Begin the song exactly where you are,
For where you are contains where you have been
And holds the vision of your final sphere.
And do not fear the memory of sin;
There is a light that heals, and, where it falls,
Transfigures and redeems the darkest stain
Into translucent colour. Loose the veils
And draw the curtains back, unbar the doors,
Of that dread threshold where your spirit fails,
The hopeless gate that holds in all the fears
That haunt your shadowed city, fling it wide
And open to the light that finds, and fares
Through the dark pathways where you run and hide,
Through all the alleys of your riddled heart,
As pierced and open as his wounded side.
Open the map to Him and make a start,
And down the dizzy spirals, through the dark,
His light will go before you. Let him chart
And name and heal. Expose the hidden ache
To him, the stinging fires and smoke that blind
Your judgement, carry you away, the mirk
And muted gloom in which you cannot find
The love that you once thought worth dying for.
Call him to all you cannot call to mind.
He comes to harrow Hell and now to your
Well-guarded fortress let his love descend.
The icy ego at your frozen core
Can hear his call at last. Will you respond?
Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem
One of the great ministries of the church is that of Pastoral Care. Its functions include personal restoration and many have been blessed by hope and encouragement in their journeys through addiction, grief, divorce, PTSD and much more. These problems are easily identified with personal Hell, but there are countless more, though less obvious that likewise prey on us all. As Dante and Virgil stood before the gates of Hell, the inscription instructed them to ‘abandon hope’, but hope precisely was most needed.
Thanks be to God, our hope in Jesus is greater than Hell. As Malcolm Guite says in The Word in the Wilderness:
Like Jesus, who went to the cross, not for pain in itself, but ‘for the joys that were set before him’, so we are to make this journey through the memories of pain and darkness, not to stay with these things but to redeem them and move beyond them. And the journey is itself made possible because Christ himself has gone before. ‘He descended into Hell.’ Throughout the journey into the Inferno we are shown signs that Christ has been this way before and broken down the strongholds. Dante is here alluding to one of the great lost Christian stories, which we need to recover today; ‘The Harrowing of Hell’. We, who build so many Hells on earth, need to know that there is no place so dark, no situation so seemingly hopeless, that cannot be opened to the light of Christ for rescue and redemption.
Do you have a testimony of overcoming?
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Dig Deeper: Art, Literature & Liturgy
Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings. For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page.
Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith
For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.