I'm a Baptist. We aren't known for being particularly concerned with ancient rituals, liturgy, the church year, or religious artwork. In part that is true for me except I do find the church year very meaningful and helpful in setting a rhythm for my life.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Penitential seasons are not important in my tradition but this one is for me. Actually this is the first year in at least 20 that I haven't had ashes on my forehead. One thing we do at Cambridge Drive Church each year is to hang stations of the cross. I finished hanging the paintings this morning and will spend some time praying through them later today.
Throughout Lent, I will post the paintings and the suggested prayers that we have on our walls... but first some information. This text is from a handout that we have near the first station. It is based on a Roman Catholic site that can be found here.
Why Do the Stations?
The most important reason for reviving the practice of making the Stations of the Cross is that it is a powerful way to contemplate, and enter into, the mystery of Jesus' gift of himself to us. It takes the reflection on the passion out of my head, and makes it an imaginative exercise. It involves my senses, my experience and my emotions. To the extent I come to experience the love of Jesus for me, to that extent the gratitude I feel will be deep. Deep gratitude leads to real generosity and a desire to love as I have been loved. First, just a note about the history of the stations.
From the earliest of days, followers of Jesus told the story of his passion, death and resurrection. When pilgrims came to see Jerusalem, they were anxious to see the sites where Jesus was. These sites become important holy connections with Jesus. Eventually, following in the footsteps of the Lord, along the way of the cross, became a part of the pilgrimage visit. The stations, as we know them today, came about when it was no longer easy or even possible to visit the holy sites. In the 1500's, villages all over Europe started creating "replicas" of the way of the cross, with small shrines commemorating the places along the route in Jerusalem. Eventually, these shrines became the set of 14 stations we now know and were placed in almost every Catholic Church in the world. More recently, this devotional practice has been embraced by other Christian traditions.
The first point to note is that this is prayer. It isn't an intellectual exercise. It is in the context of my relationship with God. I could read through the text of each of the stations, and look at the pictures, but that wouldn't necessarily be prayer. This is an invitation to enter into a gifted faith experience of who Jesus is for me. It becomes prayer when I open my heart to be touched, and it leads me to express my response in prayer.
The second thing to remember is that this is an imaginative exercise. Its purpose is not a historical examination of "what really happened" on that day in history. It's about something far more profound. This is an opportunity to use this long standing Christian prayer to let Jesus touch my heart deeply by showing me the depth of his love for me. The context is the historical fact that he was made to carry the instrument of his death, from the place where he was condemned to die, to Calvary where he died, and that he was taken down and laid in a tomb. The religious context is that today Jesus wants to use any means available to move my heart to know his love for me. These exercises can allow me to imaginatively visualize the "meaning" of his passion and death.
The point of this exercise is to lead us to gratitude. It will also lead us into a sense of solidarity with all our brothers and sisters. In our busy, high tech lives we can easily get out of touch with the terrible suffering of real people in our world. Journeying with Jesus in the Stations allows us to imagine his entry into the experience of those who are tortured, unjustly accused or victimized, sitting on death row, carrying impossible burdens, facing terminal illnesses, or simply fatigued with life.
Just go from one station to another. When "arriving" at a station, begin by looking carefully at the image itself. Let the image lead your imagination wherever it will go. Then read the description of the station. Look at the image again and let it lead you deeper into your experience of Jesus' love and suffering. Then, pray. You may pray the prayers that are written on the wall or use your own prayer. When you finish the 14th station, stop and remember that the story is not over. Good Friday is followed by Easter Sunday and the death of Jesus leads to his resurrection. Spend a few moments in contemplation of that miracle and of the power of God that overcomes even the power of death. For this reason, we have an additional station which goes beyond the traditional 14 - Resurrection
When you are finished, sit in silence and pray a while, resting in the experience.
The paintings and prayers were done by Alexis Donkin. In addition to being my daughter, Alexis is an amazing young woman. She did part of her undergraduate education at Bard College as a painting major. She finished at Juniata College as a Peace & Conflict Studies major and is finishing a masters in the International Studies department at UCSB with plans to pursue a PhD in conflict studies with an emphasis on the way that religious traditions play out in conflict situations.
I hope you find these stations as meaningful as I do. If you are in the Santa Barbara area and would like to experience them all at once, drop me a note and we'll arrange a time.