Flannery O’Connor says that the separation of grace and nature does a disservice to both (Mystery and Manners). Emptied of the spiritual, nature becomes either sentimental or obscene. This was the topic of my last post: Precious Moments and Pornography. This post is about how the spiritual, emptied of nature becomes nothing more than pious cliché.
It didn’t take long to think of a great example for this one. What “spiritual” thing has been emptied of almost everything physical?
The Cross. The central symbol of the Christian faith.
I’m thinking of cross earrings and cross necklaces so many of the faithful sport. Have we gotten to the point where the jewelry and tattoos only suggest devotion?
I saw a young man in full “gangsta” attire sporting a bejeweled rosary. I suppose it’s possible he was a Catholic, but it’s just as likely that the cross he wears today will mean the same thing as the adorned dog tags he will wear tomorrow. I will also wonder if he’s really a veteran.
When purchasing a cross to wear as a pendant, charm or earring, do people actually care about the particular origin of the design, or do they just buy the one that strikes their fancy? There are many varieties of crosses: Cathedral, Orthodox, Celtic, Greek, Russian, Byzantine, Latin, Maltese, Jerusalem, Huguenot and many more. I have an ancestor that was a Huguenot so I could wear that one with some legitimacy. Is it good enough to be a Christian to legitimately wear any cross?
[click_to_tweet tweet=”Do you think of your cross jewelry a Roman torture and execution device, or is it a way to suggest devotion, while also adorning your neck? #FlanneryO’Connor #piouscliche” quote=”Do you think of your cross jewelry a Roman torture and execution device, or is it a way to suggest devotion, while also adorning your neck? “]
Bring the natural back into the spiritual
How do we rectify this? If O’Connor is right, the spiritual must, once again, be filled with the physical. We need to be reintroduced to the physical dimensions of the crucifixion. A lot of people have written on this and many Good Friday sermons have been preached on it. If you have not ever heard of the tortures of crucifixion read A Physician’s View of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
The Cross, emptied of its physicality becomes a pious cliché. I suppose it’s fine to put a cross around your neck, but it ought to be scandalous. Isn’t it scandalous for the Son of the Most High God to be shamed, tortured and executed on this device?
The heart of the Gospel is in the answer to the question, “Why would those who love him wear a symbol of this obscenity?”