I woke up the other night and started to write this, and it got big, and I realize I can’t find the edges of this topic. So I’ll post it, typos and all, and then move on, and will no doubt have more to say later, in and among the brambles of my regular days.
What Part of Jesus do I Hang on my Wall?
QUESTION: Should they, the Early Christians, have chosen something else to symbolize God’s love?
God’s son: rendered in wood, and hung upon a cross – that ancient instrument of intimidation, torture, humiliation, and death. It seems at times to me a bit unseemly to remember and announce a transcendent God in quite this way; a rather poor eulogy for His Saviour Son of Man. Jesus had so many better moments in his shortened life.
And yet perhaps no greater moment than this – his last. Would we have remembered Jesus any better otherwise… or still less, or even at all? What if he had died an old man, surrounded instead by loved ones upon his blessed deathbed, after a long, full life of healing the sick, walking on water, multiplying food & drink, challenging authorities, and delivering life lessons in the form of riddles?
Maybe it was that shocking (and, as it turned out, temporary) end to his story that keeps it in my mind, somewhere. Maybe it is that very image of a man hung high for the crime of claiming a connection to the divine – one that he told us we all share – that keeps me longing to take lessons from one sad story of good news.
My Daily Denials
I keep a crucifix in a bedroom drawer – next to my other unmentionables, and additional random remnants I keep as talismans too, inexplicably: a broken shoelace, a ball of wood from some art supply store, and a bookmark (mentioned in another post), bearing the words of another, differently contentious prophet. A curious trove of trinkets and treasures, from the arguably practical to the I’m-not-sure-quite-what. Strings, stones, boxers, briefs, socks, words, and an eternally dying plastic Jesus Christ.
I wonder at times why I don’t have an image of Christ on my wall where I wake up every day, and then I recall what that image is, and what (I think) it represents. I suppose I owe the man that much, to remember his sacrifice, but Jesus Christ (sorry, Jesus)… who wants to celebrate that moment, and see it every day? Is that what God would want? It’s a kind of macabre celebration of a life, to fixate so fully on its last and agonizing moments.
There is of course the sanitized version of this symbol: the crucifix without the dying Word of God upon it. It looks to me like an inverted sword; it has a practical handle for holding up against vampires too. It has an epic simplicity to it, and works as well in rough-worked wood as it does in gold – probably better in wood, all things considered.
But then… would I carry around a tiny noose, or a rack, or maybe a miniature iron maiden – and any of these out of context – as a symbol of my faith in the good that resides at the very kernel of each of us? Of our collective potential to transcend violence and anger and fear?
No, I would choose maybe an acorn, or a bird, or a cloud. Something light, something fluffier, and a wee bit less gruesome. The cross alone was simply an instrument of death inflicted by mortals upon other mortals (and maybe one immortal volunteer). Jesus upon the cross changes its character and meaning entirely. I have never appreciated the meaning of the word sanctify, but maybe this is as good an example as any example could be of a word-used-well.
I have a problem with the suffering in this world, and a problem with being reminded of the suffering of a man who we have since come to remember for his message of healing, compassion, peace, and forgiveness. This contrast is understandably stark, and itself deeply mysterious. At least, it is those things to me. What is the allure of Jesus hung in pain (and presumably some amount of resigned disappointment), alone upon a lonely post?
Maybe it is sacrilege to ask. But then I think the Christian God at least appreciates questions. Maybe even demands them. As long as we’re asking questions about how to better ourselves and others, I’m not so sure any divine creator worth their salt (and our devotion and attention) would care if we at times struggled around the edges of what our faith and devotion to better ideals should look like.
I don’t know about yours, but my God appreciates effort, and understands human minds are capable of only so much wisdom without a good deal of making mistakes in the process of pursuing it.
Choosing a Means to Remember
So given that I have been given the right to choose how best to remember this man Jesus, what would I have chosen, as a symbol to remember Jesus by, if not his execution?
Would it have been his face? And what arrangement of features and skin tones would be sufficient to give credit to every person in every part of the world who would like to see some of themselves reflected in Him, so they could better reflect Him in themselves? I have no answer. Maybe Jesus could be carved to look like any one of us. But then, how would one recognize him?
Would I have chosen his crown of thorns alone, without the suffering skull? Perhaps with a respectful drop of divine blood? This too would be an appropriate symbol, though perhaps might be conflated with a wreath in these modern and commercial times. Also, the thorns would need to be a bit blunter, were one to expect to wear a smaller crown around their neck. Still, maybe the crown of thorns would be the thing I would choose, at least if pressed to choose quickly.
What about the feet of Jesus (with or without sandals)? The objects of reverent kisses; the very members that moved this travelling prophet around the lands he had come to land upon? The ones that touched the now-holy grounds most physically? Are there stones still in the world that were touched by those very feet? The fleshy surface of Jesus that came into most direct contact with our own world: the feet that could defy gravity, and walk on waves. Maybe those? But who would hang feet upon their wall, and where do you cut them off, respectfully? Perhaps just his footprint… but somehow without making assumptions about his size, in any way. It seems a tall order to celebrate God with a pair of feet, in any case.
Would it be a shroud, or a hand, or the tongue which spoke divine words? A tongue alone is probably taking it too far. The hand, but without identifying fingerprints (an invasion of privacy and personal security to be sure)… the shroud, but then it would need a regular washing, and would that require holy water and/or soap? I cannot know these things.
You might begin to get the idea. It is hard to properly immortalize the already immortal, using the common materials and symbols at hand.
Is it one of the many paintings of Jesus, that I might prefer to see when I look at a given wall? No, those are just paintings, and images are a dime a dozen these days. They are sure to only resolve God into a man with a beard of a given length, and a certain eye colour, and some kind of hairstyle. I think there is something to be said for the Muslim decision (as I understand it, which I admittedly might not) to not characterize such an important figure in such a visually literal manner. It collapses something big into something ordinary, regardless of how colourful one might choose to make it.
But the Christian god – my God – does at least put up with this, and would not approve of violence against those who might wish to paint his Son (in various media), out of love or otherwise.
Even cartoons can be a good way to remember, and continue to consider; remembering and considering are considerably better than discounting and forgetting. I think Jesus had a sense of humour anyway. It’s all good, He might say, I’m not entirely in that image anyway, but you go ahead and try and guess what I really look like – I’ll still be waiting when you’ve got more questions.
The Power of an Unfinished Story
The Christian faith to me remains a curious personal struggle with mystery and faith. These and others are the words I have been handed by circumstance to consider and repeat, and perhaps to build upon, in my own life.
Christianity to me does not seem to be an immutable set of pat answers to anything, even though scripture is very often accused of attempting just that, and is very often used in just that way.
Look at the man: he did not settle somewhere and build a temple to himself (or his father, Our Father)- he moved around. He followed the roads available to him, moving at what mostly appears to be Human speed. He retraced steps. He evaded pursuers. He stuck to the ground he was given – but he moved. When not welcome in one place, he shook the dust from his feet and moved on. He told others they should do the same. There was work to be done everywhere, just like today, and too little time to do it all. He even lost his cool now and then, and might have even regretted it afterward. He didn’t carve his words or behaviours into stone or dogma: we did that after he was gone.
Today, we remember this mobile man, by affixing his image to the sawn trunk of a dead tree, re-posted in the ground – or itself hung upon a wall, and most often indoors. We place this symbol of a movement in fixed positions in our homes and houses of worship. The physical tokens of Mobile Jesus still get around a lot, captured in that one fixed moment in time and space.
I could go on, finding other symbols that I would prefer to hang upon any given wall, to remind me that Jesus died for the forgiveness of my sins. One might well roll their eyes at my presumption here. After all, there are as many if not more in the world who do not consider Jesus a given, at all. I am only reiterating what I have been told, and continue to consider.
And still, here I am: the hearing of this story, and my continuing consideration of it in light of the things I’ve personally gone through in my life, has been objectively important to me – in saving me from some dark and downward spirals I might not otherwise have escaped.
The story alone carries with it an undeniable Holy Spirit. Jesus, whoever you feel he may or may not have been, did save me from something, and continues to do so. Call that Magic if you will, or call it the power of Faith, or the power of God, or even the Power of Intention if you must – but it manifests as solidly as solid matter, in my heart and mind, and then in the things I choose to manifest in this world.
So for now I peek at my dying Jesus now and then, and say a very-Canadian Sorry for not wanting to put a nail in the wall, so that I can nail Jesus once again to something stationary, trapped in one place and time.
I carry instead the symbol in my heart and mind, and when the Holy Spirit (or whatever you might wish to call it) is suitably stirred up in me, I can see Jesus (that is, God; that is, Love) in the faces of those around me, and in the animals, and in the water and the trees… and even within myself.
The Word is not a dead word – it is animated and fluid, and living, and works its way through how simple people continue to struggle with their own simple selves, in the pursuit of answers that are continuously given through the active asking for them. Nothing is nailed down.
Happy Sunday! I hope you are safe and well and continue on your own better searches.