Ladder to the Light by Steven Charleston

ladder to the light book cover

I truly needed the boost of hope and courage that reading Steven Charleston’s Ladder to the Light gave me this past month. This is one powerful little book. Charleston, a retired Episcopal priest and bishop, is also an elder of the Choctaw Nation and a practitioner of Zen meditation. He leaves interpretation open for the phrase “the Spirit” so that as many people as possible feel at home in his writing, saying, “theological debates are for another day.” He throws those doors open wide and invites readers “to interpret the nature and meaning of the Spirit for themselves.”

This book is radical in its inclusion and unity without falling into syncretism, and avoids the trap of offering spiritual platitudes and nothing more. Fellow leftists will appreciate its non-hierarchical, anti-private property ideals and its focus on kinship and ethical relationships, reciprocity, and seeing one’s community as an extended family.

I loved Charleston’s points about how hierarchies and expectations of conformity get in the way of community and relationship. He discusses the disorganized religion (rather than hierarchical) of his Choctaw faith, and how its lack of organization keeps the focus on shared hopes that aren’t “weighed down by the demand for conformity.” Faith is personal; vision is communal.

“If we are ever to find unity in our diversity, it will not be through status, but through relationship.”

Charleston calls all of us to think and act together, “because we are going to need one another more than ever in the days to come.” He addresses politics and the grave situation that we’re currently in; specifically, the loss of trust in the system, and leaders who choose not to be the voice of the people they represent. He stresses that mutual respect has to be at the core of a nation.

This is the kind of book that is chock-full of quotations you want to remember. I wanted to memorize them, share them on social media, share them with loved ones. I feel like the book is timeless, like I could read it again and again, and each time it will reach me in a different way.

A few days before I picked up Ladder to the Light, we lost someone very dear to us to COVID. Charleston’s beautiful words below brought me great deal of comfort while I was still reeling. I hope you find solace in them, too.