Good Friday, Riding Westward

Who sees God’s face, that is self-life, must die; / What a death were it then to see God die?

I’ve told this story before, but it seems worth repeating, this day: I once had a dream about the portion of the Cross that was buried in the ground—a strange dream about stunted creatures: me, others like me. All of us down in a crowded subterranean world of sepia tints and dim tunnels. All of us unworthy or unable, perhaps just unwilling, to see the drama enacted in the air above.

And still the vibrations of the Crucifixion’s agony were conducted down that pillar, driven like a spike through our world.

The notion of the Crucifixion as marking the world’s still center—the vertical beam of the Cross aligned in the earth with the axis around which the universe turns—is an old one, but I don’t recall from the Church Fathers or the medieval mystics or the metaphysical poets much other discussion of the portion of the Cross the lies beneath the ground. I remember thinking, after I awoke, that it made a good metaphor for natural law: a solid, unassailable column that runs through the world even for those who have not seen the meaning of its source.

No, in fact, that thought came the next week, for I remember that I came awake with cold chills across my shoulders, those fever shivers that no pile of blankets can halt. And I knew that I was lost, midway on life’s journey, in a dark, low place—where the great truths above would echo only in shudders down the length of a square-cut beam.

That spectacle of too much weight for me—as John Donne wrote in “Good-Friday, 1613. Riding Westward”:

Who sees God’s face, that is self-life, must die;
What a death were it then to see God die?
It made His own lieutenant, Nature, shrink,
It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.
Could I behold those hands, which span the poles
And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes?
Could I behold that endless height, which is
Zenith to us and our antipodes,
Humbled below us? or that blood, which is
The seat of all our souls, if not of His,
Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn
By God for His apparel, ragg’d and torn?

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