Lately my days have been spent trekking through the cold mud of literary landscapes and:
“Gross hailstones, water gray with filth and snow streaking down across shadowed air…” (Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy – Dante’s Inferno)
Dante’s description of the third circle of hell is anything but hot and yet I love the contradictions heralding the layers of perceptions of hell. We have fire. We have ice. Dante’s world is cold, the worst state of the heart. But his passion for “righteousness” (or was it POLITICS?! methinks that’s the fire.) burned through his creativity, piercing centuries of religion with the worst of damnation’s offerings. I can only shake my head in awe and wonder. Such tenacity and brilliance and so much energy expended in reaction. Part of me wonders where we’d be today if this work had not burned through centuries of the devout, hopeful of God’s approval.
Where do you land after you’ve read Dante’s Inferno? Do you run back to the fiery realms of the more popular infernal damnation? It’s pretty mild compared to Dante’s ripping, shredding, devouring, icy, dismembering annals of recrimination…
It’s been mind-numbing. But while wading through the slush, compiling dissections for literary criticism of the third circle of Dante’s vision, my kids took the time to inundate me with chocolate cake, gifts and cards. Now there’s a bit of salvation: chocolate and cards and laughter.
My youngest didn’t realize how perfectly timed his card to me, shown above. I let out a howl. For one thing, the card has the word “hell” in it and this is a BIG DEAL for my son. He doesn’t much like cussing. But he’s heard me let a few slip. Especially the one I just don’t think of as a curse word. I mean, really. HELL. This card is his way of embracing the more impulsive, human parts of his mom. I thought it mighty big of him and more loving than any gruesomely conjured divine “love” freezing us all out of compassion and hope in the name of “redemption.” Oiy, but I DON’T have a problem with some of religion’s layers. It’s NOT like any of it has oppressed whole centuries of lives or shackled minds in fear. [sarcasm alert]
Is it? Or is it that we’ve just not had the appetite for anything but the burning cold shut-out? How much has religion influenced and how much has it facilitated what has been the inevitably harsh boil of self-hatred? Where does it start?
I don’t know. I just know I need cats and kids with bigger hearts than the pseudo-god (as opposed to the very real Divine flow loving) and delicious fire burning us all into acceptance of every layer of what it is to be human, every “circle” of the “hell” we can make the most of, in spite of centuries of condemnation. And comic relief from the son whose sense of humor runs deep, drawing inspiration from veins of precious wicked refusal of shame:
Is it any wonder my favorite Psalm includes these words:
“If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Thy hand will lead me…Even the darkness is not dark to Thee…darkness and light are alike to Thee…” (excerpts from Psalm 139)
Somewhere between the daunting realms of Dante and the Psalms of David, we run into the truth. These beds we make in hell, we make ourselves – even if it’s all we were taught to do up to that point. The heights we climb, we choose them. And somewhere past the worst distortion of love and around the damnation bend we find the real thing. The only solid salvation. It will likely lick your toes and meow. It will beg your brain to melt and cease the endless dismembering of self in thoughts of good and evil. It will definitely inundate you with a rich acceptance chuckling in the love of children. It will likely ask you to bend a few rules and cook up something steamy delicious behind closed doors.
Praise God and pass the firewood. I’m ready to forget Dante!