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Station to Station: An interview with Gary Jansen Print
Guest column
Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018 -- 12:00 AM

Word on Fire
Brandon Vogt

Some people dismiss the Stations of the Cross as a devotional relic of a bygone generation. But not Gary Jansen. In his beautiful book, Station to Station: An Ignatian Journey through the Stations of the Cross, Gary recounts how the devotion has changed his life and opened him up to new spiritual depths.

Here, Word on Fire's Brandon Vogt interviews Gary about the Stations and his book.

Let's start off with a basic question. What are the Stations of the Cross, and why do they matter?

GARY: The Stations of the Cross refers to the 14 images depicting Jesus' passion that we see in many churches. These stations are a meditative exercise that has been around since before the Middle Ages.

The purpose of the exercise is to make a spiritual pilgrimage through what is arguably the most dramatic moment of Christ's life. For me, each station is a profile in character, and each one is a demonstration of Jesus' integrity.

We can learn what it means to be truly human -- and by this I mean the kind of human that God wants us to

be -- by meditating on these events.

In the book, you say "The Stations of the Cross is a pathway to spiritual awakening." How is that so?

GARY: The Stations of the Cross by their very nature, and the images associated with them are emotionally charged. They aren't just words or Bible passages.

They are pictures and pictures often create emotions in ways that words cannot.

The stations reveal the lowest point in Jesus' life and, in turn, the stations resonate with the difficult times we experience in life, as well as the tough times that we hold in our memories.

After Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel and is told that she will be the mother of God, she ponders the news not in her mind, but in her heart.

When we take Jesus' suffering into us and ponder the events he experienced in our hearts, we are stirred from spiritual sleepwalking. This can be a little frightening.

But the point of the exercise is to nudge us into thinking about how, as Christians, if we're supposed to be imitating Christ's life, what do the stations indicate about where we are on our own faith journey?

You make a strong case that the Stations offer a unique response to suffering. Tell us about that.

GARY: One of my favorite poems is Wallace Stevens' "13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," which is essentially 13 short poems, each one revealing a different side of a blackbird, the poet writing the poem, and the reader reading the lines.

One afternoon, a couple of years ago, when I was praying with the Scriptural Stations, I started to see that, like Stevens' poem, which describes different aspects of a bird, each of the stations offers a unique way to see and understand how Jesus responded to suffering.

The Passion is where we find Jesus at his most human. Once Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin, there are no miracles. There's no changing water to wine or walking on water. There are no healings. The blind people listening to street commotion as Jesus is being led to his death don't regain their sight.

This is Jesus bare to the bone. Yet, in this most human of times, he doesn't do what most humans might do in these atrocious situations. He could have cursed his enemies. He didn't. He forgave them.

He could have hated Peter for denying him. But he didn't. Jesus accepts Peter's weakness, and then chooses him to be the rock of the Church. As the stations and the resurrection reveals, God is there to lift me up.

Which Station do you think we reflect too little upon?

GARY: That's such a great question. I'm not sure I know the answer, but I do think that, for me, it is when Jesus is laid in the tomb.

Emotionally, I always want to jump ahead to the next event, which is the resurrection. But the fact is, Jesus' body was essentially rotting in a tomb for three days.

Our faith reassures us that amazing spiritual things were happening during that time. But the Apostles and Jesus' followers didn't know about any of that.

They just thought: Jesus is someone who won't be more than bones soon. They felt defeated. What a waste. We thought he was the messiah, but now he's simply dead and buried.

Soon they would see that from the waste something extraordinary would grow. That's a very powerful thought for me: that new life grows out of old life.

That the seed needs to be broken -- something that must be terribly painful for the seed -- in order for new life to blossom. That truism gives me hope. I pray it gives others hope, too.

Brandon Vogt is a best-selling author, blogger, and speaker. He is the content director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. He's the founder of ClaritasU, an online community for Catholics who want to get clear about their faith.