The Year of The Divine Comedy – Happy New Year
“Envy and Arrogance and Avarice Are the three sparks that all hearts have enkindled.” (Inferno, Dante, Canto VI, lines 74-75, Pg. 33)
(For those just joining the conversation – I consider Labor Day to Labor Day my “Mental Year”)
The year was off to an incredible start. I was in great physical shape, had just returned from the Andes with family and friends and I was excited for the coming “mental year”. In October John Pribble and I ran up to Colorado for a quick 14er climb and I was full of hope there would be more winter climbs. Then just two weeks later, things changed.
The May Club Father Son Weekend was the first week of November and the weather was perfect. We woke Saturday morning and headed to the cliffs to set up a climbing line for the boys and I decided to rappel down, sans a locking carabineer. Mistake. The fall was fast and all I know is that by God’s grace my hand found the line in time to slow the impact. This is closest that I am aware I came to death.
The left leg took most of the shock, but both heels were blown out, and unwisely I chose to suffer the pain until after the weekend before going to see the doctor. I thought living through the event was success enough.
This took all my physical plans and through them out the door. Working out stopped and the plans to climb were out. I was still getting MRIs in January, as things were not improving. The docs and my wife kept saying, “You just need time.” This was not something I was not use to hearing or heeding.
“For to lose time irks him most who most knows.” (Purgatorio, Dante, Canto III, Line 78, Pg. 16)
By June 2013 things were greatly improving.
When July arrived the May Club Die Hard group made three 14er summits. I felt like I had escaped my Purgatory. My heels, left ankle and knee were strong. But, just days after the climbs I was in the grips of some bronchial virus that wouldn’t let go.
For six weeks I took antibiotics and steroids and slowly came out of the fog. Five weekends I sat at home and each evening after work I walked directly to the couch lost for energy and coughing my head off.
These events are minor compared to what others have suffered this past year, but to me, were new and frustrating. My pride has always convinced me I could do anything I set my mind too, well, the body sometimes has other plans, and pride loves to be crushed.
I cannot remember any physical event in my life that ever slowed me down, or any virus that wasn’t gone in just a few days. This was new to me, and I am sure, more a part of what happens the older you get.“For you should know as the physical pleasures wither away, my desire for conversation and its pleasures grows.” (The Republic, Book I, Line 328d, Plato, Cephalus to Socrates)
Now six weeks later, I am feeling somewhat better as we fly to Colorado. I am weighing and measuring whether my weekend will be spent fly fishing or climbing. I hope it is both.
“Not only does the beauty I behold Transcend ourselves, but truly I believe Its Maker only may enjoy it all.” (Paradiso, Dante, Canto XXX, Lines 19-21, Pg. 157)
Dante’s Divine Comedy was one of my reads that I spent much time with over the year. The poetry requires more time in the endnotes than the poem itself to be a student of the lyric and the pleasure of reading it filled many different moments in what was for me a sedentary year.
As I read The Inferno and contemplated Satan trapped in the lowest layer of hell in Ice as opposed to fire, I watched the snowfall in Northern Michigan. I spent time with a friend there going through his own kind of hell this past year.
I felt freed from Purgatory as John, Brian, Michael, Wes and I reached the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross. The words from Purgatorio’s fourth Canto spoke to me with each step up this long and fantastic hike.
And reading Paradise as I regained my energy just a few weeks ago made heaven feel more like home than planet Earth.
It’s comedic to call my year difficult compared to the difficulties of many around me over the last twelve months. Serious illness, divorce, and loss of loved ones have been the journeys others had to travel. Please know I have prayed for you with tears and I am aware my trials are trivial to yours.
I was discussing this with Mark Hall a few weeks ago, and I think my minor experience may just be so I could appreciate the depth and longevity of what others are suffering.
The Apostle Paul wants to understand Christ’s suffering. This is generally something we in American Christianity wish to not understand. American Christianity is all about the “big things” God has planned, and the “blessings” He has for us. Yet, the God of the universe allows difficulties in our lives and asks us to trust Him. All of the disciples suffered in this life, much more than they were so called “blessed” in its modern definition– the prosperity gospel is the greatest heresy of our day. Few of us have uttered the words of Job, “Yet though he slay me, I shall believe.”
As I get ready to celebrate another “mental year” I am reminded that God offers “shalom”, peace in the storm, not from the storm. That life is a series of obstacles that may be tests, attacks, or trials. If you live long enough you will encounter more adversity, not less. And, that God is to be praised through all suffering as well as all blessings.
The Christian life is not the easy life; it is the best life, and the eternal life. We are called to a life of service, not a life of being served. Thanks Danae for your consistent example and for the ways you encouraged me and cared for me.
My thanks to the democracy of the dead that has spoke so much into my life this year (Dante, Shaeffer, Machen, Shakespeare, Plutarch, Boethius), as well as my thanks to friends and family that have shown me such love and grace. A special thanks to Tony Harper who called me religiously to see how I was, and who encouraged me to be smart during my healing.
Labor Day is the start of my New Year – Happy New Year to you. May you know the peace in the storm and the eternal hope of Jesus Christ!