“But ask the animals, and they will instruct you; ask the birds of the air, and they will tell you. Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you; let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? Job 12:8
The “Crucifix Shell” or “Seacross” is a reflection of our most sacred Christian symbol. It is a carving, wrought by the hand of God, which makes clear that Jesus was the Heavenly Father’s rescue plan for humanity from the foundations of the world. What would have been a type of foreshadowing for the people of ages past, has now become a remembrance of the Lord’s sacrifice for those who now find them.
Yesterday, a group of us anchored the pontoon boat near an empty cove between Sanibel Island and Fort Myers beach in order to take some time to hunt for seashells. My husband, our four children, and some dear friends were on this expedition with us.
We were hoping to find angel wings, sand dollars, or king’s crowns in this “hidden” cove, as this location has proven to be good for hunting these kinds of shells. We were certainly not disappointed, as we found some of each variety! What I didn’t expect, however, was the beautiful surprise that God had waiting to encourage my soul at the far side of the cove. I not only found my first Seacross, but I found four of them, three of which were completely intact!
[Crucifix shells (seacrosses), my other found shells of glory, & Abby’s beauties]
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?… If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” Psalm 139: 7,9-10
I had heard about the crucifix shell before, and even had a chance to view one in a glass case the year prior; but I had never actually found one nor held one in my hand. These skeletal remains are truly extraordinary! To my spiritual eyes’ surprise, I found much more hidden in this shell than I could have ever imagined.
Upon discovering these ivory treasures in the sand, I turned to my children, who were standing nearby, and began sharing these amazing findings. The kids loved seeing and learning about them! To me, holding these shells felt like holding sacred art curated by the Master in the creation. The messages in these intricate ivory carvings, wrought by the hand of God in Genesis, declaring the ministry of His only begotten Son, had been concealed for ages but at last were revealed on Calvary.
As I stood there with these Seacrosses in hand, I began to wonder if seeing the figure on the cross would have been as obvious to someone who was not expecting to see it or didn’t know about the Crucifix Shell. I questioned whether or not I had seen the crucifix just because it was what I expected to see or because it was self-evident? Consequently, I decided to do a little experimental case study with others in our group, most of whom are less experienced shellers than me, and all of whom are less passionate about the sacred symbols of heaven hidden in the things of earth.
Here was my experiment: I continued to walk until I came upon another person in our group, as we were scattered on a wide expanse of beach flats. Then, I held up the shell and said to each person, one at a time, “Check this out; what do you see?” It was truly astonishing to witness people’s reactions in seeing this shell for the first time. “That’s Jesus on the cross,” some said. Others responded with, “I see Jesus hanging on the cross,” or “That’s a crucifix.” All of the responses were similar; except, that is, for one divergent responder, who said, “That looks like a fish skeleton.” In truth, all of these answers are correct.
The Crucifix Shell was indeed once part of the physical skeleton of a fish. It is the skull of the endoskeleton of a Sailcat (a Sail Catfish) which, after having had all of its flesh torn off, is left to lie bare upon the land. Unlike the majority of seashells that are usually collected, such as whelks or scallops, the Seacross is part of the endoskeleton, or internal shell of the creature, rather than the exoskeleton, which is the external shell of a creature. The five doves, which make up Aristotle’s lantern and come out of the center of a broken sand dollar, is another example of endoskeletal parts collected and enjoyed by shellers.
Jesus crucified is the best-known symbol of Christianity throughout the globe and has been a source of inspiration for countless artists through the centuries, as they have contemplated the fate of Christ. As it turns out, even God Himself, when designing the body of this fish, would use His own work of glory upon the cross as a source of creative inspiration in forming the Sailcat. From the foundations of the world, God has hidden His kingdom messages in the things of earth, including His plan of salvation. The Seacross is yet another glorious example.
When I returned home last evening, I decided to see what else I could find about the Crucifix Shell. I found this lovely poem by Conrad S. Lantz.
The Legend of the Crucifix Fish.
Of all the fishes in the sea,
Our Lord chose the lonely Sailcat,
To remind us of his misery.
His body on the cross is outlined,
The hilt of the sword,
Which was plunged into his side,
Is clearly defined.
Look at the back of the fish bone,
Where the roman shield is shown,
When you shake the cross
You will hear the dice being tossed,
For our Lord’s blood-stained dress.
For those who hear them will be blessed.
- Conrad S. Lant
When looking at the backside of the crucifix shell, the poem’s author, Conrad Lant, as well as my own son, Cole, see a scutum shield from Roman times. This brings to my mind the verses found in Psalm 28: 6-8 which read, “Blessed be the Lord, for He has heard my cry for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield, my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped. Therefore, my heart rejoices, and I will thank Him with my song. The Lord is the strength of His people, a stronghold of salvation for His anointed.”
However, when I look at the flip-side of the crucifix shell and allow the eyes of my heart to consider the logos on the backside of this phenomenon, (that is the words for this wonder), I perceive something different. To me, the back of the crucifix shell speaks of the Holy Spirit’s empowering presence at the crucifixion. I see a crowned figure, dressed in an intricately stitched white robe, with outstretched arms under-girding the man-God while at the same time inviting all to come unto the cross to receive His loving embrace of merciful forgiveness.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, for I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 In the pictures, it may be difficult to see, however the “arms” do actually seem to be wrapping forward towards Jesus from behind as if upholding him; while at the same time these open arms seem to be beckoning the onlookers to come to the cross for forgiveness. Because the Holy Spirit is the eternal Spirit of Jesus, Himself, I see in this shell both the God who became man, who was fully flesh, and who was tortured unto death upon the cross, but, also the eternally venerated Spirit of God. At the cross the eternal Spirit was unshaken and unharmed, and it was by this very real and empowering spiritual presence within Jesus that encouraged the man-God to “drink the cup of suffering,” strengthened his soul on the cross to breathe the words, “Forgive them for they know not what they do (Luke 22:34),” and to remain there on the tree suffering, even unto death.
Hebrews 9:14 is a verse that explicitly addresses the presence of the Spirit at the crucifixion. “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit. offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” Hebrews 9:11-14
Jesus’ Spirit could not be harmed, even hung upon that tree. It remained steadfast. As a matter of Biblical fact, according to these verses in Hebrew, it was the eternal spirit that encouraged, empowered, and upheld the Son of God on the cross. “Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” Matthew 10:28 His dead flesh did not descend into hell to free the captives. Indeed not, it was His powerful Spirit that descended, set the captives free, and rose again from the dead. His Spirit that was there with Him on that cross. Even on the cross, Jesus was still the eternally crowned Prince of heaven whose soul was covered in robes of white. This is what the hosts of heaven could see in the Spirit realm and this is what the eyes of my heart came to more fully understand by contemplating this found treasure of the sea. This is what my heart sees when I consider the other side of this crucifixion reflection. The more hidden facet of this heavenly reflection reveals to me what was taking place in the spirit realm of the man-God on the cross.
In John 17, when praying with the disciples in the upper room, Jesus called the hour of His death “the hour of glory”. How was the cross going to be His hour of glory? The cross would reveal the extremity of God’s loving mercy through total sacrifice for the sake of forgiveness. Jesus in that same prayer also prayed saying, “All authority has been given to me.” Jesus had been given authority over all flesh! And it is here in this depiction of the cross written upon the “skull of a fish” (reflecting the Golgotha of the ultimate disciple), that we are being invited to understand the scene taking place in both the human realm and the heavenly realm.
“But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” Hebrews 2:9
This is helpful not only as we reflect upon the day Jesus died, but also as we endure our own crosses in this life. Thanks to Jesus sending His own comforting Spirit to indwell all who would believe, from the time of the ascension until now, we are given the ability not only to perceive a picture of His comforting presence on the cross at Calvary, but also to experience the Comforter’s very present consolation and strength when we ourselves face our own times of tribulation in this life.
To me the Seacross correlates most closely to the spiritual practice of STAND within the BECOMING curriculum. The irony of it being the skull of a Sailcat, whose fin looks very much like a ship’s sail, is not lost on me. Our choosing to STAND with the Spirit, allowing Him to be the Guide of the ships of our souls upon the waters of this life, will help us WITHSTAND the wind and waves of the storms we face. Lord, help us to perceive Your comforting, embracing and inviting Spirit ever encouraging, under-girding, and upholding us when we are feeling torn, left alone, or laid bare on this land. Give us Lord Jesus, eyes to see and hearts to understand that You are always with us, even to the very end of the age!