STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Eighth Station — The Women Of Jerusalem Mourn For Our Lord, by Evelyn Underhill

underhill stations of the cross

From The Path of Eternal Wisdom, written under the pseudonym, John Cordelier

The Soul as a Spectator of the Divine Tragedy

Human Love in Our Lady, Contemplative Love in Saint John, Ministering Love in Veronica, Male Energy in Simon of Cyrene – all these, according to their several dispositions, trod faithfully and with courage the Way of the Cross.  But there was a group which watched: unwilling to be implicated in his sufferings, yet full of tearful sympathy when he passed by.

The daughters of Jerusalem were the heirs of an old tradition: not inimical to spiritual beauty, not insensitive to the passing by of God.  They wept when the world sent Perfect Love to the cross.  But the Eternal Wisdom does not accept the sentimental grief of the looker-on.  Rather, he grieves for those who will not go with him; who lack courage, dare not plunge in, give themselves to the onward sweep of the universe towards its home in God.  “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me.  I am treading the path of intensest life.  Weep for yourselves and for your children, because you are cowardly and stand on one side.  Weep because you have so poor a sense of actuality that you remain external to my sufferings: that you stand and watch: that you follow prudently and far off whilst your creator treads the way of the cross.  Do not weep because you are suddenly confronted by the awful process of Divine Life in your midst, have perceived, once for all, the inexorable movement of the world: but rather because you are not up and doing, risking pain and failure in the interests of reality.  I have piped to you, and you have not danced.  Weep because you are holding yourselves outside the current of life: because you are meanly content with the safe and prudent virtue of compassion, have not the spiritual vitality, the talent for romance, necessary to those who would live dangerously and completely with me.”

“O crux, ave! spes unica!” [Hail, Cross, our only hope! (Roman Missal)]  How many are those who grasp what it really is that they are affirming, when they make this appalling act of faith?  Some, perhaps, are merely daughters of Jerusalem.  They recognize life’s supernal symbol; they are touched, and weep as it goes by.  They have an ignoble inclination to put their hope in somewhat done for them – somehow, mysteriously and once for all, long ago – a thing which they have no intention of doing for themselves.  To be an orthodox and sympathetic spectator of redemption is to share, they think, in its effects.  They gently deprecate the folly and excesses of those who travel upon Wisdom’s path: who cry with Rutherford, “Come and see will tell you much.  Come nearer will say more.”

But most of those who see Christ’s self-expression in creation are at least dimly aware that nothing can be hopeful for us – can have any meaning for us – unless it enters our field, is taken up into our growing, living, unresting experience: unless in fact we make it our own.  The art of life is learned only in the living: lookers-on know nothing of this game.  “Who danceth not, knows not what is being done.”

God, said Patmore, is the one reality; and we are real only in so far as we are in his order.  It is no criterion of our reality that we should be moved by contemplation of his passion to a sentimental grief.

The passion which is demanded of us as the price of union, of entrance into his order, is not a fluid emotion, but an industrious and courageous love.  We must be so oned with him that his acts become ours, no less than his gifts.  His life within our hearts must be the source of all our energies: so that we do not merely follow, but keep step, upon the way.  To know his attributes, to weep for the mystery of his pain, is but to heap up condemnation for those who were able to feel, but refused to be.  We draw near the Eternal Wisdom only when love prompts us to a sharing of his life, to a fearless pressing onwards at all costs towards new manifestations of that life and that spirit; not when we are moved to bestow on him a feeble sympathy or a passive admiration.

If the cross, then, be really our one hope, it is because it is life’s supremest symbol; because it sets the rhythm of the universe and shows us so clearly what we must do.  Not because it relieves us in its historical aspect from a disagreeable responsibility, but rather because it is our ever-present rallying-point, our ever-moving standard; interprets to us a transcendent duty, holds out to us an opportunity of courage which we refuse at our own risk.  Live the life if you would know the doctrine: accept the cross is you desire the crown.  Weep for yourselves, all you who stand by whilst the great mourning-procession of the universe streams up to Calvary!

The Absolute Life cries in our ears, as it did in those of Mechthild long ago, “‘Oh, soul, before the world was, I longed for thee: and thou longest for me still, and I for thee.’  Come to me, then, by the only road which leads to the Heart of Life.  Come! fear not, poor weak body weighed down by this stupendous destiny.  Come! fall and climb, climb and fall, beneath the burden of thine inheritance.  So did I before thee: so do I still in and with thee: for I am thy father, brother, comrade and sure true friend.”

Here, then all attempts to shirk the travail of the universe – all our willful, cowardly, self-deceptive choices, mean evasions of reality, refusal of pain, our eager drinking of the wine of life whilst we shut our eyes to the wounded heart from which it flows – receive their condemnation.  They are acts of mutiny, rebellions against the only law of love.  The Cross-Bearer meets us, inexorable.  We see the marks of struggle, of brave and difficult endurance, the mercy and compassion which put no limits to self-spending: and we weep for pity at the sight.  We cry “Quo vadis?” [Where are you going?] in sorrow and amazement – as Saint Peter cried to Christ on the Appian Way – to a universe which seems intent on suffering.  In so far as we evade life’s pressure, stand back from the straight path of Wisdom and of Love, the answer is the same – as the Speaker is the same – “I go to be crucified for thee!”

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