I've got to say a little something about the beauty of our humanity. Yours. Mine. Everyone's.
I said things kinds of thing last Sunday in a sermon. And it struck a chord. It seems there's a darkness and heaviness that lies heavy over a lot of us. Maybe this is a time when seeing the beauty of ourselves is, for a lot of us, particularly difficult.
And so, to convey something of our essential beauty, I'm exploring the words of two witnesses to this beauty: Jesus Christ and Dante Alighieri. Jesus likely doesn't need an introduction, but maybe Dante does. He's the thirteenth century Italian genius, who's epic poem, the Comedia or Divine Comedy, may well be the ultimate masterpiece exploring the inner work of spiritual transformation.
Dante begins his vision of the path of inner, spiritual transformation with these words:
“I woke to find myself in a dark wood.”
The spiritual journey is a journey, often dark and frightful, to discover what is within us all the time.
And what is within us?
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5). He means that there is within each of us a light that comes from God and will never be put out. The problem is that there are forces in our lives that have distanced and disconnected us from that light—the parent who told us that we’d never amount to anything, the relative or neighbor who abused us, the loved one who abandoned or neglected or betrayed us. These kinds of things lead us to believe false things about ourselves—things opposed to the truth Jesus tells us about ourselves.
“You are the light of the world,” says Jesus. But we say, “You gotta be kidding.”
Jesus means to open us to a deeper truth too long hidden from our eyes. He means to soften the hard ground, to give light within where too much darkness abounds, to bless where shame and pain hold us in an inner prison. Sin loves the shame the shrouds our souls. Sin exults in the pain that blankets the inner light. Sin is the great deception that would lead me, for example, to believe that I’m worse that I really am. Of course, it can also lead me to believe, in a self-inflated way, that I’m better than others.
The work of transformation isn’t easy work. It’s a journey from darkness to light, from falsehood to truth. It means suffering—for all that is false and ugly must be pulled from me. The things I cling to, the things that hold me captive must go—my illusions about myself, my addictions, my failures . . . all this must go, and none of it will go without a fight.
Embracing the truth about myself, the light I hold within me, will mean that I must journey through suffering into wholeness, from ugliness into beauty, from fear into wonder. It’s a journey into the depths of my beautiful, God-breathed soul—a soul made by God, cherished by God, held by God. It’s a journey into freedom. But that I have trouble seeing that beauty doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.”
Something inside me scoffs and hisses in my head, but something else within me hopes and wonders.
Am I? Are you?
In a dark wood it’s hard to see anything at all. And so, we, as did Dante on his journey into the depths of fear and pain, will emerge in paradise, through suffering, to find the light Jesus says was there all the time. Dante ends his great poem with these lines:
“As in a wheel whose motion nothing jars/By the love that moves the sun and the other stars.”
That love and light is within you and me, it holds the center of our lives. Our spiritual work is to become what we, made in God’s image, already are and will more fully become . . . sooner or later.