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It was 1977, the Good Friday service at the College Church. My knees screamed as I followed others down the aisle toward the opened sanctuary gates where deacons held a large crucifix. It was time for the Veneration of the Cross. Supported by the pew next to me, I took another step—it seemed to take forever, the crowd sapping my energy, the chant softening my tears. Then, the crucifix was offered to me. I leaned over and kissed the Crucified’s knees, firmly. I knew He would understand.

And I was right. Decades of other Venerations of the Cross followed; with each one came the sense that Jesus also suffered the assault of my arthritic body. And such a companion He has been.

 

 

Only recently did I happen upon The Crucified God (1972) by the German theologian Jürgen Moltmann, a book that emerged from the kiln of his unconscious, teeming with Nazi atrocities and prisoner of war experiences. His book validated my hunch.

Moltmann proposes that suffering is not a problem to be solved but instead that suffering is an aspect of God’s very being: God is love, and love invariably involves suffering. In this view, the crucifixion of Jesus is an event that affects the entirety of the Trinity, showing that The Crucified God is more than an arresting title—it is a theological breakthrough.

In this suffering/death, I draw courage to participate in my own, whenever and however it occurs. That I’ve lived as long as I have speaks to the mystery of this strange, but multi-faceted love pulsating in the marrow of my bones. Yet, there’s more to learn.

“This is not a story to pass on.” So concludes the freed black community after its brush with the preternatural, as found in Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Beloved (1984).

Five years in its composition, the author dives deep for pungent images to express the inexpressible horrors of southern slavery and its afterimage during the Reconstruction, these anecdotes honed from her grandparents’ and parents’ experiences. Through Morrison’s artistry, her characters, no longer silenced, speak.

The setting for this novel is 124 Bluestone Road, on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio. Within this two-story hovel live the protagonist Sethe, her eighteen-year-old Denver, and Beloved, the poltergeist of Sethe’s second daughter. The time is 1873. The narrative follows a circuitous route, with frequent insertions of backstory: Sweet Home, a small plantation in Kentucky where Sethe and five slaves tend the needs of the Garnets, a childless couple; Sethe’s “marriage” to Halle and their begetting four children; schoolteacher’s torture meted out to all the slaves, some escaping, others killed or rendered witless.

At the center of this circuitous route is lodged Sethe’s unspeakable crime that shimmies, beyond all telling. It takes forever to get there: the journey bristles with tension. Indeed, her poetic language crisps the soles of feet, squinches sensibilities, and fuels outrage.

“Love is or it ain’t. Thin love is not love at all,” Sethe tells Paul D, an aging Sweet Home former slave. From her perspective, her crime takes on a different hue—countering Evil and provoking questions that itch, badly, in the night.

 

 

 

It was evening, the auditorium in Knight Hall located on the Washington University of St. Louis campus. The introduction was made. All was ready.

Petite in stature, her wavy hair framing her oval face, Princeton Professor Elaine Pagels shared her research on a millenials-old story—“war literature,” she called it, referring to the Book of Revelation (91 CE). Urgency, tinged with joy, enhanced her speech, evidence of her having been in the fire with the Sacred.

Upon the floor-to-ceiling-wall, behind her, flashed art works from medieval illuminated manuscripts, from woodcuts, from paintings, from sculptures that further enhanced the cataclysmic clash between Michael the Light Bearer and Lucifer the Prince of Darkness and their minions. For continuing evidence of this clash, we only have to look within our psyches and the world around us. Thus, the continuing attraction of this book that so engaged her listeners.

 

 

My take-away only surfaced later… War still exists in my body: fifty-seven years of living with rheumatoid arthritis have throttled my spirit, blunted psychic growth, and enervated relationships. Drugs, knee joint surgeries, and fatigue almost devoured me until I took responsibility for my health. Only devotion to the Crucified with bleeding knees has and still sustains me.

 

It’s about being faithful. There will be a resolution—entrance into the New Jerusalem as narrated in the Book of Revelation.

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