STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Eleventh Station — Jesus Christ Is Nailed To The Cross, by Evelyn Underhill

underhill stations of the cross

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

The Eternal Wisdom Bound by Love to His World

The cross, says Traherne, “is a tree set on fire with invisible flame, that illuminateth all the world.  The flame is love; the love in his bosom who died on it.  In the light of which we see how to possess all the things in Heaven and Earth after his similitude.”

God’s way of possessing us, then, is to give himself for us: and thus only, by self-giving in the interests of life, can we possess all things after his similitude.  We, stretching ourselves gladly on the rood of the world, receive that world as our eternal heritage.  “To give all for love is a most sweet bargain.”  It is the bargain struck between the Eternal Wisdom and his universe: between Christ and the human soul.

“I possess nothing, I am nothing, I desire nothing, save Jesus only,” said Walter Hilton.  So, in another reading of this same mystery of regeneration, of transmuted and exalted life, the soul might say, “I possess nothing, I am nothing, I desire nothing, save the cross only.  Ave!  Crux spes unica! [Hail to the Cross, our only hope.]  Supreme and living symbol of the real!  The artist of the alchemists, the striving Christ, distils under this sign that tincture of eternity which confers perpetual youth, turns dust to gold.  I accept then with joy my place in a world whose glory, whose salvation is its pain.”

The cross, we have said, is the only bridge between God and man.  Wisdom’s path leads to it, and through it to our home.  It is the work of the striving Christ within us, the divine spark at the apex of our soul, to teach us to create out of our burden – borne in every circumstance of hateful squalor, ineffective weakness – this ladder to the stars.

The imparting of this secret is his sublimest gift to us: the source of that invulnerable radiance which his lovers bear through life.  “Peace I leave with you: my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.”  I give you one infallible way of escape: one ladder which leads upwards from the fretfulness of transient things to be the peace which passeth understanding.  That ladder is the cross.  “Cleave unto this center, and by it enter into rest.”  Submit to this curtailing of your liberty, this harnessing of your wild spirit, this ordering of your stormy love.  If you desire to escape the illusions of the senses, the fetters of that selfhood which is the cause of all your griefs – if you wish, once for all, to be raised up into the lucent atmosphere of reality – you must be transfixed as I was transfixed, raised up as I was raised up; and sacrifice yourself upon that cross of being, the arms of which are made of love and pain.  No escaping Earth’s conditions, no soaring up now, free, radiant, and transfigured, to the spiritual country where we know that we belong; but rather a holding back, a self-limitation, a nailing of us to the harshest emblems of the natural world.

He said again, “And I, if I be lifted up from the Earth, will draw all men unto me.”  They come still, from the ends of the Earth, little guessing the identity of that truth, that health, that love for which they crave, and whose inexorable voice has called them home.  No other magnet can compete with the criminal who died on Calvary.  The pull of his passion is felt through all our restless seekings; in many nameless shrines, beneath incredible disguises, “to this our hunger and thirst he gives the pasture of his body and blood.”  Our complicated quests of knowledge, of certitude, of law – the explorations of philosophy, of science, or of art – all bring us in our own despite to this; to Eternal Wisdom nailed by love to his world, calling us out of that world to share his sacrifice.

But the lifting up, even to that bitter sovereignty, is to be costing for us.  It comes only after the wounding of our members: the outpouring of our life.  Toll is to be taken of every aspect of our humanity.  Our will, stripped and exhausted, must be maimed and broken, if it is to be conformed to the pattern of his death.  “What are these wounds upon thy hands?  They are the wounds that I received in the house of my friends.”  They are the insignia of the kingly line; the secret heraldry of Royal Love.

Every wound of Christ strikes through his mystical body: is a means whereby that body is united to the Tree of Life.  In so far as we are remade in his image, these wounds must strike through us too.  They are the instruments of our glory, our union with him.  The friends of God are wounded in the hands that work for him, in the feet that journey to him, in the heart that asks only strength to love him: as he too is wounded in his ceaseless working for us, his tireless coming to us, his ineffable desire towards us.  We share the marks of his passion, and he ours.

So, too, is all his creation grieved most in those very members which express the energy, the liberty, the Godward instincts of its life.  In its perpetual striving towards him, the whole living cosmos risks and receives the sacred wounds which transfix the feet, the hands, the heart of God.  It is hurt in and by its restlessness, its creative industry, its desires.  The law of love seizes upon these agents of freedom.  Charity pierces them, transmutes them to the service of the All: nails Life – free, urgent Life – to the Eternal Cross.  Those disharmonies which are the opportunity at once of strife and of perfection strike through its members, and imprint upon the universe the stigmata of Christ.

Eternal Wisdom maimed himself, marred his beauty, that thereby he might be united more closely with his world.  He became man in our interest: he was scourged in and for our transgressions: his heart was pierced that we might enter in.  There is no other door to the secret of being than this strait gate in the ramparts of our only home.  “Intra tua vulnera absconde me!” [Within thy wounds hide me.]  No idle metaphor, no poetic image: but the grandest petition of the awakened Spirit of Life, pressing at all costs towards its home in the heart of God, the one reality.

We, then, who aspire to be remade in his likeness, to share his cross, aspire also to a participation in his wounds.  We cannot be satisfied with less than this: it is the earnest of our consecration, the very essence of our conformity to him, the fastening of our weak and helpless spirits to his all-saving life.  Life’s wounds are plaited close with life’s ecstasies.  They may themselves be hidden ecstasies to those who have learned the secret of the King; for true love is not contented until it has been hurt.  It finds its utmost expression in Eckhart’s allegory of the incarnation: the story of the lover who maimed himself, that thereby he might approximate to the maimed condition of the beloved.

We shall give ourselves, then, as he gave himself, not sadly and unwillingly, but “full courteously and gladly”: saying, as was said to Julian in her Revelations of Love, “If thou art pleased, I am pleased; it is a joy, a bliss, and endless satisfying to me that ever I suffered passion for thee; and if I might suffer more, I would suffer more.”  We are to be glad givers for Christ, as he for us: eagerly and merrily his children run to the cross, offer him their hearts, their hands, their feet.  He is there before us: we, stretching ourselves on it, achieve our utmost union with him.  All things are then forgotten: all our renunciations, all our pains.  For “a glad giver,” says Julian again, “taketh but little heed of the thing that he giveth, but all his desire and all his intent is to please him and solace him to whom he giveth it.”

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