Preparing a Way: What Lent Is and How to Practice

By Matthew Fox
Stations of the Cosmic Christ, Matthew Fox, Unity Books, Bishop Marc Andrus, What is Lent, [Name of the Station if available], M.C. Richards and Javier Ullrrich Lemus

A Cosmic Understanding of the Stations

First comes the exuberance of Mardi Gras, then the solemn Lenten season begins the day after. That means Easter arrives 40 days and six Sundays later.

During Lent we prepare our hearts and minds for Easter. As we do, let me introduce you to the Stations of the Cosmic Christ that I created and described in a book by that name coauthored by Episcopal Bishop Marc Andrus of San Francisco along with two artists.

But first, some background.

Why We Penance and Fast

Traditionally in many churches Lent is characterized as a time of penance and fasting in preparation for the great Feast of Easter. Fasting is in fact a smart idea. Choosing to let go can be a very wholesome thing. Ramadan in Islam is such a practice.

A Native American teacher, Buck Ghosthorse, once said to me, “You want to learn how sacred water is? Go without it for three days and nights. Then that first sip will teach you how holy water is.”

That’s the strategy behind Lent: To learn to recover the sacred behind everyday things we might otherwise take for granted. It is sometimes healthy to let go of everyday delights and habits. It ups the ante when one returns to them.

The resurrection shatters the primal fear of death that humans carry and democratizes the yearning for eternal life.—Matthew Fox

The Stations: A Practice of Remembering

Another dimension to the Lenten practice in Roman Catholic and Anglican churches is to undergo the ritual of the Stations of the Cross, a kind of mini-pilgrimage where one journeys and stops at 14 different stations to meditate on the painful journey Jesus made during his last hours on earth.

One begins where Jesus was condemned to death by Pontius Pilot, then to his shouldering the cross, and on to his falling under the weight of the cross, and so on, up to his being crucified on the cross. It’s a practice of remembering.

The Stations of the Cosmic Christ are also a practice of remembering—not so much remembering the last 20 hours of Jesus’ life but remembering the bigger things he came to teach and the spirit he set loose by his teachings. Things like our relationship to the cosmos, to all that is.

The Stations: Understanding Jesus’ Teachings

Stations of the Cosmic ChristThe Cosmic Christ is the image of God that radiates through every human being and all beings. The 16 stations, which focus on beautiful sculptures by M.C. Richards and Javier Ullrrich Lemus, guide us through the transformation necessary to recognize the Divine in ourselves and all beings.

What do we remember in practicing the Stations of the Cosmic Christ? The resurrection or Easter event is set in a cosmic context. Angels—cosmic beings—are part of the stories, as is an earthquake.

Numerous people reported experiencing the “risen Lord” (not the historical Jesus). The resurrection shatters the primal fear of death that humans carry and democratizes the yearning for eternal life.

Recognizing the Cosmic Christ

In addition to seeing Easter in a cosmic context, other events in the stories of Jesus are remembered in practicing the Stations of the Cosmic Christ.

Here are some:

  1. “In the beginning was the Word [or Fireball].” Here we remember the origin of the universe 13.8 billion years ago that spawned our amazing universe, still growing and now two trillion galaxies (!) large.
  2. The nativity. The Christmas stories are all set in a cosmological context—present are ox and cattle; a manger from which animals feed; shepherds (and their sheep); gentile astrologers following a star; angels whose first word is: “Glory” (Doxa in the language of the New Testament), which always signifies the Cosmic Christ or divine numinosity.
  3. The baptism of Jesus where the sky opened up.
  4. The transfiguration when Jesus’ three closest friends followed him to a mountaintop and saw him for the first time as something more than a rabbi and friend, as one whose divine radiance beamed out of him (something all of us as other Christs have within us).
  5. The parable. In Matthew 25, as profound a story about compassion as was ever put forth, we learn that the historical Jesus himself stepped out of his own ego to identify with the hungry, the prisoner, the thirsty, the unclothed. “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
  6. The crucifixion is also set in a cosmic context in every one of the Gospel stories.
  7. The ascension. The sky and clouds and ends of the earth and the “God of glory” are all invoked in the scriptural readings of Ascension Thursday that celebrates Jesus’ exiting the earth after the resurrection.
  8. Pentecost. This special event in the early church giving courage to the fearful apostles is also set in a cosmic context—the physics of the first century, elements of earth, air, fire, water are all invoked as well as the 12 tribes (the number of the zodiac that symbolizes the “whole”), and much more.

An “I Am” Practice

In addition to the feast days recalling pivotal events and teachings in Jesus’ life, there are also the seven “I am” sayings that are honored in the 16 stations: “I am the door,” “I am the light of the world,” “I am the good shepherd,” and more.

These are reminders that we are other Christs and as such we need to ask:

How are we doors to one another? Lights in the world? Good shepherds and good stewards toward animals and others being threatened with extinction at this critical time in human history?

A Cosmic Christ practice not only celebrates our divinity by reminding us we are all “other Christs,” but also highlights our responsibility for compassion and justice and caring for one another and for future generations on this sacred planet.

Thus a practice like the Stations of the Cosmic Christ seems deeply fitting for a Lenten and Easter season. It wakes us up to our bigger selves and expands our souls. As Meister Eckhart put it, “God is delighted to watch your soul enlarge.”

Stations of the Cosmic ChristLearn more about the teachings of Jesus and the Cosmic Christ in Matthew Fox and Bishop Marc Andrus’ book, Stations of the Cosmic Christ.

Matthew FoxMatthew Fox is author of 36 books on spirituality and culture that have been translated into 71 languages. Among them are Original Blessing, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, A Spirituality Named Compassion, Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint for Our Times, 89 Most Wonderful and Useful Names for God … Including the Unnameable God.