I’m brave enough in this forum to be vulnerable and to admit to the entire internet that back in 9th and 10th grade, I was a chocolate mess, as they say, in math. My 9th grade Algebra class and my 10th grade geometry class nearly did me in. Earning “Cs” and the “Ds” on every test, quiz and homework assignment, there was no amount of after-school help or tutoring that could twist my spatially-challenged brain into understanding how to solve for x, how to plot coordinates or, God help me, construct a proof involving an isosceles triangle. Nope.
I was an above average student- honor roll and all that- but algebra and geometry were my nemesis.
Arithmetic, I could do, but that other stuff- not so much.
I developed an inferiority complex about math (well-deserved, really) and it was not until I was doing graduate work that I was faced with taking a mandatory math class and encountering my now long-in-the-tooth adversary. You see, I’d gotten through college taking a lot of statistics classes to satisfy the math requirement for my psychology degree, and the stuff of old nightmares and tear-stained, late-night homework sessions had been kept at bay.
But graduate school brought me back together with algebra and geometry… and I learned to love the x and y.
My brain had changed.
I was suddenly good at it. I completed homework and never saw a trace of red pencil on the returned assignments. I got good grades and raised my hand in class. I understood it.
And I credit it to nothing more than brain maturity. Something in my brain had switched “on” in the algebra and geometry department that had formerly been turned off.
In this Sunday’s gospel lesson Jesus talks about the cross.
In the gospel of Mark, it says,
“He (Jesus) called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” (8: 34)
I had a hard time understanding this teaching in my young adult years. The lesson from Jesus to “give it all up” was the place of dis-connection between everything that our society teaches us (achieve, build your future, care for your family, succeed) and what we have been called to be as Christians. As a young parent and as a young professional, it did not make sense back then to abandon the American Dream (we’d just bought a house and though it did not come with a white picket fence, it had almost everything else…) and step into some obscure, undefined, risky endeavor called Christianity. Oh sure, I’d been baptized as am infant and joined the Christian Way, but making the choice as a young adult with a growing family and such (material) promise felt… strange. Wrong, even. Give it up. Risk it. Deny yourself. And gain… life.(?)
I learned, again, about the x and y axis. About the cross.
I learned about the x axis- the horizontal line- that connects us, each to each. I learned about relationships. I found a home, as a young parent, in a small town with deep, dear friends who stood with me, and by me, as, together, we grew our families. We took care of each other. We shared many joys and some devastating losses. And, in them, we found Christ in each other.
I learned about the y axis- the vertical line- that connects us to God. To the transcendent hope that is beauty, mystery, and unfathomable joy. To knowing, with certainty, of our place in the cosmos, as small but beloved beings, cherished by our Creator. Of learning, through experience, that God is stronger and bigger than all of our problems and as accessible and ready to care for us as our next breath. That our cry to God in pain, surprise or joy is old news by the time it leaves our lungs- for God knows our every wish, desire, pain and need… before we even ask.
The x and the y axis, when joined, make the cross.
And the cross is more than two lines. It is more than relationships with each other, or with a heavenly deity… it is life.
We believe that in taking up the cross we receive a new kind of life that is eternal.
That is a geometry proof that defies explanation unless you have lived it; lived the x and lived the y. And then, then words of Jesus ring true, that to lose one’s life is to gain it.