As early as the 5th century, Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem sought out places with connections to the crucifixion of Christ. There was a route known to pilgrims as the Via Sacra, which later became better known as the Via Dolorosa. The accustomed places of stopping for reflection were referred to as “stations” sometime in the 15th century. For better or for worse, the term “stations” caught on. Franciscans got the idea of making shrines in Europe referring to these stations. Eventually artwork representing the stations became a part of many Catholic and Protestant churches. The stations and the prayers associated with them became known as the Stations of the Cross.
The practice of contemplating the events of the death of Christ has found a place in the hearts of many Catholics. This practice has found a place in the heart of the Catholic Church. Pope Francis presided over the formal rite, The Way of the Cross, on Good Friday of 2014.
Stations of the Prodigal
I realize that this sounds rather presumptuous, but I wish to introduce a set of stations of my own. These stations will be called the Stations of the Prodigal. These stations are inspired by a series of paintings by 19th-century French painter James Tissot (1836-1902). Tissot spent the last 15 years of his life illustrating the Bible. He painted a series of paintings during the 1880’s called “The Prodigal Son in Modern Life.” There are four paintings in this series: “The Departure” (shown above), “In Foreign Climes,” “The Return” and “The Fatted Calf.” I have used two of these paintings in posts on other topics, but the idea of a series of Stations of the Prodigal has been percolating in me for a while.
I have shared the following scenario with a number of Christians. They have generally been willing to consider this as a possible interpretation. I believe there was a time when the younger son (who was not yet prodigal) was unaware of there even being such a place as the far country. In the normal course of events, someone (either the father or the older brother) told the younger son that it would be a good thing if he were to go into town and procure certain necessary supplies. These supplies would be available because it was known that a merchant caravan had just arrived from the east. The younger brother cheerfully went to town and accomplished his tasks. As he did this, he overheard a conversation in the tavern between a local merchant and one of the caravan’s camel drivers. The camel driver was boastfully describing the splendor of the festivities in the far country, the abundance and quality of the food, wine, women, song, etc. The local merchant sighed and said “Oh, Ahmad, what a life you live. I would do what you’re doing if only I could get out of this God-forsaken place.”
And in that moment, the younger son moved in the Stations of the Prodigal, from the Station of Innocence, to the Station of Uncertainty.
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