A Literary Meditation for Lent

First, friends, an apology. I was scheduled to review a family worship CD today, and in the motion of moving a family from Minneapolis to San Francisco (and back to Minneapolis, and then back to San Francisco…) I have managed to both misplace Haley’s kindly lent CD and forget to write the review. If this gives a glimpse into the state of my soul this Lent, well then: do pray for me.

However. God is good, and grace is large. I am gratefully reading Dante’s Inferno with a group of women alongside whom I’ve been reading and conversing for almost 7 years now. For those of you who haven’t picked it up since high school, it is an allegory of one man’s descent into Hell on Good Friday – into the reality of sin and its consequences – and his emergence on Holy Saturday. Guided by Virgil, Dante comes to see sin and its self-generated, divinely appointed punishment for what it really is, and to leave it behind in order to at last come forth, “to look once more upon the stars.” Needless to say, it’s excellent Lenten reading. I highly commend the entire Divine Comedy – especially if you can read it with some serious-minded friends.

Although I don’t love her translation, Dorothy Sayers (she of the Lord Peter Wimsey series: best mystery series ever) has an excellent introduction as well as some essays on Dante. I’ve been meditating upon a few of her comments on the Paradiso (the volume in which he travels to Heaven):

Heaven is where the soul, knowing God as he is, knows itself in God as God knows it and as it really is. It knows at last what it was made for, and plunges rapturously into the infinite understanding of love and joy, in which every partial end that it had fumblingly proposed to itself – every loose end, as one might say – of its being is knit up into God. It was made for this: to mirror the splendour, and shining back, to declare I AM. Now the point is this: that this free assent of the creature must be his assent to Reality. The facts of the situation is that he is a created being; that the end of his existence is to mirror God’s glory to the utmost of his capacity; and that he can only enjoy or attain his true selfhood by letting his desire and will be wheeled about that center of reality from which ‘Heaven and all nature hang.’

So, if this – assenting to my reality as a creature made solely to mirror God’s glory, and realizing that my only chance at attaining true selfhood is in submission to my Creator – is heaven, what is hell? What choices am I making every day that defy this reality? How am I actively living in contempt of my Creator? The folks I’ve been meeting in the Inferno do this in a variety of ways, and I’m sad to say that I feel uncomfortably familiar with way too many of them.

I’m thankful, though, for Dante’s – and Dorothy Sayers’ – way of naming what we are truly created for, so that we can recognize and repent our deviation. Isn’t that what Lent is all about? Hooray for literature that is both beautiful and devotional!

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