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Have you noticed how many people feel strongly about both the Cross and the Flag?  They have no qualms about stating that both are of primary importance.  Which is cool.  I guess.  If it works.

But it seems like the majority of people who manage to pull this off are a bit Old Testament.  “The problem was that they didn’t go in and kill all the foreigners like God told them to do.”  “They tolerated people who believed other things.  That’s what got them in trouble.”  It’s amazing the things I overhear simply because people assume that as a Christian I will agree with them no matter what they say.

Sorry guys.  I too manage to hold both the Flag and the Cross in my heart.  But I’m holding the Cross of Christ.  When Jesus came, he preached a message of love, mercy and forgiveness.  He directed his followers to take care of those around them.

That may be what makes my expectations for the Flag a bit different from those of many people.  The mayor of Puerto Rico should not be begging us for help.  There should have been no question of raising shipping limits.

The Cross and the Flag.  The Flag and the Cross.  I have no problems reconciling the two.

–SueBE

 

 

 

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The cross over my desk.

The cross over my desk. Yes, it is hung with a Christmas ornament hook and tape.

As we head into Lent, our Sunday school class is studying Christian symbolism. One of the first symbols that we studied was the Cross which is actually 400 different symbols.

In my mind, the cross has always been a comfort. Perhaps this was because I was raised by women who looked out for me both physically and spiritually.  They wore crosses and reminded me that God was always there for me, watching out for me, guiding me and listening to me.

I was surprised to learn that the Cross wasn’t used by Christians until the fourth century when crucifixion was outlawed and Christianity was legalized.  Until then, they cross, my cross, was a symbol of torture and execution.  Only the very worst criminals were crucified.  It was a symbol of shame.  And Christ, the Messiah, the Redeemer, had died on a cross.

Died.

Nailed up like a murderer.

Imagine what that had to feel like for His followers.  The shame and horror of seeing him hung up there, suffering and dying.  The self-recriminations – what could I have done differently?  Does this mean that all he preached, all that I’ve believed and hoped was . . . wrong?

The cross didn’t symbolize anything good until much, much later.

As we enter Lent, I’ve been thinking about what the cross means in the US today. Is it the signing of a loving Christ, drawing in those in need?  Calling the little children to him?  Because that’s what it means to me. As I pray, I can look at the cross and feel myself relax.  This is my refuge. My source of strength.

But is that how it feels to the transgender teen who is agonizing over what bathroom to use in school? Does it mean hope to refugees from war-torn countries?  Those who are just trying to reunite with brothers and sisters, children and spouses?

To many of these people it means judgement and recrimination.  It means despair and sparks fear.

Two thousand years and we’re right back where we started, but it isn’t where we have to be. The meaning of this powerful symbol has changed in the past.  It can change again in the future. It can truly become the Cross of Christ, drawing in those in need, calling to the children.

–SueBE

“It’s no big deal,” my sister says on the phone of her recent hysterectomy. “Of all my surgeries, it was the easiest.” Of course, this is a woman who has had surgery on her eyeball. And endured a double mastectomy. It is not surprising to me that she is stoic. She knows the way of pain.

The way of pain is also Jesus’ way. Imagine, if you will, being tortured for hours by Roman guards, kept up all night, having a crown of thorns digging inexorably into your head…then being loaded up with a wooden crucifix you can barely lift and having to drag it to your own execution site. All this before getting nailed to said cross and dying of exsanguination or collapsed lungs or shock or all three. And yet the gospel-writers never include anything about Jesus hollering curses or demanding morphine or even venting slightly with a few cross words (pun intended). Jesus takes on the worst physical pain — and the pain of all the sins of the world — and still finds time to take care of his mother, forgive a thief and absolve his murderers. Now that is something.

Pain is lonely. It cuts a person off from others. There is no “sharing” pain; each person’s pain is unique. When I broke my ankle many years ago, I felt pretty bad. Then a friend of mine related the story of how she broke her ankle. Just hearing the story made me know that what I was experiencing was, frankly, laughable.

Pain is dehumanizing, reducing most of us to our worst selves. When an animal is in pain, it may hide. If confronted, it will bite. We humans do this too, in our own way. Neither strategy lessens the pain, but the kind of thinking that goes along with pain is seldom rational.

Pain has become something of a dirty word in this country. We will go to great lengths to extinguish it with pills, shots and other tinctures, both of the legal and illegal variety. No one wants to walk through pain. But pain is also salvific: It is perhaps our only means of intersecting our life experience with that of Christ. I will never be able to multiply loaves and fishes, but I can certainly understand how it feels to hurt.

Holy Week is coming up next week, a week wherein we remember Jesus’ suffering and his triumph over death. It seems an opportune time to reflect on the pain in our lives. We all experience pain, physical, mental or spiritual. But what we do with that pain matters. Non-Catholics tease Catholics over the use of the phrase, “Give it up to God.” We use it a lot, for everything from small deprivations to devastating losses. But what that phrase means is this: With this experience, I am touching, in the tiniest way, the way of the cross and the way of Christ. This provides an opportunity for something special — to choose Jesus’ response of understanding, acceptance and sanctification or to allow myself to be diminished.

The way of pain is not the easy way. It is not something to strive for. But when it is thrust upon us, as it inevitably is, it is a place of possibility. And in this place, we are at one with God.

 

 

When I first started blogging, I wanted to augment my work here with a blog devoted to Emily Dickinson, a deeply spiritual poet with whom I find a friendly resonance. I wanted to call my site “An Admiring Blog,” a take on a line from Dickinson’s poem “I’m Nobody, Who Are You?” But the name was already taken. Still, that hasn’t stopped me from musing on her work. I wrote this poem with Dickinson’s “The Mighty Merchant” in mind:

Choose your cross.
Pick the size and shape.
Mull over wood grains.
Perhaps I can help?
Peter, you know, chose to go feet-first.
Some saints I know like their crosses
perfectly square.
But don’t let me sway you.
Your choice should be tempered
by the size of your soul.
There are those who carry mahogany
as lightly as balsa,
others with twined sticks, twigs really,
who bend under the weight
like make-believe martyrs.

Let me tell you a secret:
You will always choose the cross you know.
Its contours are familiar, the upright beam
settles easily between your shoulder blades.
Oh, you claim to hate it,
but over the years you’ve learned
to heft its weight. A new cross
can be wily — green wood
can bend and wriggle like a viper
you only thought you understood.

All crosses are vouchsafed,
guaranteed to last a lifetime.
Don’t fret, dear Consumer!
You’ll scarcely notice:
A carpenter I know
will take an end.
He has experience with these things.
You have only to ask.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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