On this particular cold and dark March day in the hill country of western Oregon’s Yamhill County, I sit in the utter stillness of the Trappist abbey church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The massive floor-to-ceiling windows open broadly to a view of surrounding forested hills shrouded in fog.
I sit in the front pew, alone, directly before the processional cross stationed at the edge of the sanctuary.
The figure fastened to this cross is that of a squat, rough-hewn, anguished man, browned and weathered from exposure to the elements. Not lovely to behold, not serenely radiant and full of grace. This poor man whose sovereign love and radical peace allowed him no defenses against the bullies hangs executed, simply made to go away, because he refused to back down from the shocking claim of God’s unexplainable favor.
My work takes me to many churches across the country, and I behold and ponder a good number of crucifixes in softly lit sanctuaries. I see Jesus the crucified Christ, depicted as serene, artfully composed, with a sometimes knee-length loin cloth carefully draped by the expert craftsman’s hand. These crucifixes should fill me with peace and consolation. But, discomfortingly, they don’t.
In fact, these beautiful crucifixes seem to rob me of the deeper truth I hunger for, the deeper truth of Jesus’ mission, the deeper truth of the humanity which the Lord himself and I both share. It is a complex humanity, in which truth and goodness, divine beauty and compassion, are constantly taunted and bullied, buffeted and shoved.
Even the dignity of the artfully draped loin cloth is a lie. Jesus was afforded no such dignity, no loin cloth to preserve that last shred of his humanity.
Jesus did not run from the taunts and the buffeting. Rather, he stood firm in knowing who he was. For him, abiding in his Father’s love expressed the inviolable relationship which shaped the core of his being. Even when he was confronted by the ugly mob armed with clubs and swords, even when they hurled spit and insults in his face, he did not cave. That toughness of spirit, which had been one hallmark of his public life, was the necessary girding for the real initiation into radical trust in his Father which he was about to undergo.
Jesus refused to be shoved off center. There were certain conversations he simply refused to have. As I sit before the crucifix in this quiet abbey church I look up into the face of this man who paid the ultimate price for refusing to deny the core truth of his humanity: being a seemingly ordinary man who addressed God as Abba, as Father. A seemingly ordinary man who knew that he was the Beloved Son.
Instinctively I understand my own seemingly ordinary life, yet I know deeply that I am invited, urged, by the Lord himself to also address God as Abba, as Father. When Jesus invited his followers into special kinship with the Father, he passed on to us the fiery truth that we too now are beloved sons and daughters of God. We too must undergo our own initiation into radical trust in the Father.
I have known since childhood that Jesus died for my sins. But there is a more uncomfortable truth enfleshed in this figure before me. The crucified Christ is showing me how faithfulness is actually done, what it looks like, what real faithfulness actually demands. A hundred times a week he offers me opportunities to rehearse the moves and to undergo my own initiation into mature faith. It is my vocational challenge.
The sobering challenge of the cross is to move from “He died for me” to “As he remained steadfast in the Father’s love, so I also must do.” This sobering challenge is the difference between “spiritual life as a spectator sport” and putting total skin in the game.
Copyright 2014 Mary Sharon Moore, M.T.S.