Read on to watch a video of Scott Erickson and James K.A. Smith discussing this art essay.
THE STATIONS OF THE CROSS originated as an adaptation of the practice of pilgrims who would journey to Jerusalem to retrace Jesus’s final steps up the hill to his death. For those who couldn’t make the trip, a series of stations representing the last events of Jesus’s life, often outdoor shrines, offered a more accessible kind of pilgrimage. You can find different forms of this tradition in many churches today. Fourteen is the usual number, but there have always been different versions.
To make this journey to the cross is not only to meditate on Jesus’s accomplishing the redemption of humanity, but also on his enduring some of the worst parts of being human. We see him tempted, betrayed by a friend, convicted by an unjust system. He endures physical pain, mockery, public humiliation, and broken family relationships. And he faces one of our greatest fears, death. He was not insulated from any aspect of our life. He was not separate from our pain.
From the cross, he quotes King David, ‘‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’’ as if to ask, ‘‘Why is it like this?’’
I don’t think our deepest question is, ‘‘Is there a God?’’
I think our deepest question is, ‘‘Is there a God who’s with us in all this?’’
These twelve stations, through a cross-section of elements, ideas, and objects from Jesus’s journey with us, are a kind of answer to that question.
Station I outside Imago Dei Community Church, Portland, Oregon, 2015.
I think the stations are for everyone, no matter your religious affiliation, because they are a meditation on being human, so I wanted people to see them without the hurdle of having to enter a religious space. After hand-drawing and digitizing the images, I first put them on the outside of my church in Portland, offering them to neighbors and commuters. Then I thought other communities might want to do the same.
I decided to make this into an open-source art show. Anyone can download the images from my website, with advice on how to print and hang them. There are infinite ways they can be hung: wheat-pasted to the outside of a building, pasted to sign boards, or just stuck up with push pins. I’ve seen social media images of the show hung in all kinds of ways, all over the world—in Northern Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Canada, and throughout the US. It goes where it needs to go.
I love that this ancient meditation is being introduced in new venues globally, and that so many communities have been able to take on the spiritually forming practice of contemplating Jesus in our midst.
Scott Erickson is a touring painter, performance speaker, and creative curate whose work mixes autobiography, mythology, and design. His latest book is Honest Advent (Zondervan).