Saint Augustine wrote, “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.”
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 intimate and perhaps infinitely profound 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.
The cross points to that which cannot be crucified, to who we are prior to the story, to who Jesus was, to consciousness itself. In this place, 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 sense, points beyond theology and even psychology, and becomes this ultimate invitation to awaken, 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 – it’s all simply a metaphor for who you already are, prior to words.
We all live our own crucifixion. We all face ruin and ridicule and despair and the loss of the image. We die as separate selves, are reborn as consciousness itself and resurrected as this body, in this time, in this place, and the circle of life completes itself in and as this ordinary moment.
Nobody escapes the trials of life. Nobody escapes the pain 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 is not anything to fear?
Whether or not you believe literally in the crucifixion, and whether you call yourself a Christian, a Jew, a nondualist or an atheist, you cannot deny the crucifixion’s astonishing mythological and symbolic power, and its 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.
I do not label myself a Christian, but hidden in plain view at the heart of the Christian message is an astonishingly powerful non-dual teaching of unconditional love and 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 and wakes you up to life. That when we turn to fearlessly face apparent darkness we discover only undivided light. 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.
We are crucified and born again, not tomorrow, not yesterday, but now, with every breath that we take…