Stations of the Cross: A Contemplative Practice (and Bridging the Protestant and Catholic Divide)

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.
– Jesus, Luke 17:33

Having grown up on the Protestant side of the coin, the Stations of the Cross were a completely foreign idea to me. I am so grateful to have found faith in Christ to be cause for fearless exploration of the world around me and all it entails. I know many Protestant friends who are immediately adverse to things like the Stations because “it’s Catholic” (and I’ve been one of them for many years). This disposition does not honor the wildness, unfavoritism, and diversity of Christ’s Body.

If I may be so bold, some of us turn our “faith” or rigidity of formulaic beliefs into the very “life” that Jesus is encouraging us to lose in Luke 17:33 (above). It is so easy to reduce faith into something that makes us feels smarter than others, more saved than others, more enlightened than others, or healthier than others. Jesus was and is never about making us super awesome people who are better than others, but rather, people in Relationship with Christ, in all and through all. We must lose that smugness if we intend to truly follow and unite with Christ. It is a trick of our deeply entrenched self-centered nature to take something, like faith in Christ, which intends to free us of self-centeredness and turn it into something that inflates our self-confidence and/or confidence in our people group. What a terrible mistake!

Journeying into relationship with my Catholic sisters and brothers (and those in other traditions as well) has helped me take myself way less seriously, while at the same time incredibly enrich the seriousness of my relationship with Christ. My first encounter with the Stations is a personally meaningful example of this.

It happened while exploring the gorgeous grounds at San Damiano Franciscan Retreat Center which has an incredible path in the woods overlooking the valley. There were pamphlets to help explain what it entailed and I made my way through. It was a shocking experience to take the steps of Christ’s crucifixion so slowly and considerately and then to apply them to my present circumstances in order that I might learn to unite with Him more intimately.

Many of us have heard the story of Jesus’ passion and crucifixion (or at least seen it through the eyes of Mel Gibson). If I again might be so bold (and I obviously am), we are even over-exposed and over-familiar with its gory details. Truthfully, it was a very complex event that played out over the course of many long, excruciating hours. Even the few paragraphs given to us in scripture merely scratch the surface of what actually took place.

The Stations of the Cross gives us an opportunity to do more than just spend a few minutes becoming more educated about the events. We are allowed time to reflect, meditate, and walk the steps with Jesus. As we do this, we narrow the distance between Jesus and ourselves by observing how applicable the incredible selflessness of Christ is in our own lives.

My next fourteen posts will be a journey through the Stations of the Cross with observations, reflections, and prayer.