I was born Catholic, and I remain so, but I do not believe I became a real Christian until four years ago, when I had what we may as well call my conversion. It happened as follows.
Some young men have difficulty measuring up to their fathers. My brother and I have had something of the opposite problem. My father was not a man who had any success in the world (besides having a wonderful wife and children, which Lord knows I have not achieved). He never worked a full-time job. He died in the year 2000, and one time I saw his Social Security file. It listed his income over the course of his lifetime. He had never earned more than $7,000 in any year. When I became a teenager, sometimes neighbors and family friends would speak candidly to me about him: “I don’t know what went wrong with your father. He was an intelligent man, you know.” He had started out as a Roman Catholic priest, which was in certain ways perfect for him: you get respect, a captive audience that has to listen to you every Sunday, and you never have to get your hands dirty ever. But of course there is a hard part, the giving up sex. My father wasn’t good at hard things. He got my mother pregnant.
My father also wasn’t terribly honorable. He didn’t leave the priesthood until my mother was eight months pregnant, and according to family history that was at the behest of my grandmother, who insisted that he really needed to take care of the child he was bringing into the world. But once he had left the priesthood he really didn’t take care of his children very much (that being hard, remember). His plan for providing for us was taking my mother’s wages and buying lottery tickets (even now I occasionally fantasize about lining up all the people who run government lotteries and guillotining them all). He also looked into some get-rich-quick schemes, such as buying Liberian diamonds or Indonesian sapphires. I think there was something about Oregon lumber too. I remember he had some priest-friend, Father Zorza, who was involved in these things. Zorza took a particular interest in me, wanting to take me around Central Park in a horse-drawn carriage, and my father was quite willing to lend me out to him, but my mother absolutely vetoed that, having deep suspicions about the man. A few years later we saw him in the paper, having been arrested for financial fraud and smuggling of some sort. My mother was surprised there were no accusations of child molestation.
Laziness was one of my father’s defining characteristics. My mother was working two jobs, as a cleaning lady and waitress, while my father stayed at home. Of course he never cooked or cleaned. My mother had to do all that as well. To this day I hate being mothered and I hate being served – I am never comfortable in a restaurant with table service, and I even have a vague dislike for most cooked food. A friend insists this is a result of my feelings of guilt watching my mother come home from work and have to cook and clean for me, and while I can’t understand myself well enough to know for certain, it’s hard to argue with this supposition. I can say also, with the kind of endless self-contradiction known as being human, that something in me wants nothing more than to have someone who actually had the time and inclination to mother and serve me. But for the most part I hate it.
My dad liked having us three kids, in part because he could have us do things for him. We were constantly going to the store to get him beer or cigarettes, which like any improvident poor person he bought in small quantities, due to not having much money and being more or less unable to conceive of the future. By the age of eight or nine I would be going alone to the store to get him things, even if it was ten or eleven o’clock at night. And this was New York City in the 1980s, and it was legitimately dangerous. I literally had a bullet whiz past me on one such excursion. (Some vandals were shooting out all the glass bus shelters along Myrtle Avenue, and I was by one waiting for the light to change). I would come home to find him listening to Wagner or Tchaikovsky or Offenbach, getting more and more drunk. He would call for me to turn the tape over. He certainly drank too much, but maybe I shouldn’t call him an alcoholic. He was just idle, and had nothing else to do but sit around and drink.
He treated my sister worst of all, because she was a girl and hence, he figured, born to serve him. He treated her as his personal servant as soon as she was old enough to fetch things and later cook. If she wanted some of his attention, or wanted to talk the way his sons talked to him, he would testily dismiss her as wasting his time. This always disturbed me, but like any child on the inside I had no idea how to help the person who is excluded.
At many times it seemed he really loved us, but other times it felt like that was only because we were an extension of his self. When the two came into conflict his self-love always seemed to win. His smoking would occasion asthma attacks for me when I was a young child, but that was not enough to stop him from doing it. But later he developed a case of pneumonia so bad it appeared it might even be emphysema. He was very afraid of dying, so he stopped smoking immediately. He could do it for himself, just not for anyone else.
My mother eventually kicked him out, when I was in college, and then we entered a phase where we knew him in the family as “the telerist.” He would call me, my brother, or my mother ten or more times every day, “just to talk.” My college roommates, God bless them, bore a great deal of the brunt of this – this was before cellphones – and he would talk to them for a half-hour at a time, until they realized their niceness could never fill the bottomless pit of his selfish neediness. I remember staring at the phone watching it ring, unable to move – feeling that at age twenty I had been caught in the snare of human hopelessness and misery, and there was no way for me to escape. And then sometimes I would pick up the phone, and be amazed that he could just talk, never asking me a question, never asking how I felt or caring at all. I was just an audience, and that was all he wanted. Not picking up didn’t make me feel better either. I never felt free of him enough to simply throw him away. My mother changed her number. I couldn’t. He was my father.
I couldn’t just abandon him because in the end I loved him, despite all his faults. In other ways, in fact, he was very lovable. He had charisma; he was a great storyteller; he was intelligent and cultured as far as a person can be cultured without working at it (he knew, for example, the names of the philosophers, but reading them would be a bit too much work). My friends thought he was very entertaining and interesting (in small doses), and he really was quite charming in a conversation. And he was willing to spend time with us – his sons, mostly, I guess, and occasionally my sister – if we would do the things he loved; so I built toy-train layouts with him, raised tropical fish with him, listened to classical music with him, and talked baseball with him. These were his passions. He played baseball with us occasionally, but not too much; he was not in good shape and getting off the couch was too much work. But we watched a lot of Mets games, and when they won the World Series in 1986 we went outside together and banged on pots and hooped and hollered. When I was in high school I wore his old baseball number, 29, really just to make him proud.
I think I was drawn to religion in part because I didn’t want to be him. I went to a prestigious Catholic high school, which conspicuously valued two things: intellectual brilliance that was the result of real study, and unselfish service of others. For the most part alumni became smugly quotidian bankers and lawyers, but the school’s ideals were clearly brilliance and service. That became all I wanted – and I can see now how in part that was because he never worked hard enough at mental culture to be a producer as opposed to a mere consumer, and because he seemed to serve only himself. I wasn’t going to have people do things for me – I was going to do them myself. And I would be a good friend, as I knew he was not. My father had friends when he needed favors. I would have friends when I had something to share with them.
The school made us take four years of theology, as well as attend mass and go on retreats. I found in Christianity, as I think we are supposed to, a great deal of inspiration for these goals of mine. “I have come not to be served, but to serve.” “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who exercise authority over them call themselves benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the least, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” Christianity offered a noble ideal, a north star for a young man to steer by.
But there are problems with noble ideals. We settle on them because we sense in ourselves a higher form of life which can be birthed only with effort. We need, therefore, to judge our own laziness and sluggishness and reprove it; we need to shed our old skin; we need to transcend ourselves. But it is impossible – impossible – not to feel this self-judging vitality of new life inside oneself and not use it as a weapon against the rest of the world. Beginning in high school I embarked on a program of reforming my father, as well as any other low-hanging targets in my vicinity. This may have worked on some of my friends, because we were all in this self-shaping stage of life together. But of course it never worked on my father. I tried being distant and reproachful; being warm and forgiving; being pragmatic, being inspirational, being insistent and being oblique, and nothing ever had any effect on him. He persisted being lazy, selfish, and dishonorable.
And this unreformed state was the way he died. Sometimes we dream that all of us will get to our proper destination – that we will learn something in life, that we will die purified by our mistakes and ready to meet our maker. But when someone close to you dies, and you see how their days on earth simply end – unexpectedly, as the crescendo of nothing in particular – you see that it is just as likely, indeed even more likely, for people to say at your funeral, “It’s such a shame. He really was quite talented.” When you die, you don’t get to go back to your house and throw all your porn magazines onto a bonfire and bid final adieu to your vices. You just leave them to your children to find and dispose of.
For religious people of a certain sort death is even more of a trial than it is for others. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but I am sure it is true. Most religious people live under a standard their entire lives, and in death we often must stare in the face of the possibility of someone not living up the standard, for ever and for always. It becomes clear why someone invented purgatory – that way your imperfection at death still has time to get resolved. I was working so hard to be a good Christian and to earn heaven. And my father had just left this life and he had not earned heaven at all. He died, as the Christians say, “under judgement.”
I think every judgemental Christian – and it is very, very rare to find any other type – experiences this in at least one person in their lives, where their standard of judgement comes into conflict with a person they love. By my standard my father should have been damned to hell – he was the epitome of selfishness and sloth. He had never provided for his children. After failing in his vows as a priest, he had lived in sin with a woman for decades (he never married my mother.) He had left us no particularly honorable example. While he was alive the tension between my love for him and my ideal of how we are supposed to live could be discharged by engaging with him, with some kind of goal of reforming him. But now that he was dead, the tension was locked into place. He now was a fixed entity. Part of me loved him, and part of me hated him. Our souls naturally seek – the way Goethe thought the leaf of the ginkgo did – to be undivided. But this resolution would have to take place in myself. He was not going to change now.
But this tension got buried. What are you going to do with it? It’s not even clear you would know it was there – you are just sad in a way you cannot understand. My wife noticed the change in me almost immediately – she was there when my father died, and for the few days afterward, and then she had to go back to school in Boston. We were living apart at the time. I had to go to work in a few days – my father had died just before the school year started – in a new school. My emotional life was not the concern of my students, nor my colleagues, who were not yet my friends. I did the “proper” manly thing and got to work. But my wife knew that I had changed, that there was a sadness that underlay everything now. But neither she nor I could get at or understand it. We were young. There really wasn’t very much we could do about it. We could not be expected to be so wise, and guidance was not available.
I knew I was in trouble years later, however, when I got divorced. On the day when my wife and I determined that we could not put things back together, I came back to my new home without her and cried and cried and cried. But I wasn’t crying because I had lost her, or because she didn’t love me, or because she loved another man – I was crying because I knew that in time as she married someone else and had children and lived her life, she would forget about my father. It was natural – she just wouldn’t think of him anymore. And another part of him would vanish from the only place where I felt he still existed, the memory of the living. And no new woman that I could meet could ever, ever, know him the way my wife had known him – could ever laugh at his jokes, watch a baseball game with him, or be in that hospital room watching him die as she had.
That this was my greatest and deepest source of grief when I got divorced I recognized, immediately, as a problem. I also knew it was somehow revealing, but honestly, I didn’t really know of what.
When you enter a spiritual crisis like this, I think it matters a great deal what kind of advice you encounter and what kind of advice you let in. I am an intelligent person, but I will confess that I had no wisdom equal to the task of resolving the tension within myself. It would be easy to say “Let love win! Love is good.” But I was aware that my hatred of laziness and hatred of unfulfilled potential was the source of my work ethic and my ability to master information – the things that my bosses and even my friends valued me for. It got me jobs, and a large part of what made my father so despicable as a man was that he never really worked. But I also knew that I hated myself precisely for these things – the things that I had done to tell my father that I was going to be a better man than he was. I did not know any way out of the labyrinth, or even that there really was a way out – perhaps this tension and unhappiness was life itself, or at least my life.
I thought about how good the truly Christian advice I had been given was while recently reading Ibn Ishaq’s Life of the Apostle of Allah. It is the standard biography of Muhammad, and our oldest source on his life. One story in it struck me as immediately relevant to my life. Muhammad as most everyone knows led a group of Meccan Muslims to Medina, where they were received warmly, he established political control, and eventually he began making raids on Meccan caravans. The Meccan polytheists mustered an army and fought Muhammad at the Battle of Badr, where they were defeated. In this battle nephews fought uncles and fathers fought sons, and Muhammad promised paradise for those who fought for him and hell for his enemies. Afterwards Muhammad ordered the dead polytheists to be dragged to a well and thrown in:
When the apostle gave the order for them to be thrown into the pit, Utba was dragged to it. I have been told that the apostle looked at the face of Utba’s son Abu Hudhayfa [a Muslim], and lo he was sad and his color had changed. The apostle said, “I fear that you feel deeply the fate of your father,” or words to that effect. “No,” Abu Hudhayfa said, “I have no misgivings about my father and his death, but I used to know my father as a wise, cultured, and virtuous man, and so I hoped that he would be guided to Islam. When I saw what had befallen him and that he had died in unbelief after my hopes for him it saddened me.” The apostle blessed him and spoke kindly to him. (Sirat Rasul Allah, 455 [p.307 Guillaume translation]).
Though there were differences, in this young man’s problem I saw my own. He loved his father – and his wisdom, culture, and virtue – but he had a religion which treated all of those things as ultimately irrelevant. His father had apparently lived nobly, and had lived up to his era’s ideal of manliness, dying in battle. But he had died fighting for what his son felt was the wrong side. And in his son’s eyes that meant he ultimately had no value – he deserved hell. All that was good in the father was outside the boundaries of relevance his son had established for himself in the form of his religion.
I will speak a word in defense of this kind of religion. For the young man in this story, Abu Hudhayfa, it is entirely possible that Islam had been a necessary cure for whatever had ailed him. It might have offered him discipline and honor, or purpose and clarity, of a sort he needed. Since my father drank so much, for instance, I did not touch a drink until I was thirty-two, after my conversion, when I realized I no longer needed the rule. For inspiration I had taken the story of Samson, the Nazirite, who as a young man consecrated to God had to abstain from alcohol. For awhile this had been an inspiring, useful rule to me. It helped establish my independence from my father. Abu Hudhayfa for whatever reason may have needed similar rules. In fact I think just about all children need rules of this sort. These rules are limiting, but very nearly the definition of a child is a human being who needs limits imposed on him. I had subscribed to a hard and limiting religion, which made demands of me, and as a young man it had been appropriate. But I was aware that there were good things – and more than that, good people – who lived outside this religion, and who did not live up to these demands. And I now knew that some of them never would. Even ones that I loved never would. But the religion I was practicing had no particular place for this love. My love for them was larger than my religion.
Abu Hudhayfa felt that same tension between his love and admiration for his father and his religion, which told him that God hated such a man. (And do not doubt that: Muhammad is said even to have taunted the young man’s dead father while he was in the pit, and he had made it very clear that those who died fighting him would go to hell. And if this were not the case, of course, the young man would merely have seen his father die nobly in a battle – a fact which, as he said, he could deal with. The tension came from the sense that his father was now supposed to be completely worthless, which he could not believe.) And I have no doubt that the tension got worse, in time, for that young man. In fact this is one of the things that makes me believe that there really is, in the end, one true religion, however imperfectly understood or preached or practiced. The fact that Muhammad did not understand it only means that Islam in order to be true must find a way around Muhammad, as the Sufis largely did. The human soul seeks to be undivided. (Jung’s translators use the misleading term “individuation,” meaning by that “undividedness”). Abu Hudhayfa’s soul would continue to seek some way of uniting the principles by which he lived and which he considered of ultimate importance – his religion – with the things he really loved.
Muhammad was kind to him at the time, but ultimately his answer is the one offered by all those with a strong religious affiliation but no particular spiritual development – cram yourself back into your religious box. From experience I can say that there is only one way to do this, and that is with numbness. You must desensitize yourself to your love and your highest values – the religion that is in your heart – so you can more effectively ignore it. Your job, your church, your wife, or your friends require a very limited part of yourself – they may even require you to really suppress your higher self – and what the world does not want you just try to ignore. I think that a large percentage of human beings live this way – this is the “quiet desperation” Thoreau writes of, I think – and over time you become so numb that you don’t even know what is going on inside of you. It takes a terrible crisis to reveal it – like a tooth suddenly breaking to reveal the rot inside. I used to look on crying the way most men do, as an annoying thing that women did from time to time that never solved anything. Now it is one of the things I almost seek out – when you are broken open like that, you have an opportunity to see what is inside. Christian mystics talk of “the gift of tears.” “Blessed are those who weep.”
Inside, though atrophied and sometimes twisted, are typically all those loves that don’t fit into one’s actual lived life. In many religious cases, where those loves are frequently prohibited by the standard, it becomes of paramount importance that they be if not ignored at least secret, which produces the double-life of hypocrisy which we all recognize as very nearly synonymous with the religious life. For Christians the most common problem is of course sex. When it comes to sex almost all Christians lead a double life. But even beyond sex, there are all sorts of things – fascinations with “bad” people, “guilty pleasures,” and all manner of superficiality – which somehow stand outside of one’s own accepted image of oneself, ineradicable but unintegrated.
One of our frequent dreams is that of an intruder in our house – someone who does not belong, who is dangerous to the self (usually represented in dreams by our house) we have built up, with whom we often struggle. This dream is normal, and often will reappear in various forms for years. Conversion, I believe, means welcoming that stranger and accepting the cost of his presence. Even if you cannot yet welcome whatever aspect of your psyche he represents, sometimes merely from the struggle some new and beautiful thing will be born. Ananias went to see Saul, whose persecutions terrified the early church, despite the danger. In that confrontation Christianity became a world-religion. One night I dreamt that I was in my cabin when a car rammed into its side, pulling down its wall. Two men got out, who walked down a hallway to their place, while I pelted them with stones. I wanted to fight the driver, and finally did, but he came after me with a hammer and almost killed me. He was stronger. He left, but I was aware that since I had made him my enemy he could come back at any time and kill me. But then I stepped outside, and found that someone had left hundreds and hundreds of beautiful plants, blooming in the brightest colors, reds and yellows and oranges, all through my yard. Even in the struggle something amazing had happened.
The second half of the story of Jacob and Esau is the story of this kind of conversion. We all know the first half – it is the success-story we all like and probably all remember. Jacob by his craft and guile and superior intelligence robs his older brother Esau of his birthright. But later in his life Jacob, having made his fortune, returns home to meet his brother once more, both of them the heads of powerful clans (Genesis 33-4, well worth reading). Jacob, knowing his own guilt in defrauding his brother – who I think it is fair to say probably represents his lower, animal nature, that part of himself which he for his own reasons had suppressed and overcome (see Helen Luke’s essay on this story) – is terrified of the meeting. He prays to God:
O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, “Go back to your country and your relatives and I will make you prosper,” I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two households [his wives Rachel and Leah and all their children and servants]. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. [32:9-11]
Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but ‘He Struggles with God’ [Hebrew Israel], because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
So Jacob called the place “Face of God” [Hebrew Peniel], saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. [32:24-31]
All the elements are here: the guilt that has finally been acknowledged, the fear that everything that has been won at such cost will now be lost because of that original guilt, the unknowable and unnameable mystery who attacks the dreamer in the middle of the night, and the struggle which produces a wound but also ultimately a blessing. The guilt is interesting. It comes from the sense that all that is good in yourself was dependent on something that was wrong in the first place – but you feel it would be a betrayal of your goodness not to fight to hold on to it. It is a no-win situation. Your good and evil are intertwined. Your attempt to be entirely good has failed and you know it. Your only hope now is for some kind of acceptance of the situation – purity is gone forever.
When Esau approaches Jacob divides his two households – presumably so the other can get away if the one is attacked, but clearly a symbol of inner division – and hopes to overwhelm his brother with obeisance and gifts. But somehow the reconciliation was inevitable once Jacob had acknowledged his guilt and struggled with the stranger by night. To be blessed by the stranger within is to be blessed by his brother. This I have found to be deeply true – the moral conundrums of guilt and success, or love and judgement, remain, but the acceptance of the insolubility of the problem, and the generosity that is produced toward self and others, is solution enough. Esau welcomes him as a brother and forgives him: “But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.” The gifts Jacob had prepared out of terror he now gives out of the joy of his heart: “If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me.” And then he delivers one of the most important lines in the entire Bible, which sums up the entire story and the idea of undividedness in our souls, and the relation of our lives here on earth to the God who made us: “For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably.”
The face of God will be incarnated for different people in different faces. For Jacob it was Esau, for me it was my father. But one theme persists: it is always in the thing or the person despised, the very thing one hoped once to rise above. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” “He was despised, rejected.” “There was no comeliness in him.” Saint Francis had always particularly hated lepers – he wanted instead to be carefree and fashionable. And his conversion was to kiss the lepers. One night a similar image appeared to me: I dreamt of my father, that he had a terrible disease that caused sunken brownish-purple spots all over his skin – the kind you see on the rind of a rotted orange – and he pursued me trying to hug me, while I fled in terror, screaming at him, “You’re contagious! You’re contagious!” It was clear what I needed to embrace.
Religion must come in two stages like this. There is a danger for every son that he merely follow his father, and even the son of a good father must run away from him for this reason. But eventually the danger is past, and you must return home. There is now no longer any danger that you will become your father. The danger is that you will suppress forever those things you had to restrain when you were young. The danger is that you will fail at becoming a whole, integrated human being. The danger is that the religious rules that curbed your foolishness will stunt your wisdom. The danger is that the independent self you created against the world will forget its dependence. And so some of the things that you rejected before, and were willing to damn to hell, become necessary. You must go back home and meet them. Once you recognize this, after the struggle there is a blessing.
Conversion is not the same as perfection, of course. St. Benedict recognized this, requiring his monks to make a vow of “conversatio,” the frequentative form of “conversio,” i.e. a continual and repeated process of conversion. At one point I struggled to love my father; perhaps tomorrow I will be called to love lotteries. But now I know what mature, second-stage Christianity really is. I know what it means to be called to love something I wanted to be good enough to despise. And I know now that when you feel this calling, and when that stranger barges into your house in your dreams, no matter how threatening he may appear, you must make yourself ready to someday accept that he belongs in your house as much as you do.
Because ultimately this generosity with others is reflected in and symptomatic of a generosity with yourself. And it should arrive as soon as you are able to dispense with your own intense self-judgement – which at some point you can in fact do. I have many vices, some of them from my father, some of them from my mother, and some all my own. But I know now I cannot grow anymore by suppressing them. I grow only by living with them in some kind of harmony, by being openly wounded: by striving no longer to walk perfectly, but to limp with the wound that is mine.
Jesus said, “Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.” But it is surprising how he defines perfection: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.” This is no young man’s ideal of perfection. But in the end if you are religious at all you must be converted to a love of such a God – because it is the only God a wiser, older man can find in the universe. You stop worrying in your heart if you love bad people. It is enough that you love them. Love is God enough that he must always be welcome at your table. Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden for worrying about the distinction between good and evil, and so in fact were you. You regain it as you put aside the old dualism: as you slowly cease to worry about who will get to heaven, you find yourself less and less frequently in hell. Experience teaches you how wrapped in and derivative from and productive of good is evil; and vice versa. Jesus told a parable about the weeds that grew with a good crop. The young men wanted to pull up the weeds. “No,” the Lord of the Harvest replied, “because while you are pulling up the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.” This is the voice of wisdom when it comes to good and evil; but we all find this out by spending years, as well we should, ripping out weeds. After years of doing this, with my father and others and yes with myself too, I realized: I did not care so much if the harvest was good in the end. Really what I wanted was to be the Savior of the Garden, all by myself. So much of my love had been egotism; and as I ripped up each weed with my infected hands I seeded another in its place, and lost some of the wheat in the bargain. This kind of seeing of yourself brings about true conversion, and much greater peace. I know now my father’s vices are so mixed with my virtues I could never hope to untangle them; and my virtues and vices as well. Ripping out the one may damage the other; in the end you can struggle all night, but your adversary is stronger than you are. All you can do is ask his blessing and accept the wound that comes with it.
In the end this is the Paschal Mystery, the conjoining of opposites, where death and life, light and dark, high and low, good and evil, meet in the form of cross, which is literally where opposites meet. One does not win out over the other; one need not fear the other; they meet and embrace as brothers. And this embrace itself becomes the victory of the life and light and goodness.