Midpoint on Jacob’s Ladder

Laura Nelson
6 min readAug 24, 2021
(Wikimedia commons: Archangels’ Chapel in Rila Monestery, Jacob’s Ladder)

Hodos anō katō mia kai hōutē. (The path up and down is one and the same.) — Heraclitus, Fragment 60

Five years ago, I managed to execute a simultaneous exit and re-entry: I started transitioning from male to female and began my return to the Christian church. Were you to have asked me ten years ago if this could have been one of the forking paths in the garden of my life, I would have dismissed the thought with a chuckle. While I was never the kind of ex-Catholic to refer to the Roman church with nothing short of venom and bile, I was sure that it was not the kind of spiritual place where I could feel at home. It was too much the “old boys club”, too welded to opinions about sex, gender, and ministry that I believed were rationally meritless and certainly not an institution I could honestly and unreservedly endorse. More importantly, I felt that my long-standing vocation as a philosopher foreclosed the possibility of faith, Christian or otherwise. I thought it was a matter of personal integrity to take a different path. Philosophy is all about persistent and passionate questioning; faith rested upon a still-point in which questioning stops and receptivity begins. If I had continued understanding myself as Christian, going to church, and reciting the prayers publicly, I would have been faking it. Not only “it” but faking myself. I had read enough Kierkegaard to understand that.

Strangely, honesty enticed me down another path. Two other paths. But more on that later.

On the evening of November 8, 2016, I glanced at my cell phone to see that Donald Trump was the projected winner of the state of Florida. My stomach clenched. I feared this might happen, even as I thought it wouldn’t. Although Florida is not an avatar for the entire nation, I suspected that Trump’s atavistic appeal, combined with Hillary Clinton’s awful campaign strategies, might work to get him elected to the presidency. My friend and I watched the returns on television and the internet, glancing at the New York Times’s Electoral College “needle” waving back and forth through the red and blue quadrants. I felt ill. When I awoke the next day, I felt even more ill.

Many of my friends were counseling hope — we can defeat this backsliding into xenophobia and despotism, this is not America, and so on — but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this…

Laura Nelson

Writer, philosopher, information technologist,guitarist, neurotic, polite radical, avid and indiscriminate reader, Episcopalian, trans woman.