Meditating on the Crucifix this Holy Week

What do you think of when you hear the word meditation? For me, the image of a Buddhist monk sitting in the lotus position with a serene expression on his face comes to mind. I think of being still in the silence without a care or worry crossing my thoughts. Indeed, I picture meditation as a thought-free experience, absent of the usual rolodex of to-do list items, birthdays to remember, and random musings coursing through my brain. 

While it’s true that meditation is not the images that come to my mind (there are plenty of Buddhist monks who meditate with crossed legs, and quieting one’s brain of its usual chatter is certainly an aspect of meditation), there is a lot more to meditation – and many more ways to engage in it! – than what I’ve described. 

Broadly, meditation is any sort of practice – spiritual or secular – that develops and deepens attention and awareness. It has the benefit of enhancing mental clarity and emotional stability, but for people of faith who engage in meditation as a spiritual practice, its primary end is directing attention and awareness towards God. The idea is that if we can empty our minds of their usual chorus of thoughts, and focus our attention away from its usual objects (tonight’s dinner menu, for instance, or how dusty the surface of my bookshelf is, now that I am sitting still enough to notice it), space opens for connection with the Divine. 

There is a rich tradition of meditation within Catholicism. 

Ignatian contemplation, or imaginative prayer, is a form of meditation that involves focusing on a passage of scripture (usually one from the Gospels) and immersing yourself in it through visualizing the events of the story as they unfold and taking in the sensory details: the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and feelings.

The Rosary, with its gentle repetition of prayers and guiding mysteries, which orient us to the lives of Jesus and Mary, is also a meditative prayer. 

Centering Prayer is a type of contemplative prayer that intends to create inner silence, which in turn makes room for God. The person praying chooses a short word or phrase (something like “Jesus” or “breath” or “spirit”)  and is instructed to turn their mind back to that word each time they catch noisy thoughts returning. 

Sometimes, as a twist on Centering Prayer, I like to choose an object to visually focus on when my thoughts begin to wander, instead of a word. That object can be a monstrance containing the Eucharist during an hour of Adoration; it can be a candle, reminding me of the light of Christ that lives within me; it can really be anything that draws one’s mind to God. 

As we enter this most sacred week in the liturgical year, Holy Week, I’m planning to meditate on the crucifix for the next seven days. Here’s why:

The crucifix draws my eyes and my mind to the passion of Jesus

The crucifix quite literally depicts the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. To say something not particularly poignant, this is the stuff of Holy Week. Meditating on the crucifix reminds me of not only Jesus’s walk to calvary and death on Good Friday, but of the events leading up to it: his procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, his Last Supper on Holy Thursday, his night in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

The crucifix reminds us of Jesus’s love for us

Let us not forget that Jesus died on the cross – the state’s form of execution for a common criminal – because he lived in a way that scared the political and religious leaders of the time. They didn’t want him around any more, challenging law and order (of both the Roman empire and the religious institution) by embracing the “sinner”, touching the “unclean,” and telling the poor and weak of their worth. And so the authorities conspired together to have him tried and killed. The crucifix reminds us that Jesus was with us for a while in human form to show us how to love and that we are loved, and that he was willing to die for it. 

The crucifix reminds me to pray throughout the day

This is a practical reason, but no less important: the crucifix is ubiquitous. It hangs on the walls in Catholic homes; it’s found at the front of most Catholic churches (and some place else within them, if not the front); it dangles on a chain around the necks of many. As the crucifix is sprinkled throughout my daily life in both intentional (home decor decisions) and unintentional (a random person I see in the grocery store wearing a cross necklace) ways, invitations to pray abound.

The crucifix evokes deep feeling within me

One of the big draws of meditation is that it takes me beyond words in prayer. I regret that I have to say this, but so much of my usual prayer life feels like me “talking at God”. Meditation helps me turn a one-sided conversation into a two-sided one by creating space for God to “talk back.” To be clear, I’ve never had an experience of hearing God speak words, but I believe that God speaks in other more subtle (but no less satisfying ways), including through our emotions. When I feel a deep sense of awe, wonder, gratitude, reverence, or love – that’s the spirit moving within me. And these are the types of feelings that I have when I meditate on the cross. 

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