Stations of the Light: Renewing the Ancient Christian Practice of the Via Lucis as a Spiritual Tool for Todayby Mary Ford-Grabowsky
The Stations of the Light, with its “good news” of healing and salvation, is becoming an increasingly popular devotion
This is the first book to introduce the fourteen joyful and highly symbolic events that make up the Via Lucis, the Christian Way of Light, an ancient spiritual tradition celebrating the post-Resurrection life of Christ on Earth.
The Stations of the Light, with its “good news” of healing and salvation, is becoming an increasingly popular devotion throughout the United States and the world, and was recognized by the Vatican in its Jubilee 2000 campaign. While Christians of all denominations are familiar with the Stations of the Cross, few know how to celebrate the Stations of the Light, a practice that came into being through inspiration from ancient Roman sources.
Stations of the Light is a clear and inspiring guide to making this ancient ritual part of contemporary Christian life. The stations mark the fourteen sacred events in the post-Easter story, from “Jesus Rises from the Dead” to “Pentecost: The Risen Lord Sends the Holy Spirit.” For each one, Mary Ford-Grabowsky presents a variety of spiritual practices that invite readers to form their own realistic and sacred image of the event. Beginning with relaxation and releasing the imagination, these exercises are designed to help convey the story and foster inspiration, and include ancient and contemporary meditations, reflections, and prayers; as well as journal writing, artwork, music, and mantras.
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THE WAY OF LIGHT
A New Journey
This book is an invitation to practice a new spiritual journey called the Way of Light, which celebrates fourteen of the most inspiring events in the post-Resurrection life of Christ on earth. These great archetypal moments in the Christian story, which are called the Stations of Light, have been known and cherished since the first century, but as far as we know were never gathered into a precise devotional practice until the present time. Also known as the Via Lucis and Way of Resurrection, this devotion follows the footsteps of the risen Christ and his friends for fifty days, from the dawn of the first Easter Sunday through Pentecost, along a path of transforming joy.
Part I of this book describes the rich origin and significance of the new devotion for Christian spiritual life. Praying the Stations offers gifts of grace that awaken the body, illumine the mind, and train the heart for happiness. Among the gifts are love and faith, which are the purpose of all prayer, as well as peace and comfort, reverence for the sacred, and joyful optimism about the future and growing toward elderhood. Part I also contains a chapter on the Way of the Cross to show how its focus on a single tragic day of Jesus' life is like telling only the first part of a story and leaving out the happy ending. The Way of Light takes up the story with the Resurrection and celebrates the awe-inspiring events that occurred from then on.
Part II, the devotional section of the book, contains spiritual practices for praying the Stations of the Light. The practices for each station are designed and arranged for maximum soul-building, community-building, and loving intimacy with God. They involve the whole person--body, mind, and spirit. One exercise teaches relaxation and centering; others elicit your insights and new ideas; some release imagination and creativity; while others evoke deep feelings and thoughts; still another invites movement to awaken the body (which has been called body-prayer).
Here is the Way of Light:
Station 1: Jesus rises from the dead (Matthew 28:5–6).
Station 2: Women find the empty tomb (Matthew 28:1–6).
Station 3: The risen Lord appears to Mary Magdalene (John 20:16).
Station 4: Mary Magdalene proclaims the Resurrection to the apostles (John 20:18).
Station 5: The risen Lord appears on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–27).
Station 6: The risen Lord is recognized in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:28–32).
Station 7: The risen Lord appears to the disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24:36–39).
Station 8: The risen Lord gives the disciples the power to forgive (John 20:22–23a).
Station 9: The risen Lord strengthens the faith of Thomas (John 20:24–29).
Station 10: The risen Lord says to Peter, "Feed my sheep" (John 21:15–17).
Station 11: The risen Lord sends the disciples into the whole world (Matthew 28:16–20).
Station 12: The risen Lord ascends into heaven (Acts 1:9–11).
Station 13: Waiting with Mary in the Upper Room (Acts 1:12–14).
Station 14: The risen Lord sends the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:2–4).
The Empty Tomb: A Lost Symbol
The Way of Light opens at dawn with the dark beauty of an empty tomb. Like a cave where a holy man meditates for years in search of illumination, hewn out of natural rock, this most sacred of all sacred spaces has a natural earthen floor and opens onto a lush garden that is almost invisible in the pale light of dawn, but soon will be radiant. Angels in dazzling white clothing make the astounding announcement that the cave is empty because Jesus, whose body was placed there three days ago, is risen from the dead.
The empty tomb with all its dark, silent fertility is one of the two primary symbols of the Christian faith but has long been neglected in favor of the other, the cross. The two great images should be seen as inseparable complements of one truth, although they are virtually opposites in meaning. The cross is a place of cruelty and violent death, while the empty tomb is a site of new life. On the cross, Jesus is totally emptied out, and it appears that mindless human destructiveness wins a battle over the forces of goodness, but in the empty tomb, God's infinite creative power restores what evil human behavior temporarily took away.
Without the empty tomb and all that it births, from the joy of Easter to the ecstasy of Pentecost, the Christian story would end meaninglessly with Jesus dehumanized on the cross, defeated and discredited. His traumatized followers would flee for their lives in fear of a similar fate and never regroup, with the result that the spiritual community that has endured for two thousand years might never have come to be. Jesus, his mother, Mary Magdalene, Peter, and all the other protagonists in the story would have slipped out of human memory. Without the Resurrection, Jesus' destiny would be no grander than that of other "lower-class dissidents," as the Romans termed young men whom they crucified for disturbing the peace.
But the story does not end there, of course. Only a few days after Jesus' death, he reappears, and that is the whole point of the story. The tomb opens like a womb giving birth, and he is released into Resurrection-life. The rebirth archetype is so incomprehensible and overwhelming that angels are sent to enlighten humankind with the mind-bursting news of life after death. Throughout the subsequent fifty days of the first Easter season, the light grows increasingly brighter. The journey that began in the first light of dawn on Easter Sunday morning progresses through varying degrees of sunlight to its culmination in blazing fiery light on Pentecost. Here, we followers of the Way learn to believe that darkness is always overcome by Light. We need only wait for it.
In the dazzling light of the Pentecostal flames, with Jesus' disciples gathered around his mother, one in prayer and faith and love, united in the new spiritual community that is being born, the Way of Light draws to a close, and the two paths on which Jesus journeyed, the Way of Sorrows and the Way of Light, are brought into their right relationship as two halves of a whole, two complementary phases of a single path.
Why Did the Cross Become Dominant?
Why did Western Christianity allow the cross to become the dominant symbol while the empty tomb signifying the Resurrection lay in the background like an unexplored treasure chest? How is it possible that, in the story of ancient Rome's brutality, the archetypes of negativity could overpower the breathless joy and heart-stopping beauty found on the Way of Light? This difficult question requires painstaking research and reflection that lies outside the scope of this book.
A tradition exists (that will be mentioned in Chapter 2) according to which Mary the mother of Jesus made daily visits to the sacred sites where Jesus suffered and died as well as to the sites of the Resurrection and ascension. If this were historically accurate, it would suggest that early Christianity honored both the sorrowful and joyful mysteries of Jesus' life, not only the ones pertaining to suffering. Nevertheless, the Way of the Cross emerged markedly over the Way of Light and has colored Christian spiritual practice since the Middle Ages.
Alternative Versions of the Way of Light
As the scenes commemorated on the Way of the Cross changed rather dramatically over the centuries (which will be discussed in Chapter 2), different versions of the Stations of the Light are possible. For example, in this book, the Second Station describes the women's discovery of the empty tomb according to Matthew's Gospel, which has similarities to Mark's and Luke's versions of the story. But one could also use the Gospel according to John to focus on the touching story of Peter's running with another disciple to the empty tomb after hearing from Mary Magdalene that Jesus is risen.
In the case of the Emmaus story, it can be presented as a single station or divided into two stations as in this book, to highlight the importance that each part offers for spiritual life today. The Fifth Station, on the road to Emmaus, has too much to say about journeying with the risen Lord to risk underemphasizing it. Similarly, recognizing Christ in the breaking of bread at the Emmaus inn is the essential Eucharistic image of the Way of Light and far too important to minimize.
Also, the Tenth Station can be divided into two parts, one commemorating Christ's cooking breakfast for the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and the next focusing on the moving scene where he tells Peter, "Feed my sheep." Then, too, the scriptural material found in Station 3 (the risen Lord's appearance to Mary Magdalene) and Station 4 (his sending her to proclaim the Resurrection) could be condensed into a single station honoring Mary Magdalene.
Similarly, the Thirteenth Station (waiting with Mary the mother of Jesus for Pentecost) could be combined with the Fourteenth Station (Pentecost).
But all of these versions of the Way of Light are faithful to the Gospels, which is the essential criterion for arranging them.
Was the Way of Light an Early Christian Practice?
It is not unreasonable to imagine that early Christian pilgrims who devoutly walked the Way of the Cross may have wanted to pray also at the places where the post-Resurrection events took place in order to bring their painful journey to a conclusion in the joyful events of the Way of Light.
If so, they would have begun the journey in Jerusalem at the site of the tomb where Jesus rose from the dead and in the garden where he appeared to Mary Magdalene (today's Church of the Holy Sepulchre).
They would have then left the old city of Jerusalem on the western side to follow the seven-mile road to Emmaus and stopped at the inn where Jesus broke bread with two of his disciples.
The Upper Room would be the next logical stop, but, as four stations are set there, this one might have been postponed for one all-encompassing visit at the end of the Way of Light. In that case, the pilgrims might have proceeded to the Sea of Tiberias to sit on the shore where the risen Lord cooked breakfast for his beloved friends and gave Peter the great teaching, "Feed my sheep."
After that, they might have gone to Mount Olivet and climbed a short distance up the side of the low mountain to pray at the location of the Ascension, presumably in the very olive groves mentioned in the New Testament.
In all likelihood the journey would have concluded back in Jerusalem, in the Upper Room where Jesus and his disciples gathered on many sacred occasions. Here he appeared in his Resurrection body to a large number of followers, transformed the apostle Thomas's raging doubt to faith, and brought his post-Easter ministry to a magnificent close by sending the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to be with his followers "always."
No evidence has yet been uncovered that proves conclusively such a pilgrimage ever took place, while there is extensive evidence that pilgrims followed the Way of the Cross (as Chapter 2 explains). To what extent early Christians may have walked the Way of Light could be proven only by future discoveries of unknown ancient manuscripts that allude to such a practice. There is always hope of that eventuality, especially in light of the dramatic discoveries of the Gnostic Gospels in 1945 near the town of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt and of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 in a cave in Qumran on the shore of the Dead Sea.
Where Has the Way of Light Been?
While the Way of the Cross (Via Crucis) charts the anguished course of Jesus' horrendous last hours and death, the Way of Light (Via Lucis) celebrates the most joyful time in the Christian calendar, the fifty days of the paschal season from Easter to Pentecost. The idea for fashioning the Way of Light was sparked by an ancient inscription found on a wall of the San Callisto Catacombs on the Appian Way in Rome. The enormous cemetery is named for Saint Callistus, the sixteenth pope (217–222), and occupies ninety acres with a honeycomb of corridors twelve miles long extending, on four levels, sixty feet deep.
The Saint Callistus inscription, known as "Paul's Gospel," comes from a letter he wrote to the church at Corinth, 1 Corinthians 15:3–8, in light of reports that some members were denying the Resurrection. Here is what he said:
The Inscription, San Callisto Catacombs
I delivered to you as of first importance what I had been taught myself, namely that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised to life on the third day, in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, and then to all the apostles. Last of all, he appeared to me, too, as though I was born when no one expected it. (1 Corinthians 15:3–8)
In contrast to the radical suffering recalled by the Way of the Cross, the Way of Light issues from these comforting, hopeful New Testament verses about the triumphal events in the life of the post-Easter Christ. Anonymous second-century members of the believing community in Rome presumably wrote the words in the Catacombs as a reminder to all who would read them that, for Christians, death ends in resurrection, sorrow in joy, and history in the final triumph of grace.
With this awareness in mind, a spiritual group guided by Fr. (Father) Sabino Palumbieri, a Salesian priest in Rome, conceived a new idea in the 1990s. It was decided to combine the joyful events mentioned in the Saint Callistus inscription with other post-Resurrection events to create a new set of stations. These new stations would emphasize the positive, hopeful aspect of the Christian story without losing awareness of the darkness recalled in the Way of the Cross. Thus the Way of Light, an optimistic complement to the Way of the Cross, was fashioned of fourteen stations commemorating the Easter season and paralleling the fourteen Stations of the Cross.
The new devotion (which as we have said was probably an ancient devotion, though not precisely in this form), was first blessed on Easter Sunday, 1994, in Turin, Italy, at the hill of Becchi, the birthplace of Saint John Bosco (1815–1888), the founder of the Society of St. Francis de Sales (Salesians). On that day, lovely wood carvings of the fourteen Stations of the Light created by the artist Giovanni Dragoni were displayed on the Hill of Becchi; today, they can be seen at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary, Pompeii, Italy.
The Via Lucis formally became a Roman Catholic devotion at the end of the twentieth century when the Vatican was preparing the Jubilee Year 2000 campaign and searching for new devotions appropriate to the millennial transition and yet faithful to the Christian tradition. Pope John Paul II declared the year 2000 a year of thanksgiving, expressed through the Eucharist (which comes from the Greek word eukharistia, meaning "thanksgiving").
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Meet the Author
MARY FORD-GRABOWSKY, a writer, editor, teacher, and scholar of mysticism, holds a doctorate in theology and spirituality and a master’s of divinity, both from Princeton Theological Seminary. She has published numerous inspirational and academic articles and book reviews, and edited four highly praised books: Prayers for All People, Sacred Poems and Prayers of Love, Sacred Voices, and WomanPrayers.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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