What do you think of when you hear the phrase “X marks the spot”? I think of pirates and treasure maps. When I was growing up my brother and I and the other kids in the neighborhood would bury ‘treasure’ then draw a map with trees and creeks and roads with an “x” where the treasure was buried. We would take turns searching for the treasure prepared for us and celebrate together when we found it. Sometimes it had toys or baubles but often it had a snack to share with everyone.
Growing up, that was the only reference I had for “x marks the spot”. However, because I love to hear the origins of common phrases, especially those that come from something quite different from its current usage, I wondered about this phrase. As it turns out, in addition to the treasure map reference, “X marks the spot” was put into common usage by the British army, who performed executions by marking a piece of paper with a black x and positioning it on the heart of someone sentenced to death. The acting officer would say “X marks the spot” and the firing squad would shoot the x. Yikes! I’m glad I didn’t know that when I was a child.
This year at General Assembly, GLAD had t-shirts of the chalice with white words on a red background but arranged in a way that the negative space created the St. Andrews cross in the middle of the words. I recently spent a weekend with my family at Pennsylvania’s church camp and wore that t-shirt one day. My 4-year-old grandson hopped up on my lap to play and suddenly backed up and said, “Grandma, you have an x on your shirt.” It took a second for me to realize what he was looking at then I pointed out to him the shape of the words. He said, “I know that.” Let me show you where it is. So I followed him as he hopped and skipped which is his normal mode of travel. He said, “I’ll show you….x marks the spot.” We ended up in the top of the barn there at the camp where a decade or two ago the women’s group painted a labyrinth on the floor. In the center of the labyrinth had been added a red chalice with the white St. Andrew’s cross; AJ ran and jumped in the center of it and said, “See…x marks the spot.”
And yes, he’s right in so many ways…x does mark the spot. The cross he interpreted as an x is the spot where Christ declared that death is not the final word. The cross says God through Jesus gives us hope of more than pain and suffering…of a love that transcends time and space. The cross, an x, marks the location of God’s heart, God’s love, through Jesus Christ…used as a way of execution…but death was not the real meaning. The reality was the offering of God in a way that we might be able to perceive how much we are loved by the promise that death does not win.
AJ easily perceived the chalice on my shirt to be the same as the one painted in the middle of the labyrinth. Our perception makes all the difference in our understanding. Our perception is affected by our point of view, by our preconceived ideas, and by many other factors. For instance, if you want to hear a Bible passage in a new way try reading it in different voices…gentle and loving, angry, questioning, assertive, etc. You may discover that there is a lot more depth in the words and it may even allow you to consider a new way of understanding that passage. I conducted my own ‘experiment,’ asking people who mentioned the t-shirt from GA, which word they saw first. (You may have seen this question about blocks of letters on Facebook asking you to comment with the first words you saw.) These are the responses I received when asked about the shirt: female, transgender, big, short, divorced and undocumented. It’s reasonable to assume if I had asked more people I would have gotten even more variety of answers. Interestingly, I had to check the shirt to see if it, in fact, had all these words because I had not noticed them all. My perception of who I thought might need to be reassured that they are included in the ‘all are welcome’ of the Disciples of Christ probably influenced the words I noticed…the words that had other connections and meanings for me were probably more likely called into my consciousness.
Who do you think needs to hear that ‘all are welcome’ includes them? Who can you reassure and offer love to? The cross marks the spot where Jesus was executed to show us that God’s love conquers even death and that even at our most vulnerable God is there with us. How do we perceive that love toward those who are different from ourselves? There is enough love to go around…that is the treasure we find where the cross marks the spot.