“Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself in a dark wood,
for I had wandered from the straight and true…/How I entered, I can’t bring to mind,/ I was so full of sleep just at that point/ when I first left the way of truth behind.”
These opening lines of Dante’s Divine Comedy have never rung truer to me than in my thirty-fifth and thirty-sixth year.
Some call it the mid-life crisis. I just call it being lost and blinded and losing my way. A lot of things led up to this dark wood. The hope, there is always hope in the Divine Comedy, and in this life–is that light will guide one out of the dark wood. It just takes hell to go through–and purgatory.
I have been reading Rod Dreher’s book again: How Dante Can Save Your Life. I first read it two years ago when I was rereading the Divine Comedy almost obsessively. Dreher’s book brought to light the importance of the greatest poem ever written, but also how pertinent this poem is to the current century. But also how personal the Divine Comedy will touch someone. It changed Rod Dreher’s outlook on life. He had found himself in a dark wood; he had no idea how to get out of it. Reading the Divine Comedy, spiritual direction, counseling, conversation, community was what pulled him out of the dark wood.
Now I find myself in a similar dark wood that Rod Dreher found himself in and countless others found themselves in, including Dante and so many others.
Here are some excellent words Dreher writes in his introduction: “I must warn you about something else before we continue. Many people lost in their own dark wood may convince themselves that the dark wood is all there is, that the journey of life is without direction, and that it can best be endured by taking one’s pleasures where one can. The world is full of those willing to dissuade you from this arduous pilgrimage to liberty, love, and happiness. And it is true: there is no easy way out.
“Some people, though, know in their hearts that staying put is to surrender to slavery. They have eyes to see the sunlight through the forbidding canopy and ears to hear the voice of a trustworthy guide calling them to take the hard road to true freedom. The Commedia (Divine Comedy) invites you to stand up, get moving and become the hero of your own life. Go into the deep, find out who you are, discover who you can be, and return to your everyday life changed–maybe even saved. …as Virgil said to the pilgrim Dante, ‘Let us go. The long road urges us.’ Onward!”
This life is a hell of a journey. It is long and arduous. It can be paved with wonderful things, as well. And other wonderful things that we think will lead to freedom and happiness, but ends up in a ruin. Let us hope for and ask for grace to be brave and take the path of Dante and so many other pilgrims.
(Several insights gleaned from conversations with Dr. Matt Moser, notes from Tony Esolen and Rod Dreher. And from Jon Foreman music.)