by the secret ladder
Union with God through love is described by St. John of the Cross as a secret ladder. The secret is that this love is an interior wisdom that is simple and enters the intellect without the aid of sensory information or the imagination. There are no forms or ideas to speak of and the experience is so ineffable that it is indescribable. St. John of the Cross says that, “this mystical wisdom occasionally so engulfs souls in its secret abyss that they have the keen awareness of being brought into a place far removed from every creature.” (Dark Night Bk II, chapter 17,6)
He also describes this wisdom as a ladder which become the steps one uses to ascend and descend. These communications from God produce two things within the soul- exaltation and humiliation in which it comes to knowledge of God and of self.
This ladder of contemplation is prefigured, according to St. John, in the ladder Jacob saw in his sleep and “by which the angels were ascending and descending from God to human beings and from human beings to God, while God leaned on the top [Gen. 28: 12-13]. The divine Scriptures say that all this happened at night, while Jacob was sleeping, to disclose how secret is the way and ascent to God and how it differs from human knowledge.” (Dark Nigh Bk II, chapter 18,4)
The reason for calling this secret contemplation a “ladder” is that it is a “science of love” - “an infused knowledge that both illumines and enamors the soul, elevating it step by step to God, its Creator. For is is only love that unites and joins the soul to God.” (Dark Nigh Bk II, chapter 18,5) This describes the state of perfection, which consist in love - “love of God and contempt of self”. It is God who is at the end of the ladder and it is in him that the ladder rests. (Dark Nigh Bk II, chapter 18,4)