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Dante for Lent

My failure to write for several weeks could be blamed on the fact that I’ve been writing papers for Lent. (All right, that isn’t true. Though the papers certainly have forced me to be more disciplined.) Actually, I began reading Dante for Lent. Two cantos a day–that’s the goal. I haven’t been as faithful as I should be, but, with any luck, and with a lot of catching up, I’ll have gotten through the Inferno (which I just finished) and Purgatorio by Easter. Then I can spend the first part of the Easter season reading the Paradisio. Three parts. One Comedy. And a lot of random Italians.

A friend tells me some people have nightmares from the Inferno. I didn’t even feel that disturbed until I had nearly reached the end–it’s hard to feel disturbed when you’re spending your time trying to figure out who Dante is talking about. It’s also a little amusing when Dante spends half his time in hell hunting down all the Italians. (The frozen lake scene is definitely gruesome.)

My main takeaway from the Inferno? Some sins are more serious than others, but they’re not always the ones you expect. And–secondly–lying is extremely serious. The deceivers are put into one of the lowest parts of hell. The scary thing, thinking on my own experience, is that liars frequently do not realize they are lying. The ones who have a serious problem lying end up believing themselves.

Screwtape made a remark about the “particular clarity that hell affords.” In a very non-Screwtapean sense, Dante’s damned people see things clearly. But it hasn’t changed most of them. Some of them bicker with each other, and Virgil has to scold Dante for staring.

On to Purgatorio, then. Dante has more to learn–as do I.

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*For anyone who may be wondering, yes, Rod Dreher did instigate my decision to read Dante for Lent. But I didn’t want to start with the Purgatorio. Beginning The Lord of the Rings in the middle was one such experience too many.

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Posted by on March 28, 2014 in Classic Literature

 

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Jekyll and Jesus: Thoughts About Lent

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of those stories with a dramatic twist that most people already know before reading it. I hope that the original readers of the story were shocked by it, but very few people have been since. Probably a lot of people could give their opinion on Robert Louis Stevenson’s characterization of human nature without reading the story. I could have.

Regardless, the story still has a gothic horror quality. You might know how it will end, but the creepiness remains. Jekyll believes he’s found a way to separate his good impulses from his evil ones. With this ability, his real self will not be corrupted by the evil impulses that sometimes trouble him. Of course, he tragically fails.

Jekyll’s intentions are good to some extent–he wants to truly be the fine, upstanding person everyone thinks he is. But if I were to name a tragic flaw for Jekyll, it might almost be “impatience.” Jekyll wants to be good–now. So he takes what he thinks is the easy way out. And he destroys himself.

Why bother observing forty days of Lent? Well, maybe because we’re all a bit like Dr. Jekyll. We  believe we have a sin problem. We even want to do something about it. The problem is–we want it now.

Fortunately, none of us are capable of splitting our personalities. We are, however, capable of becoming impatient with ourselves, or, worse, with God. Why, we groan, can’t we just make a commitment or something and end the struggle?

The Lent season is about our struggle with sin. It is also about the life and death of Jesus Christ. And if there is one thing that we can learn from the life of Jesus Christ, it is that he was in for the long haul. No quick trip to earth, quick death, and quick resurrection. No. He spent about thirty years living in a particularly narrow-minded hometown, and the three years after that were hardly pleasant. His death may have been “quick” for a crucifixion, but crucifixions were never quick. And he didn’t rise again until three days later.

The author of Hebrews writes that Jesus can serve as our high priest precisely because he understands our struggles. His temptation in the wilderness was a particularly intense struggle, but it was not his only struggle. He was human. When death drew near, his instinct was to run away. Unlike us, he never sinned. But his temptations were more severe than most of ours. I expect he longed for them to be over with. So do we.

Jesus did not try to split his personality so that only one side could suffer temptation. Instead, he persevered. Dr. Jekyll wanted a way to avoid the battle within himself. Jesus faced his temptations head on.

To some extent, Lent is about patience. Easter seems a long way off (especially if you’re giving up something). Lent is also about courage–the courage to fight a battle with sin, although that battle seems unending. Yet there will be an end.

We await the Resurrection.

 
 

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