Raised in the 1950’s and -60’s, I acquired via the zeitgeist the understanding that to live fully a person must be comfortable with dying. Death, as the Sufi masters say, walks at our left elbow, able to reach out a finger to touch us at any moment. Knowing this frees us to engage in life unrestrainedly, honestly, and from the depths of who we really are.
As a thirty year old, this was all a little academic. In theory I believed in my own death. I did try to imagine it, that it could happen at any time. I really did. But looking back from the vantage of my early sixties, I can see that this was never entirely a compelling exercise. Unless they are very sick, and even sometimes then, young people viscerally believe in life ongoing.
So it is with compassion that I imagine the young Peter – probably in his early thirties just as Jesus was – trying to wrap his mind around the idea that his rabbi, who had just acknowledged that he was the Messiah, would undergo great suffering and be killed. Of course Peter would believe that Jesus had a choice in the matter. He wouldn’t see the arc of the inevitable; that those in power would have to stop Jesus from speaking Truth, and that Jesus, to live out who he most deeply was, would not be able to do anything about that except to give himself over into their hands.
And Jesus himself, who was tempted in the wilderness by the voice of worldly power and entitlement, was tempted once again by this loyal disciple and friend. But he prevailed. “Get behind me, Satan,” he said. “For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
What are human things, exactly? If we answer this question honestly we see that practically anything is, really. Human things are any things that take us away from the relationship at the core of our being, the relationship with God. “Take up your cross,” Jesus says – throwing the shadow of that cross athwart all our schemes and dreams, machinations and plans. He demands the whole of us for his Truth, which is his Way.
There is only one manner in which to live that meets the need in us to belong both to our deepest selves and to God. It is the way of the cross – the course that manifests our unique beings, come hell or high water and despite what anybody says or does to us. It speaks truth to power, compassion to need and forgiveness to transgression. It understands love, inside and out, and it never gives up or lets go.
Turning away from that which distracts us or tempts us means turning toward our relationship with God from this authentic center. Taking up our cross means living into our deepest truth as much as we are able, in everything we do. It’s a life-long process, encompassing the blithe optimism of youth and the seasoned awareness that comes in subsequent decades. It is full and holy, leading to death, but also to life, with a healthy disregard for the understandings which are not divine.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries With others she manages a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations’ creative ministries: Fresh Expressions Colorado