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Posts Tagged "Crucifix":

The Cross, The Crucifix, And The Tree Of Life



‘Processional cross depicting Our Lord at the center of the vine which depends on Him for life.’

I am the vine, you are the branches (John 15:5)


In the dim morning light

A simple brass cross stands on the altar,

Flanked by the minimum two candles,

In this otherwise austere Norman church.


The congregation slowly assembles.

The lights go up ready for the ‘performance’,

Transmuting the base metal into glistening gold.


In a trick of the light the flat surface of the cross

Becomes a bas relief of Our Lord, a crucifix.

This happens most weeks,

Nothing unusual.

Forcing your eyes to focus can make it disappear.


I look away, talk to a friend.

When I return, the cross is transformed once again,

This time to become a living thing –

Cross and vine and tree and Saviour

All indissolubly intertwined,

With arms as branches, torso as trunk,

And ripe grapes fruiting extravagantly.


Shocked at this hallucination, I blink and rub my eyes.

I invoke the minor gods of normalcy and routine

(We have reached the second hymn)

But they refuse to answer my call.

The Arcimboldo crucifix is apparently a reality, at least to me.


Later, I walk up to the aisle to test my eyesight.

The image remains intact until I reach the communion rail.

A month goes by, but the impact does not fade.

My conscious mind can neither absorb it, nor dismiss it.

At the moment of his death, the cosmic Green Man breaks

The laws of physics to become Dionysus?


I try to recreate the moment

But of course it will not happen again –

That door is closed for now.

Gradually the image becomes part of me

(But demands I attempt to share it).


Good Friday and Easter Day are one to the Lord of life?

“We live together, we act on, and react to, one another; but always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves. The martyrs go hand in hand into the arena; they are crucified alone. Embraced, the lovers desperately try to fuse their insulated ecstasies into a single self-transcendence; in vain. By its very nature every embodied spirit is doomed to suffer and enjoy in solitude. Sensations, feelings, insights, fancies—all these are private and, except through symbols and at second hand, incommunicable. We can pool information about experiences, but never the experiences themselves.”

So said Aldous Huxley in “Heaven and Hell” (1954).

I am very conscious of the difficulty of communicating experiences of this sort, and I have of course failed. But sometimes it is impossible to resist the urge to try.


Epilogue on Easter Monday 2019

Looking through my Twitter feed before breakfast, I find this (hitherto unknown to me) piece by one of my favourite Christian poets, R S Thomas.

“Not the empty tomb

but the uninhabited

cross. Look long enough

and you will see the arms

put on leaves. Not a crown of thorns,

but a crown of flowers

haloing it, with a bird singing as though

perched on paradise’s threshold.”


R S Thomas

Good Friday: The Cross And Its Demands – Evelyn Underhill


It is not the act of a good disciple,’ says Saint John of the Cross, ‘to flee from the Cross in order to enjoy the sweetness of an easy piety.’

So here above all, by the Crucifix and what it means to us, we test the quality of our discipleship. What we think about the Cross means ultimately what we think about life, for ‘seek where you will,’ says à Kempis, ‘everywhere you will find the Cross.’ And when you have found it, what are you going to do about it? That is the question: look at it with horror or with adoration?

It has been said that the whole life of Christ was a Cross. I think that saying that does grave injustice to its richness of response, to the real expansion and joy and beauty of His contacts with nature, children, friends,; the true happiness we find again in the saints nearest to Him; the hours snatched for the deep joy of prayer and communion; the outburst of rejoicing when He discerns the Father’s Will. But it was the deep happiness of the entirely self-abandoned, not the easy shallow satisfaction of those who live to express themselves and enjoy themselves; that Perfect Joy which Saint Francis rediscovered in abjection; and which was ratified on La Verna when he was caught into the supernatural order and sealed with the wounds of Christ.

There is a marked contrast between the first phase of the Ministry with its confident movement within the natural world; mending what is wrong with it, using what is right in it and sharing the social life of men, and that after the Transfiguration, the second phase, with its sense of a deepening conflict with that easy, happy world; the conviction that what is deeply wrong with it can only be mended by sacrifice; that the Suffering Servant is the one who serves His brethren best. ‘Take up  the Cross if you wish to follow Me!”

The spiritually natural life is charming, but it stops short of all that God asks of the really surrendered soul.

It was in the Passion, says Saint John of the Cross, that Christ ‘finished that supreme work which His whole life, its miracles and works of power, had not accomplished: the union and reconciliation of human nature with the life of God.’ Here we learn all that it means to acknowledge Him as our Way, our Truth and our Life. I suppose no soul of any sensitiveness can live through Holy Week without an awed and grateful sense of being incorporated in a mystery of self-giving love which yet remains far beyond our span.

Evelyn Underhill

Light of Christ 1932
The illustration is by Ib Rasmussen and is in Sakramentskirken, Copenhagen, Denmark. Crucifix over the left gallery. Via Wikimedia.

Palm Sunday – Cross And Church: Evelyn Underhill

Cross And Church

In his letter to the Romans, we find Saint Paul asking his converts if they realize what it means to be part of the Church. It means, he says (and we can imagine their surprise when they heard it), being received into the death of Christ —the unconditional sacrifice of the Cross — in order to walk in newness of life: transformed through self-loss into a bit of that Body which is indwelt and ruled by the Spirit of Divine Charity.

No easy application for membership, then, fulfils the demands of real Christianity. It is a crisis, a radical choice, a deep and costly change. When we judge our own lives by this standard we realize that full entrance into the Church’s real life must for most of us be a matter of growth. There are layers of our minds, both personal and corporate, still untransformed; not indwelt by Charity, resisting the action of God. There are many things that the Spirit could do through us, for the healing and redeeming of the world, if it were not for our cowardice, slackness, fastidiousness, or self-centred concentration on our own jobs.

‘Present yourselves to God as alive from the dead’, says Saint Paul; and your members — all you have, every bit of you — as instruments, tools of righteousness. That is his standard of Churchmanship. This is the kind of life into which he conceives his converters are baptized; and there is something desperately vigorous and definite about it. What he seems to envisage in the Church is a vast distributing system of the Divine Charity.

As we were slaves of ‘sin’ — that is, held tight in a life which is alien from the real purposes of God, off the track, and uses its great energies for its own ends — so that taking a new direction which is involved in becoming a Christian, means the turning over of all that energy to God’s purposes; using it for Him, co-operating with the Spirit, working within life for the redemption and hallowing of the whole world. That is what the Church is for; and the Sacraments are there for those who are prepared to pull their weight.

Evelyn Underhill

The School of Charity (1934)
The illustration is by David Perry via Seed Resources

“He Opened Wide His Arms For Us On The Cross”: Chris Fewings


Today is Holy Cross Day. We’re told Jesus “opened wide his arms for us on the cross”, but it’s easy for Christians to forget that the cross was an instrument of torture and execution. You wouldn’t expect to go into church and see a noose hanging from the ceiling, or an electric chair in front of the altar. We sing hymns like “I’ll cherish the old rugged cross” almost as if the cross were a teddy bear.

Why do we say “the tree of shame has become the tree of glory”? Why should dwelling on the pain and death of one man heal us? Perhaps because Jesus accepts his pain and reaches out from it to us. When I’m in pain, I tend to curl up and turn my back on people, or snap at them to keep them away. Jesus stretches wide has arms and says, I can survive this. I’m not going to kick back against the people who caused me pain. When I’m gone, I want my best friend to look after my mum and my mum to look after my best friend. I want to wrap my wings around all of you in your pain. I don’t want you to suffer alone.

So we lift high the cross. We believe that in Jesus our pain and suffering can be transformed. And this can happen by contemplating the cross. When we stop our busy lives to look at this image of a man in pain who is not crushed by that pain, and who is not cut off from us in his pain, we wonder. The spirit of Jesus, the spirit of sonship, the spirit of the little child who trusts his parents, can breathe through us and we cry out Father, I place myself in your hands. Life, universe, mother, I trust you. Either this cup will pass, or you will give me strength to bear it. And the possibility opens up of opening our arms to others, in spite of the pain, instead of closing ourselves off.

I love the hymn The Old Rugged Cross. Maybe that’s because it does encourage us to look to Jesus when we are suffering. But there is a danger in cherishing or clinging to the cross. There is a fine line between learning to accept and grow through our pain on the one hand, and secretly hanging on to it on the other. I’ve caught myself thinking “My pain is greater than yours” or “no one can understand me – my pain is special”. Pain competitions cut us off from each other. Suffering is something which can unite us, because we all experience it.

So what did Jesus mean when he invited us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him? It’s an invitation to freely accept what life throws at us. It’s our duty to avoid unnecessary pain, but there’s stuff we can’t avoid – so why fight it? Better to contemplate it like the cross: simply look at it and let it be.

The church presents the cross not only as a remedy for pain but as a remedy for sin: the pain we inflict on others. A lot of pain is caused directly by other people, deliberately or otherwise. It may be by a drunken driver, by someone you live with, or by someone who can’t love you. We may deliberately hurt people we know, to get back at them, or we may hurt people on the other side of the world by the careless way we live our lives and use resources like petrol or electricity or plastic.

Sin means separation: from God, from other people, from the deepest part of ourselves. From the natural world, which will nurture us if we let it. Cutting ourselves off by thinking of ourselves as different or special, either much better or much worse than other people. Cutting ourselves off from others may make us feel safer or easier, but it often hurts us and them.

Jesus stretches wide his arms and says, It stops here: I’m not going to lash out, and I’m not going to run away. In certain circumstances we may need to protect ourselves from other people. At other times we may need to confront them. Earlier in his public life, Jesus slipped away from his enemies. A few days before his crucifixion, he had a go at the money-changers in the temple. But when it came to the crunch, he followed the path of non-violence to the point of no return.

In different ways, we can stretch out our arms to the people who are causing us pain, even if they don’t mean to, or don’t even realise they’ve hurt us. There is no guarantee those people will respond the way we want them to. But we gain nothing by lashing out. And in the end, we have much to gain by not running away.

Jesus stretching wide his arms is the glory of the cross and the glory of the resurrection. Out of the freely accepted pain and bewilderment of the crucifixion comes the excitement – and the puzzle – of the resurrection. Who is this man? Who walks beside us on the dusty road? Who eats breakfast with us at the side of the lake? Who gives himself to us in this bread and wine which we offer to him? It’s the Son of Man, the ordinary bloke, the one who challenges us to recognise him in everyone.

If we let go of our fear of other people just a little bit, if we stretch out a hand to someone who has hurt us or may hurt us, we may get slapped in the face. Whether that happens or not, we may find ourselves changing and find a little Easter sunrise when we least expect it, and after that no doubt another crucifixion, and another Easter, from glory to glory.


This is an edited version of a talk given at St Paul’s Balsall Heath. Chris Fewings blogs at


The main illustration is the Volto Santo from Lucca Cathedral and can be seen here. By Joanbanjo. The second is a bronze by Iturria.  Both downloaded under CCL from Wikimedia.

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