What Crucifixion Means.

Via Scott Robinson
on Apr 25, 2011
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Matthias Grünewald, from the Isenheim alterpiece, 1515

No one takes my life from me; I lay it down of my own accord. (John 10:18)

Okay, listen up, cause I’ma tell you what crucifixion means.

Crucifixion means radical undefendedness.

That “soft spot” in the heart that Pema Chödrön is always talking about? Crucifixion means abandoning the barricades around that.  In dying on the Cross, Jesus gave us a startlingly concrete, radical example of the undefended heart–the Sacred Heart, in fact–that breathes in sin and alienation and despair and breathes out healing, reconciliation and hope. If Jesus wasn’t doing tonglen on the Cross, who has ever done tonglen?*

And I’ll tell you something that would have gotten me fired from my old teaching job: if Waylon Lewis, our fearless Elepublisher (for example) were, by God’s grace, to become as radically undefended–as “self-abandoned,” as the Church puts it–as Jesus, then you and I, after screwing up again and again and failing to live up to our own standards and acting without love, could ask God to have mercy on us for Waylon’s sake, and God would do it.

–Note: the Greek word ἐλέησον, which we translate as “mercy,” signifies “healing” as much as “forgiveness.” So those who are into self-compassion, take heart:  a prayer for mercy is not the groveling exercise in self-abnegation you may have thought.

–Note #2: We need mercy, not because we are bad, but because we screw up. Jesus said, “The world…hates me because I testify of it that its deeds are evil.” Not us; our deeds. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough.

–Note #3: As much as we love Waylon, I’d suggest Jesus, or Krishna if you prefer.  Or some other avatara. But I mean it about Waylon.

Crucifixion means radical letting-go.

Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”…Clinging to life causes life to decay; the life that is freely given is eternal.

On the Cross, Jesus showed us the way to eternal life–and by “eternal life,” I don’t mean “living forever.” We live forever regardless. “Eternal” does not mean starting now and continuing indefinitely–it means “without beginning and without end.” So the question is, do we want to identify ourselves with the life that is “passing away” (as the old gospel songs say) or with the eternal life? Because we can choose either right now. But to choose the eternal life, you have to die to the life that is passing away. You have to let go.

Crucifixion means knowing where your true identity lies.

Full disclosure:  I talk a good game, but I am a thoroughgoing spiritual piker. For example:  two years ago, I realized that I had allowed myself to become too identified with my job as a college music instructor–that I was, in fact, using that identity as a badge of self-worth. I may not have set the world on fire, but I was a college professor. (I know–big honkin’ deal, you’re thinking–but that just shows how shockingly deluded I was.) So I quit my job, and have been a part-time musician and full-time Dad for the past two years.

But the fact is that though I have turned my back on that identity, I have never really let it die. I still fantasize about the university seeing the error of its ways and calling to ask me to accept a fulltime job, with time already served counting toward tenure.  Even though part of me knows that “clinging to life causes life to decay,” while “the life that is freely given is eternal”–even though I dearly want to lay down that life and be raised to a new one–I have not yet pulled the plug on my do-it-yourself life.

But that life is not resurrection-compatible. God didn’t raise Jesus the Rabbi from the dead, or Jesus the carpenter’s son from Nazareth, or even Jesus the Jew—those are too small, too partial, too incidental.  God raised Jesus the Son of God—the Essential Being, the Absolute Core Identity, the unchanging, eternal, inmost Self.  The other, contingent stuff, what we usually identify as our “selves,” died and was left behind, like the shroud in the tomb. The Risen Christ has no political affiliation, religious denomination, race, ethnicity, country of origin, native language, titles or degrees—none of the things which we regard as the fixed and solid constituents of our identities.  If we would die and rise with Christ, we must hold lightly to those things, too.

The paste-up life I made for myself– father, husband, performer, musician, writer, teacher—is what I need, finally, to let go of, so that the essential kernel of me can bear fruit.  We need to be prepared to give up everything that we think makes us who we are—all those passing-away autobiographical things we have so laboriously put on like stage costumes.  That’s what needs to die in order for the radiant new creation to be born. Because college professor, musician, yoga teacher, garbage collector, blogger, activist, barista, politician, minister, labor or management–these things are not what we are, but what we are doing, the raw material of nishkama karma. And male, female, black, white,  “success” or “failure,” liberal or conservative are not what we are, either. We think those things are solid, but they aren’t, and we need to be ready to lay them down if we want to live the eternal life. Only then will the angels say of us, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  She is not here; she is risen!” [ii]



And that’s what crucifixion means.

*a Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice in which one “breathes in” difficult emotions and “breathes out” their opposites, either for oneself or for others.

(Portions of this entry originally appeared in a larger Easter meditation at Little Teaboys Everywhere.)


About Scott Robinson

Scott Robinson taught college music at a Christian university for ten years before leaving to pursue creative work and fatherhood.  He has written for Sojourners Magazine, PRISM, Cross Currents, Minnesota Parent, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.  He currently composes, records and performs original kirtan with his band Mandala mandalaband.net. Scott is a professed member of the Third Order of St. Francis,  and lives in Philadelphia with his wife, two children, and two incessantly shedding dogs. 


13 Responses to “What Crucifixion Means.”

  1. yogiclarebear says:

    What a wonderful article Scott. I SO MUCH APPRECIATE your notes on translations and meanings of words. I can't thank you enough!

  2. YesuDas says:

    Thanks, Clare! Interestingly, the Greek "eleison"–"have mercy"– is derived from "eleis"–"olive," because prayer for healing was (and is) often accompanied by anointing with (olive) oil.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Great post Scott!! In this world so many people strive for that label. It becomes so much a part of them that they need it to survive. Without all that they are nothing and those people couldn’t be more wrong! God wants ALL OF US! He will make great things happen for those who completely trust Him. And one thing I know for sure, that road is never dull or boring.

  4. YesuDas says:

    Thanks, Jennifer; I'm certainly trying to realize that knowledge in my own life!

  5. […] the language of Protestant Christianity, anyone who dies to self–or who at least understands the necessity of doing so and firmly intends it–is a saint, warts […]

  6. yogijulian says:


    you're gonna compare the bizarre sadomasochistic human sacrifice myth of jesus winning us salvation by being tortured, crowned in thorns and nailed to a piece of wood to the buddhist practice of sitting quietly and softening your heart towards emotional suffering?!

    and you're gonna just toss out the claim that "we live for ever regardless…." so instead of focusing on that totally obvious literal "truth" let's speak metaphorically about eternal life, right?

    trying to squeeze this kind of humanist poetic meaning out the mythic bleeding body of christ is like trying to get non-alcoholic wine by squeezing a stone statue of dionysos.

    using the cryptic ramblings of desert dwelling madmen to try and make sense of your changing career fortunes and life decisions strikes me as a similarly fruitless preoccupation!

    working tonglen style in an existentially courageous, honest and compassionate way with our minds and hearts has little or nothing to do with our archaic obsession with the superstition that a parental god requires blood sacrifice to atone for our icky human sinfulness, so as to save us from actually dying like every other living organism at the end of our lives..

    engaging the practice you prescribe of letting go and seeing through our attachment to egoic identities likewise has little to nothing to do with some essential aspect of jesus that was literally the son of god supernaturally being resurrected from the dead…..

    question: what would happen if you let go of the identity that tries to link all of this interesting psychological awareness and practice oriented inquiry to literal faith in a barbaric myth from the middle eastern desert of 2 thousand years ago?

  7. BenRiggs says:

    You would discover the same impersonal but individual awareness that seeks to express itself naturally and spontaneously through the mythless language you seem to subscribe to.
    Why does it matter whether or not popular Christianity agrees with Mr. Robinson? Why does it even matter if Jesus agrees Mr. Robinson? Does his argument not stand for itself? I mean, It was Scott and not Jesus or the Christian nation that wrote the article…
    Furthermore, why is a mythless description better than a symbolic description? Are both not descriptions?

  8. BenRiggs says:

    It really was a great piece. I will reply to your email soon.

  9. YesuDas says:

    Who said anything about a "parental god" that "requires blood sacrifice to atone for our icky human sinfulness," Julian? Certainly not I. Not all Christians believe in substitutional atonement, any more than all Buddhists believe in (literal) demons.

  10. Eric says:

    Scott, thank you for the article. I think the parallels are beautiful.

  11. YesuDas says:

    Thanks, Eric.

  12. […] means. Are we passive victims of our misfortunes, or are we prepared to consecrate our pain, to bear it consciously and intentionally for a higher purpose? “No one takes my life from me,” Jesus told His disciples. “I lay it […]

  13. Jodeen says:

    Beautiful post. Love your heart