When students in Marty Burt’s scripture class at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington study the Stations of the Cross, they are required to think deeply about them and then produce abstract art to depict one.

First they talk about the Stations and how they are connected to Jesus’ death, then they look at African American depictions of the Stations. “I want them to realize, obviously, Jesus is not a … Caucasian and to understand Jesus is for all of us,” Burt said.

Next she shows them abstract art, understanding that most students are not adept at or comfortable with drawing. “To give them as assignment to draw Jesus on the cross is a set up for failure,” she said.

The students look at abstract art and find Stations of the Cross in them, explaining what they see. “Through the examples of abstract art, they pick a Station they are willing to … experience more deeply,” the teacher said.

Then they are tasked with creating their own abstract Station: it must have a cross, must be on a vertical 9-by-11-inch background and be abstract. They can use any materials they choose like cloth, oil paint on canvas, nails, pebbles and sea glass, markers and crayons.

Once the Stations are completed, each student presents his or hers to the class and explains its meaning.

Alexander Preis, a sophomore, divided his canvas in half vertically with the left side featuring splatters of white on a black background to represent the pain Jesus endured. The right side — colored in acrylic paint and marker — looks like a stained glass window to call to mind heaven and purity. The white in the middle of the two represents the cloth with which Veronica wiped the face of Jesus, which Alexander said, would have been “very comforting to Him.”

Emily McDonald, also a sophomore, used small silver-colored flat nails glued on canvas into the shape of a nail to represent the Station at which Jesus is nailed to the cross. “I took [the assignment] more literally,” she said, noting that when she got dark fingerprints on the white canvas she left them there to represent “the mark He left on us.”

Junior Petra Langan created a richly symbolic Jesus Falls a Third Time Station. The dark bottom represents His pain and suffering; colored glass represents the different people He touched and continues to touch. The sun represents an “explosion of faith and love,” and the red cross “symbolizes how important the cross was in His journey, “ she explained.

The three students agreed the assignment was challenging but meaningful, not only for what they put into it but because they appreciated seeing classmates’ work.

For some students, ideas came easily, but Emily said she is “not a creative person” so she found the assignment more challenging. “But I found out I can be creative,” she said.

“I learned that I can actually do something besides math equations and put a basketball in a hoop,” said Petra, who found satisfaction is explaining her Station to classmates: It made her more confident in public speaking and expressing her faith.

When she goes to college she plans to continue to attend Sunday Mass and pray daily; she’ll also tell her friends about her faith to help guide them.

Alexander used a saying to express his thoughts on the Stations of the Cross project: “Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I will remember. Involve me and I will understand.” He liked doing the project rather than only looking at Stations in a church or writing about them. “It’s a powerful alternative to taking notes or writing a paper,” he said.

The ninth-grade Scripture class runs all year, and Burt expects this year’s class to work on the project during Holy Week. “It’s a memorable project,” she said.

—Originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.