Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Crucifix & Enduring Loss

I grew up in a religious tradition that didn't value symbols. In fact, symbols were often derided as idols, false idols that distract from worshiping God. So, even today, though I claim Christ as my personal Savior, I don't wear a cross, nor do I own one. Check that. My secret sister at church gave me a plaque last year with the cross on it with this inscription:

All things are possible with God.

I kept it. And the cross doesn't bother me, but it does still cause me to pause and consider the symbolism. Obviously, I don't worship the cross. Do other Christians worship theirs?

The Anchoress writes about loss and the anger at God that loss sometimes triggers. I know what she is talking about. For five years after my son's death, I didn't darken a church's door. I just couldn't do it. It was not so much that I was angry at God. It was that I couldn't hear His words of comfort and reassurance and hope. I didn't want to be comforted or reassured. I didn't want hope for a future. I wanted Andrew. I wanted to do the past over. And since that was impossible, I wanted sorrow.

The interesting thing was that I couldn't cry. Even today, nine years later, I can count on one hand the number of times I've cried over my loss. His death transcended tears. A part of my heart felt ripped away and left a bottomless emptiness behind. Tears seemed a trivial expression of my grief.

How did I go back to church? I finally got tired of feeling bad, for one. But I also wanted my children to learn about God formally and to have believing friends to support them. This is a rough and tumble world and a child unmoored from God will end up lost at sea. Depriving a child a connection to God is the worst kind of deprivation.

When we chose our church, the thing that I realized I had missed but had forgotten about is the music. The hymns and praise and worship moved me to tears. The music made me cry. And I had a lot of stored up tears. I wasn't consciously crying for Andrew, I was just leaking loss.

The Anchoress says that when times get tough, and times are tough for her friend and times are tough for her--she lost her brother--Catholics turn to Mary because she carried such similar woes as theirs. She says that Catholics turn to the Crucifix, too:
When we look at the Crucifix we see that there is no human situation that Jesus did not come to know. Feel betrayed? Feel humiliated? Being mocked and sneered at? Feel abandoned? Feel unjustly hurt? Feel loss? There, on that crucifix is the God who has known every one of those feelings, and has submitted to them - in order to save us, but also in order to draw us near, to gather us into a consolation, a consoling embrace that says…“I know what you’re feeling…I know what you’re thinking…we are actually all in this together, and quite outside of time.”
Symbols, like the crucifix, hold the meaning we assign to them. I have felt that the ostentatious wearing of a cross, when the wearing seems to flaunt all respect for Christ's sacrifice, diminishes the symbol for everyone.

In 2 Timothy 3, Paul describes the world at the end time. It is rather descriptive of today, if you'll look around. Here is the scripture that makes me think of how the cross is misused:
They will appear to have a godly life, but they will not let its power change them.
Stay away from such people.
--God's Word Translation
How many crosses have you seen around the neck of a murderous gangster or worse, a pious pretender? But The Anchoress' encouraging words about Christ and his Mother's sacrifice and sweet endurance, provide a reason to look at the cross again with new eyes.

And even though I have never valued symbols in the way that a Catholic might, I do value the example of Jesus and Mary during times of terrible loss. And that example got me through my years grief. And that example shines the way for me today.

1 comment:

Dan said...

A very powerful post, Melissa. We Catholics don't worship the cross. We venerate it. Is there an aspect of totemism to that? I suppose so.

I compassionate your loss, though thank God I've never experienced the loss of a child (or at least in the same way).