CDSP) asked the class a question: “What do you think that John Dominic Crosson says is the most important Psalm?”

Unbeknownst to the class, Professor Morgan had obtained the newly published Soundings in the Theology of Psalms, in which Crosson, one of the most famous Biblical scholars of today, is discussed by J. Clinton McCann Jr. At this time, I was doing my initial research on the Psalms, and so when this question was asked, I thought of key Psalms I was working with.

When the class had made various guesses at the answer, Professor Morgan surprised us: “Psalm 82.” I probably made a look of incomprehension, but then, the more I reflected on it, it started to make good sense.

Crosson goes even further, saying that Psalm 82 is the most important Scripture in the entire Bible.

Psalm 82 excoriates bad leaders.

Psalm 82 rehearses how leaders have been given their place and their power by God. Unfortunately, bad leaders knowingly choose to abuse this power over the lives of other human beings. For this, God will give them a most severe demotion, and a tumultuous death, says Psalm 82.

Similarly, Surah 82 is about the Day of Judgment, and about the cleaving apart of the heavens that will occur on that day. Additionally, on that day, the souls of all people shall be clearly seen. The deeds that they have done on earth will be entirely visible.

Surah 82 mentions beings who guide humanity, similar to the leaders of Psalm 82: “And yet truly over you there are guardians.” (82:10) Who are these guardians? Unlike Psalm 82, these “keepers” seem to be higher than humans, possibly angels. The Study Quran reports, “Guardians refers to angels who preserve the record of all the deeds of human beings . . . most maintain that each individual has two angels solely responsible for recording the deeds that he or she performs in this life.” (TSQ, pp. 1485-1486) Actually, Psalm 82 calls societal leaders “elohim,” which can mean “human potentates,” or “angels,” or even “gods.” They lose this position, however, by their bad leadership, and they will “die like mortals.”

A few Ayat later in the Qur’an, the punishments of the wicked are discussed, but a new word is used to describe this wayward group: they are called “profligate,” or “libertines,” which makes a subtle echoing back to the spoiled leaders of Psalm 82.

This analysis has considered falls from power and lost opportunities to truly construct good things in society. Of course, all is not lost. We shall return to these themes, in transformed and vibrant ways, soon.


Surah 84 and Psalm 84

Psalm 84 is a central Psalm of the Psalter. It is integral to many of the Psalm Structures, which space does not permit us to discuss here.

Likewise, Surah 84 speaks of the “hard striving” of life, and how life itself is like a pilgrimage.

Psalm 84 says of the pilgrims, “They advance from strength to strength (yelku mechayil el chayil), each will appear before God.”

Surah 84 says of humanity, “Oh Humanity! Surely you must strive (to attain) to your Lord, a hard striving until you meet Him.”

And Surah 84 is keenly aware of the internal transformations that the pilgrims progress through: “That you shall most certainly enter stage after stage.” This expands the Psalm’s journey “from strength to strength.”

Already, so soon after the dramatic errors of Psalm 82 and Surah 82, God is reassuring all people that it is always possible to turn back to Allah, and to receive mercy, and to grow in love.


Surah 88 and Psalm 88

The call and response between our Scriptures is often both deep and lively.

For example, Psalm 88 is the most despairing of the Psalms, and, on the literal surface level, is the only Psalm that expresses no hope. God is sought, but nowhere to be found. The Psalm ends in a shocking discussion of loneliness and abandonment. The Hebrew is intentionally murky, and the Psalm concludes by saying something like: “My only acquaintance has disappeared into the darkness.”

Friendly faces flood Surah 88 (see Ayah 88:8). Indeed, this Surah has a beautiful, tranquil list of many of the wonders that await us in Paradise.

The Psalmist of Psalm 88 is hurt and alone, asking demanding questions of God.

By way of contrast, Surah 88 implores us to ask Allah about the wonders of this physical creation, and of the cosmos.

Just as the distress and anguish of Psalm 22 is followed by its joyous conclusion, and a serenity which continues into Psalm 23, so too here we see a more mature and advanced development: the sheer hopelessness of Psalm 88 is followed, and answered, in the Qur’an, by lists of good things that Allah provides for us in Surah 88.


Surah 112 and Psalm 112

Are humans similar to God? If so, how? Can we grow more like God in our life?

Something remarkable happens in Psalms 111 and 112: The Divine attributes of God that are presented in Psalm 111 become human attributes of the virtuous person in Psalm 112.

Psalm 111 describes God as “gracious and compassionate,” chanun ve-rachum. This sounds like the Basmalah, “In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,” that begins 113 of the 114 Surahs of the Qur’an. But in the next Psalm, 112, these attributes are attributed to the ‘just’ person, who is also “gracious and compassionate,” chanun ve-rachum.

Surah 112 makes a profound reply to this development in the Psalms. Just two Surahs before the end of the Qur’an, Surah 112 is short, having only 4 verses:

1) Say: “He, God, is One,

2)  God, the Eternally Sufficient unto Himself.

3)  He begets not; nor was He begotten.

4)  And none is like unto Him.”

In the light of this Surah’s connection with Psalms 111 and 112, is the Qur’an making a mild rebuttal to the great development that occurs within this pair of Psalms? Nothing is like Allah. We cannot become like God. It is impossible. We shall forever be kept at a very great distance from God, in that we can never become “too much like” the Divine.

The Qur’an here is emphasizing a basic doctrine of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: There is an insurmountable difference between Creator and creation. Despite having created creation, the Creator is infinitely far above and beyond creation. With all the material and matter of creation, for example, we could never build a bridge to the Creator, so far is God beyond us.

Yet we can begin to act like some of God’s own traits. And the Qur’an shows this just as the Psalms and the New Testament show this.

We can begin to learn how to love, and how to be compassionate, merciful, forgiving.

The Qur’an seems to say that there are some divine traits that humans can learn, and some that are reserved for Allah alone. (Islamic theologies state this too.)

Please permit a brief historical digression: If we read the Qur’an from beginning to end, we are reading it in the canonical order of the text. This order, however, is different than the temporal, chronological order in which the text was received over a period of about 23 years by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The shorter Surahs near the end of the Qur’an are actually among the earlier parts of the Qur’an that were given to the Prophet in Mecca. The longer Surahs at the beginning of the Qur’an were given to the Prophet later, in Medina.

Some scholars state that Surah 9 is actually the penultimate Surah that was given to the Prophet, the next-to-last Surah he received. Only Surah 5, The Table Spread, was given after Surah 9. Then the transmission of the Qur’an to the Prophet was complete.

Surah 9 has a remarkable and poignant development. Ayah 9:117 describes Allah as “Kind and Merciful.” Near the end of the Surah, at Ayah 9:128, the Qur’an assigns to the Prophet these same attributes: the Prophet is “kind and merciful.”

The Qur’an says that the Prophet has become like Allah in mercy.

After the 23-year period of the transmission of the Qur’an, the Prophet died. To have been commanded by Allah to record in the Qur’an that he, the Prophet Muhammad, had grown in the divine quality of mercy, must have given him a powerful, if humbling, joy in the remaining time before his death. Some authorities say that Ayat 9:128-129 were the very last verses of the Qur’an to be received by the Prophet. (TSQ, p. 541)

We see here a multi-leveled dialogue between the Psalms and the Qur’an. Surah 112 seems to squarely oppose the transfer of attributes from God to humanity. Yet the very final verses (in chronological order) of the Qur’an that were given to the Prophet seem to validate the process of Psalms 111-112.


Surah 114 and Psalm 114

Surah 114 and Psalm 150 conclude their respective books.

Psalm 150 points to what the heavenly celebration will be like: dancing, music, joy, and loud celebration in the presence of God.

Similarly, Psalm 114, the numerical parallel to Surah 114, has emphatic action, as nature goes into convulsions at the sight of the Exodus event.

In contrast to both Psalms 114 and 150, Surah 114 is quiet and introspective. It considers how we make internal decisions, within our mind and heart.

As Surah 1 and Psalm 1 are connected with each other, so are Surah 114 and Psalm 114 connected with each other—but in a very different set of ways.

Surah 1 and Psalm 1 share a raft of vocabulary terms. And this establishes a precedent, as it happens in the first unit of both Scriptures.

Yet with Surah 114 and Psalm 114, there are not many shared words. Instead, there is a connection of call-and-answer, and a progression, and an exquisite dance between the two texts.

Psalm 114 is dramatic, and the scene of action is very exterior. It happens in the wilderness, at the Red Sea and by the desert mountains and at the Jordan River. The Psalm celebrates the Exodus.

In response to the Exodus, nature herself 1) dances like young sheep and rams in the springtime, and 2) is amazed at the sight of the Exodus. Mountains jump up and down. The Red Sea and the Jordan River are severed, their currents reversed.

Why do the land and the water, these two elements, act strangely?

It is because of the new connection between God and human beings. This connection of the people and God is the birth of the Hebrew people, as they pass through the Red Sea. This passing through the Red Sea is a birth. Broken water. Red. A birth. A new connection between God and Humanity is the birth of a new Humanity. Mother Earth, and her waters, sense this and respond appropriately with the throes of birth.

Surah 114 was given to us perhaps a millennium after Psalm 114, after much human evolution had occurred in the light of earlier Scriptures.

Its title is “Humanity”:

1) Say: “I seek refuge in the Lord of humans,

2) The King of humans,

3) The God of humans,

4) From the evil of the whisperings of the slinking (Shaitan/Satan),

5) Who whispers into the hearts of humans,

6) From among the jinn and humans.”

This utterly profound Surah is a sign of tremendous human evolution.

Whereas Psalm 114 had nature terrified and leaping before God’s theophany, and features long external human journeys, Surah 114 speaks volumes of an immense internal awareness within the Human Person.

Surah 114 asks us to repeat its words, and to make these words our words. (The Psalms do this too.) When we say these words in ourselves, our interior selves become more holy, aware, and evolved. When we say these words in ourselves, we become more aware of the internal geography of our own soul.

And what we see is awesome.

Our relationship with Allah has become so full that it must be described, initially, with three statements of who God is for us: Allah is “the Lord of humans, the King of humans, [and] the God of humans.”

We have grown to the point where we have to think of our relationship with Allah in multiple ways. Indeed, our comprehension has become more complex.

With that, there is greater responsibility that we must exercise over our thinking. We must take greater care for our mental life, our mental activity.

As more complex and evolved human beings, we are potentially vulnerable to sneaky whispers from the slinking/ withdrawing Satan. With our more developed mental antennae, we can pick up smaller “transmissions” from Satan. Satan attacks our hearts, the place of love. Satan wants to divide us, and to separate us from each other. The more we humans evolve, the more we transform into people of love. If Satan is able to stop our loving each other, than he can stop our growth, our evolution.

Love opens us up to evolutionary growth in more spectrums of reality. But we must show discernment as we enter an awareness of these realms: We are now aware of whispers that come to us from both “jinn” and “men.” This positive growth is leading us to be intelligent and reflective as we become aware that we are receiving communications from a wider spectrum of reality.

We must carefully observe and govern our expanding mental life. We must be humble, and stay close to God. This is how the Qur’an concludes.

Psalm 114 showed the Israelites being led by the hand on a big journey in wild places. Mountains leapt, seas parted. The Israelites oscillated greatly, often wanting to return to the fleshpots that they had previously known. They radically bounced between fear and anger/pride.

By way of contrast, the final Surah of the Qur’an is teaching us about our evolving life of mind and soul.

See the progression?

We might, however, find seeds, kernels, of this tremendous growth hiding, latent, in Psalm 114. This Psalm ends with a verse about God, “Who turns the rock into a pond of water, the flint into a flowing fountain of water.” Initially, this might seem like simple powerful external imagery of God’s awesome power, with which he has been awing the Israelites and teaching them introductory lessons about their lives, their selves, and their relationship with God.

Yet we might also recall Ezekiel’s discussion of rocky hearts, and the Pharaoh’s hardened heart, and we might discern the beginning hints of something different. The Exodus journey, led by God, is softening the hearts of the Israelites, and transforming their hearts into hearts of love. During the Exodus, for example, the Israelites had to become better at community. Part of this is their growing ability to make better choices; To discern, and to make calm, just judgments.

Rocky hearts become springs of love.

The parallel relationship with the Qur’an helps us to draw out this truth from the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures! Likewise, the dramatic exterior action of Psalm 114 helps us to better see and to be awed by the huge quiet interior developments that are now happening in Humanity in Surah 114! Our Scriptures walk forward, hand in hand.

There is much more: Now that the dialogue between Psalm 114 and Surah 114 has developed our sense of the dimension, the spectrum, of time, and of evolution, and of our receiving God’s own powers and gifts—what if Surah 114 is reminding us that if our evolution continues, we shall be given tremendous powers by God, the ability to move mountains and to dialogue deeply with nature? Recall the above discussion of Surahs 112 and 9, with their nuanced discussion of our capacity of receiving God’s powers.

Again, Surah 114 discusses choices instrumental to our human evolution.

And this Surah discusses cosmic forces that arrive to us, forces that are calmly appearing, or rudely interjected, into our thoughts. These visiting thoughts may be for good or for ill. The growing human person must learn to read these thoughts, and to discern from whence they arrive. The growing human person must learn discernment.

The simple act of the decision, of spiritual/ mental volition, occurring in the quiet privacy of our own mind, is revealed to be more powerful and far more advanced than the leaping up and down of mountains, as wonderful as that might be.

Surah 114 is evolutionary, and very aware of our human need to grasp the cosmic ramifications of each and every one of our decisions.

They go together. If we make good decisions, and become a loving unified humanity, then the cosmos has no limits for us; in fact, the cosmos, created by Allah-God, will lovingly respond to a humanity that has grown in love.

Our Scriptures, united in dialogue, help us on this journey.

[A downloadable version of this essay is available at ]


Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, editor-in-chief. The Study Quran. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2015.

Jacobson, Rolf A., ed. Soundings in the Theology of Psalms. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011.