Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Pilgrim's Progress Part 1: Christian’s Problem

“Behold, I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back.

At the opening of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress we meet a man named Graceless, though he will soon take the name Christian.

“I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein; and, as he read, he wept, and trembled; and, not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry, saying, ‘What shall I do?’”

To summarize his situation, Christian:
  • is clothed in rags 
  • has turned his face away from his home
  • carries a great burden on his back, and 
  • holds a book in his hand
Christian is in agony. He cries “lamentably.” He does not know what to do.

Silence any thoughts you might harbor about that old chestnut The Pilgrim’s Progress—such as ridiculously out of date, a laughable allegory, who cares anymore?—and ask yourself:

Have you ever been in Christian’s position? Your best things turned to rags, you are alienated from your own home and hearth, and you carry a great burden—the past, your preconceptions, guilt, something heavy—on your back.

I have been in Christian’s position.

I know that the book or books in one’s hand only make the burden heavier and your cries more “lamentable.” Because in your books of wisdom you read that life is short, time is running out, there is a way, and you’re not on it.

Maybe that’s what keeps my thoughts on Bunyan’s book a month after I put it down. Maybe it reminds me of myself in about 2002 or 2003, when I had left a so-called spiritual path, which I had followed for many years, and I found myself in the wilderness. Like Dante lost in mid-life and on the brink of the abyss.

Over fifty, with more mistakes on my back than I cared to turn around and face, I had read forever—books, books, Eastern, Western, cosmic, esoteric, everywhere books—and still I was lost. Like Christian, I had even turned my face away from certain loved ones.

It was not a happy time in my life.

To read further, click here to read a fragment of the prolog of my memoir, The Long Walk Home. 

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