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Hell Is A Spiral

Reflecting on Philip Seymour Hoffman’s overdose, Tony Woodlief notes our spiritual poverty amid so much plenty. Excerpt: Things have never been better in the realm of the measurable. But the human soul has no gauge. It has no quantity and so no self-respecting scholar will come near it. This world is better than it has […]

Reflecting on Philip Seymour Hoffman’s overdose, Tony Woodlief notes our spiritual poverty amid so much plenty. Excerpt:

Things have never been better in the realm of the measurable. But the human soul has no gauge. It has no quantity and so no self-respecting scholar will come near it. This world is better than it has ever been, so long as we forget that we have souls, and hearts that beat despite being broken.

This is not a brief against progress. I have the luxury of this lament because I do not have to spend all my hours scratching out subsistence. I am only trying to say that something has gone missing. We aren’t measuring wrong things, it’s just that we’ve forgotten what is immeasurable. And if we cannot remember this part of humanity, we will turn every good thing against ourselves. Man is, in the end, a creature who flees pain.

And where may he run, to be free from a life that is, by every scientific measure, less painful than ever, yet somehow more inviting of despair?

I have run many places and never found refuge. At best I’ve achieved brief forgetfulness, the price of which is recalling, when you come back to yourself, what you did to forget. I do not know the shape of hell, but I think it is a spiral.

So Dante imagined … but so is the way out of Hell, the unwinding of the infernal spiral in the purifying journey up the seven-storey mountain. The spiral is a symbol of a transformative journey. The way up or down is never straight. If you are making your way out of hell, it is important to remember this fact, because that way you don’t get easily discouraged.

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