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June 29, 2004
I'll send you a Holding Cross, Carol wrote, without explanation. Wearily, I wondered what such a thing might be: I was in bed at an unaccustomed late hour of the morning, and showed no sign of arising anytime soon. No matter how much I slept, I seemed still to be tired.

I was a little peppier in a few days, when a package from her arrived in the mail. Inside, wrapped in white tissue, was the Holding Cross: a small wooden cross, maybe five inches tall, strangely shaped. I picked it up to look at it, and it sat in the palm of my hand as if it had always been there. How odd, I though as I held it: as if it had been made for me, its asymmetrical arms fit my fingers.

The Holding Cross is dear, familiar, like other handles I have loved to grasp: the handle of my bike when I was little. The handle of my favorite wooden spoon. The wooden handle of my favorite trowel. The silver handle of my cane. Certain objects are lovely to hold. Sanctified by use, they are ours.

The cross of Christ was not lovely. It was made of pain. But the love of the One upon it has blessed it for us all forevermore: "sweetest wood and sweetest iron," goes a phrase in the ancient hymn Tantum ergo, and we know that it was not sweet then, not at all, but that it is now: it is pure love, the pure presence of God, even in the terrible midst of our worst sorrow.

I hold it to pray. After my prayer, I hold it still, just to hold it -- maybe my fingers are not finished their prayers yet. I have fallen asleep holding it -- when I awaken, there it is, still in my hand.


To see a Holding Cross, go to
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