Some months ago, I began reading Dante's Divine Comedy together with a friend from the outside. He mailed me copies of one or two Cantos at a time with comments, and I would respond with my comments. It was not the most efficient method, but it worked for us. Dante was a very difficult read for me. I struggled with his style and his language. I would have to read each canto multiple times before it made sense, but without fail each finally sunk in and touched me in significant way.
Dante begins with these words:
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself in a dark wilderness
for I had wandered from the straight and true.
How hard a thing it is to tell about,
that wilderness so savage, dense and dark,
even to think of it renews my fear!
It is so bitter, death is hardly more--
but to reveal the good that came to me,
I shall relate the other things I saw.
In this allegorical poem, Dante is led by the poet Virgil into the depths of hell. In fact the French sculptor Rodin's famous 1904 sculpture that we now call The Thinker is actually his depiction of Dante sitting on the brink of hell pondering the fate of those poor souls in the inferno.
After descending into hell, Dante and Virgil climb back out and then ascend the 7 story mountain of Purgatory, through the redeeming fire, into paradise.
The allegory describes a literal external hell that seems, at least to me, inconsistent with an unlimitedly loving and forgiving God. However I know what hell is like, as I've been there. I've experienced my own personal hell right here on earth. Maybe you have too. Maybe you are lost right now in the middle of life and you find yourself in a dark wilderness.
As for me, I've been in a self-created dark wilderness that started with lies and delusional thinking long before I arrived at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp. It's a wilderness that is truly "savage and dark". It is bitter too, so that "death is hardly more". But in the midst of it, good does come to me. And from it, my hope is that I can continue to relate the other things I saw.
I can tell you with certainly that in that dark wilderness, God is there. God isn't just waiting for me to get out, God is right there with love and grace and to send angels in human form to support, teach, lead and pray for us, just like what Dante experienced in this great poetic work.
Image Source: Auguste Rodin's The Thinker Photographed by Alexandr Tkachuk