Last week on March 21st Kip and I celebrated our 21st anniversary. These last couple of weeks I’ve been recalling our wedding, which was a small, intimate gathering of immediate family and close friends. The ceremony was nontraditional. We wrote our own vows, friends and family members sang and played music, read poems, did liturgical dance and at the end of the ceremony each person came forward and gave us a blessing as they placed ribbons across our shoulders.
It was a wonderful gift to be showered with the well-wishes of our loved ones, and later Kip wove the ribbons of blessing into a wall hanging that hangs in our home to this day.
Of the many blessings we received that day, two stand out clearly in my mind. The first was, “May you have many crosses to bear.”
To be honest, I’ve puzzled over that “blessing” for many years. Having many crosses to bear always seemed more of a curse than a blessing, but as I’ve pondered it I think I’ve come to see the wisdom in it.
I know from my own experience that it’s been the “crosses” — the hardships, the challenges — that have compelled me to grow . Those times of difficulty have shown me what I’m made of — my strengths as well as my weaknesses — and they have deepened my spiritual life in myriad ways. My life would have been far poorer if I’d never had any crosses to bear.
The saying itself, though, comes from Jesus telling people to take up their cross and follow him. Although in our day it has become a colloquial phrase about accepting hardship, Jesus meant something far more radical.
The cross has taken on mythic proportions over the centuries as Jesus’ crucifixion came to be viewed as a sort of cosmic sacrifice, but in Roman times it was something quite different.
Under Roman rule, Jews were crucified by the thousands. Crucifixion was an ingenious practice (from the point of view of the empire) that accomplished two things: it killed enemies of the state in the most gruesome, agonizing and public way possible and it instilled terror in everybody else.
So when Jesus told people to take up their crosses he wasn’t asking them to bear the ordinary hardships of life. He was instructing them in the most radical form of nonviolent rebellion imaginable. After all, if the empire can’t cower people into compliance it is powerless; if the people willingly take up their cross they are indomitable.
In essence, Jesus was calling people into a different consciousness, one of absolute non-attachment — even to their own survival — in order to live into a different world, a world free of the domination that empire enacts.
“May you have many crosses to bear.” Today I hear that as a call to a life of radical non-attachment and noncompliance with the emperor’s reality, and I have learned that when I enter that state it is indeed the greatest of blessings.
The Joy of Crocuses
The second blessing from our wedding day that stands out in my mind is, “May you know the joy the first crocus brings in springtime.” Every March when the crocuses come up I remember that blessing, and in the various places we have lived I have made it a point to plant crocuses. I love to see their green shoots coming up out of the cold soil, their buds opening into purple, yellow, and white blossoms. Who wouldn’t feel joy at the sight of these harbingers of spring?
Winter can seem long and dreary, and were it not for our awareness that it is a season that will pass, we would probably all plummet into despair. The snow and cold weather, the long nights and bare trees — these are all things that I love, but only because I know they are only for a time. I can love the winter because I know there will be a spring.
“May you know the joy the first crocus brings in springtime.” Believe it or not, it took me 21 years to put those two blessings side by side and realize they are a depiction of Holy Week. Crosses and Crocuses.
Harbinger of a New World
There are two very different realities available to us: imperial reality and divine reality. Imperial reality is human constructed. It is the enactment of the human ego — which believes there is such a thing as separation, which longs for domination and control, which seeks specialness, which believes death is annihilation. Empire is ego writ large.
Divine reality is something very different. Jesus called it the realm of God (literally, the imperial reign of God). In divine reality there is no such thing as separation, no one is any more special than anyone else, everything is interconnected and interdependent, and death is not annihilation but a transition to another state of being, like a snowflake that took on a unique form and then melts again into the ocean of all being.
In our age, upon the global stage it is the emperor’s reality that is being acted out. We see it in our separation from and domination of nature and in our exploitation and violence toward one another. We have been going through the Age of Ego. It has been a long season of crosses, and many of us may despair that this will ever change.
But then comes the crocus.
Easter has meant many things to me over the years, but presently it reminds me that imperial reality is on this planet only for a time. Easter, for me, is the crocus emerging on the cusp of spring, a harbinger of the divine reality beyond the ego state that is already present to each of us and is growing in strength across the globe as more and more of us step out of imperial consciousness, embracing our oneness with each other, the Earth, the All.
If you look for it you will see it, and when you do — when you really see it — joy will blossom in the depths of your being like the springtime that even an emperor cannot stop.