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Saved by the Cross

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Salvation as At-One-Ment

Saved by the Cross
Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The cross is a perfect metaphor for what I meant when I titled one of my books Everything Belongs. God is to be found in all things, even and most especially in the painful, tragic, and sinful things—exactly where we do not want to look for God. The crucifixion of the God-Man is at the same moment the worst and best thing in human history. It validates the central notion of paradox at the heart of Christianity.

The cross is saying that there is a cruciform pattern to reality. Reality is not meaningless and absurd (chaos/no patterns/nihilism), but neither is it perfectly consistent (rationalism/scientism/fundamentalism). Reality, rather, is filled with contradictions, what Bonaventure (1221-1274) and others called “the coincidence of opposites.” [1] Bonaventure even found sacred geometry in the symbol of the cross: “For the center is lost in a circle, and it cannot be found except by two lines crossing each other at a right angle.” [2] In other words, some kind of suffering is the only way to reconcile differences.

Jesus was killed on the collision of cross-purposes, conflicting interests, and half-truths. The cross was the price Jesus paid for living in a “mixed” world that was both human and divine, simultaneously broken and utterly whole. He hung between a good thief and a bad thief, between heaven and earth, inside of both humanity and divinity, a male body with a feminine soul, utterly whole and yet utterly disfigured—all the primary opposites.

Jesus “recapitulated all things in himself, everything in heaven and everything on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). This one line is the summary of Franciscan Christology and our notion of the Cosmic Christ, as my systematics professor told me. Jesus agreed to carry the mystery of suffering and not to demand perfection of creation. He taught, in effect, that it is the “only” way to be saved. We are indeed saved by the cross—more than we realize. The people who hold the contradictions—and resolve them in themselves—are the saviors of the world. They are agents of transformation, reconciliation, and newness. These are the people, as Ken Wilber says, who “transcend and include.” [3]

The insistence on the perfect is often the enemy of the practical and helpful good. Perfectionism becomes angry righteousness, or what we call “zealotry” in individuals, destroying both the zealot and the cause. In society, it creates “isms” or ideologies that brook no compromise or ability to negotiate, as we see in our present United States government. We must try to be peace and do justice, but don’t expect to find your definition of perfection in yourself or in the world. You normally do not love truth at this point; you love winning. Perfectionism contributes to intolerance and judgmentalism. Jesus was a realist; he was patient with the ordinary, the broken, the weak, and those who failed. Following him is not a means of creating some ideal social order as much as it is a vocation to share the fate of God for the life of the world, and to love the way that God loves.

Jesus did not come to found a separate or new religion as much as he came to present a universal message of vulnerability and unity that is necessary for all religions, the human soul, and the earth’s survival. By very definition, vulnerability and unity do not compete or dominate. The Cosmic Christ is no threat to anything but separateness, illusion, and the imperial ego. In that sense, Jesus, the Christ, is the ultimate threat, but first of all to Christians themselves.

Gateway to Silence:
I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.

[1] See Ewert H. Cousins, Bonaventure and the Coincidence of Opposites (Franciscan Herald Press: 1978).
[2] Bonaventure, Collationes in Hexaëmeron [Collations on the Six Days], 1.24.
[3] To explore this phrase in Wilber’s writings, see The Essential Ken Wilber: An Introductory Reader (Shambhala: 1998).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003), 177-182;
with John Feister, Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety (Franciscan Media: 2002), 34-35; and
How Do We Get Everything to Belong? disc 1 (CAC: 2004), CDMP3 download.

Image credit: The Yellow Christ (detail), Paul Gauguin, 1889, Albright–Knox Art Gallery
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