I laughed at the cross.
In a moment of profound irreverence, in the midst of a 30-day silent retreat, I beheld the candle-lit crucifix hanging high on the wall of the chapel just behind the empty altar, and I laughed. I laughed out loud. Why, you wonder? Well, to be fair, in the middle of 30 days of silence this kind of punchy humor is inflicted upon even the most pious of saints (and I am rarely accused of either piety or sainthood).
In all honesty it appeared to me, in the flickering candlelight of the dimly lit chapel, that the corpus – the body of Jesus on the cross – looked an awful lot like it was dancing. His hands were outstretched, his knees were bent and toes on point, his head was cocked down to one side – I mean put a fedora on him and a black suit and you’ve got a cross (pun convenient) between Michael Jackson and Alvin Ailey.
My mind ran with this trick of the eye and before long I was seeing all kinds of things. Jesus putting one toe into an ice-cold pool – Brr! Surfer Jesus hangin’ ten on the nose of a longboard – Whoa! Jesus after one too many drinks with his arms over two friends carrying him back to bed – Uggh! Terribly irreverent I realize, but somehow it seemed that God wanted me to laugh in the midst of that silence; he crucified my fear on that cross, and flooded my mind with these dangerous jokes. I settled for a while on the notion that Jesus was like some cosmic home-base umpire dramatically resolving a game-ending play at the plate. “SAFE!” he shouts. His arms thrown wide, “SAFE!”
And that is when I came to the grace of the moment.
I felt myself consoled, safe and at home, the game won and a crowd of thousands maniacal with joy. Jesus conquered fear on that cross, and for much of my time on that retreat I felt alone and afraid. In that great silence it seemed as if every fear I had ever known had come home to chisel a space back into my heart. The silence was often, though not always, experienced as a nervous tomb, a racing heart, an unstable footing. But grace came in unexpected moments and laughter pushed old fears away and warmly filled that silent space.