Acquainted with grief

Daily Reading for March 16 • The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

The cross is the exhibition of Life being precisely that; more—as knowing itself to be precisely that, as experiencing itself as being precisely that. We are relieved—may one say?—from the burden of being naturally optimistic. “The whole creation groaneth and travaileth together.” If we are to rejoice always then it must be a joy consonant with that; we need not—infinite relief!—force ourselves to deny the mere burden of breathing. Life (experience suggests) is a good thing, and somehow unendurable; at least the Christian faith has denied neither side of the paradox. Life found itself unendurable. Life itself consents to shrink from its own terrors; it concedes to us its utterance of our own prayer: “O not this! If it be possible, not this!” I am not for a moment equating our sorrows with that; the point is that the sorrow is centrally there. Life itself is acquainted with grief.

And not grief alone. Crucifixion was an obscene thing. It was revolting not merely because of the torture and the degredation, but also because of the disgust; or rather it is revolting to us—I do not know that it was revolting to those who saw it. They were as accustomed to it as our fathers were to burning and castration or we to many years’ imprisonment or to the gallows. It was, however, definitely more spectacularly obscene than the gallows; we can hardly, in the nature of things, realize it so, and even our best efforts tend to make it a little respectable. But then again life, as we know it, is obscene; or, to be accurate, it has in it a strong element of obscenity. Again and again we become aware of a sense of outrage in our physical natures. Sometimes this is aroused by the events of which we read in the papers, but as often by the events which happen to us. The family, for example, is a sacred and noble thing, but the things that happen in the family are the result of blood antagonistic to itself. “Love,” it is said, “is very near to hate.” Without discussing the general truth of that, it may be allowed that were it is so, the hate is often of a particularly virulent and vehement kind.

I take these two qualities—the sorrow and the obscenity—as examples of that dreadful contradiction in our experience of life which is flatly exhibited in the living of life by Life.

From “The Cross” by Charles Williams, in Charles Williams: Essential Writings in Spirituality and Theology, edited by Charles Hefling (Cowley Publications, 1993).

Past Posts