“Like a bridegroom, Christ went forth from his chamber… He came to the marriage-bed of the cross, and there in mounting it, he consummated his marriage. And when he perceived the sighs of the creature, he lovingly gave himself up to the torment in place of his bride, and joined himself to [her] forever.”
– St. Augustine
The crucifixion as a celebration of life? As a marriage? What the hell is going on?
When we wake up from our childhood dreams and stop taking our religious and spiritual metaphors literally, when we stop believing that the literal son of a literal “God” literally died on a literal cross and then was literally reborn and literally ascended to a literal heaven, the crucifix reveals its deeper and more intimately human truth: that when pain is no longer resisted, when we remember who we really are as the vast, open, spacious capacity for all of life, when we remember our true identity as consciousness itself, then our humanity, with all its beauty and messiness and its pains, is seen to be inseparable from the divine, undivided from grace, and therefore embraceable, even when it hurts.
The symbol of the cross points to that which cannot be crucified. It reminds us who we truly are prior to the story of time and space. In this place of presence, the bride and the bridegroom, the father and the son, time and the timeless, emptiness and form, even life and death are merely imaginary mental opposites, swimming in a love and a silence and a wholeness beyond comprehension.
The wild torture of the cross sucks you into its infinitely calm centre.
And so, the crucifixion, understood in its deeper spiritual sense, points beyond theology and even psychology, and becomes this ultimate invitation to awaken; in other words, to die to all that is false, and in the midst of that devastation, to discover the eternal life that you are. Call this stillness God or call it awareness or call it nothing at all, it really doesn’t matter anymore – it’s all simply a metaphor for who you already are, prior to words.
We all live our own crucifixion. We all sometimes face ruin and ridicule and despair and the loss of the image. Nobody escapes these trials of life completely. Nobody can divide themselves from the river of humanity, as the Buddha taught. The only question is, what your relationship to this existence? Can we “lovingly give ourselves up to the torment”? Can we be “joined forever” to ourselves, with peace beyond understanding? Can we see that death itself is not anything to fear? Can we find inner acceptance in the midst of the unacceptable?
Whether or not you believe literally in the crucifixion, and whether you call yourself a Christian, a Jew, a nondualist or even an atheist, you cannot deny the crucifixion’s astonishing mythological and symbolic power, and its lasting importance as a universal teaching of profound awakening amidst unbearable pain, a teaching which transcends religion itself and speaks to everyone, regardless of age or background, race, colour or creed.
I do not label myself a Christian, but hidden in plain view at the heart of the story of the life and death of a man called Jesus (whose literal existence or non-existence was always really beside the point) is an astonishingly powerful non-dual teaching of unconditional love, deep acceptance and heartbreaking forgiveness – a teaching, of course, which is also at the heart of all the world’s other great religious traditions. Truth cannot be contained – it is a wild river, overflowing everywhere. No wonder there are so many religions in the world, so many systems of metaphor, each one in its own way trying to express the one inexpressible truth of existence: that the instrument of your torture, the thing which once threatened to break your spirit, eventually becomes your salvation, even wakes you up, to presence, to gratitude, to the miracle of creation. That when we turn to fearlessly face apparent darkness we may discover only undivided light, find a part of ourselves longing for love. That freedom lies not in escaping into the Absolute but in affirming life as it is – in consummating our marriage to our humanity, including all its trials and tribulations, and knowing God as the unbreakable principle present even in our pain, that which holds us even when we cannot hold ourselves.
– Jeff Foster