In Ely Cathedral there is a simple, yet spectacular, relief sculpture in cast Aluminium. It is mounted on what used to be the blank north wall of the area at the west end of the cathedral. When people look at it, they see many things:
- a winding path – the journey of life is not a straight line
- dark areas and light areas – the journey of life is not all all in the light
- a cross at the end – there are moments of suffering, as well as a sense that we are travelling towards God
- a rough texture – the road is not always easy
- a very tiny crucifix, very near the top of the sculpture, almost too small to be seen with the naked eye
The image of the Way of Life quickly became iconic of Ely Cathedral as a place of pilgrimage and iconic of the journey of life. Its simplicity makes it immediately appealing and fascinating. The fact that its creator, Jonathan Clarke, was himself exploring faith during the time the sculpture was being conceived and made, may also contribute towards the appeal of the work to all who see it.
This time of year we might see the winding path, with its pits rough edges, twists and turns, as the journey of Jesus to the cross.
We might see it as our own journey – and we might identify the twists and turns that we have faced, or are about to face, the challenges that we can foresee, and those that may confront us with no warning.
We might even see the path as a sport relief mile: a short (but for many people, hugely challenging) journey undertaken in order that so many people whose life journey is unimaginably hard might find their path made a little easier.
If there is one thing about this image that leaves me troubled, it is that the tiny crucifix is so alone. Christ’s path to the cross was lonlier than it might have been (to the mortification of the disciples who failed to stand by him) and our own paths of suffering, or of doubting enquiry, can seem equally lonely.
But we are not alone. When we look around us in church, or at school, or at work, or to our neighbours, our friends, our families, we see fellow travellers. Their path and ours will not be identical, but they are nevertheless travellling, if not with us, then at least near us. And we are also not alone because the fact that Jesus has already been on the human journey of life, all the way to the cross means that there is no height, no depth and no breadth of suffering (or indeed of joy, or thinking, or challenge, or worry or any other human experience) that is beyond the scope of his love.