Monday, October 13, 2014

The Crux of the Matter: Pivoting Between the Suffering and Hope



When we see a crucifixion today, we can’t help but reflect on the most memorable crucifixion of all time. You would think that in these "progressive" times, mankind would be more at peace with each other and have progressed beyond torture. But, like our Lord, even today innocent people are being nailed and hung on a cross. They are not being hung just to be executed for their faith, but because they think that using the symbol of the cross will deter us from venerating the cross.    
God chose a time in history when the cruelest way to kill someone was used to sacrifice His son. To this day, it is the only way to execute in which there can be a sign to those who look upon it. To this day, the cross is still a sign of suffering and a sign of hope. Those who use it today think they devalue the cross. They don’t know, when they use it, they elevate its glory.
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem expressed this thought in teaching that when the angel at the Christ’s tomb declared, “We know you seek Christ who was crucified”, the angel could have said, “I know you seek the Master”. But, instead he pointed to the cross as the symbol for Jesus rather than to a title for our Lord. This is because “the cross is a crown, not a dishonor”, Saint Cyril wrote.
Crux is Latin for the “cross”.  It has evolved in English to mean “to be at a pivotal point”.  The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was a pivotal point in history.  It put into proper context the suffering and hope of mankind. It exemplifies the worst suffering and the highest hope. They are intimately linked only because Christ rose from the dead.  Rising and death were incompatible actions of body and soul for God’s people until Christ showed us that death and rising are interdependent.
Human beings are always at a pivotal point, swaying between suffering and hope. We pivot daily. We venerate the cross and we talk about the crux of matters that can help us stop pivoting. We want to always be at the hope end of the matter. The crux is the only means to bring us to that end.
But, there is a process in the means. Our Church tells us we have to carry our crosses, to suffer first. There is always a passion before the resurrection. Our Church tells us to focus on the resurrection and the crux of the matter will not seem like such a cross. The crux of the matter will reveal the answer. We can stop pivoting for a little while, but the cross will always be with us in some way. If it is not our cross, it is our friends and family and the world at large. If we have empathy, we will help them carry their cross. Their cross will be our cross, too. We talk about our crosses. We look to teachers and pastors to help us find ways to carry them with peace of mind. We share our daily pivots of suffering and hope through news and books. We don’t need to progress beyond the sign of the cross because we’ve taken away the cross as a method for murder and we keep it as a sign. They can kill us on a cross, but they can’t take away its merit and meaning. When they do, they only make it shine.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

When the "Sleepwalker" Wakes Up

The "Sleepwalker" statue at the all girls Wellesley College in Massachusetts has brought forth varying opinions on its value to the landscape and to art. Some of the women are concerned for other women who may view the Sleepwalker and be reminded of sexual abuse. For me, that did not come to mind, but should we be concerned for modesty's sake, or for underage children who may be visiting students at the campus? We need others to wear clothes, even statues.


I could now talk about "the fall" and how we only came to wear clothes after our eyes were opened to or nakedness as Genesis explains, and how this relates to our fallen nature. However, the sculpture beckons a different analogy for me that springs from the fall, but more importantly moves us from focusing on that loss and looking to the fulfillment of ourselves found only through Christ's redemption of mankind.


Not being a sleepwalker is a good thing, medically, for safety's sake and for a night of respite. More importantly, it is important for our spiritual lives. When we are spiritually unaware of the transcendent, who He is and what He has done for us, it makes us in effect walking in kind of a sleep.


The spiritual masters have called this phase of the spiritual life, "purgation". Just as sleepwalker's bodies are suffering by being physically tasked while asleep, subsequently our bodies occur a loss of rest. In comparison, the soul occurs a loss when the body is awake but unaware of its own capacity. It can be a "loss" in the sense of having had something good and then noticing that it is gone, or it can be a loss in the saddest sense; that one doesn't realize what was had or in its grasp because one's eyes were closed.


It is the duty of the Catholic Church, as Mother, to alert us through the teachings of the saints, to the good that can be had. It is her duty to alert us when we are losing what we had. The spiritual life can be a receiving and a loss, a back and forth of sleeping and awaking. Of eyes shut or eyes open. Just as the sleepwalker may need to be jarred awake, our souls while in the purgation phase of the spiritual life are being jarred awake. Our sufferings wake us to search for something other than ourselves to give us peace. Sometimes we go to the doctor. Sometimes we pray.


The "Sleepwalker" art is a metaphor for the soul asleep. Arms outstretched, this sleeping man is searching. Sleep scientists express this disorder in such a way. We know a jolt of some kind will eventually awaken the man. Will the "jarr" or jolt that awakens him be more suffering or will it be, like some saints have expressed, "like a flash"- painless, peaceful and beautiful. Will the eyes see the landscape with a new clarity, as expressed by the Apostle Paul when the "scales fell from his eyes" (Acts 9:18)? Will his soul be filled with the awareness of who has awoken him?
Most often once God is ready to move a soul from purgation to awareness, the gift is not more suffering, it is peace and joy. One knows it when one has experienced it. Some souls for whatever God's reason, are given the grace of knowing this peace and joy throughout their lives. But, for most of us, if we have our arms outstretched seeking the true and the good, we will receive the jolt or grace of an awakening from a sleep that is, through him, with him and in him - our Savior Jesus Christ. And, what the eyes of our soul will see is only love, peace and joy. Our souls realize they have a capacity to be filled with love to the brim. Our original loss now becomes our gain.


As the Church has expressed in her liturgy, it is better to have been born and lost, then to never have been born and never to have experienced the gain that comes out of loss. For those who have experienced the "awakening" to a new life in Christ, the suffering and loss are replaced with the good, so we can move on to experience what is only beautiful and true.


As the seasons change, so do we. Maybe the artist of the Sleepwalker will replace him in the spring with a new piece that has a man eyes wide open to the newness of life around him and in him; the divine life that is evidenced by "the things that are made" (Rom. 1:19-20).

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