St. Francis and St. Clare each had profound spiritual experiences before the San Damiano Cross—a Romanesque crucifix that now hangs in the Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi. It was before this cross that Francis was said to receive his call to rebuild the church, which he would later find out had more to do with the Body of Christ than physically rebuilding a broken-down chapel. In the rich symbolism of a crucifix we are reminded of the mystery of the Incarnation—God becoming human and entering into the fullness of human suffering—which was core to Francis’ and Clare’s theology. Gazing upon crucifixes, murals and mosaics was a common practice for centuries, especially before personal copies of the Scriptures existed. It might be helpful now to reclaim this practice. I have often found that when I’m struggling to pray or explain to God what I’m feeling, gazing upon a crucifix or piece of religious art opens up my soul in a form of prayer that goes beyond words.
When I am lost and lonely, my Lord,
I turn my gaze upon the manger:
Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, humbly entering our world,
reminding all that God is with us in our pain and fear.
When I feel broken and betrayed, my Lord,
I turn my gaze upon the crucifix:
Jesus Christ, Lamb of God, humbly entering the depths of human suffering,
and again doing so now, in this moment.
Consider a piece of religious art that moves you. Throughout your day, especially whenever you feel reactive or overwhelmed, consider returning to this image and gazing upon it with the “eyes of your heart” (Ephesians 1:18). Focus on this image as your breathing calms and your mind becomes more grounded.