For me, Holy Cross Day and the Red Cross organization will forever be linked. When my parents’ home was destroyed by a tornado on March 1, 1997, the Church and the Red Cross both showed up to help. I told the story in A Homemade Year: The Blessings of Cooking, Crafting and Coming Together:
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The week after the tornado, we cleaned out the remains of my parents’ house, ate lunches in the soup tents that the Red Cross and the churches provided, and we told and retold all the stories from that day.
How my father, mother, and sister went into the closet in my parents’ room. How my dad prayed the entire time, hearing what sounded like a freight train going overhead. How the one thing my mother had grabbed and taken into that closet was all the fabric for my bridesmaids’ dresses. How the only portion of roof that remained intact was the little bit that stood directly over that closet. How the ceiling was gone too except for that one spot, and how all the things that had been in the attic above the closet were still sitting there, as if nothing had happened, as if angels were sitting in that very spot, protecting my family…
After two weeks the inevitable post-disaster rhythm of how a town restores itself took over, but during the first few days everyone moved in a series of fits and starts. The shock and disorientation of what we had collectively lived through could bring everything to a halt, and yet in the next moment the practical needs of cleaning up the wreckage, eating, drinking, and sleeping would prod us forward again, pushing us further down the path of recovery. Despite the put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, can-do attitude, the realities of the tornado’s damage were still clearly evident. National Guardsmen set up camps on the corners of the streets and neighborhoods most affected and during the day, rolling slowly down each battered street, and the Red Cross van would come to visit—its bright red emblem of hope on a pristine white background in stark contrast to the dirty gray and now treeless neighborhoods.
The popularity of the Red Cross van in those weeks could rival that of an ice cream man delivering free swirl cones on a hot summer day, but instead of sweet treats this van brought water, bandages, and most of all comfort and hope that all would be well again. Thinking back to those Red Cross vans and their emblem, I wonder if my life carries the markers of another cross meant to bring hope. I recall Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love saying that “Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.”
I am always struck by how true this is, how I can never circumvent the ruin part, no matter how hard I try. You cannot, after all, rebuild, restore, or revive something that has not yet been torn down, destroyed, or killed, but all too often I try to hide from the pain, gloss over the brokenness all around me.
I would like to believe that I am not using Christ’s cross to beat, berate, or condemn others, but if I am not using it instead to clothe the naked, feed the poor, care for the widows, adopt the orphans, and include the outcast, am I living out its message at all? To share the comfort and healing that Christ offers, I must be willing to go into the destroyed and damaged places in my community, my home, my church and face the ruin honestly, picking up one piece of rubble at a time, as we walk the road of transformation together.
Because just as the red cross symbol that we are all familiar with was created as way for Red Cross organization workers to identify themselves in hostile areas and as a beacon to those in need, of hope and help, the cross of Christ should also serve as a beacon, both to those in need of help physically, and those in need spiritually – seeking hope, healing and restoration for their souls and hearts as well as their bodies.
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Want a visual and tactile reminder of Holy Cross Day for your home? This Holy Cross Pillow craft is inspired by the work of the Red Cross rebuilding our community. It’s a simple yet meaningful appliqué project appropriate for many seasons.
Full instructions to make this pillow are available here.
Collect for the Day
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
[Image credit: Judea Jackson, used by permission. Excerpt from A Homemade Year: The Blessings of Cooking, Crafting, and Coming Together used by permission of Paraclete Press.]
How do you observe Holy Cross Day?
This post really moved me. It also is a call to loving action. The passage that leaped out at me was this:
“I would like to believe that I am not using Christ’s cross to beat, berate, or condemn others, but if I am not using it instead to clothe the naked, feed the poor, care for the widows, adopt the orphans, and include the outcast, am I living out its message at all? To share the comfort and healing that Christ offers, I must be willing to go into the destroyed and damaged places in my community, my home, my church and face the ruin honestly, picking up one piece of rubble at a time, as we walk the road of transformation together.”
I am being to passive, too timid, a Christian. Taking up my cross and follow Christ involves more than prayer, good thoughts and trying to change oneself; it involves risk. Thank you for your profound post on ruin and hope.
Mary O'Shaughnessy says
I am a Red Cross volunteer and an Episcopalian. Thank you so much for this.