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.

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