Before being admitted to the hospital I was told that patients were advised not to bring with them any pieces of jewelry or other items of value, and I complied by leaving at home two things. One of them was a signet ring I wear engraved with the Latin words that C.G. Jung had carved into the stone above the door to his house in Switzerland – vocatus atque non vocatus Deus aderit, which in translation is “summoned or not summoned God will be present.” The other thing was a small gold cross that I wear around my neck under my shirt.
When I got home, the ring, as I slipped it back on my finger, confirmed what I had learned yet again in the hospital. I hadn’t done much of anything in the way of summoning God there or of even paying much attention to God, but God had been present anyway and present there of all places where I felt paralyzed by my total helplessness as well as by the terrorized helplessness of the fragile world in which it felt as though even God was paralyzed. The word “hospital” is related both to the word “host” and to the word “guest,” and through Susie and the others, God’s role had been that of the host, who, without waiting to be asked, offers refreshment, healing, and hope to the guests, like me, who are strangers and yet not strangers at all. And in the person of the Roman Catholic chaplain and the others, both friends and family who came to see me, he was of course also the guest.
But the cross when I slipped it back over my head, getting my wife to close the little clasp which I had never been able to do for myself, spoke to me what seemed a significantly different kind of word. It is not just the world we walk in that is fragile, it seemed to say, but God also is fragile. It is not just the world that is vulnerable to the worst that mankind can do, but God also is vulnerable. The Twin Towers had been reduced to a smoldering mountain of rubble with who knows how many thousands of victims buried in it dead, dying, or alive, and what the cross under my shirt seemed to be saying was that one of the victims was God.
When someone we love suffers, we also suffer – that is what love is all about – but if we could somehow wish our suffering away, I think we would choose not to because the suffering and the loving are so inextricably bound up in each other that to wish one away would be to wish the other away as well. And could that be true, I wondered, also of God? To speak of God suffering is to be guilty of the heresy of patripassionism, but, at the risk of hellfire, I tend to hold to it anyway. When I covered my face with my hands and wept at the surgeon’s account of his friends on the second plane, I cannot for a moment but believe that in one way or another God was not also weeping with me.
In good Protestant fashion, my small gold cross is an empty one suggesting that when Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to God’s right hand, his passion ended once and for all. He doesn’t suffer anymore, and because, as Christians are called to be his body, to use the most haunting of St. Paul’s images, now that he has been caught up in the place that passes all understanding, maybe we are called to suffer for the world in his place. Who can say? But if that is indeed part of the truth of the empty cross, there is also the truth of the cross with the body in torment still on it – the truth that as long as there is so much as one child crying at breakfast, as long as there is just one old man crying into his hands, then Jesus cries too because the God who is in him is also crying. Jesus is fragile with God’s fragility.
From “Walking in the World with a Fragile God” by Frederick Buechner