I was on retreat this weekend with Malcolm Guite, a British poet, Anglican priest, professor, author, scholar, and singer-songwriter. He looks like a character out of the classics he studies–you might expect to run into someone such as him in Narnia or in the shire. He is well-known for his sonnets. He graced the participants of the weekend with a walk through the Stations of the Cross as he read the fifteen sonnets he had previously written, fourteen of which are in his book Sounding the Seasons.
Today is the Exultation of the Holy Cross. I have walked several stations of the cross around the world and Guite’s offering was as powerful as any I have done. Each station brought new insights as he cracked open a familiar scene in new language. At Station Five, Guite says of Simon of Cyrene
So, Simon, no disciple, still fulfilled
The calling: ‘Take the cross and follow me.’
By accident his life as stalled and stilled,
Becoming all he was compelled to be.
Make me, like him, your pressed man and your priest,
Your alter Christus, burdened and released.
There is a prayer in the seventh Station as Jesus falls the second time:
And by this fall he finds the fallen souls
Who passed a first, but failed a second trial,
The souls who thought their faith would hold them whole
And found it only held them for a while,
Be with us when the road is twice as long
As we can Bear. By weakness make us strong.
There is a glimpse of the most merciful God of second, third and endless chances. Here is the Saviour whose blood marks our own tormented path. This is a God who knows intimately suffering and can yoke us to the One-Who-Carries. The cross is made Holy by the Carpenter. This, as Guite says in the Ninth Station, is a God you will find beside you on his knees.
It is in the Eleventh Station sonnet that we see the exultation of the Holy Cross:
…on this tree
Loss becomes gain, death opens into birth.
Here wounding heals and fastening makes free,
Earth breathes in heaven, heaven roots in earth.
And here we see the length, the breadth, the height,
Where love and hatred meet and love stays true,
Where sin meets grace and darkness turns to light,
We see what love can bear and be and do.
And here our Saviour calls us to his side,
His love is free, his arms are open wide.
I cannot tell you the feelings that washed over me, listening to this sonnet in particular. The words that jumped out at me were Love stays true. This year has been such a physical and emotional challenge for me but those words capture what has been my spiritual walk. Love has stayed true, even as I have fallen and dragged my cross. I have seen what Love can bear, be and do and it is rather amazing.
That simple phrase Love stays true was a gift. I believe that I have not yet suffered as much as I could have. I have felt that mantle of protection around me. This is not to say that this experience is easy and that I handle it all with grace. No, far from it, if I am honest. The current issues with my PICC line are frustrating for me and the anti-nausea drugs have not been easy to integrate but I only use them the day of my treatment so far. Overall I count myself as fortunate. I am still well supported and many prayers are still lifted. God.still.has.this. I add to that mantra, this new one: Love stays true.
Because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world….and me, in my tiny corner of the world, for which I am ever grateful.
What does the cross mean in your life?
Where do you see evidence of Love staying true?
Love stays true
and does not falter
Give us eyes to see
the trail of blood that
guides our weary steps
May we know that you are here
beside us in our struggles
down on your skinned knees too
reaching up to Heaven for us
when we no longer have the strength.