Dante in Philly
What a great time I had in suburban Philadelphia last night, talking about How Dante Can Save Your Life at Eastern University’s Agora Institute. Nice crowd too, including a number of my old Philly posse, a couple of old and dear friends who drove up from Baltimore to surprise me, and quite a few readers of this blog, including pals Franklin Evans and Damon Linker, whose work you see frequently in this space. I very nearly had tears in my eyes when one reader introduced herself as a former student and friend of Robert and Jean Hollander, whose translation of the Commedia is my favorite, and the one that I used for my book. Get this: she bought a copy after the talk and asked me to sign it to the Hollanders. It was one of the greatest honors I’ve ever had as a writer, and it moved me tremendously.
And wouldn’t you know that the city’s Catholic Archbishop Charles J. Chaput gave me a very generous gift in his column out today. Excerpt:
Rod Dreher is one of the most insightful, compelling Christian authors working today. On April 14, Regan Arts released his latest book, How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem. Eric Metaxas, author of the New York Times bestseller Bonhoeffer describes Dreher’s book as “a brilliant, searingly honest account of one man’s path to real healing, and an invitation to the rest of us to join him.” He’s not wrong. Grappling with depression and multiple personal crises, Dreher began reading Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy – the greatest of all Catholic medieval poems, and one of the greatest works of human literature – and it transformed his life. Read Rod Dreher’s book, and then read Dante. They’re both worth every minute you invest.
Man. To have the most courageous and important Catholic leader in the country today praise my work like that humbles me. Thank you, Archbishop Chaput. I hope the Archbishop’s endorsement helps How Dante find its way into the hands of Catholic students and Catholic parishes, and into ordinary Catholic homes. The Divine Comedy is one of the great treasures of the Catholic Church, and indeed of all Christendom — but especially of the Catholic Church, in whose bosom it was born. If my book can introduce Catholics to the beauty, the profundity, and the life-changing power of Dante’s poem, I will be so, so grateful.
And not just Catholics. A Texas friend who is a charismatic Christian, and who has endured intense emotional, spiritual, and physical pain over the past few years, and who has been let down again and again by faddish spirituality in the church, wrote me a deeply moving e-mail tonight about the book. Obviously I’m not going to quote from it, because she laid her soul bare about what she’s been through, and how “name it and claim it” and “proclaim the promise” spirituality proved bankrupt to helping her deal with the reality of her suffering. She ended her letter like this:
When I finished the book, I was lying on the floor on my stomach decompressing my lower back. I finished the last page, closed the book, sat it in front of me, and set my chin on my crossed arms. I stared at the book and said aloud,
“God, if I could take the last 5 years and put them into a book on how to heal, this is what I would write. Thank you for letting Rod write this because mine would not have been this good.”
Thank you for writing the book so many of us who have walked this road know needed to be written but didn’t have the skill to write.
Thank you for writing the book so many on this road need to read so they can find their way out of the forest.
You are welcome, my dear friend, and I thank you for your generous words. Somebody in the book line asked me tonight how I could be so candid and vulnerable in the book about what I went through. The answer is easy: because God brought me through it, and out of it, and He did so by using this near-miraculous work of literature — a book I never imagined I would read — to illuminate the path to freedom. Dante told his patron Can Grande that he wrote the Commedia to show his readers the way out of the dark wood. That’s why I wrote How Dante Can Save Your Life. This is not a book of literary analysis. This is a book for lost and broken people who want to be found and restored.
On Monday night, I’m at Notre Dame (see below), then Tuesday night at Houston Baptist University, in the school’s Belin Chapel. I hope to see you there.