The opening line of Dante’s Commedia reads, “In the middle of the journey of our life, I found myself astray in a dark wood where the straight road had been lost.”
There are times in the Christian life that we find ourselves “astray in a dark wood” wondering where we are, how we got here, and how we will get through it. Whether these moments come upon us gradually or suddenly, they are accompanied by a sense of disorientation, doubt, confusion, pain, struggle, and isolation.
While the experience finds much historical precedent in the Christian tradition and should be welcomed and traversed with courage and fortitude, we all too often suppress it with pat answers and pious platitudes that leave us feeling more unsure of ourselves, further isolated, and living less than authentic lives.
I like to think that Dante used the Italian, nostra vita, “our life,” to remind us that the “dark wood” is something we all experience and that as such we don’t need to go alone. As did Dante, we need companions along the way. Those who have faced their own dark wood, who are courageous enough to journey with us, and who’ve learned from experience that sometimes to find heaven we must pass through hell.
In the spirit of Conversatio Divina our authors’ candid and vulnerable reflections symbolically invite the reader to sojourn with them on the spiritual journey as they share the insights gleaned from ancient Christian companions and the readings and practices that sustained them in the dark wood. They are in no way meant to be read as doctrinal pronouncements, but rather as mirrors to the deeper questions and longings of the human soul. I hope that readers who find themselves in the bitterness of a dark wood are encouraged by the reflections that follow and take comfort in knowing that the transformation wrought through such trials may one day render their present experience “bittersweet” (Jas 1:2–4).
Michael Di Fuccia, PhD
We would like to thank the John Templeton Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, and the Martin Family for making this project possible.