Friday, September 9, 2011

The healing stream of the spirit

Detail of 16th Century cucifix in Ravensburg
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Years ago a cynical friend of mine and I happened to wander inside a small chapel that had a reputation for being very beautiful. Above and behind the altar was a life sized and very moving (to my mind) crucifix. My friend shuddered as she looked at it and said derisively, "You Christians worship suffering."

Now, I'm usually pretty tongue-tied in situations like that but this time some grace gave me the following: "No; we worship a God whose love stops at nothing - even this."

She was silent for a moment and then kind of snorted: "Well! You ought to put a sign next to every crucifix, then, explaining it!"

Here's something to ponder with regard to what the cross is all about:

It is the suffering already present in the world which we can either ignore or identify with. If pain were not real, if it were not the lot of so many, the way of the cross would be pathological. But in our world with its hungry and homeless and hopeless, it is pathological to live as if pain did not exist. The way of the cross means letting pain carve one's life into a channel through which the healing stream of the spirit can flow to a world in need.

-- Parker Palmer


  1. Good points you make here. Still I don't much care for crucifixes and have a special dislike for them behind the altar. In Guatemala the most important day of Holy Week is Good Friday. Easter is an afterthought, not much celebrated. This past spring we went down for Semana Santa (Holy Week). It was interesting to see the elaborate and truly sacrificial offerings of art on the streets that are then destroyed in processions. I get that. But then it's rather sad that resurrection has no celebration. That's the effect crucifixes behind altars have on me. I see them there and think, "Every Sunday and eucharist we're stuck with Good Friday." But I hear what you're saying too.

  2. Well, I certainly see your point about crucifixes. That's one of the reasons I really like the Christus Rex style crucifix as it shows the triumphant Christ as our great high priest.

    I'm wondering if the Palmer quote spoke to you at all. I really liked the bit about letting the inevitable pain in our lives carve out a channel for compassion.

  3. Yes. I like the quote. As is true of a lot of teenagers I found my teen years to be very painful. And, yes, the pain I experienced, often feeling excluded at school, carved a channel through which I believe the healing spirit sometimes flows through me to those in this world whose needs are dismissed and who feel personally marginalized.

  4. I guess I let myself get caught up in my feelings about the crucifix. Oddly, I love Latin American culture and even find visiting their cathedrals that are filled with crucifixes and Mary as Queen of Heaven. But I don't experience any spiritual uplift from them. I see their churches and their Roman Catholic/Mayan worship emphases mainly as culturally intriguing. It's so weird to attend a Sunday Eucharist an see people lined up all the way down a side isle giving confession while the Eucharist is being celebrated so that they will be allowed to take communion, not having participated in any other aspect of the worship. The Roman Catholic Church has succeeded in deeply ingraining the fear of God even when there is little joy shown in worship. I suppose it gives order and some form of comfort to people whose lives are not very comfortable. But our teachers had many questions for, Susan, who can actually communicate about spiritual concepts in Spanish, and were fascinated by the idea of her being a priest - visiting in a culture that is predominantly male dominated.


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