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  • Writer's pictureKaren L Kurtz

Passion of the Soul ―a Jungian perspective

Updated: May 20

I did not grow up with Stations of the Cross being part of my family's Easter celebration. I came from a small Ohio town that had more Protestant churches than all its businesses put together. We went to Sunday school and memorized the stories of the Bible, but there was no mention of the Stations of the Cross.

Later in life I discovered that for centuries all Catholic and many Anglican churches have displayed 14 meditative stations depicting the "Passion of Christ" (from Latin passio, meaning suffering), which refers to the time between Jesus's arrest and his entombment after the crucifixion. Commonly, they are simply paintings or bas relief tableaus positioned along the walls of the sanctuaries, where one may pause to reflect on the passion of Christ. There is a current trend to add a 15th station depicting the resurrection on Easter morning. (The unusual sculptures shown in this post are from Schluchsee, Germany. Sculptor: Helmut Lutz)

It was the 6th station which caught my attention and drew me into an ongoing exploration of the Stations. It depicts a woman, Veronica, who stepped from the crowd when Jesus fell and offered her veil to wipe his face. The story tells how an image of his face was left on the veil. It was called the vera icona, or "true image," and apparently was the origin of the name attributed to the woman.

There is no biblical basis for the Veronica story. It was a popular legend by the 14th century, and people began including it as one of the Stations of the Cross. Although the Vatican denounced the story for several centuries, the Veronica legend persisted. Finally, in 1731 Pope Clement XII pronounced that the Veronica story would be included as one of the 14 "official" stations which are found in churches today.

As I researched the history of the stations and studied them closely, I realized there were more stories which had no scriptural basis--particularly the encounters with Mary, mother of Jesus. Although we may imagine she would have walked close to her son, there is no Biblical record of their interaction depicted in the Stations of the Cross.

I was fascinated by the inclusion of these feminine elements of Veronica and Mary and wondered if there was a deeper psychological meaning in the Stations of the Cross, taken as a whole. Whenever people insist on adding story elements, which are then retold century after century, there is a psychological truth underlying those elements. What psychological truth about suffering did these elements bring to the Stations of the Cross? Was the particular order of the stations also needed to understand it properly? It seemed to me the Stations of the Cross related symbolically to an aspect of what C. G. Jung describes as "a process of individuation," one's lifelong movement toward wholeness.

My wonderings led to my dissertation for the C G Jung Institute in Zurich. While I was writing my thesis, I happened upon the Stations of the Cross shown in these photos.

Renowned sculptor, Helmut Lutz, has integrated both the psychological and spiritual meanings in his stunning Stations of the Cross created for St. Niklaus Kirche in Germany's Black Forest region. Each bronze sphere is mounted within a window so that half can be viewed within the sanctuary and half extends outside the wall of the church. Lutz's design allows natural daylight to illuminate the carved wooden tableaus inside of each sphere.

The sphere's opening through which one views the sculpture closes more with each subsequent station. They pull one ever closer to the grim destination of the passio, where finally Jesus is entombed. Within the fourteenth station Lutz's brilliant art makes it necessary to step in close to the tomb to see the outstretched body.

These engaging images and the rich symbolism of the passio hold meaning for our suffering in the present. Within these stations there is profound psychological wisdom. The passio models an aspect of the individuation process, in which suffering is experienced, particularly when we are faced with unavoidable changes in life or when there is an attitude or way of living which no longer serves us well. We experience brokenness and suffering when the things we had planned do not work out. Often it requires a surrender, a symbolic death of the old life as we knew it.

It is a time when we must ask ourselves, as David Whyte phrased so beautifully: "What is the old story that is no longer true, (or that perhaps never was true,) which we need to let go?" This is a profound question to ponder as we prepare to sacrifice the old way so that a new story can take its place. When the nature of the suffering is understood, new meaning and new life are possible.

~K L Kurtz

"We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us." ~E.M. Forster

(Content and photos are copyrighted 2021 by K Kurtz.)


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