Tormented Witness

JOHN BERRYMAN’S ADDRESSES TO GOD

The life of faith finds an enduring metaphor in the notion of the soul’s journey to God. Consider the pilgrim-poet of Dante’s Divine Comedy, who successfully navigates the subterranean circles of hell, ascends the mountains of purgatory, and ultimately experiences the inexpressible beauties of paradise. Or John Bunyan’s seventeenth-century Christian, who proceeds doggedly along the straight and narrow King’s Highway toward the Celestial City past the many obstacles sin puts in his way. Such journeys presuppose the sort of linear progression St. Bonaventure had in mind when he remarked in his treatise The Soul’s Journey into God, “In relation to our position in creation, the universe itself is a ladder by which we can ascend into God.”

Yet for another kind of pilgrim, there exists no such steady progress. For this unsteady soul, instead of the gradual brightening that greets Dante in Paradise, the light of faith flickers in and out; instead of an unshakable movement toward heaven, there is rather an oscillation between belief and doubt. Like the ancient Israelites—a people who found themselves alternately embraced and excoriated by God—these “kind of” Christians don’t so much tread a straight path to Zion as zigzag toward it through the wilderness.

Such...

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About the Author

Elizabeth Kirkland Cahill, a frequent contributor, is the co-author (with Joseph Papp) of Shakespeare Alive! and a 2010 graduate of Yale Divinity School.