In honor of this Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, the name of which invokes Christianity’s supreme paradox, I thought I would share another poem I wrote on what theology looks like when it takes into its core the ‘Pasch’ of Christ, his brutal-glorious Passover from death to life, earth to heaven.
<– This close-up of Jesus’ feet in Grünewald’s Crucifixion has remained, for whatever reason, the primary image in my own theological imagination of the essential character of God that has been revealed to us in Christ Crucified.
Martin Luther, in his rich, pre-excommunication 1917 Disputation Against Scholastic Theology, says something that has deeply shaped my own theology, and which this poem attempts to capture a glimpse of: ‘He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.’ In other words, whatever it is we say that we can know about God through natural reason (e.g. CCC 37) must be subjected to the visio crucis, the viewing-lens of the cross.
It also implies that the true theologian must be someone ‘well acquainted with suffering,’ which, in my experience, has been the mark of those whom I consider the greatest theologians I have known. One of my favorite of all theologians is St. Maximus the Confessor, who, after many years of brilliant writing, began his final phase of theologically eloquent silence after his writing hand was chopped off and tongue cut out by the Byzantine Emperor’s order.
This poem, by means of a not-usual language, also attempts to tease out from personal experience of theologizing the paradoxical labor of trying to give language to an absolute Mystery that places in irreconcilable tension God’s unutterable transcendence and His unthinkable nearness. Stepping into such paradoxy is a dangerous venture that still must be tried by the fearful theologian precisely because God Himself first engaged in it.
So, here it is…
Paschal TheologyEdgeless Truth, turgid sea bereft of shoreEnfolded, crazed by a love-made-smallin image-pressed clay, mind with a fiery corehemmed in, erupted by a limitless call.Man, worm and spirit, soil and Godded fleshBetwixt and between, created and un-,Dreaming of Dawn in a straw-strewn crèche;Clay-thought wedded to an incarnate Son.Sharp-edged Truth, unthinkable SwordWithout beginning, now begotten TwiceTruth and love entwined, slave made LordWord in Chalice outpoured, adored Thrice.Dare I now speak, think, discourse at length on TheeMade bold by Thine own out-emptied Word,In unsaid silence I risk your sullied Face to seeWhilst chewing on mere-straw, food for strengthTo gaze on you of whom I had once only heard.