Day Four. I’ve made a good amount of progress. The basic positions of the shapes have now been refined enough that they are starting to look like a figure. Most dramatically of course, there is now a face, which always begins to bring a piece to life, making the transition from something sort of human shaped to the image of a human capable of conveying and evoking feeling.
In the case of a crucifix of course, that feeling is suffering. As I mentioned in my first post on this project I’ve had suffering on my mind recently. A number of friends have been going through rough times. The list could be a microcosm of the human condition, unexpected illness, death of a spouse, robbery, romantic loss, business setbacks, life altering financial difficulty. That list has actually grown while I’ve been writing it.
All this makes the reality of suffering, and the need to make sense of it, very concrete. Faith can provide a ground under your feet in the face of suffering. Yet, I’ve always had something of a hard time with the typically Catholic idea of seeing in one’s own suffering a reflection of the cross. It seems kind of egotistical to equate one’s problems, severe as they might be, with dying to save the world. A practical person, I tend not to have too much patience with romanticizing misfortune, or unnecessarily making a martyr of oneself. Christ did the suffering for us. There seems something perverse and a little irritating in the desire to do his job over again.
Not all suffering however, is avoidable or unnecessary. For those that face suffering for their duty or conscience Christ’s attitude is a model, seeking to avoid suffering if possible, but not fearing it if it is necessary. When suffering comes from not from duty, but plain misfortune, the cross reassures that the fear of worthlessness that suffering often evokes is wrong. Mysterious though the details may be, misfortune does not mean we are valueless.
The recent struggles of some of my friends have reminded me how pervasive fear is in response to suffering. Each has wanted to talk less about their specific injury and more about their fears that setbacks invalidate them, or the choices they made in life. They have mentioned a sense of guilt about the obligations they can’t fulfill, doubt about the choices they made, in defiance of the world’s values, that have cost them more than they imagined. A sense of worthlessness is a feeling that anyone, even temporarily, on the bottom of our winner-takes-all culture has to struggle with. Holding onto a sense of worth is vital however, because it is the right actions of those living in the fog of misfortune that make a difference and can save lives, not the vague good intentions of those, like me, (somewhat) comfortably outside the situation. The cross, after all, is important for what comes after it. It is an image of perfection coming from the discarded and disgraced. I still think it is egotistical to equate ones suffering with the Good Shepherd’s cross, but maybe we can aspire to the Good Thief’s, his life cheap and short, but with the promise of greater things ahead.