Look at the Cross Again

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fiona koefoed-jespersen -look at the cross again-3

Let me be the first to admit today that I do not understand the cross. The simple explanations of my childhood—that the cross spans the chasm between me and God—no longer satisfy. There is so much mystery, so much that I cannot wrap my head around, that I am tempted to just quietly back away, as if, if I don’t look directly at it, the cross will stop being such a frustrating enigma.

But I keep hearing the invitation to look again.

Back in January, I took part in a one-day workshop on Embracing the Shadow Self. We were led through an imaginative contemplative prayer exercise, where we imagined ourselves on a spiralling path through the wild. On that path we met our Persona, and then our Private Self, and we were invited to pause and interact with both of them. And then we came across our Shadow Self. I’ll spare you the messy and uncomfortable things that rose up in me that day, but it was humbling and illuminating.

This is the journey of transformation, this confrontation of the things within us that we would rather not acknowledge. All true transformation involves a letting go of something in order to receive something greater, the journey through death to new life.

But to take this journey at all, to be sustained on this path, we need to first know that we are deeply and eternally loved.

I’ve given birth to two children, my daughter Kaya and my son Oskar. In many ways, the births were very similar. They were both born in water in births wonderfully free of any complications. But I experienced them very differently. With Kaya’s birth, I was overwhelmed by the extent of the pain I felt. I had not expected it to hurt that much, and I panicked. She was born healthy and happy, but I struggled for a long while after with feelings of shame over how I had failed. When Oskar was born, I knew what I had to do. The pain was still tremendous, but I knew this time that it was not a sign that anything was wrong, or that I was failing, but that this was exactly how new life always begins—in darkness and with great effort.

That moment echoes in my head and my heart as I approach the cross again this year. I do not understand it. I have no neat answers. But here I find what I know to be true—that resurrection always starts in the dark, in suffering, in dying. I cannot find the transformation I long for—in myself, my loved ones, my community—until I embrace that letting go, and trust that the one who created me will bring me through to new life.

I am surrounded by so much suffering in my world. The neighbour who is in the country illegally, who always answers me with a despondent shrug when I ask her how she is. The friend whose wife has been ill for thirty years. The refugee women one month into a hunger strike at a government detention centre, in desperate protest at the injustice of their situation. The depth of the poverty in the neighbourhood I live in.

And so I need the cross too. I need God to be here with us in the midst of the suffering. I need God to know the fear of my neighbour, the exhaustion of my friend and his wife, the desperation of the women on hunger strike.

I need God to know my pain too, even when it is less extreme than any of those examples. I need Her to be present in the darkness I have made for myself, and the darkness that others have submitted me to. Richard Rohr says that there is only one suffering, that the cross is God’s identification and solidarity with the suffering of everything.

We are promised that our suffering will be transformed. But while we wait in the darkness, may we take comfort in knowing that God is right here in the chaos and the pain and the desperation with us, experiencing it all, feeling it all, with us. And we are deeply and eternally loved.

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Fiona Koefoed-Jespersen
Fiona lives in London with her Danish husband and her two young children. She is determinedly seeking the sacred in the ordinary, learning to see that even the most mundane moments of her day can be spiritual if she wakes up to the Divine in those places. She is in training to become a Spiritual Director, and baking is her favourite spiritual practice. You can follow her through her blog at fionalynne.com.
Fiona Koefoed-Jespersen
Fiona Koefoed-Jespersen

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Fiona Koefoed-Jespersen
  • Short-sighted, I cannot say with Paul that “I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which will be revealed in us.” Even if I think to say that in the midst of a hard season, it doesn’t always ring true. Of course, this shows that my values are clearly out of sync with God’s. Thank you for words that encourage us to persevere in faith until we understand and celebrate the link between suffering and glory.

    • Learning to hold the mystery of it all is really hard. I’d prefer the answers neatly packaged please. But somehow it’s a richer faith, even in that struggle…

  • Oh Fiona, this is so it. ‘there is only one suffering, that the cross is God’s identification and solidarity with the suffering of everything.’ This moves me so much as I think on all those around me who are in the throes of deep suffering, and for all that I carry that is painful too. Thank you for putting words about this mystery so beautifully. Also – I miss you xxx

  • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes

    So beautiful and heart breaking and true. Thank you for these words, friend.

  • Annette Maclean

    “I keep hearing the invitation to look again” – me too, there is so much that I can’t fathom about the cross, the neat answers of the past no longer satisfy. But I can’t stop looking and being drawn to something that is more beautiful and more broken than I have understood before.

  • Concerned Reader

    “Let me be the first to admit that I do not understand the cross…” Reading that line drew me in and I am so glad I read this. Thank you. God shows us that he is present in this world’s suffering, not absent and offering some escapism or path to blind spirituality. We find him there in the deepest pain we see in our lives and the world. Thank you for this reminder.