New Testament imagery is rich, particularly if one is willing to explore the imagery and interpret them in personal rather than doctrinaire terms. Let’s look briefly at the image of the Cross and its evocative power.
The Cross means different things to different people. For some it is merely an historical event which they interpret in terms of time and space; and that is fine for them. I prefer to take that dimension of the image and broaden it to include various layers of meaning, layers which are actually infinite as is the case with any meaningful symbol or myth.
For example, this morning over coffee my wife was perusing my blog and came across a recent reference to the Cross. She noted that in art it represents two divergent lines intersecting. This brought to my mind a line from T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets where he presented the Christian image of the Cross as a “union of opposite spheres of existence.”
Here is the context of Eliot’s observation which I think reveals a profound grasp of the meaning of the Cross:
But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint –
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime’s death in love,
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.
The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.
Here the impossible union
Of spheres of existence is actual,
Here the past and future
Are conquered, and reconciled,
Where action were otherwise movement
Of that which is only moved
And has in it no source of movement –
Driven by daemonic, chthonic
Powers. And right action is freedom
From past and future also.
For most of us, this is the aim
Never here to be realised;
The Crucifixion, including not merely this cross but Jesus upon it, is a powerful metaphor of transformation, of death, burial, and resurrection. It is an image of a psychic transformation in which we are integrated on a new level, where (to borrow from my beloved W. H. Auden) “where flesh and mind are delivered from mistrust.” When this happens, the incarnation has occurred. But, as Eliot noted, for most of us we don’t fully get it and are reduced to the effort, to “prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.” But that is the miracle of Grace—it comes to us when we give up the struggle and find that is is present even in our feeble, immature, ego-ridden spiritual fumblings. It comes to us, often piece-meal, only when we cease to struggle and start to relax, not just in the “arms of Jesus” but at the same time in our own body. (I’ll let you know when I’ve worked that out! wink, wink)
To use a different, though relevant image, from Auden, “The Center that I cannot find is known to my unconscious mind. There is no need to despair for I am already there.”
Now at one time in my life, just the juxtaposition of “symbol and myth” and the New Testament was anathema. There was no room allowed for interpretation, for hermeneutics. The consequence of this rigidity is slavish devotion to the letter of the law and we all know what Paul said “the letter of the law” does.