When I applied to be ordained as a non-stipendiary priest, I wrote on my form that, as far as I could see anything, I saw my ministry as being a bridge that would unite opposites: it would be less a matter of doing than of simply being. It was my task to be what I had always been – a catalyst.
People pass through a threshold into new territory; it is both a departure and an arrival. A threshold is not necessarily a door, rather it is a frontier which calls for decision and commitment. Do I cross or not? Each of us is a pilgrim and like all true pilgrims we are here to help each other on the journey.
The emblem of the cross is usually associated with Christianity, but this symbol – the archetypal meeting of opposites – is to be found in many cultures throughout history. The cross also means ‘to signify’. Those who in times past could not write their names were asked to make their mark with a cross: it is the primordial signature.
Crossings and crossroads are of deep symbolic meaning in life. Hermes, Messenger of the Gods, was guardian of the crossroads in ancient Greece. There, at the crossroads, where one is challenged by a change of direction or stark choice – a dilemma – one encounters one’s god, and signifies as oneself, to oneself, and in relation to the Other. It is only when the opposites within us are united that true peace is to be found.
From time to time we find ourselves at a psychological crossroads, wondering, ‘In what direction should I go?’ or ‘What spiritual practice should I take up?’ All such questions stem from our wanting to do something, whereas what one usually needs is simply to be. We have to learn to be patient, to wait at the crossroads and slowly integrate the tensions and opposites within us. Only then will we find the best direction in which to move.
There are those who take every word said by Jesus literally, forgetting that he spoke in images rather than arguments, for his mainly unsophisticated rural audiences. Thus, when he said, ‘Take up your cross and follow me,’ he didn’t mean a path of suffering such as he himself had to undergo, dying on a cross.
A cross is a symbol of the intersection of two paths, hence the image of the crossroads. As Bani Shorter observes in If Ritual Dies, ‘Crossings and crossroads are of deep symbolic meaning in life. It was Hermes, the messenger of the gods, who was guardian at the crossroads in ancient Greece. There, where one is challenged by change of direction and choice, one encounters one’s god.’ Taking up our cross implies integrating the opposites within ourselves – which is indeed a lifetime task.