Christianity, of course, has often been described as a “life.” The early Christians themselves called it not a belief, but a “way” – a significant fact, which the Church too quickly forgot; and the realist who wrote the Fourth Gospel called its founder both the life and the way. But these terms have been employed by all later theologians with discreet vagueness, have been accepted in the artistic rather than the scientific sense; with the result that Christianity as a life has meant almost anything, from obedience to a moral or even an ecclesiastical code at one end of the scale, to the enjoyment of peculiar spiritual sensations at the other . . .
But where many of the greatest mystics have shown natural dread of the trials confronting them – inclined to cry with Suso, “Oh Lord, Thy tournaments last a very long time!” – Jesus seems to run almost eagerly to His fate. The surrender for which they fought, sometimes through years of anguish, is already His. The instinct for self-donation rules Him: it needs but opportunity for expression. Once the necessary course of Life is clear to Him, He goes deliberately to the encounter of danger and persecution. With an ever clearer premonition of the result, He abandoned the wandering missionary life amongst the country towns of Galilee, and set His face towards Jerusalem: plainly warning His disciples that those who followed now did so at their personal risk; and adopted a course which must separate them from family and friends. They were come to the parting of the Ways.
Life was going forward to new and difficult levels, and those who would go with it must go in full consciousness of danger, inviting not shirking the opposition of the sensual world. This is the idea which is paraphrased by the Synoptics as the “bearing of one’s own cross”; a metaphor which has become charged for us with a deeply pathetic significance, but was in its origin exactly equivalent to the homely English proverb about “putting the rope round one’s own neck” – a plain invitation to loyalty and courage.
- The Mystic Way