Monday, February 19, 2007

The Experience of Faith, or Faith Through Example

Professor Anderson’s extended starter question about how Dante would react to people discussing the Bible as something one must read to understand got me thinking about one of the central themes of The Divine Comedy: experience is crucial to understanding. As we briefly discussed in class, one aspect of Dante’s whole journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven is so that he can experience it, grow more solid in his faith, and relate his experiences to others so that they can experience it through him. There is such a huge emphasis placed on the eyes and other senses because they allow a more vivid experience of situations. I think this is key to understanding Dante’s faith.

Understanding comes through experience. I have also wondered about Mary the way that Natalie and Tams do. Professor Anderson explained that she is significant because of her life’s example. I understand this through Dante’s emphasis on eyes. By seeing her example (prominent images of her in cathedrals, for example), we can more fully experience the faith that she exhibited. This idea goes right along with Tams’ comments about how The Divine Comedy is an example for us to follow, and I think this is exactly as he intended.

From what Dante says and from my own experiences and observations, we must be immersed in the culture of our faith for it to remain strong. This is one of the main purposes of the church. There are several verses in the Bible which warn and advise Christians to attend church and stay within a circle of believers. I believe the analogy is to a sheep that strays from the fold and is then vulnerable to an attack by the wolf. Yet if it stays in the protection of the shepherd it will be safe from harm.

To relate this to my own life, I have many friends who grew up in church and had very strong beliefs until they left home and stopped attending church. Gradually their faith has waned, and now I commonly hear them say things like “Yeah, I believe in God, but I don’t go to church or anything.” To use a Dantean metaphor, they are wandering in a dark wood with these vague beliefs unconfirmed by any actions. It’s easy to point fingers at others’ lives, and that’s not my purpose in writing this. One thing Dante shows us is that everyone has their own sins that they struggle with and we all have the hope of redemption. It can just come much less painfully if we place ourselves in places and situations where we will experience our faith often.

1 comment:

Annette said...

I totally agree with/love this post, Rachel.

Before this class I didn't really think of church in this way, and I went to it for years and years and years of my childhood and adolescence. It was a place where you were taught, a place where you fellowshipped, but I didn't really think of community as being essential to faith. I took a very fundamentalist "I-logically-understand-this-so-therefore-I-believe-in-it" stance that Prof. Anderson points out that Dante elucidates is not the way, at least not his understanding of what faith is.

In the whole music discussion, I was beginning to get this too. The rituals of Catholicism that I used to criticize harshly I see in a bit different light now.

And finally, I will say this: not going to church regularly definitely makes you more vulnerable to straying away and losing a connection to faith or God. BUT, to quote a bumper sticker: not all who wander are lost. Perhaps some of that straying away is more purposeful.

Good thoughts though, definitely.