This is one of those not-for-the-faint-of-heart posts. But yesterday's generated such interesting answers (which will surely lead to another post eventually) that I thought I'd try something similar today.
This one began with a piece Michelle wrote on Wednesday, in which she says that "[i]t is difficult for us who make the sign of the cross when we pray, who let the crucifix lead us into and out of the church, who finger the rosary in our pockets when we are worried to see the cross as anything other than a familiar icon of protection and comfort." I commented that protection and comfort are not the things I think about when I encounter the cross. But, of course, she got me thinking . . . .
As a Protestant, I am accustomed to seeing an empty cross, rather than a crucifix, in church, and I tend to see it as a symbol of victory. In my home church, however, the center of the simple white wooden cross is encircled by nails, and so for me the cross has often become a focus for meditation on suffering. I often thought, before Josh died, that I would like to do a sermon on that particular cross. Now I'm not sure that I have it in me.
In the Catholic church which I began to visit after Josh's death (a complex story involving a need to be with people in prayer and the sense of trauma that bubbled up every time I tried to enter our own sanctuary), an enormous crucifix hangs above the altar. One day I happened to glance up as the priest raised the cup and plate and sang the words, "Through him, in him with him, in the unity of the holy spirit . . ". That cup and plate looked so very small and that crucifix so very large; I was quite struck by the simplicity and fragility of the eucharistic act in the face of the overwhelming evil represented by the cross, and that one man's act of compassionate love had overcome all terror and evil. It was a significant moment for me as I sought to contend with the horror of suicide and to find some sense of reassurance that my son had found welcome and safety in God's embrace.
Two years later, still contending, I spent a lot of time with the Stations of the Cross while I was on retreat at Wernersville. I wasn't too clear on what the Stations of the Cross were ~ they represent stops in Jesus' final journey, from his appearance before Pilate to his entombment ~ but my retreat director provided some help and sent me off for what became several days of on-and-off focus on Jesus and his mother. I'm not sure that I'd recommend that particular pilgrimage for a person in my shoes without the companionship of someone who is both a priest and a psychologist, but it was a powerfully healing journey for me.
Did that experience transform the cross into an icon of protection and comfort for me? I can't say that it did. It remains a symbol of anguish and evil, albeit one that has convinced me that every moment of my son's pain was shared.
I do wonder, though, whether a long-enough confrontation with the cross, of the nature into which I have been forced, might alter its impact.
And what about you? What has your experience been?