FROM CRUTCH TO CROSS
I Corinthians 1:17-18
"For the message of the cross ...is the power of God."
For the past few weeks, at the request of the Abbot, I have taken the phrase "turning the soul" as the theme for our Lenten meditations. Lent, I said at the outset, is about conversion. Turning us around to follow Jesus more faithfully and in the process being shaped into the person God intends us to be. Then as you turn a bowl on a lathe you soon come to the heart-wood, that which gives the piece of wood its character and sustains its life. The heart as metaphor refers to who we really are, what is central to our lives, that which makes you, you and me, me. Lent takes us on a journey both into who we really are, uncovering the masks behind which we hide, and deeper into the mystery of God whose broken heart is uncovered on Good Friday. Lent is the season of breaking hard hearts so that we can learn to love again, a time to recover the church as the broken hearts club, the AHA community that stands with God in solidarity with the struggling people of the earth. And then, last week we considered how vital it is in woodturning and in life to achieve balance. Lent is a good time to regain balance in our lives through getting centred in Christ as we contemplate the gospel story anew.
As we journey with Jesus and the disciples towards Jerusalem and the cross we are once again helped to find the centre around which everything else turns -- God's love and grace towards us in Christ through which we find forgiveness and wholeness again. In this way we might even be turned into something beautiful for God. And it is this sense of being turned into something beautiful that leads me to share with you a story told by Bill Everett in our book Sawdust and Soul. I tell it in his own words:
A few years ago Beth Follum Hoffman participated in a workshop with me and others on “Wood, Rocks, and Worship” at Andover Newton Theological School. We had asked participants to bring some wood that was significant to them and that they wanted to work with in the course of the week. Beth brought a pair of old wooden crutches. She had been born with one leg shorter than the other and it had only been through years of painful surgery and therapy that she was now able to walk unassisted by the crutches, which she had stored some years ago in her attic. The course requirement led her to take them out, knowing that these maple crutches were very important but not knowing what she would do with them. In the course of the workshop she transformed these crutches in a way that transformed her in the process. Despite her complete lack of experience with woodworking tools, she discovered that “I had a lot to say to the wood and … the wood also had a lot to say to me.” She decided, with the support, help, and encouragement of the other participants, to re-fashion them into a cross, a third life for the maple tree that would reflect the painful journey she had experienced in her own life.
As she went back and forth between her own experience and the actual shape of the wooden pieces, she began to see a way the crutches might become a cross. In the process she confronted her own struggle to absorb her traumatic childhood experience and refashion it so it might provide a language and symbolism for her own emerging ministry amid the myriad forms of brokenness and healing she was encountering in the lives of people in her church. At the end emerged a cross that clearly reflected its earlier form but in a new arrangement that would absorb its old meanings into a more universal symbol of suffering and new life. She didn’t build a base for it, but wanted it to hang over the (communion table I had made). It would dance in the air, just as her spirit was lifting her own body, and with it the spirits of everyone who gathered around the table on our final day together for communion. It remains one of the most moving experiences with wood in my own life and in hers...
Beth, Bill goes on to tell us, "is now a minister in Maine, where the cross hangs in her office as a sign to everyone of the transformation that is possible in their lives."
Years ago, in the middle of winter with snow all around us, Isobel and I walked past a church in a small town in Wisconsin and stopped to read the notice board outside. We were taken by surprised as we read "In this church the hymn 'The old rugged cross' was composed and first sung." Yes, at the heart of our faith is not a fine piece of furniture made out of a raw wood, but two pieces of rough, un-planed cedar (I would think) crudely nailed together on which criminals were crucified. Yet that symbol of punishment and pain speaks to us of God's saving love, of healing and restoration, of forgiveness and grace. In a strange way, a symbol of death has been transformed into an icon of beauty which attracts us and changes us. The cross has become the sign of God's power to save and make whole, a means whereby our crutches become transfigured.
When you next visit the sanctuary next door, look again at the Christ figure which Bill Davis carved from a broken tree branch here on Volmoed, now hanging behind the altar. There is a photograph of it in Sawdust and Soul and an extract from Bill's account of what carving it from a broken branch of a camphor tree meant to him. During Lent we bring the brokenness of our lives, the pain of the past and present, our failures and our sins, into the orbit of God's transforming and healing love, that we might be made whole, balanced, and turned around in our journey into the mystery of God's love revealed in Christ nailed to the old rugged cross.
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 12 March 2015