Yesterday I participated in a one-day workshop with Quaker author Margery Post Abbott. Much of the day focused on taking up the Cross and what that might mean for today's Quakers. Marge gave us lots of time to reflect and talk with one another about that concept, how we wrestle with it, and how early Friends used the phrase.
Early in the day we were asked to spend a few minutes journaling our thoughts in response to three questions:
1. What is your intellectual definition of "Taking up the Cross"?
2. What is your emotional response to it?
3. What blocks rise up when you hear that phrase?
Here's my response:
Taking up the Cross means choosing to be obedient to the will of God, to be willing to sacrifice at a time when we greatly and intensely don't wish to--either because of societal pressures/expectations, our own fear or dread, or even distaste for what God has put in our laps. In essence, as Eleanor Roosevelt has said, taking up the Cross means "To do the thing we think we cannot do."
Over time I have grown into the phrase. I have come to cherish it, as one does when coming across a faded photograph of a dear family member, around whom there are stories and happy lore. The phrase "take up the Cross" captures so much about the human condition of the "push-pull" of obedience, of wanting to be a faithful servant and fearing how doing just that might turn out. The phrase gives words to an inward condition that contemporary American society resists, denies, squelches, minimizes, ridicules, or demeans--yet it is an inward condition that, when acted upon faithfully, can bring healing, transformation, and new Light to an individual, group, community, or the world.
Of course, there are blocks that rise within me when I hear the phrase. My Jewish upbringing generates tremendous cognitive dissonance within me, since all references to Jesus, even as teacher or rabbi, were kept out of my early religious education. And who can hear the word "cross" or see it in print and not also see the body of this historical figure being crucified...? In addition, my own dread arises: When will God call me to take up the Cross again? what will that task or ministry or witness look like? Who will be there to accompany me?
To me, there are phrases among Friends that are remnants of a way of life, an attitude, a body of disciplines that are on the brink of disappearing. These remnants give us a way to look through the looking glass of time and piece together much of the rest of the pattern that was and is traditional Quakerism. At least, this has been my experience. These remnants inform how I might be in the world, if I am faithful to what the Spirit gives me.
There were lots of tidbits about the Cross that others shared.
- Taking up the Cross involves crucifying the ego and self-will.
- It is about involuntarily carrying a burden that has been placed on us.
- It is the intersection where Heaven and Earth meet.
- It requires surrender.
- The Cross is the consequence of taking up the way of Love: Love may lead us into some horrible places, but that Love will also sustain us and lift us up.
- It is an attraction that can't be ignored without having serious consequences.
- Taking up the Cross is being obedient to the power of God.
- It is to be bold in spirit and gentle in action.
Marge is a gentle presence with a gift for inviting deep and tender conversation about complex subjects and hard questions that live within and are the fabric of our Quaker faith.
I hope to write a bit more about other themes we touched on during the workshop. In the meantime, I'll continue to digest what was shared and reflect on how my spirit has been refreshed by the conversation yesterday.
I wrote about other tidbits I gleaned from the workshop.
I also wrote about spiritual accompaniment and the joy that comes from being faithful.