“O you who are within your little bark,
eager to listen, following behind
my ship that, singing, crosses to deep seas,
turn back to see your shores again: do not
attempt to sail the seas I sail; you may,
by losing sight of me, be left astray.” – Dante, (Paradiso 2, vv. 1-6).
Almost everything is characterized by a beginning and ending, and as Seniors get ready to
graduate from Columbia, and the underclassmen and Juniors prepare to move into new courses next year, we can get the sense that while new beginnings are exciting, they may also be nerve racking or challenging as we seek to set out onto new waters. For the pilgrim in the beginning of Dante’s Paradiso, the shift to a vision of heaven and the celestial heavens presents its own challenges of forcing one to confront his fears that are often associated with change and asking us whether we’re ready to be led into new places that will force us to change. The reassuring yet also demanding reality is that it is ultimately within our power to adapt well or poorly to the new circumstances that life throws our way.
This semester, I had the privilege of taking a course on Dante Aligiheri’s Divine Comedy with Professor Teodolinda Barolini in the Italian department, and we had the chance to read through the latter half of Dante’s Purgatorio and also Dante’s Paradiso. Dante’s work covered a wide range of remarkable topics including unity and difference, the highest good and justice, and man’s search for the satisfaction of all of his desires. Dante did all of this with a remarkable synthesis of political, historical, theological, literary, and poetic criticism combined into one impressive text. But, while the text can be analyzed in many different ways, I think it is Dante’s theology of love, his vision for how the world is both united and differentiated by love and how all things are to be made new in love, that has the most to teach us about how to move on to new beginnings and to say goodbye to those things that are fleeting, transitory, and which must pass as we move on to greater things. Continue reading