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The Non-Violent Cross: and The Holy Cross of Talpa
I was twenty years old and a Jesuit Novice when I read the theological masterpiece by Jim Douglass, “The Non-Violent Cross”, at a very humble place called” Charboniere Villa” (an old, warm, charming and slightly broken down house with bunk beds) which was the Jesuit Novices’ villa. We went there for two weeks in the summer and most weekends during the year while we were imbibing St Ignatius’ Spirituality at St Stanislaus Seminary, formerly in Florissant, Missouri. This was for me during the years, 1968-1970.
I remember sitting on an old wooden chair reading by the window, on a very hot and humid summer day. As I read Jim’s understanding of the changes in Christianity, after Constantine (in the year 312) saw the vision in the sky of the Cross, and the now legendary words around the Cross, (in Greek but translated into Latin) “In hoc signo vinces-In this sign thou shalt conquer!” I could barely go on, I was stunned and fixed to my chair. This book was something completely new to me but also something I had intuitively known in my soul and body since early childhood. Jim basically says (and please read his book for yourselves ) that the Sign was the non-violent Cross. The very meaning of the Cross is non-violence...no retaliation, no vengeance, on and on...flowing from the Beatitudes of Jesus given in his Sermon on the Mount, in what the scripture scholar G.B. Caird, in his commentary on the Gospel of Luke, calls Jesus “inaugural speech.” And in this book “Holy Theologian” Jim Douglass reminds us of the true meaning of the Sign, and warns us, that we’ve taken down the Cross in the sky and turned it into a sword ever since that vision given to Constantine.
Last night the young artist and filmmaker, Christopher Summa (“The Boy Who Found Gold”) emailed me an article printed from the Chicago Tribune “Why church shootings don’t intimidate the church”by Russel Moore. It overwhelmed me in the same spiritually enlightening way as my first encounter with Jim’s Douglass’ book. Mr Moore seems to me, to be saying that Christianity is Only enlivened by the Cross, and that the pompous triumphal christianity, we want because it is safe, yet numbing, leads to our personal and collective soul death. As St John says in the Apocalypse, “See, the Lion of Judah has conquered...then I saw a Lamb...” (Revelation 5:5,6)
“...For John looks for the Lion from the tribe of Judah and sees a Lamb.” (Page 74, G.B. Caird “The Revelation of St John.”)
The Cross I chose to illustrate this blog was commissioned by the deceased, and much beloved artist (d+2013) and my friend from Talpa (a small village within Taos) Charlie Strong. His widow Lyn B. Strong has been trying to find a church or “perfect home” for the 6ft Cross ever since the death of Charlie. It was made at his instruction with a small painting of Charlie and Lyn’s adobe home in Taos, modeled after the Ranchos de Taos Church,in the right panel near the body of Jesus. I decided to set the scene of the Cross in the Talpa night, using the Catholic symbolism of Mary as the Moon, the reflected light of the Sun...her son. I was very influenced by the gorgeous night paintings of Frederic Remington (1861-1909) and of course, the Italian master and teacher of Giotto, Cimabue (1240-1302).
This work, entitled “The Holy Cross of Talpa” was first shown in my exhibit at the Millicent Rogers Museum, “Silence in the Storm” in September 2008. It was a very difficult time for me personally so, in my mind the Cross shows and bears that difficulty in its essence. Because of that serious “discomfort,” I chose to place a small mandorla (almond shaped or egg shaped-form) with the hint of the Russian-Protecting-Icon, “She Who Reigns” hovering above Charlie and Lyn’s home in the night sky. This icon is said to have appeared right before the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia telling the people that Jesus and the Mother of God were/are the true and only rulers of the Russian people. As we near the feast of Christ the King of the Universe, it’s a reminder for our entire world. I don’t pretend to have an answer for the daily shootings and murders we are living in now. But I do know people have lived through plagues, pandemics, natural disasters, mass murders and wars since the first murder in Scripture of Abel by his brother Cain. I always remember and have quoted this before in other writings, that Holy Prophet Daniel Berrigan would often say, “The first murder in the Bible was of a brother by a brother and it’s been that way ever since.” When Mr Russell wrote in his article about the true nature, meaning and comfort of Christianity returning or staying with the Cross, I felt awakened again out of numbness and helplessness. This is a great mystery and can only be found through meditating or contemplating the Cross of Jesus and it’s meaning for us today, right now as we wait for Thanksgiving, Christ the King, and moving gradually as “the Shekhinah “ (or as some people experience it-the spirit of Advent“) descends gently, palpably to earth for the brief four weeks of the Holy Season of Advent; into the Christmas Season.
Let me sum all this up with a quote from St Louis de Montfort (1673-1716)the founder of the women’s religious order the Daughters of Wisdom :
“Wisdom is the Cross, the Cross is wisdom.”
Fr Bill McNichols