The Second Station: Jesus Takes Up His Cross

March 13, 2014 Comments Off on The Second Station: Jesus Takes Up His Cross

"Cross Laid on Him", James MiddletonThis Lent, one of the “disciplines” I have “taken on” is to read along each day with the Lenten meditation booklet from Episcopal Relief & Development. The theme this year is women’s empowerment. In his reflection this Monday, The Rev. Scott Gunn spoke to the tension between some biblical passages—particularly the third chapter of Colossians—and women’s empowerment. What do we do with injunctions which tell wives to be subject to their husbands and instruct slaves to obey their masters? Gunn’s answer is this:

 “Passages such as these … invite a thoughtful reading of the wider context of the gospel message. Jesus reminds us, his followers, again and again that to find our lives, we have to lose them. We have to take up our cross and follow him. We are all servants.The underlying theme—that which undergirds the gospels—is that we must follow Jesus in all we do, that the cross alone is our focus. Whatever earthly relationships we have are governed by God’s more profound desire that we love God and our neighbors. In our various ministries, outside and inside the church, we are called to proclaim and to practice God’s love for every person. That task both invites each of us to be a servant and empowers us all.”

Today we are at the second station; “Jesus takes up his cross.” As in our image of this station, the cross is truly the center, the focal point, and the purpose of this whole journey we are on. Indeed, we may feel in our daily lives as if we have huge crosses to bear—to invoke that well-worn phrase—but this station gives us a space to reflect on what it really means to “take up our cross.” As I enter into this image, what I find most empowering is the boldness of this cross—its centrality and its force. Perhaps we can find strength in its ability to bear some of our own weight, as well. In fact, we don’t have to carry these crosses on our own.

– Julia Stroud

James Middleton painted the Stations of the Cross for the Church of St. Luke in the Fields. Learn more about this series in his artist’s statement.

The Second Station: Unmagical Thinking

February 23, 2012 § 2 Comments

"Cross Laid on Him", James MiddletonAuthor Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking captures a process of grief as it unfolded for her after her husband’s sudden and unexpected death. Grief, she says, “turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.”[1] That place of grief for Didion included meaninglessness, derangement, and magical thinking. She describes the start of her magical thinking:

… but I needed that first night to be alone.

I needed to be alone so that he could come back.

This was the beginning of my year of magical thinking.[2]

This borrows on anthropological thought which views magical thinking as thinking which, if someone hopes hard enough or performs some sort of right action or ritual, what is impossible will become possible. Didion had thought that first night that if she were alone she could avoid the reality of her husband’s death and wish him back into existence.  Poignantly, she also narrated her inability to give away her husband’s shoes because he would need them if he were to return.

Magical thinking might alleviate the pressure points of suffering, but it does not change the reality of the suffering.  A job that is lost remains lost. A confidence that is betrayed remains betrayed. A loved one who dies remains dead.  Yet, Didion suggests that dealing with the starkness of the reality confronts us with abject meaninglessness, with loneliness, which offers “sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.”[3]  Our Christian faith, however, takes a different shape. We look not to avoid suffering or come to expect meaninglessness or insanity; we look to transform suffering into love.

Early Christians grappled with the problem of how to make sense of Jesus’ death — was it just Jesus’ human nature that suffered or did Jesus not really suffer at all? How could God in God’s divine nature suffer? In both the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon in the fifth century, the Church espoused the view that God was capable of suffering because of the Incarnation[4]. Later on, St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan, described God as bent low in love for us who was reckless even to the point of death.[5] Bonaventure started from the point of the Trinity, which he formulated as a love relationship whose self-diffusive love overflowed into creation. The force of this view on the Trinity lies in how one can then ponder why God became human. For Bonaventure, God became incarnate not because of sin but because of love. A later Franciscan, Bl. John Duns Scotus, would argue that God would become incarnate even if no human had sinned. If we press this further, the shape of the Second Station comes into view.

In “taking up our cross” or in experiencing the fullness of grief, we encounter a God bent low in love for us even to the point of death. Magical thinking robs us of this love, and it can help destroy experiential living. If we take Bonaventure’s view, we have a God who does not merely love us in our suffering, but a God who also suffers alongside us in love. In suffering, then, we participate in the life of the Trinity through love.  Put another way, through “unmagical” thinking, thinking that embraces the reality of what we are suffering, God enters our broken humanity to transform us again into God’s image and likeness.  In this Lenten season, may we be transformed as unmagical thinkers.

 –  Nicole Hanley


[1]  Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking (New York: Vintage International, 2007), 188.

[2] Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking, 189.

[3] Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking, 27..

[4] “The Council of Ephesus: The Epistle of Cyril to Nestorius”, http://orthodoxchurchfathers.com/fathers/npnf214/npnf2176.htm.

[5] Ilia Delio, The Humility of God (Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2005), 4.

James Middleton painted the Stations of the Cross for the Church of St. Luke in the Fields. Learn more about this series in his artist’s statement.

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