In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost. It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear. It is scarcely less bitter than death: but, in order to tell of the good that I found there, I must tell of the other things I saw there.Dante, Inferno, Canto I (trans. A.S. Kline)
I found myself thinking of this eerie beginning to Dante’s poetic journey to hell this morning, not because life felt especially hellish but because I was thinking of Wednesdays as a mid-point in the week, a slump, and how Ordinary Time can often feel like the Wednesday of the year, or the Wednesday of life. It was in this kind of slump in his life that Dante had his vision, and it was ugly before it was beautiful. Yet Dante tells us that he had to see the ugly – and tell us of it – before he could get to the beauty.
One of my main wishes in life is to see the beauty in the midst of ugliness, as anyone who has read my writing will probably know. But there are times in life which challenge this quest, times when, like Dante, we feel ourselves stuck somewhere impenetrable, unable to see the right path, or indeed any path. This fourth lockdown that my city has been in has felt a little like this – not for being especially intense (in fact, it has been mercifully short compared to last year’s) but for being discouraging. We think we know the journey life is taking us – onward and upward – and then we find ourselves slumping backwards, with little sense of why.
In times like these we may struggle to see beauty. It may not appear readily or easily, though it is still often there if our eyes are attuned. But what is constant is God’s eternal fountain of goodness. When I found myself staring, at the end of the day, at the fountain in my school courtyard, I suspected it might have resonances with Dante, and when I came home and looked it up, I found it did. This, you see, is where Dante finishes his journey. Finally finding the woman he loves in Paradise, he finds that she turns his eyes from her to God’s eternal fountain, and teaches him to speak out of the fountain of faith within him.
It was fitting that I found myself, then, having a moment of quiet beside the fountain; even more fitting, perhaps, that while I was watching it the stormy winds blew the fountain waters wildly into the air. All the same, the water kept flowing. All the same, God reigns in all our Wednesdays.