This is Part 2 of 3! Click here for Part 1!
As we look at the meaning of the Christ in Christianity, we find other dimensions beyond what we covered in Part 1 – the Circle of Life, Love, and Incarnation. Indeed, when people associate the term Christ with a geometrical shape, it's usually the Cross. Beyond the literal appearance of a cross in Jesus' crucifixion, on a deeper level, what does the object of the Cross symbolize in Christian Spirituality?
Though we don’t know why, and it’s often not our fault, we humans and the rest of Creation are still separate enough from God that we experience the tragedy of suffering. In the graspings of our own egos, in the harm we inflict or endure, in the unavoidable anguish and lostness and predation of existence, and in the inevitability of death – to live in this world is to carry a heavy, painful burden.
By Jesus' act of willingly, consciously, lovingly undergoing all this suffering himself – including the horrors of political-religious torture and murder – he demonstrated the heartbreak of our human tragedy to profound symbolic effect. But in doing so, he also demonstrated that – as we covered in Part 1 – since God is a living, incarnate, and loving presence manifest in every aspect of reality, God therefore also carries this Cross of suffering alongside us, feels it with us, and helps us through it.
This is the truth Jesus conveyed when he offered his life and death as an example for all of us: God takes up the crooked timber of our egos, the imperial execution devices, the jagged weight of life, the seeming finality of death. And God walks with it all, walks with us. God transfigures and redeems it all, transfigures and redeems us. God overcomes it all, and is more powerful than our pain. However difficult our journey is, we are never alone or abandoned, life is no less sacred, and redemption is always possible. Here we are reminded of the roots of the word Christ – to be anointed, or made holy.
For my own part, I learned of this Cross aspect of Christ from a young age. I grew up with a dad who had serious mental health and addiction struggles, was unstable, destructive, and abusive. I've spent most of my life in therapy. Early on, this led me to working with others who’d experienced harm, where I was exposed to the pervasiveness of systemic injustice in the world. I had to face the denial of my own pain and my shielding by systemic privilege from the pain of others.
I soon threw myself into activism, but eventually burned out with anxiety and depression. Then when I was 23, my dad died suddenly, without any chance to reconcile with him. So I’ve had to reconcile with his complicated legacy instead.
All the while, I’ve survived by the goodness of Nature, art, and people – including my dad’s own, deep goodness. And I've survived by the goodness of Spirit’s unexpected presence, even in hardship and even if I didn’t know how to see it at the time. Everywhere I’ve turned, God has been there, reminding me that while we hold suffering, Spirit holds and redeems suffering, and Spirit holds and redeems us.
If we can heed these reminders and internalize recognition of the Cross, we can learn to grieve and carry our own suffering more courageously, and help others do the same in solidarity. We can live with graciousness for ourselves, each other, and all Creation knowing the burden we all bear together. This is no easy task, and I and all of us have much to learn. I believe aspiring to and practicing these things is part of what it means to be a committed Christian and a true follower. And we desperately need more folks doing these things in our world.
Beyond this, the Christ principle still has more dimensions. Other than the Circle of Life, Love, and Incarnation and the Cross of Suffering and Redemption, what is there?
Stay tuned for Part 3 of these posts - the Cycle!
In the meantime, I offer you some reflection questions:
How have you been experiencing the Divine’s accompaniment, of you and of all Creation, in suffering?
To learn more
Mirabai Starr, Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics (Sounds True: 2019)
Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Crown Publishing Group: 2019)
Image credits: #2 - Taylor Whitfield