Question: What’s wrong with the world?
Fear: It’s me and I’m broken beyond repair.
In many epic journeys, there is a point at which the protagonist realizes that there is something wrong. In the movie Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s world is black and white and she is unhappy, though she doesn’t know why. And so she sings of a world beyond the rainbow. In the Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Gandalf have a chilling conversation at the beginning about the One Ring and Mordor. It’s at this point that we discover that Middle Earth is under attack and will be ravaged unless someone can stop the most evil, disembodied eye ever to exist.
Now, our “something wrong” probably isn’t so epic (though there have been times in history when the fate of the world really was on the line). In most cases it can be something quite simple and yet it is shaping our lives and our future. It’s a pebble in our shoe that’s annoying us and distracting us and slowing us down. And yet, it may very well be making us miss the moment where we meet the love of our life, or the contact that opens an opportunity for a dream job, or the friend who helps us face our cancer. More significantly, it may keep us from the moment that turns the tide in a battle that decides the fate of humanity with respect to poverty, disease, warfare, or the environment. And so it must be dealt with.
This is where the “Gates of Hell” play a role. We have to figure out what’s wrong. We have to take that annoying feeling seriously. Because it is human nature to assume that there is something wrong with the system. And sometimes there is. But many times it’s us. And that’s the fear we have to conquer. We have an insecurity, a wound, a traumatic memory, a weakness, a dark side, and it’s getting the best of us. Left unattended, it will shape us into the monsters that inhabit Hell. So we take the journey to sober up a bit. We have to envision a future that leads to our worst nightmare and ask, “What is it about me that could very easily lead to this?”
For Dorothy, she had to learn that color doesn’t really bring happiness. Colorful people can be wicked. For Frodo, he learned that there is a thin line separating himself and the decaying world of Mordor, and so he must do what all the other ring-bearers found impossible, resist the lust for power and destroy the object he desired most.
Realize, though, that you may not be ready to begin this journey. Or this journey may take a very long time, as in years or decades. Or you may have “been there, done that” and so you need to move on. Whatever the case, you are responsible for your own journey. Don’t expect to be taken by the hand and shown the way. You have to find it for yourself.
Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle
John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul
Dante, Paradise Lost