Thinking about the Cross: A Response to Alice Walker’s “Reclaiming the Cross”

“At the cross at the cross where I first saw the light, and the burden of my heart rolled away.  It was there by faith I received my sight, and now I am happy all the day.”  –Isaac Watts

I have re-engaged with Alice Walker, (thank you, Summer, for giving me the time and space to do so), and am reading her collection of essays The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm’s Way, 2013.  While every essay so far is one to which I can write a response, her essay “Reclaiming the Cross” woke me up in the middle of the night and begged that I finally release the ideas I have garnered about the cross ever since I tattooed somewhat of an abstracted version of the crucifixion on my right forearm.

Circa 2007, I tattooed a solid black crucifixion on my right arm.  My older sister teased me, and said it looked like Hang Man, and honestly, it does.  It has no visible thorned crown, tattered clothing, or battered Jesus.  My crucifixion looks like a hanged man.  I am not sure why I chose this obscured version of the crucified Jesus to permanently place on my body–except that when I saw the image in the tattoo parlor’s inventory, I thought it was cool.  But when I showed my colleague–who is my mother’s peer (and I was about 25 years old at that time)–my tattoo, she curtly asked, “Why would you tattoo a reminder of suffering and hatred on your body?” Although I told her that I had not previously imagined the cross as a symbol of suffering, I have quietly contemplated her question.  And perhaps the fact that “Adonai Yireh,” which is Hebrew for “The Lord will Provide,” is tattooed under the crucifixion contributes to some folks’ interrogations regarding my body art, for another friend brought to my attention that traditional Jews do not believe in Jesus Christ.  At that point, I thought my right arm was a symbol of my contradictory, fragmented self.  But was it, really?

In Alice Walker’s essay, she claims (by way of Jung) that ancient emotions and beliefs humans have about symbols have existed within the psyche long before human beings began to fix socially constructed definitions onto symbols.  “Their external manifestation–which we appear to achieve any way we can–is our attempt to speak and share an inner mystery whose ultimate meaning might well be unknowable, except for what each of us makes of it,” she says (140-141).  Walker’s notions that symbols are “inner mystery” and that their meanings are possibly “unknowable, except for what each of us makes of it” have given me butterflies.  For, she reminded me of what I knew–but somehow lost–when I first tatted both the crucifixion and the Hebrew slogan on my right arm: The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is not a symbol of suffering for me, although I know and understand Christian dogma.  Instead, the crucified Jesus Christ is a reminder of a love so great that it is worth dying for.

When I think about Jesus, (besides dancing), I remember Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Steve Biko, and all of the Monks who courageously participated in self immolation in protest of the Vietnam War.  “Adonai Yireh.”  The Lord will provide Mother Earth with stewards who will offer their life–their unconditional love, an agape love–for the well-being of humanity.  How awesome is that?

For Alice Walker, the cross “represents the place where spirit crosses matter” (139).  I can dig that understanding too.  It mirrors a cross that one of my beloved teachers taught me while I was a student in her Woman’s Spiritual Memoirs class.  Her cross symbolized a way of being, if you will, wherein the center represents balance.  It is an interesting interpretation that helps one to understand crisis.

I wholeheartedly appreciate Alice Walker’s musings.  She is helping me to make meaning of my personhood as I awaken to my Self.

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