I went for a walk the other day and came across a cross. One might chalk it up as happenstance. Perhaps the wind blew these two sticks until they eventually married one another on this random path at just the right time before I chanced upon them. Or maybe it was by design. Perhaps some previous traveler—moved by divine inspiration, say—placed them here to strengthen the faith of the next passerby.
I tend to be a both-and sort of thinker: The material universe has laws to obey, true. But its beauty betrays its own enchantment. Despite our best efforts to domesticate the cosmos, its theo-logical structure remains resolute. At the end of the day, even these two sticks are subject to the pneuma. “The wind [pneuma; Spirit] blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going” (John 3:8 NIV). In this way, God has a habit of interruptִing our secular lives. There’s something super-natural about life. Gaze into the smile of a child long enough, and you’ll see.
Back to the sticks on the path. I take them to mean something important. The New Testament often uses the metaphor of walking as a description for living life (e.g. Rom 13:13; 1 Cor 3:3; Gal 5:16). And it makes sense. Walking, like life, is full of mystery. We can see ahead of us, but only so far. Life comes with many twists and turns. Unknowns lie beyond the curve. And with each step, the past recedes where the future emerges. We exist in the mysterious now—at the precise point where the moving-away-from meets the moving-into, a space routinely plagued by question and angst.
For good reason, then, St. Paul reminds us that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7 NRSV). But faith—in the Christian sense, at least—is not abstract optimism. It’s not wishing or thinking positively. Faith is christological. As such, walking by faith evokes the image of a pilgrimage marked by Christ’s life-giving cruciformity. The apostle reminds us, for example, that, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives [peripateō; literally, “walk”] in him” (Col 2:6 NRSV). In the same vein, he says elsewhere that, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20 NRSV). The same for us. The life we “now” live ought to be one characterized by cruciformity. The cross should lay before us, marking our path and centering our focus.
The cross reminds us that Jesus has traveled our road. He has seen all of life’s twists, turns, circumstances, and pains. He’s felt the angst. In doing so, he truly is with us. He is Immanuel, God-With-Us. Even when—especially when—we walk through the valley of death’s shadow, he is with us (Ps 23:4). His love is always near. He’s with you everywhere. He is with you now, in fact—on the path you’re traveling. Just see.