Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself in the dark wilderness, for I had wandered
from the straight and true.
How hard a thing it is to tell about,
so savage, dense, and harsh,
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.
Examen, bronze, 2011, Joan Benefiel (American, b. 1974) and Jeremy Leichman (American, b. 1980, Fairfield University
So begins Dante’s epic recounting of his journey from confusion and despair, through examination and repentance, into acceptance of divine love. He does not make his journey through the other worlds alone, of course; his “teacher” Virgil and his beloved Beatrice are there with him along the way, as he moves from the horrors of the unrepentant, through the testing of earthly existence, on to witness those souls in union with God. (Here are the sublime illustrations of this journey by Gustave Dore, including a link to those of William Blake.)
As we come to the midpoint of Lent, we will read this Sunday a story following the same trajectory as Dante’s—The Prodigal Son. This young man likewise awakens to find himself living a life vastly different from the one he had imagined and schemed to live. His basic self-examination followed by his repentance and welcome into the full life of love and relationship in his father’s household forms the basic model for all human experience of seeking God’s love. Here is a contemporary artistic imagining of the process of examen.
We all find ourselves, at various points in life, in the dark wilderness or in the muck. Finding loving companionship in our struggles and accepting the grace that is offered seem to us impossible or at least unlikely—but as both Dante and the wayward son demonstrate, the desire for reunion will provide us ways to be drawn to the help we need.
Our modern acceptance of the false model of individual achievement and failure is not helpful in this process. We were made to be in relationship, in communion and community. And that can be difficult for many of us to accept. Here is a recent piece, well worth the time it takes to read, about one young woman’s mid-life awareness of her family’s need for community. For us, as followers of Christ, that community is grounded in Him—and it is his Body. I hope that our Lenten journey leads us into closer bonds with one another, and with the One who loves us.