Having returned from a recent trip to visit family in Australia, Pr. Scott offers reflections on highlights of the experience in light of the season of Lent.
Australia hosts many animals unique to that continent—kangaroos, koalas, wombats, platypus, Tasmanian devils—but there are some unique things you can’t see in zoos anywhere. One of my hopes for our recent visit to Australia was a chance to see the Southern Cross.
Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere might recognize the Southern Cross from the Australian flag. In the night sky it’s the dominant feature of the relatively small constellation “Crux,” visible only from the Southern Hemisphere and tropical northern latitudes. It has long helped guide sailors safely through southern seas.
One night early in our trip noisy neighbors were keeping us awake. When I looked out our window to investigate, there above the offending apartment was the Southern Cross, piercing through the bright lights of central Sydney.
At this point I could say something about how people and circumstances that annoy or infuriate us, when we’re awake, sometimes unexpectedly point us to what we’d been seeking all along. (Honest seekers might recognize this experience from their encounters with Jesus and his teachings!)
But what holds my attention in this season of Lent is the Southern Cross itself. It can only be seen from a certain perspective. Just because we can’t see it in the Northern Hemisphere doesn’t mean it’s not there. For me, in a simple and maybe self-evident way, this gets at the nature of faith. Just because a person can’t see hope, beauty, power and meaning in the cross of Christ doesn’t mean that it’s not real.
On the other hand, people for whom the cross is powerfully real need to remember the limits of our own perspective. For example, the Southern Cross all by itself in a black sky would be insignificant in the Southern Hemisphere, invisible in the Northern Hemisphere. Instead, it is connected to countless other stars and constellations that stretch across the sky in a stunningly beautiful display that everyone on earth can see and enjoy.
I’m not saying that Christian faith is just one in a vast sea of equally useful spiritual options. In fact, the limits of our human minds keep us at a distance from the infinite and the universal. We need specific stories and symbols and traditions to draw us close to the grand Mystery. Ours are revealed primarily through Christ and his teachings.
The Southern Cross is not a dominant feature of the night sky; it takes patience and work to see. So it is with the cross of Christ. With patience and work, it can help lead our minds and spirits into the expansive beauty of the infinite; especially, God’s grace, power, mercy and love.
Who knows love can endure
And you know it will
When you see the Southern Cross
For the first time…
You understand now
Why you came this way…
‘Cause the truth you might be runnin’ from
Is so small
But it’s as big as the promise
The promise of a comin’ day…
Think about how many times I have fallen
Spirits are using me, larger voices callin’
What Heaven brought you and me
Cannot be forgotten…
–Lyrics from “Southern Cross” (Crosby, Stills & Nash, 1982)