Friday, March 16, 2007

Lucky number 7, sadly the last blog

First, I have to preface this with an expression of astonishment that this is the last blog post I will make for this class. The blog and discussion became part of my weekly routine, and I always love coming on here to see what Rhiannon and Annette have shared with the group, and what insight Tams has shed with an amazing application to her life. I feel like we’ve become a community, a sort of counter-culture of which Dante would approve. Or maybe I’m just nosy, since I like to learn about other people’s lives and their ideas that they have about the world. I haven’t shared as much personally, but I really appreciate the people who did.

My different struggles with faith are pretty personal, and have more to do with organized religion than the actual concepts of faith. I think in the beginning this made me defensive toward many of the ideas that Dante was presenting. Once the medieval mindset was explained in terms of organization and allegory, I found it much easier to accept the places that Dante put people. I think I was still resisting all through the Inferno, and resisting what seemed to me the product of conservative religion in other people, and resisting Catholicism. We were all bogged down in a sort of Hell with each other, especially around differing views of authority. But we worked through this, and got out of the Inferno.

Once we hit the Purgatorio, I got really excited about the ideas that Dante was presenting, and about applying them to real life. I really liked the idea of a counter-culture, and creating an environment in the world that made life more heavenly. I started looking for positive examples in the world. This is also when we all started getting comfortable with each other in the blog, after we ironed out our frustrations and formed more of a community of sharing. My freewrites started getting more personal, so I didn’t draw on them as much for blogs until my blog on joy in the Paradiso. My in-class writing on it was more shallow since it was just my moments of heaven on earth, and my blog took off when I started asking other people about their experiences. I was much more comfortable sharing my more positive views with everyone, rather than the negative ones with which we started. This was one of the best times to read the other blogs, also, because we were all sharing our joyful experiences in our lives. For me, this is one of my favorite parts of being at a university, the group discussion and presentation of other views and lives. Catholicism doesn’t seem as strange and mysterious to me as before, and I feel that Dante isn’t limited by being a Catholic or so limited by medieval ideas. At the end, he says he doesn’t have all the answers and we agree that we don’t have all the answers either, but we all feel better for the experience.

Seventh Blog!

The starters, class discussions, and blog postings have all been very connected for me. That seems like a very obvious thing to say (of course the starter topics set the tone for the class, and of course these thoughts are still at least somewhere in our minds as we’re writing the blogs), yet the way in which these three media start with something quite personal, move to a public discussion, then return to a more private, small-group setting really helps to process these ideas fully. In terms of the starters and blogs, there’s been a cycle throughout the term. We began the term writing on a very personal level about a time when we found ourselves in a dark wood, then moved into more theological/philosophical writing (in this group anyway), and now we’ve recently returned to the personal when talking and writing about our views of heaven.

This cycle of personal views and larger, more abstract ideas interestingly corresponds to the evolution of this group’s rapport. We began on friendly, if rather formal, terms, then became a bit frustrated with each other, and now we’re back on friendly ground with a good sense of familiarity and camaraderie. I don’t think these two cycles are coincidental. Not only do we naturally become more personal as friendships develop and get less so as they diminish, but also the movement of the Comedy has influenced all of us to react this way. Most of us have had an idea of or opinion about heaven and hell for the majority of our lives, so we are more comfortable articulating that. The workings of purgatory, however, are less familiar to many students and so we began discussing the big picture of it all in order to better process the idea.

I really enjoyed this process of immediate reaction thoughts, then class discussion, then more reflective writing. It’s enabled me to interrogate my long-held beliefs and compare them to other, sometimes similar and at times very different, views. The best thing about it all is that these religious and world views are often things we as students don’t discuss in such a large setting and for such an extended amount of time (probably because some ideas are contentious and there’s a fear of offending). It’s been refreshing to not only hear these views, but read the free-written thoughts and reflective blogs.

My blogs have usually run right along with the subjects of the starters, but they have diverged at times as well. Sometimes this divergence has been to follow an idea presented by another group member, and other times it has been because I really made a connection between Dante’s writing and pop culture, like when I wrote about A River Runs Through It. Overall, I have taken the subjects of the starters and expanded my initial thoughts by looking through the text, listening to the class discussion, and reading my group members’ posts.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

From the 9 Circles of Hell to the 7 Cycles of Blog

Everyone is welcome to read this final posting.

Reading over my blogs, I feel that my movement has been mostly consistent. I seem to mix humor, personal experience, and examples from Dante into a nice warm cup of alphabet soup. Sometimes I wrote about something mentioned in class that sparked an interest and other times I took the starter one step farther and added another 10 minutes or so to the idea. Close to the middle, I wrote a blog labeled “Addressing Other Postings” which was my attempt to calm down the bickering. I noticed a few miscommunications and some personal stabs and didn’t want to be den mother. I wanted to offer an example of discussing others’ comments, whether I agreed or not, allowing the team to see how you can be nice even if you don’t completely agree by simply commenting or taking someone’s thoughts and running with them. They’re not scissors after all. My themes seem to be based on ideas and symbolism that I gathered through allegorical reading. In the beginning, I wasn’t quite getting the allegorical part as much as towards the end of the term, but I think I finally caught on to the concept.

When I glance back over the entire blog, I see a roller coaster ride of ideas and emotions. Everyone started off on friendly terms, which turned to bitterness, then back to friendly terms. This particular roller coaster has a loop de loop of themes. Some wrote different views of the same themes while others took a whole different route. All in all, I think this group pulled together pretty good at the end. Basic reading turned more allegorical; thoughts began to run deeper and more personal.

My free-writing journal seems to be more personal than the blog. I wonder if I subconsciously felt better at writing the more personal information in a more private journal. I see more of a progress in my journal writings than the roller coaster. The journal seems to be more like a winding road of deep thoughts and random conclusions, if any at all. My two favorite blog postings were “I am Geryon, hear me ROAR!” and “My Personal ‘Heaven on Earth’ Experience.” I think the reason is that these have a more laid back view of a specific thing that I know will more than likely be a completely different view from others so I just put it out there for everyone to see, which kind of sounds like my own personal way of mooning the team (sorry guys, close your eyes). These free-writing samples and blog postings have helped most of us to open our minds a little more and see things from different angles, to read allegorically, and to expand our knowledge with some deep thought or personal experience. If we could keep our open minds and apply deep thought to things we don’t understand, won’t that make life more pleasant? To some, ignorance is bliss; to others, ignorance is a barrier that stands in the way of learning.

The Seventh Blog Post

**Warning: Read at your own risk! This is addressed to Chris Anderson, so for all you others, just keep that in mind. If you read this at all, which you certainly don't have to. PEACE!**

One thing that has remained fairly consistent throughout my blog postings is my quoting and referencing of pop-culture and examples from my own life in my attempts to process Dante through my own experiences and my own culture. I have quoted Billy Joel, Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, an old Girl Scout song; referenced Deepak Chopra, Maslow’s Triangle: Hierarchy of Needs, capitalist and socialist ideas, Robert F. Kennedy, jr. and U.S. policies; talked about memorial services I’ve attended, and my personal understandings of religion and faith. Because what good is reading an ancient text unless it can be applied to our own lives? Being old does not automatically make something good…being able to transcend time and strike a chord in a soul hundreds of years after it was originally written, however, is a mark of greatness. There, I said it: Dante’s great.

I sit in class and get my mind blown almost every day. A lot of the things you say are things I’ve never thought of before, or at least not in the way you present them. And most of the time it’s exactly not what I was expecting to come out of the mouth of a Catholic deacon! Reading the bible allegorically?!? Who would have thought? The “going through the motions” of Catholic mass an experience in faith possibly closer to God than the somewhat-intellectual preachings of Protestants? Confession not what I had thought, going through another human to ask forgiveness from God, but rather an act of community, a community activity done in faith and support?

My blog posts usually represent a combination of my thoughts from the in-class free writes, my reactions and processing of what you have said in class, and my own experiences as filtered through Dante, (except for my fifth blog post about Bobby Kennedy, jr. … I was so excited about him, and a little burnt out from the Paradiso, that I couldn’t help but go on a tangent, even though it was pretty far-fetched). My in-class writings were strong. I was always off and running, my thoughts a sentence or two ahead of what I was writing. I was almost never at a loss for something to get down on paper and process. My hand always hurt afterwards. Sometimes I would sit in class either writing or listening to the lecture and ideas from others in the class and I just couldn’t wait to get home and through all the other things I had to do that week to write my next blog post.

Was there progress? Well, the title of my last post was: “The answer is: I have no idea.” I feel like I started the class with a lot of questions and wonderings…what are the Purgatorio and Paradiso going to be like? What is the Purgatorio, exactly? If Dante has such a clear picture of the Inferno, who is he going to put in Heaven, and why? Instead of ending up with all the answers at the end of the term, I feel completely comfortable saying that the answer is: it’s a mystery. If we could explain it, (God, religion, spirituality, Heaven), it wouldn’t be worth all the time, effort, and devotion people put into it.

As for me, I feel justified. I had become disenchanted with religion, or rather, every religious figure I’ve ever known having the attitude that they’ve got it all figured out, that their way is the absolute correct way, no exceptions, and that it’s okay to be intolerant of others if they don’t believe exactly as you do. This course has been refreshing for me. It’s good to know not everyone’s like that.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Assigned blog seven

I know I've already done at least 7 blogs, but I feel obligated to explain that this is the "seventh blog" as assigned. Blogger is acting weird right now. Cursor not keeping up with typing. Hem.

Anyway as I mentioned in response to Annette's last blog, we've really outgrown our title ("descent into hell" or "hellmongers"). I thank God for this! No longer is it like the early hell of blogging, trying to figure out what we should be saying or how to interpret one another's posts. I came close to estranging some people and my heartfelt thanks to all who forgave my clumsy exhortations.
Getting past early preconceptions, and learning to really read every word of every blog has been invaluable. We probably all have a tendency to take amateur writing less seriously than we take Dante, but I have found that several times my fellow bloggers uncover crucial insights. I am excited every time I look at our blog, because I know I am going to hear real and honest perspectives... it's not often that people just get together to talk about God, the universe, hell, heaven, earth, etc. and it's even rarer to see it done in an open forum. Usually it's centered around some assumed 'basic truth' or geared towards proving a lesson. That can be nice, but I much prefer this form. We're basically a collection of strangers hashing out our ideas about theology and philosophy, with no purpose in mind. No one is trying to sell anything! No one feels obligated to buy!
The overall movement of my own writing has been towards a more intimate self-disclosure, and I think it also reflects a deeper interest in my co-bloggers. In my last post, I asked some questions out of sheer curiosity, not because I wanted 'answers' so much as to say, 'these are the questions that I think about', and 'what do you think'? In a sense, I've let go of some of my need to intellectualize. I still believe that authority is in place to provide guidance, but I also want to know what all the other pilgrims are thinking about. I think when I've opened myself up to other people's ideas, they have never let me down. I have been especially impressed by Annette's last few posts. In the beginning I thought maybe you couldn't be bothered to put your whole heart in it (like me) but lately I've been blown away. Everyone who has posted has been brilliant and I think it's a sign of our letting our guards down that the posts just keep getting better. I'm not much of a 'free-writer' myself, and it's been hard at times to be on-topic, whatever that may mean. My type-A need for 'form' and 'structure' remains, but I am grown more comfortable with rambling, as this blog demonstrates. I also am keener to post, because, as I've said, Paradiso is much more interesting than anything before. I thought Purgatorio blew Inferno out of the water, and likewise Paradiso is more stunningly enchanting. I love the visuals here, because it's all light and movement, and the concreteness of Hell irritated me even while it fascinated me.
I think as a group our ideas have got better as we left Hell behind and moved on to better things. In my response to Annette's last post I said it was as if we were in Purgatorio, chanting back and forth, sending out our songs for one another's benefit. Yes, it continues to be difficult, not least because finals draw nigh, but we seem to be working together, or at least with something other than just getting the assignment done in mind. I think also that our very ideas have become more interesting. With Hell, we tended to be angry or disgusted or perplexed, but now it seems the posts are clearer, more intense and fuller. This is something worth thinking about, I guess. In canto XXIX of the Paradiso, it says "Christ did not say to His first congregation, 'Go and preach twaddle to the waiting world' ". I think our blogs reflect our grown interest in seeking out truth, what we can accept, and eliminating the cultural twaddle (great word, eh?) A lot of what Dante says is twaddle, not least of which is his version of the geocentric universe, but we aren't talking about the twaddle anymore. I kind of felt like the Brunetto Latini discussions were twaddle; it's a cultural issue, and not important to the overall message of Love. (In fact, it's Dante's twaddle more than it is ours). To quote Dante again, "If all that mortal man may know through mortal teachings were as firmly grasped, sophists would find no listeners there below." I take this to mean that if we understood easily everything we can potentially understand, we would not be interested in philosophy. There would be no need for philosophers if each of us did not desire enlightenment, and feel the need for help attaining it. Is it just me, or are we feeling this now? The desire (love) for Truth is innate, and it sends Reason to help guide us to Truth?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

My Personal 'Heaven on Earth' Experience

The idea of heaven is different for everyone. We generate this idea through our experience, religion, culture, family history, etcetera, and add some imaginative creativity. For those who lack the creative imagination, ideas and images are shared through movies or literary means like Dante. When we discussed this in class after our starter 8, I had chosen a specific moment when I encountered ‘heaven on earth.’ In reality, no one really knows what heaven is really like, but I imagined it to be the best possible moment.

My ‘heaven on earth’ experience: In 1992, when most of you were barely born, I was invited on a trip to Key West, Florida by my best friend and love of my life. There were four of us altogether. During the trip, on the way to Orlando (yes, we drove), I received a call that my stepfather had died. Since Chris was paying for my part of the trip, I couldn’t just leave to come home. I couldn’t afford the airfare and I couldn’t make the others give up their vacation as well by returning to Oklahoma. When we reached Key West, the funeral was taking place. The other two guys on the trip were being complete asses and submitting me to practical jokes in order to cheer me up. This of course resulted in the opposite effect. The whole trip was beginning to look like a disaster. So, this must be the purgatorio before the paradisio. The 3rd day in Key West changed completely. The other 2 guys were invited to a condo party for the weekend and left Chris and me alone. (He is gay, so get that out of your mind). He begged me to go snorkeling with him, even though I had a phobia of drowning. I finally gave in. In the ocean, my brain experienced a whole new environment. The fish were so colorful. The coral was like lace. The blue-green water was a refreshing 74 degrees in February. This experience altered my perception and I began to realize how petty my problems were. It was amazing. Afterwards, Chris and I went to Sunset Pier to watch the sun setting on the ocean. Live music was playing; I distinctly remember “Red, Red Wine” as one of the songs and every time I hear it, it takes me back to this day, 15 years later. The sun was casting a warm, yellow glow across the water with black silhouettes of sailboats. The music filled my ears along with the sound of the ocean and seagulls. The cool breeze smelled fresh and clean. The warm sun was soothing to my skin. Chris’ presence warmed my heart. At that moment, that single instance where all this pleasure to my senses emerged, joined, combined…was my heaven on earth.

So, it wasn’t just a moment of perfection, but more. I had forgotten my worries. I had literally escaped from life as all of my senses were overwhelmed with perfection. Love was involved. The sun could represent a feeling of God. I think that all of this was a bunch of little samples of heaven, and that heaven is really much, much more. This instance was like a man dying of thirst receiving a small sip of water. It’s enough to get by, but you know there is much more that is so much better. Perhaps this is why people meditate or go to spas. It’s their way of escaping the self to be subject to something much better, and clearing the mind to be free of harsh reality. I only hope that everyone gets to witness some kind of ‘heaven on earth’ like this, even if it’s only a small sample of what heaven really is.

The answer is: I have no idea

We’ve been talking a lot in class about faith and reason, about the theologians who overcomplicate and overthink religion versus the simple followers who experience God and take things on faith.

I was going to title this blogpost “Faith v. Reason,” to exemplify this tension, but then I realized that it isn’t faith versus reason at all.

Something that was said in class the other day:

“You must believe in order to understand”


“You must understand in order to believe”

You can’t always explain God rationally, in a way that’s perfectly understandable, but does that mean that you shouldn’t believe? Of course not; that’s where faith comes in. Reason and faith work together, just as Virgil and Beatrice work together to guide Dante through the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. It is not either/or, it is that reason is inadequate and must be supplemented by faith. (Sorry if this argument seems basic, I’m just working through some things. I think it gets more interesting…keep reading).


Reason is a method we use to grasp God’s goodness, but it is inadequate. It is a human invention, and God is bigger than us, so reason alone will never be able to fully explain God. You have to take some of it on faith. It is arrogant to believe that God and religion can be rationally and reasonably explained, quantified, and understood. That’s why in class the other day I was thinking about how “Understand” should be right down there with the seven deadly sins

Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed, Sloth

And “Experience” should be right up there with the cardinal and theological virtues

Prudence, Temperance, Courage, Justice, Hope, Faith, Caritas

“To understand” fits under Pride. To believe that faith can ever be fully comprehended by us, imperfect and incomplete creations, is a sin. In so doing, you are not giving God enough credit; you are underestimating and minimizing the greatness and glory of God.

I wrote about this in the last free write we did in class:

“So why do people persist in writing books, producing televangelism, orating, analyzing and overanalyzing and literalizing and therefore trivializing God’s word?...This is why people become disenchanted with religion: because people take something beautiful and experiential and turn it into something dry, dusty, crusty, inaccessible, difficult, gross.”


That is not to say that reason has no place in the experience of religion. Reason is a tool we use to experience religion and faith; a man-made, ultimately inadequate tool, but a tool nonetheless. Dante illustrates this in the following passage, in answer to Peter’s question about where his faith came from:

“…The shower of gold
Of the Holy Ghost, which pours down endlessly
Over the sacred Scrolls, both New and Old,
Reasons it to such logical certainty
That, by comparison, all other reasoning
Can only seem confused and dull to me.” (Paradiso XXIV.91-6)

He compares his faith to a reasonable argument that is so logical, no other arguments can compare. Now, this may seem like the exact opposite of an experiential faith, the kind we’ve been discussing in class, but it’s not. By relating his faith to a logical argument, in this example, Dante is comparing faith to something people experience in their everyday lives. He is not advocating that we base our faith on logic, he is just using a logical argument as a metaphor.


We have talked about how language is inadequate to express and communicate faith, so putting Heaven into words, like Dante does in his Paradiso, would certainly seem blasphemous and arrogant. EXCEPT, he spends all of his time in the Paradiso explaining how he can’t fully express what he sees, feels, experiences there; how sometimes even the Heavenly Host must hold back their exultations and celebrations, or else Dante, being the inadequate human, would explode. He elucidates how faith cannot be fully elucidated to us while still in our imperfect forms.

“In the eternal justice, consequently,
The understanding granted to mankind
Is lost as the eye is within the sea:” (Paradiso XIX.58-60)

So Dante gets around that technicality, managing to take us on the ride of our lives through Heaven while still maintaining humility before God and a deep respect for Him. Dante expresses creatively that which he has the capacity to imagine, but makes sure to constantly remind us that God is even more amazing than what he has managed to write down, and even more incredible than what we have the ability to experience. Brilliance.

Rhiannon, you ask us: “What is heaven to you? What do you imagine is the purpose for all this suffering? What 'justifies' the ways of the world, or what binds them together? Is it even definable? But Heaven? A Heaven that's really open to all comers? A Heaven in which people I hate are going to be singing God's praises, completely pure and holy? What does it look like when all the bad stuff is stripped away from us, and all the good is left?”

In answer, I would direct you to the following passage:

“Mortals, be slow to judge! Not even we
Who look on God in Heaven know, as yet,
How many He will choose for ecstasy.

And sweet it is to lack this knowledge still,
For in this good is our own good refined,
Willing whatever God Himself may will.” (Paradiso XX.133-8)

I think the answers to your questions are bigger than I am capable of.

Thursday, March 8, 2007


I think the stuff we've all written about Paradiso is more interesting than anything else. I guess i feel like it's easy to imagine hell, and then we seem to think Purgatory is like life on earth, with hope as the main ingredient. But what about heaven? What we seem to think is that it's either boring, or too far above our understanding. I confess I feel this way sometimes, not while reading Dante but while reading the Bible. I can't imagine what it's like to experience everlasting joy (the eternal Godgasm, whatever). When I read the Bible, I always like to read Ecclesiastes and the Psalms. I also like Song of Solomon because of its eroticism and devotional aspect :)
For those unfamiliar with the Bible, Ecclesiastes is a portion attributed to Solomon, among others, scholars believe. It was written in the heyday of the "wisdom literature" movement that swept the ancient middle & near east. Roughly contemporaneous with Proverbs. Basically, Ecclesiastes is a philosophical poem. It reflects on life, on different modes of life, and how God made us for one life, but we're living another. It's kind of glum, but in a way that I can relate to. My favorite line is "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity." Another translation is "Futility of futilities! All is futility." If anyone thinks I am a cheery person, beware, you're about to be disburdened of the notion. At heart, I get Ecclesiastes. I understand what it means to say that everything is vanity, or futility. Doesn' t life often feel that way?
Psalms is a collection of poems, many of which were written in David's exile (his son coordinated a coup. David didn't want to fight his own son, because he loved him, so he fled.) The Psalms I love because they speak of the pain of existence, yet there is a child-like, pure faith in God's goodness. Trying to reconcile the goodness of God with the meanness and horror of life is difficult at times, and so I read the Psalms. They're also interesting for their poetic descriptions of God's might. You don't read stuff like that much anymore, which is part of why I love the Old Testament. People had a simple view, they believe in animism and so you get to hear things like "trees clapping their hands in joy" or "God will smash all the teeth out of my enemy's mouth." it's kind of charming. But essentially I think the psalms catch on the constant pain of existence. Life is suffering... but we have hope. Even hope is kind of depressing, because it just sounds like the last paltry resort we cling to. It's at the very bottom of Pandora's box, tiny and unattractively desperate.
So back to Heaven. I just wonder what you all think of this. I want to ask out of pure curiosity, not because I want to judge any of you but because I think this book, the Commedia, and especially the Paradiso, raises the question: What is heaven to you? the afterlife? what do you imagine is the purpose for all this suffering? what 'justifies' the ways of the world, or what binds them together? is it even definable?
i read the Psalms and Ecclesiastes, and I think, yes I understand this. It's like Purgatorio. it makes sense. it sounds good. it is, as betsy pointed out, comfortable.
Hell also makes sense. If you don't believe me, imagine someone punching your mum in the face. You'll be thinking of flames and pitchforks in no time flat.
but Heaven? a Heaven that's really open to all comers? a Heaven in which people I hate are going to be singing God's praises, completely pure and holy? what does it look like when all the bad stuff is stripped away from us, and all the good is left?

For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. -Ecc. 3:19

this I find especially valid right now, for us students:
Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. -Ecc 12:12

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Joy to the World

The idea of moments that people had experienced heaven on Earth really seized my imagination, so I went around asking people. Like we discussed in class, they all seemed to involve times of self-forgetting, which is when they experienced the joy, reveling in something other than themselves. I thought that was a really interesting definition of joy versus happiness, that happiness can be self-centered while joy has to do with losing one’s own self-consciousness and gets lost in a moment with someone or something else. Most people I talked to had experienced their joy in a communal experience, though some did discuss times when they went out into nature and lost themselves there, like Rachel on the beach, which also one of my favorite places to lose myself. One of my friends just had a hypothetical idea of his moment of heaven on Earth. He said that his idea would be being comfortable enough with the people he was with that all the walls would be let down, and everyone would be able to just be as they were with each other, with no walls. This also communicated an idea of losing consciousness of self, because as long as walls are up, we are thinking about ourselves. It’s only when we experience moments of self-forgetfulness that we do let our walls down. So every example of heaven I’ve discussed with people has involved a moment of joy, of self-forgetting, and that was an amazing revelation to me. They were also hard for people to explain, which seems to be a universal theme in the Paradiso.

I also agree that part of our existence spent here on Earth should be times of trying to create heaven on Earth, making the Earth more heavenly, whether that means cleaning up the environment or just changing how we treat other people. I don’t think it has to even be a Christian agenda, though it seems like it should be one of the major concerns of Christianity. Of course, I suppose if a person is just concerned with heaven , then Earth doesn’t really matter so much anymore. However, I’m sure Dante would say that those people who are only concerned with heaven aren’t the good people who are going to be going there, since they aren’t really concerned with others, and so don’t have a lot of the love for everyone that is Christ-like and necessary.

It seems really lucky that the weather has changed to being sunny the last few days. There’s been more light than ever just in time for all the light of heaven and images of glowing individuals. It’s also fun that we’ve been playing more music in class. Music is another way to bring heaven to Earth, I think, because it’s all experiential, no words involved. When you play or listen to music, you don’t explain it to people. Everyone listens and takes their own experience from it. It’s cross-cultural, no language necessary. It seems to tie in exactly with Dante’s idea that faith cannot be explained. At some point, the faith just has to be there. Which I suppose is why they keep on singing songs to him in Paradiso when he asks questions. Just like in class.

Oops, Here It Is

Last week was a difficult week for me. I had been away from a computer over the weekends, but had my journal with me. So, I wrote my blog posting in my journal, expecting to type it up later. Then, I forgot to post it. I discovered it again last night. Is there a place in purgatory for procrastinators? I hadn’t realized that it wasn't online until I began to post my latest entry. So, here it is:

Sunday, February 26th

I’ve been thinking about how the group of people came to meet Dante as described in Canto XXIX. It reminded me of a parade coming to meet a hometown hero as he returned from the war. A good image of this is from the movie “The Majestic” when Jim Carrey arrives in a town resembling a son who died in the war. He had no previous memory and assumed that he was this son. Then I realized, upon closer inspection, how very similar it is. Water from the Lethe rinsed away the horribly thoughts leftover from hell and purgatory before Dante will be allowed into heaven. Jim Carrey’s character had driven a car off a bridge and into a river, wiping away his memory and he approaches the town with a clean slate and more pure character. In Canto XXXI, Dante views the griffon, Jesus, through the eyes of Beatrice because it would be too much for his eyes. This is like praying to Jesus through Mary because it would be too much for humans. Jim Carrey sees the image of the lost war hero through the eyes of the townspeople and the father of the missing son. Maybe I’m stretching it a bit, or perhaps seeing “Bruce Almighty” recently has changed my views a little. Of all the actors in the world, the last one that I would have thought of relating Dante to would have been Jim Carrey.

The transformation of the chariot was a bit overwhelming for me to grasp. It definitely reminded me of the book of Revelation in the Bible. I find it difficult to imagine monsters, giants, and whores among heavenly beings. I realize it’s all symbolic and a message for Dante. I know if it was supposed to be a symbol for me to take back and tell about, I would probably screw it all up and turn it into something that it isn’t. I get the tree of good and evil. The seven headed monster may represent the seven deadly sins, that much I might have understood. But the giant and the harlot confused me. I would have tried to interpret them as man and woman, Adam and Eve, to symbolize the corruption of human beings. But, isn’t that what hell was all about? I might also have viewed them as the marriage of church and state, but which would be which? The church has been called the bride of Christ. But a church as a harlot? I feel like that is blasphemy. What about corrupt churches? I knew of a small church, neighboring my home in OK, which had their few members hold buckets and signs on street corners asking for donations to “Save the Children”. There were no real children in the church, just 12 adults, most of whom were ex-addicts. I asked them once about the reference to children. They said they were children of God. Made sense to me. Then I discovered they were using that money to support the addiction that some of them still had when the head preacher was put in jail. Then one of the younger female members ran away with someone else’s husband. I could see this particular church as a harlot. Like I said, I would probably turn the symbolic message into something that it isn’t.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

A Very Natural Heaven

Dante depicts heaven with close attention to environmental detail. There are cantos filled with pastoral images and beautifully rendered descriptions using the senses to illustrate the environment of heaven. In The Paradiso, Dante calls heaven “that garden made to be man’s proper place” solidifying the connection between man, nature, and heaven (I 56). The relationship between humans and nature remains strong today. Annette and Rhiannon wrote about their views of and concerns about our environment, and nearly every opinion of heaven expressed in class involved nature in some way.

My own experience of heaven on earth involves nature profoundly. When I think about heaven on earth, an amalgamation of beach memories floods my brain. It’s interesting because I actually don’t like the beach very much; a paralyzing fear of water and the bracingly cold currents of the Oregon coast keeps me out of the ocean, but there’s something about lying alone on the sand that makes me peacefully joyful. I remember dozing on my back and feeling the heat of the sun on my skin while the powerful wind sent sand skimming over my body at a very exfoliating speed. I couldn’t open my eyes for fear of getting sand in them, so I just listened to the waves crashing, birds calling, and children shrieking their delight at having their kite finally take flight. I felt meditative. I’m reminded of how Dante describes things through his senses. I find that if I want to experience something really intensely, I close my eyes and just listen. The experience seems more personal that way.

For some reason, every time I’m on the beach at night, I spin. I close my eyes, throw my arms to the side, open my face to the sky, and just spin around and around until I can’t do it anymore. It’s especially effective during a full moon when the tide’s just gone out. When my vision has stopped whirling, I see a vast empty plain with only the imprints of my footprints spiraling around. That view reminds me of how small my personal impact is on the earth. I’m not just talking about that stretch of land, but on the planet in general. And yet there’s something about seeing the tide wash over those footprints and carry them into its enormous mass that simultaneously makes me feel like a part of something bigger.

The beach makes me feel small and insignificant, but more connected with the larger world, which is, I guess, my idea of heaven. I imagine heaven as a joyously meditative place. One in which we can enjoy our own communion with the environment while also being part of a larger community. I think these ideas of solitude, nature, and community are important to Dante’s Paradiso as we can see by his recent independence from Virgil, the garden/heaven metaphor, and the great community of souls who inhabit each sphere.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Clean Air is NOT a Radical Request

“Men should not be too smug in their own reason;
Only a foolish man will walk his field
And count his ears too early in the season;

For I have seen a briar through winter’s snows
Rattle its tough and menacing bare stems,
And then, in season, open its pale rose;”


All throughout the Divine Comedy, Dante has used countless vivid images of nature to make his points. The bible itself is littered with natural imagery. The bible begins with Adam and Eve being turned out of the Garden of Eden, and countless figures of the Old and New Testaments retreat to nature to reconnect with God and have divine revelations. Most of Jesus’ parables are about nature, (seeds, soil, animals, bread, water), because that is what the people already knew and understood. He wasn’t telling the people new things, he was elucidating on old things.

Last Thursday I went to UofO to see Robert F. Kennedy, jr. speak. He explained all of this, and continued that nature is where we can see God most clearly. In unadulterated, natural creation, we can most nearly commune and connect with God.

It was mentioned in class that Dante would probably have a hard time sitting down with George W. Bush to have a conversation because of his faith-based initiatives. Whenever church and state get involved with each other both become tainted and corrupt, (as is illustrated by Dante in the figures of the Harlot and the Giant in the pageant in Canto XXXII of the Purgatorio). However, if Dante were to visit the 21st century and take a critical look around, I believe he would be even more shocked and appalled by the flagrant abuse and misuse of God’s creation by the Bush administration. We are not being good stewards of the land, water and air that God created for us. You don’t see carbon emissions in the Paradiso.

The capitalist controllers of the world are being allowed to rape, pillage, and ravage the land, compromising creation’s integrity and making the world unsafe for human beings, who are made in the image of God, made from the matter of stars, the universe come to consciousness of itself. The capitalist controllers, (the stockholders and CEOs of large corporations, driven by profit to pollute the air and water, eradicate forests, perpetuate desertification), would be in the Ptolomea, Round 3 of Cocytus, Circle 9 of the Inferno. This round is for those who are treacherous against the ties of hospitality. We are all guests on this planet: we come and stay for a short time and then we leave. None of us are permanent fixtures here; none of us can really own the land, water, or air. Yet these capitalist controllers act as if they do, and are the most disrespectful of guests. And George W. Bush, who rescinds policies that held corporations responsible and makes new policies that allow corporations to continue their outrageous ways, would be included in that company. Somehow, it isn’t that much of a stretch for me to imagine that his soul has already fallen to the Ptolomea, and a demon remains in its place.

Dante’s Paradiso is a place of community: souls are dancing and singing round and round together, and all souls are together in the Empyrean, the hierarchical levels are just for Dante’s benefit. As a community on earth, we can rise up and demand that corporations and big government take responsibility and stop corrupting our planet.