Posted by: Dan | March 19, 2008

Stations of the Cross: When Visual Arts replace Cruciform Living

At the beginning of Holy Week, the “artist in residence” at my school, led a number of students and faculty through the Stations of the Cross. I did not attend. However, it did get my wheels turning a bit. You see, a professor had emailed me and invited me to go through the Stations with him, but I was worn down from a rough couple of weeks in the downtown eastside, so I turned him down.

Truth be told, I’ve always been a little suspicious of the ways in which Christians approach the Visual Arts. I’ve often wondered if we simply use the Visual Arts as a means of stirring emotions within us that we do not feel otherwise — and the catch is that we should be feeling these emotions, and we know that we should be feeling these emotions. However, rather than going into the sort of life experiences that would stir these emotions within us, we choose to participate in some sort of Visual Arts experience, which functions as a simulacrum of the real event, and thereby stirs our emotions. We then become satisfied because we think that it is the feeling of these emotions that is important, when in actuality is is the participation in the event that leads to these emotions that is important.

This then leads me back to the way in which we tend to practice the Stations of the Cross during Holy Week. Rather than living lives that continually lead us through these Stations, we prefer to simply participate in some sort of Visual Arts experience, which allows us to stimulate the emotions we associate with the Stations of the Cross. Rather than engaging in cruciformity, we observe the simulacrum of cruciformity, and receive some form of emotional gratification (I don’t think that I would be overstating my case to say that such an experience is to Christian living what pornography is to sex — which is why The Passion of the Christ is the ultimate Christian snuff film).

Of course, this is not to say that we should then abandon this sort of ritual. Rituals, and rituals involving the Visual Arts, can be important. However, I believe that we are engaging in a vile form of hypocrisy if we choose to participate in the Stations of the Cross at Easter while refusing to move on the via crucis during the rest of the year.

These, then, have been some of my Stations of the Cross during the last few weeks:

-Having my wife come home and tell me about a 15 year old girl she had met, who is addicted to crack and working in the sex trade because, ever since she was five, her father used to rape her in front of her brothers in order to teach them “how to be men” (Station One: a death sentence/Station 10: a person stripped/Station 11: a crucifixion).
-Jumping into a knife fight/rumble between two groups of feuding kids, just before things got bad (Station 5: participating in the crosses of others).
-Meeting a woman on the bus at night; she was asking me for money, and I had none. She had no shoes on and sores all over her feet (Station 8: behold the daughters of our city).
-Four dead sex workers (Station 12: death)

I think you get the idea. If you truly want to come to know, and experience, the Stations of the Cross, I know no better way than choosing to journey with those who are in exile.

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