Seven hundred years ago, a 35-year-old poet embarked on a journey into the interior that took him through hell and purgatory to heaven. His account of that journey became a spiritual guide for a culture in transition, its vocabulary and imagery providing a new architecture for the soul, as art should do.The poem begins:
In the middle of our life's wayI found myself in a dark woodWhere the right way was lost.
It was in the year 1300, Dante Alighieri tells us, that he took that journey, though he needed the rest of his life to recount it in his great poem, La Commedia. We know it now as The Divine Comedy. Seven hundred years later, we again find ourselves in a dark wood of confusion and ambiguity where the right way needs to be re-discovered by a new generation.I was a 35-year-old minister when I discovered Dante through Alan Jones's excellent book, The Soul's Journey. Floundering in what I perceived as a midlife crisis, I had gotten stuck and needed someone to show me the way out. I was also struggling with how to tell the story of God to a post-modern world that no longer trusted language. Dante became my historical contemporary—a colleague centuries removed, but one who seemed to be in sync with my world and its transition out of rational arrogance and into something that isn't quite there.The world has been through mega-paradigm shifts before, but this may be the first time that we are aware of the transition as it unfolds around us. We have been calling this shift "postmodernity" and the resulting mindset "postmodernism," because the world that we are leaving behind was so thoroughly shaped by modernity, as was much of my evangelical Christianity.Modernity's creed was that man could understand anything and everything through ...1