February 6, 2011

Reflection on Taking up the Cross

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.
Through the respectful and authentic, energetic sharing, we were drawn together, and the boundaries of our individual meetings and worship groups, the boundaries of our individual lives, began to melt away...

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.


Lone Star Ma said...

A lot to think about today. Thanks.

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

I just want you to know, Liz, that I’ve linked to this blog entry from Facebook. I appreciate the food for thought that it provides.

Unknown said...

I had to smile at your comment about "deep cognitive dissonance" arising from your Jewish background. I wonder how my feelings, as a "recovering Evangelical" (who still considers herself an "Evangelical Friend" as a member of Northwest YM), compare with yours? Friend Abbott's book is helping ME understand in fresh, genuine ways these old terms that had become so encrusted with notions (I use that word in the traditional Quaker sense of mere human ideas/hypotheses about stuff)that I was in danger of abandoning them.

What is missing in your comments, your own and those you share that arose from others, is the JOY that I think must be present when taking up one's cross. In the book of HEBREWS, the writer speaks of "Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross...."

Thanks for your words.

Robin M. said...

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.

This speaks to my condition so deeply right now.

Glad the workshop went well - deep thinking is a wonderful outcome!

Liz Opp said...

Lone Star Ma --

Good to see you here again! Then again, it's good to have spent a few days blogging once more!

Marshall --

Thanks for the heads up. And I'm still "digesting" all with which I was fed during the workshop.

JP --

During the workshop I was struck at how many Friends were struggling with their Christian upbringing and the understandable resistance they had to "go there" and look at some of these Christian-based concepts with new eyes.

At one point, I spoke about the freedom I had, having been raised Jewish, because I didn't have that baggage, but then again, I have my own reasons for cringing when certain terms and phrases are used.

As for the element of joy, we did touch on this toward the end of the workshop. I've added a very short section about it in the final post of this series. As I mention there, though, I see it as part of my ongoing development as a Friend to learn more about the relationship between the Cross and joy.

I'd love to hear about your own experience in that regard, if you are open to sharing...

Robin --

Thanks for letting me (us) know how this speaks to you... though I'm sorry if it's painful!

Nice to hear from you, as always.