Crucible, Cross – the Crux of the Matter


God works in mysterious ways.

He makes His will known with strange timing.

Yesterday was the unofficial end to my year here on campus, the last Sunday night I would spend living on campus, the next few days simply tying up loose ends and shipping things home. And so last night was my last night, really.

It has been a hard year for me, a gruesome past few months – it seems only fitting that the end to my school year be equally devastating.

This year has been a perfect storm, where everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and with one last clap of thunder, the power went out around me, leaving me in total darkness.

And so, a dear friend of mine is now a friend no longer.

Yet, remember my readers, how odd God’s timing is.

Odd and perfect.

Today, I had a literature final – a close to the semester we spent studying American Literature, delving into themes such as double consciousness, race and class, feminism, and the journey to discover self-identity.

And the final question on this final test: Looking at some stories we read over the semester, it seems like everything ends in failure and death. Is this a statement about weakness or something more? Is failure necessary? Is suffering good? Are bad endings really bad after all? Can we discover our true selves without going through trials and dying to certain things and killing other things to remove them from our lives?

Oh, very funny, God.

All the things my professor wanted to hear from  me, and she wanted to hear my take on failure and suffering.

I looked up from my test paper, grimly smiling at God’s sense of humor, at friend-no-more sitting in front of me, wondering what kind of essay he would write – and will it be like mine?

Probably not.

But even as I watched him, my mind began to race and my hand struggled to catch up in speed, and soon I realized that I had the essay already written in my thoughts and prayers from the past few months.

Yes. Suffering is good. Yes, failure is necessary. No, we cannot discover ourselves and our purpose without the appropriate amount of figurative dying and killing.

And so I began to write.

And I have a talent for writing that can only come from God – my hand puts on paper things my mind isn’t comprehending yet, and as I wrote, the inky loops formed letters before my mind formed thoughts, and I watched a testimony to my year spread its tendrils on the pages.

I noticed the word “crucible” appear over and over again in my slanted steep hand.

A crucible – a container that can withstand extreme temperatures, and is used as a basin for melting substances.

I am not the first to use the idea of the crucible in my story-telling.

Arthur Miller’s crucible took the form of communist hunting taking the form of witch hunting taking the form of his play “The Crucible.”

The Marine Corps, God bless ’em, go through a test known as “The Crucible,” which is the hardest, most grueling test I’ve ever heard of, and you cannot leave Parris Island as a Marine without surviving it.

What is it about the crucible that intrigued me so much, spilled out of my thoughts in blacky smeared strokes?

I am in the crucible.

I am being melted at high temperatures so that I can be made pure from imperfections and molded into my final resting state.

I am boiling in the bowl of the crucible, and it is hot as hell here.

And so I wrote this essay, this answer to my professor’s prompt, with feeling because I feel this failure she questioned about, I feel this suffering.

I wrote with passion, because I understand – finally! – what these literary characters are undergoing. These characters I wrote about, these failures and screw-ups, these weaklings and murderers, prostitutes, madwomen, these people are me.

We are all in the crucible together.

I used Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, a novel about two lovers who do anything – even murder – to be together: after getting away with their schemes, Cora is killed in a car accident and Frank is blamed and sent to jail.

I used Chopin’s The Awakening, a novel about Edna, who feels repressed in her domestic life and undergoes a passionate journey of self discovery: she destroys her marriage, her two affairs, is shunned from society, and then commits suicide/drowns in the ocean.

I used Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, a short story about a woman who is forced by her husband to rest to overcome post-partum depression: she eventually goes mad staring at the wallpaper in her room and absorbs the identity of a fictitious woman she claimed lived in the walls.

I used Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, a novel about Tom, who kills his friend and assumes his identity: he gets away with it but goes on to live his life without friends and a controlling sense of paranoia.

These people, these characters, they are suffering. They are in the crucible.

And so, the question of my professor:  Is failure necessary? Is suffering good? Are bad endings really bad after all? Can we discover our true selves without going through trials and dying to certain things and killing other things to remove them from our lives?

Yes. Yes, failure is necessary. Yes, suffering is good. Yes, we must die and kill to discover ourselves.

It is happening to me now, and it is hot as Hell – it is Hell – but it is necessary and good.

You see, readers, let us remember that famous adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Let us dive into the idea of strength.

I remember telling friend-no-more a story many months ago – we were discussing strength and weakness.

There are two men.

One man lifted up a heavy weight with ease, placing it on his shoulder and then going about his day, barely noticing he was carrying anything at all. He never dropped the weight. He never complained. He barely noticed it.

The second man too went over and lifted up a heavy weight. It seemed alright at first but after too long, he began to tire. He began to sweat and shift and breathe a bit heavier. He then admitted he could no longer do it, and dropped it. After looking at the dropped weight in shame and embarrassment, this man steeled himself and picked it up once more.

I then asked him, which man is stronger?

You can imagine that he said the first man.

Ah! here it is – the difference between the two of us, for I would say the second!

Truly, the second man, the man who admits to his weakness, admits to his failures, this man is the stronger man, this man who could pick his weight back up knowing it could very well kill him, this man who feels the weight of the world and shoulders it anyway.

There is great strength in weakness.

And there is great success in failure – for those who do not fail have never truly tried.

A song: to fall is not to fail, you fail when you don’t try.

For failing is still an action, failing is still doing something, failing still gives us an answer, and failing still forces us to grow.

Yes, truly I say, failure is not really failure at all, it’s actually success.

So I bring myself back to the essay – to these characters with whom I begin to identify with in a matter of seconds, before the thoughts are really even leaving my mind.

I am Cora and Frank, who would do anything for those they love.

I have failed in love, too.

I am Edna, who would do anything to find myself.

And I have failed in my journey for identity.

I am the madwoman who found herself succumbing to pressures.

I have failed under pressure, as well.

I am Tom, who strives to be loved and finds himself lonely.

I have had a lonely year.

I am in the crucible.

Could we, for a moment, look at the word “crucible” and take it apart?


While I’m no scholar, I can see that it is from the same root as the word “Crux.”

Crux, meaning the point, the heart, the central feature.

And yet, readers, that is not as deep as this motif can go!

Crux, latin for Cross.

The Cross is the heart of the matter, the central feature.

The Cross is the Crucible.

Let us look – who holds us while we are boiling? Who holds us as our imperfections are purged away?

And let us look again – who was that man, like the second man in the story, who dropped his heavy weight and picked it up and embraced it?

Christ and His Cross.

Christ was weak – and truly, the strongest man in the world.

Christ suffered – and it was good.

He shouldered our failures and died for it – and it was success, it was necessary.

So I am reminded of a part of the essay question – to discover our identities, must we die and kill?

Well, yes.

Just as Christ died to sins, we must die to the world – we must cut ourselves off from that which tears our eyes from the Crucible Cross. We must kill the sinful desires in us, kill the relationships that stifle us, we must die in order to really live!

Here is the paradox.

We die to live.

We find strength in weakness.

We find success in failure.

We embrace our crucibles.

God works in mysterious ways.

This year has been a perfect storm, where everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and with one last clap of thunder, the power went out around me, leaving me in total darkness.

Friend-no-more, I sat in total darkness, wondering what happened to us.

And God answered my questions – in a literature test, of all places.

God works in strange, odd, perfect ways – and as I sat behind friend-no-more, I immediately knew what I would write about.

You see, I am not the only one who knows that suffering brings about redemption.

But my experiences are mine, and I will embrace them.

This is the crux of the matter.

The Cross is the crux of the matter.

And when I am thrown in the crucible, I can do nothing more but hug my crux, my Cross, and remember that failing is necessary. Weakness is okay. Dying needs to happen.

For those who have not failed have never truly tried.

And when my time’s up, I’ll know I’ve succeeded even when I’ve failed.

It has been a perfect storm, and last night I was tossed into total darkness.

But, readers, you don’t need to see in order to hold onto the Cross.

You only need not let go.





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