One caution!

For many years I have seen Dante's Divine Comedy as a metaphor for the spiritual journey -- that one must "go through hell" to get to Heaven. Although Dante's piece in its totality becomes elaborate and ornate, rife with medieval imagery, hard-line Roman Catholic theology and Florentine politics, all of which make the work seem ponderous and of little use to us today, I believe that the basic metaphor, when seen essentially as a symbolic view of an inner journey and freed from the specifics, outlines the direction of the journey rather clearly. So here I will attempt a brief synopsis with those qualifications in mind.

In the midst of a mid-life crisis, Dante realizes that he has strayed from the True Way into the Dark Wood of Error, or Worldliness. As soon as he has realized his loss, Dante lifts up his eyes and sees the first light of the sun, the symbol of divine illumination, lighting the shoulders of a little hill, the Mount of Joy. It is the Easter season, the time of resurrection, and the sun is in its equinoctial rebirth. This juxtaposition of joyous symbols fills Dante with hope, and he sets out at once to climb directly up the Mount of Joy.

Immediately his way is blocked by the Three Beasts of Worldliness -- The Leopard of Malice and Fraud, the Lion of Violence and Ambition, and the She-Wolf of Debauchery -- who drive him back despairing into the darkness of error. But just as all seems lost, the spirit of Virgil, Dante's symbol of human reason, appears and explains that he has been sent to lead Dante from error. There can, however, be no direct ascent past the beasts: the man who would escape them must go a longer and harder way. First he must descend through Hell, the recognition of sin; then he must ascend through Purgatory, the renunciation of sin; and only then may he reach the pinnacle of joy and come to the light of God, Paradiso. Virgil offers to guide Dante, but only as far as human reason can go. Another guide -- Beatrice, the symbol of divine love -- must take over for the final ascent, because human reason is self-limited.

Above the gateway to Dante's journey, the journey into and through Hell, hangs a sign:

"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

That caution is repeated here. Hope, in a very real sense, is the enemy. It is the eternal hope of somehow finally rearranging, reinventing, relegislating the world into something satisfying that deceives us into remaining tied to this world of form as the only possible "reality." The world doesn't "work;" it's not going to "work;" it wasn't designed to "work." Kafka once said this about hope, "Hope? Oh yes, for God there is much hope. For Man, none at all."

Perhaps one of the most direct and important instructions in A Course in Miracles appears in a section of the text entitled "The Real Alternative." It says clearly, directly and simply:

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"Learn now, without despair, there is no hope of answer in the world."
Text, p. 654 (second edition)

With that joyful note, I leave you to your own devices. Thanks for stopping by!

 

 


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