Being a predecessor means leaving something for those who follow. Being a predecessor to another, as well as following those who come before, is part of being human. Any good human being learns from his mentors and goes as far as that mentor will take him and then takes a step without the mentor and journeys alone – or follows a different mentor. Virgil could only take Dante through Purgatory, Beatrice through most of Paradise, and Bernard to the highest region of Paradise.

Being a predecessor means self-sacrifice – caring more about the happiness of another than oneself. Beatrice had to descend in order to bring Dante up. A mentor must want the mentee to exceed him. The mentor must desire nothing more than a footnote in the story of the mentee’s life. Both the mentor and the mentee are main characters in the story of their own life – the mentor was once a mentee and has turned around and now helps those below him rise up. Likewise the mentee, when he reaches the stage of mentor, must help those below him and push them even farther then he has gone. If he does not do this, he is a wicked mentor, or no mentor at all.

There is no clear transition from mentee to mentor – all people are both mentees and mentors simultaneously. All people are both learning and teaching; which, oddly enough, means that a good mentor also learns from his mentee. There is not a one-way flow of wisdom and understanding. Wisdom does not pour from one person into another, but rather begins with the fear of God and never ends, always increasing. Jesus is everyone’s mentor – only he can lead one to the Father. He is our example of self-sacrifice and love and because of his love, we can go farther than ever thought possible; we can become children of God.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

It’s been said that of every ten people you know in Bible college – good, young, Christian leaders – only one will finish the race strong. That is, only one will wait for what is promised by God and remain faithful to the end. Endurance does not last when one starts the race strongly. I heard this number – 10% – when listening to a chapel by Steve Farrar. He told a story about a man named John. When John was 21 years old and in Bible College, an older, wiser man told him to stay close to Jesus every day.

“Of course, of course.”

“No, John. Stay close to Jesus every day.”

“I know.”

“Out of every ten strong Christian leaders who start the race strong, only one will finish strong.”

John, in disbelief, wrote 24 names in his bible – 24 students who had started the race strong. When John was 54 years old, only three names remained in his bible.

I want to run a good race. I want to keep my eyes on Jesus and live a good life, and die well. I will sin, but I refuse to live in sin. I won’t ignore the voice of God, because transformation is slow – very slow. There are no shortcuts to happiness and, despite our greatest efforts, there is only one way and then every other way.

Socrates lived a good life and, though I don’t know if he would confess that Jesus is Lord, he was honest in word and deed. Odysseus said, this way is hard, I will find another. But Socrates said, this way is hard, I will keep going.

As much as I would like to appear wise, I would much rather be wise. And to be wise, I think, one must look foolish. I want to be okay with looking foolish. But it’s really difficult. I’ll try to keep my eyes on Jesus, whatever that means, and endure the race.

I have been trying to learn to love for a long time. I’ve wanted to love properly, and have spent hours thinking about how this is done. Practically, I haven’t followed through with simple acts of sacrifice that are universally viewed as acts of love. Without acts to follow my intended love, I am not loving. Christ is our example. He did not just think, speak, meditate. He acted. St. John, St. Peter, St. Joan of Arc, St. Francis. They are our role models. Like Jesus, they emptied themselves, pouring out love on others: sacrificing, suffering.

My question now: If I am sacrificing so that I can ascend, am I doing the right act for the wrong reason?

My first reaction to this question is to say, yes, I am sinning. But why does Christianity constantly remind us of our reward. Isn’t that the substance of hope? Should we look ahead to the glorification of ourselves as a means to get through the suffering and sacrificing?
More than anything, I want to be happy. I would go through anything to be truly happy. I believe that only God can fulfill this happiness, for He is the source of my being. I praise the Lord and worship him, for he is Good. I need him, but he wants me. The love for ourselves – the desire for happiness – can be transferred to another.

What if I wanted my friend to be happy more than I wanted myself to be happy? I would do anything to make them happy, including laying down my life for them. This self-sacrificing love is godly. It begins with empathy and it ends with action. I will let another person hurt me to show my love for them because I value their happiness over my own. Hatred is death. Love is life.

Fake self-sacrifice as a means to elevate oneself is not love. True love puts others above oneself. “Glaucon and I” went down to Piraeus but “we” went up to Athens. Christ made himself nothing, but is highly exalted – the name above all names. And, united to Christ, we will ascend if we follow his example.

Reflections – they’re romantic. The reflection of rolling hills and mountains in a glassy lake is more interesting than the hills and mountains themselves. The reflection of a room through a looking glass is more appealing than the room itself. Seeing a famous actor in person is underwhelming. Images are iconic.

When you no longer see God through a glass dimly, but instead see him face to face, will you be disappointed? Creation is a reflection of God, but one could easily fall in love with the image – worship the icon. I won’t stop, I can’t stop. People love the romance of pursuing without obtaining.

Last summer I was an intern on the show, Californication. The main character, Hank Moody, has a teenage daughter with his ex-girlfriend – his supposed soul mate. Though he was unhappy when they were together, his life ambition is to reunite with his soul mate so that they can be a happy family, ever after. The problem is, he sucks. He’s constantly getting drunk, sleeping with other girls and ruining any chance of winning her back. For him, the last end is union with his soul mate. But, if they were united it would all be over. There would be no more romance because he would have obtained his life goal. Because union with his ex-girlfriend cannot result in happiness, there must be wrenches thrown in to separate the two. The pursuit of uniting with his soul mate is more romantic than actually being with her. Therefore the highest pleasure Hank Moody will ever experience is the romance of pursuing the love of his life. Once he gets her, the game is over.

Soul mates are for drunks and sexaholics who cheat out of boredom. Romanticism is good, but it can’t stop short. An icon cannot be the last end of man. The last end must be the source. Lucky for us, we can never know God fully, so the romanticism will never end. We will always be learning more about God and always want to know more. Images are romantic because they show us an aspect of something we desire to know more fully.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise then when we’ve first begun.

On the advice of a good friend I started reading essays by Martha Nussbaum, one of which was “Augustine and Dante on the Ascent of Love.” I was pumped. I semi-seriously consider my reading of Pseudo-Dionysius (another Christian mystic) to be the moment I became Christian. It was probably more of a big step in my Christian life. But regardless, my reading of Pseudo-Dionysius changed me. It changed me because of a single image. The image of a soul ascending. What it would look like for a soul to ascend, I can’t tell; But I conjured up something in my mind, and that something made me think about the Christian journey differently than I ever had before.

We have limitations, one of them being the inability to fly. We can walk any direction. We can go down. But we can’t go up – not without meeting a lot of resistance. But, what if you waited. And in waiting, were slowly drawn upward by a power outside of your own? What if you looked up, held out your arms, and began rising? As if gravity stopped and a slow, steady force opposed to gravity began pulling you upward?

What does this mean? I don’t know. But I think it’s representative of something that literally happens. A literal movement toward heaven.

I read Plato soon after Dionysius and discovered how heavily Dionysius was influenced by him. I discovered Diotoma’s Ladder. The fuel for the ascension, I realized, was love. Love of the Good and the Beautiful. I thought that if one loved enough, it would be enough. I thought, maybe, that one could become perfect in this life. That one could see Beauty, not as it appears on earth, but Beauty itself.

I don’t think that anymore. I will always sin in this life. I need a savior. I need Christ. Ascension. Descent.

In “..Ascent of Love,” Nussbaum writes about Augustine’s conversion and the stages of his work moving from the Platonist ascent to Christian love. No matter what we do in this life we will always be dragged down. We are creatures of habit. Our love will stray. But God will draw us up.