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The Cross: Staying Connected
This post will be the first of a three-part mini-series on the Cross as a symbol of faith. Ever since I first heard a talk about it this summer at the Midwest Bible Conference, I've been stewing over this idea of the symbol of the cross expressed in our lives. By that I am referring to the fact that the cross has both a "vertical" dimension and a "horizontal" dimension to it. The vertical is sometimes called the transcendental, and represents our individual relationship to God. The horizontal, or human dimension, represents our relationship with our community, and indeed with all of humanity. Both dimensions need to be deliberate and need to be in balance with each other, and there is no promise that will always be easy or comfortable.
In this post I want to focus specifically on the horizontal dimension of staying connected with others. Why is it important for us to connect with others? Others can be discouraging and sometimes outright mean. And often there seem to be invisible social barriers that prevent us from truly fitting in with certain social groups. No matter how we try, it seems like there just isn't room for us. So why try at all? Why not just hide away and cultivate a sense of peace for ourselves?
These are questions I've had on my mind for awhile. I confess that, as an introverted person by nature, it's quite easy to just want to squirrel away and insulate myself from the world. But I've been learning, sometimes slowly, of the necessity of family, of community, and of fellowship and communion with others. Jesus said, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." He never promised that the spirit of Christ would be witnessed alone in a vacuum. The operative words there are "two" and "three," signifying community.
Just last night, upon arriving home from work, I had a lot I wanted to get done. I know how to keep myself busy; I make checklists of tasks that I need to accomplish. But then I remembered a Christmas hymn sing taking place downtown, at another church I don't belong to, but that I was invited to attend. This presented a dilemma, because taking the time to drive all the way downtown would mean I wouldn't be getting my individual task list done that night. So I had a mini-debate in my mind whether I should go.
"I could get so much accomplished if I stayed home."
"I can accomplish those same things this weekend."
"Will I really accomplish those things this weekend?"
"Friendship is important."
I went back and forth for a little while. But then I started to analyze how much my "Marthan" task list was really just an excuse to avoid being social. And I realized, it was! And as I was already thinking about this topic of the cross, I eventually acknowledged how important it was that I go, even if that meant none of my task list would be accomplished last night.
I'm sure glad I did go. The hymn sing was gorgeous. I am not a very strong singer myself, but just being in the presence of so many voices coming together in unison has a power behind it. There were many in that room that I would have disagreements with, if I really got down to nitty gritty details of theology. But none of that matters when you come together to worship and praise. Human arguments disappear, at least temporarily, into the peace and goosebump-inducing calm of singing together in a church.
Earlier this summer I was struck by a comment made to a friend of mine. She is someone who is a very hard-working and committed person by nature, someone who is a "giver." She is so often giving to others, and especially to her church, that I worry that sometimes things have felt out of balance for her, like she hasn't been able to receive as much as she's given out. The comment that I overheard made to her, that so struck me was this: "You can let church be a support for you, you know." This resonates with me because so many people often take the approach that it is their own personal responsibility to support their family, their church, and the whole world. And when they inevitably fall short of being able to do that, people sometimes retreat into fear and solitude.
I came across a beautiful article awhile ago, titled Lessons on the dance floor, where this exact sort of thing happened to a young man while at a holiday camp. He felt many compounded fears of rejection and experienced a great deal of discouragement. But even after he retreated, he heard a "still, small voice" calling him back. Perhaps the most beautiful part of the piece is the message this young man heard as an answer to his prayer, a gentle nudging from God telling him, "It's time to dance. Go, go..."
There is much discord in this world that tries to separate us and have us to throw up our hands in defeat. The sting of discouragement impels us to hide away in a hole. And when we're really honest, we realize that sometimes we ourselves have been guilty of isolating or even ostracizing others. But love does not thrive in a vacuum, and I agree that the horizontal dimension of the cross must be deliberate. We need to stay connected with each other if we want to see the spirit of Christ manifest. That sometimes involves overcoming our own fears and excuses to join in the hymn sing or on the dance floor. Other times, that involves being patient and understanding with others lest we become guilty of isolating them. I've found it helpful to remember, particularly when a person seems fixated on something we may not agree with, Jesus' admonition that "he that is not against us is on our part."
At the end of the day, you matter, and others matter too. God loved you enough to create you, and he continues to love you enough to sustain you. And what's true for you is true for others as well. This line, from a poem written by Mary Baker Eddy, sums it up well, I think:
Love wipes your tears all away,
And will lift the shade of gloom,
And for you make radiant room
Midst the glories of one endless day.