Encountering God in the Stations of the Cross

Crown of thornsAs I child, I remember averting my gaze when I walked out of church to avoid the huge and gruesome image of the crucified Christ above the door—the thorny crown, the bleeding wounds, and the pain too human and too difficult to acknowledge.  As an adult, on Palm Sunday, I cringed during the Passion when the crowd (and I) yelled, “Crucify him!”  On Good Friday, I anguished as the cock crowed, felt the pain of the thorny crown, struggled under the weight of the cross, felt pierced and bloodied by the nails. I knew the story ended in resurrection, but I felt alone, powerless, and yet overwhelmingly responsible.  So, I distanced myself emotionally as I walked the Stations of the Cross, eventually avoiding this altogether.  I know the Way of the Cross is about experiencing the suffering of Jesus, but the burden and darkness overwhelmed me.

A few weeks ago, I saw Kathrin Burleson’s images of the stations of the cross in The Soul’s Journey and was transfixed and transformed.  I turned the pages over and over, shared them with friends, and read the texts (equally as powerful).  Why was I drawn to her images when I was repulsed by so many other images of the stations of the cross, I pondered?  For the first time, I could allow myself to be drawn into the drama unfolding—as participant, bystander, believer—able to receive the sacrifice of love.

Burleson’s images illustrate the pain and anguish, but in each one, Light envelopes, touches, and surrounds the horror.  Hope is present.  Her images symbolize Jesus’ suffering in a way that draws me into the paradox of pain and hope.  I feel the horror, yet I do not shirk away from it because God is clearly among the anguish, pain, and betrayal.

In the past, I was unable to see the Light: in the anguish of the betrayal, I couldn’t feel God’s steadfast Love; in the pain of the thorns, Healing seemed absent; under the weight of the cross, there was no Strength; pierced and bleeding, Hope seemed absent.  But, Burleson's art reminded me that God is among us, feeling our pain and suffering and giving us the hope of new life.  This tension in darkness and Light, brokenness and Wholeness, solitude and Presence is the Passion story and it’s our story.  It’s God’s presence in our darkest times that makes us able to carry our crosses, as I was so poignantly reminded by Burleson.  Her images are changing my Holy Week experience from one of distancing myself to actually encountering the Holy—in both the pain and the hope. 

I encourage you to reflect on Kathrin Burleson’s Stations of the Cross, available on her website. The book is available at The Cathedral Shop or Forward Movement.   

Maureen Crawford
Director for Adult Faith Formation
phone: 206-325-4200, ext. 7259