Monday, August 09, 2010

Love's Bright Fire in Obit Magazine Today

A few weeks ago I went to an exhibit at the Rubin Museum.  It was called (since it closes today) Remember That You Will Die.  It featured momento mori from Christian European and Tibetan Buddhist traditions.  Along with the exhibit they co-sponsored an essay contest with Obit Magazine and Killing the Buddha.  I decided to enter the essay contest, and lo, I was one of six winners.

This piece is extracted from a much longer essay.  I hope to see it published as part of Grief/ance: African American Lives in the 20th Century (current, ever shifting title).

Love's Bright Fire is in Obit Magazine today.  Give it a look.  Let me know what you think.

Oh, and here is my interpretation of Canto VI of Purgatorio where the title comes from:

Preface: Gambling on Love

Ed elli a me: "La mia scrittura è piana; e la speranza di costor non falla, se ben si guarda con la mente sana; ché cima di giudicio non s'avvalla perché foco d'amor compia in un punto ciò che de' sodisfar chi qui s'astalla ...”
Commedia, Cantica Purgatorio, Canto VI, lines 34-39

Dante and Virgil have emerged from Hell onto the vast plain leading to Mount Purgatory.  As they walk toward the mountain they meet many souls, shades, hungry ghosts, call them what you will.  Eventually they come upon a group that is gambling, playing a dice game.  Loss weighs heavily on each of them.  As they leave the game they catch sight of Dante, robust, pink, alive.  They begin grabbing at him and begging him to remember them to those who are still alive and who, in life, loved them dearly.  Dante is overwhelmed by their requests, and confused, believing the intercession of the living has no standing in the light of God’s unyielding justice.  So he turns to Virgil, whose wisdom he depends upon, and says (this is a paraphrase of course), “How could this be?  Didn’t you yourself say, in the Aeneid, that nothing can help those who have left life and await the Lord’s righteous punishment for their sins?”

Virgil responds, “I did write such words, and my writing is plain.  Remember, there had been no Savior given, but now there has been, so all has changed.  God’s justice is not ‘demeaned or lessened if, in an instant, Love’s bright fire’ achieves what a long sojourn in Purgatory might otherwise accomplish.”


  1. Rebecca, "Love's Bright Fire" is just stunning. All of the very specific details about Virgil's dying so clearly, as if calmly, told. I got such a clutch in the gut when I read that some of the same white boys who played ball with Albert and Virgil were part of the killing. Congratulations on the honor from the Rubin Museum. Such powerful work. I'm posting links.

  2. followed susan's link here-- what a gorgeous piece! i linked to the article in my FB, knowing my friends will appreciate the Impermanence too. also, you look like someone i was just on retreat with at Spirit Rock-- was that you?
    holly h.


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