“So it is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours. But we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, with the whole Christ – ‘for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ’ – so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet.” Andrew of Crete
Admittedly, Andrew of Crete is not often quoted, but I love to find the wisdom of the last two millennia of Christian thought – to place it in our context – especially in this time when we are encouraged to consider the ancient and current theme of the place of suffering in the spiritual journey.
Thomas a Kempis would write (circa 15th Century), “There will be always be many who love Christ’s heavenly kingdom, but few who will bear His cross. There is no escaping the cross, it is unavoidable. It waits for you everywhere.” This is not so much a warning as it is a realization of the place of the cross for the spiritual person who is learning to walk with God. The unavoidableness of the cross should cause us to ponder why the Lord Jesus would beckon His followers to pick theirs up, daily.
“The Christian must not only accept suffering,” Thomas Merton wrote, “he must make it holy. Nothing so easily becomes unholy as suffering.” I do not relish talking about crosses and suffering morbidly and fatalistically. I, like you no doubt, have suffered. We are content-experts of our own experience, but we are not always so wise as to understand what our suffering is. Neurosis according to Carl Jung, “is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.” Avoiding or anaesthetizing suffering or its meaning will not lead a person to wholeness. Suffering, like the cross, waits for you everywhere.
For the person who would follow Christ, Bonhoeffer writes, “the cross is not the horrible end of a pious, happy, life, but stands at the beginning of community with Jesus Christ. Every call of Christ leads to death… Whether we really found God’s peace will be shown by how we deal with the suffering that will come upon us.”
The mystery of God’s peace found in Christ appears to work through a curriculum of suffering. I know I write to an experienced audience, but will you do the homework of integrating your suffering to make it holy, as Merton suggests?
It is interesting that Andrew of Crete would reference the scene of Jesus riding on a donkey into Jerusalem – where people took palm branches and coats, and sang “hosanna” to Jesus. Within days, the same crowds would yell, “crucify him.” Andrew knew there is something about spreading ourselves under Jesus’ feet that only lovers of Jesus could understand. It speaks to devotion, to worship, to letting go of agendas and controls. It speaks to making your suffering holy. It speaks to “taking up your cross daily and following Jesus.”
Let me encourage you to swim against the stream of this culture of neurosis: a culture continually substituting legitimate suffering. And more, let me encourage you to get to know the One who made you for Himself; who, Himself, is the source and destination of our lives; who calls each one to “take up our cross and follow Him.”
I believe one finds the peace for which we were created, by journeying through the mystery of suffering – in particular journeying with the companionship of the passion of Christ. In this, we borrow the language of the Psalmist who sang (Psalm 94:18,19):
When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’
your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought me joy.
May you come to know the secret of His consoling presence.