“Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray …
and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood.”
The Divine Comedy, Canto 1
So, why did I sign up for “100 Days of Dante”?
First, I never have read the entire Divine Comedy, and realize I may need help to make it through to the end. It’s a big work, in three volumes! Breaking it up into 100 days, one for each canto (section) of the Comedy seems manageable. In college, I read The Inferno – or at least parts of it – and remember little. So the prospect of reading through Dante with regular online guidance from experts, and the opportunity to discuss the work with Jan as we go along, sure makes the book less daunting.
Second, I am intrigued by the guides. As soon as I hear “purgatory,” I assume we are heading into Catholic territory. But most of the sponsoring institutions for "100 Days of Dante" (Baylor, Biola, etc.) fall toward the evangelical Protestant end of the theological spectrum. Hmm! Anything that gets Christians talking across our usual boundaries has appeal for me.
Most important, however, is where I find myself these days. More than midway through my life’s journey (unless I live to 140!) I still face a daunting wilderness: political polarization in the U.S. that sometimes erupts in violence, famine and warfare around the world, simmering racial tensions, the warming of the atmosphere, acidification of the oceans, not to mention a worldwide pandemic that has killed millions – among them people I know. By the time you read this, new headlines will add to this list of woes.
As one of the guides for “100 Days” put it, Dante is a book for times “when it seems life sucks and everything goes wrong.” But it is not only a catalog of horrors and spiraling dead ends; The Divine Comedy offers not only a “vision of human failing,” but also of “human possibility.” The story does not end in the hopeless pit of despair. These days, I need to be reminded of that.