The Back of the Cross Lorraine Padden March, 2016 A couple of years ago on a Sunday of Advent, I sat with the choir behind the altar at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Del Mar. This is where singers part company--sopranos and tenors on one side of the organ, altos and basses on the other. From my seat I couldn’t see much of the service goings-on, so I focused mostly on shaping vowels with other voices across the way. When I did happen to look up, I noticed the back side of the enormous metal cross suspended above the altar. Protruding bolts, hideous screws and tarnished fittings were intended not for beauty but to bear the weight of its smooth and luminous twin facing the congregation. It was such a distracting contrast of surface and treatment of material, I lost a synapse or two from both song and meaning of the season. During these Advent days, this time of anticipation and longing for new love and light in the world, I wasn’t expecting to see an image of the cross that to me suggested broken-toothed barbarism and human sacrifice -- a forecast of common brutality draped INRI. I saw the shine of innocent promise and the back side of brutal loss as the complete earthly Jesus narrative, beginning through end. This hybrid cross reminds me of a series of modern Christian paintings I saw hung in narrow galleries located just outside the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museums in Rome. Passed by many a visitor anxious to get to the sanctuary, the paintings were often graphic depictions of Christ, broken and battered. Some scenes showcased the anguish of the Apostles, and even a few abstract compositions seemed morbidly garish and wounded. Tucked into the shadow of the radiant Sistine Chapel where few would wander off path to see them, the Vatican open-mindedly included these dark images but didn’t announce their presence--a conditional both/and. I write this essay during Lent, and the road to Jerusalem lies just ahead. I am reminded of the crosses that hang throughout our own sacred spaces, with unburnished sides generally not available for public consumption. And, everyone who beholds one has a singular relationship with the rich symbolism the cross bears for us, one that embraces how we literally and figuratively view it. My own preference is for integration, where both sides bear equal representation, the gleaming star of Divine portent inseparable from its common use as torture 2000 years ago. To my mind, we can’t have transcendent faith in one without gut harrowing witness of the other. Still, Lent encourages me to contemplate yet another aspect of the cross--that which comes after the totality of “It is finished.” I look to the Resurrection with hope for a remaking of the light, whether it shines in the eyes of a loved one 20 years sober or dances off that golden icon soon to be warmly familiar once again. Here my thoughts turn to a painting by Salvador Dalí, a surreal masterpiece from 1954, Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubicus) that hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Christ levitates, arms stretched out between boxy bolts and an elaboration of cubes, unattached to any structure. There is no crown of thorns and His body is devoid of all wounds. Among the many layers of meaning inherent in this work I consider active transcendence, an actual floating between the real and the ethereal. Bolts have become mystical symbols as solid bones and flesh hang in mid-air and the cross itself morphs into geometric abstraction. Dalí shows me a marriage between sides of the cross that is now thoroughly disintegrated; embodied restoration momentarily resides in a new (or perhaps renewed) space before dissolving into some comforting cloud of unknowing. My meditation closes as the cross, in my mind’s eye, will soon turn gossamer. I will await this aspect and other faces as they will surely come to occupy their due season--resplendent, repulsive or redemptive, all. Call it an unconditional both/and.