Sep 27, 2011

What Does It Mean?

Someone asked me that question recently. I was entering a restroom and a woman exiting stopped to admire a pin I was wearing. After explaining that I got it in Ireland, she asked, "What does it mean?"

I was taken aback. Did she think it was a symbol of some secret society? Did she think I was wearing it to promote some kind of political agenda? Did she ask the question to be sure just in case she purchased one like it for herself?

I was waiting for an open stall. This was no place to give a lecture on Celtic symbolism or to suggest she visit this page on my blog. I simply shrugged and said, "It means it's from Ireland." Lame, I know, but just how to you answer lame questions? If you'd like to give me some tips, I'm all ears.

I think what bothered me most is that I was at a Christian gathering and this woman did not recognize what I was wearing was a cross. That made me think about we define the symbols of our faith. If we don't see it over the altar of the church we frequent, it must not be Christian, right?

I'm sure you're curious. Here's a photo of the cross pin my husband bought for me in Dublin, Ireland, last fall.


  1. I am not Irish and neither an expert on Celtic culture, but I think she probably didn't recognize it because it is a Celtic Cross and has got the never-ending-knot on it. She must have thought it has got some other-than-Christain meaning.

  2. LOL! Wasn't the ring added originally to keep the crosspiece from falling off? Catholics and Episocopalians (of which I am one) should be very familiar with this cross but I think it would be very unfamiliar to evangelicals.

  3. That's one theory about the ring, Jamie, and probably a good one. I did have a different woman comment on it and ask me if I was Catholic. I said no and she seemed surprised.

  4. This cross is amazing.

  5. I love the Celtic cross. The best answer to the question, "What does it mean?" came from an author I frequently read, Esther De Waal. She wrote about several possible origins in one of her books and this one stuck with me: the circle represents the created earth and the cross is juxtaposed right in the center to illustrate Christ's redemption of a fallen world.

  6. Without putting myself in your place (in the bathroom, dancing The Dance of Waiting), I would be inclined to think she was new to Christianity, and just didn't have a wider knowledge of symbolism. Or perhaps she was inclined to imbue every stylistic variation with symbolism and wondered if there was some specific meaning to the form. Perhaps she was one of those socially awkward people who make conversation by asking questions to which they already know the answer. I think, though, if I was there in that bathroom, Waiting, my answer would have been similarly short, enriched with a "Duh!" in tone. It reminds me of an experience I had years ago, on my way home from Croatia. We had visited the cathedral in Djakovo, and the pastor we were visiting gave us all Tau crosses. Admittedly, it looks like a T, not a cross. We stopped overnight in Budapest, and a shop girl anxious to practice her English admired my cross. However, she thought it was just a necklace from a city that began with T, where she had lived as a student, and neither of us had enough language in common for me to explain that it was a cross or for me to even understand the name of the city. Not a Christian gathering at all, just an encounter in a post-modern city.