Anchors of Stability
A couple of days ago I post about The Stability of Practice and shared some of the practices that have provided stability for my life. There is another I did not mention – the gathering of rocks. I have shared previously about my rock collection where I commented: Collecting rocks has become an important part of my prayer life, because each time I hold them in my hand I am reminded of some aspect of my faith journey and I find myself praying in gratitude, in repentance or just in sheer joy at the faithfulness of God.
In my upcoming book Return to Our Senses: Reimagining How We Pray, (available for preordering next week) I talk about this in more depth and encourage people to incorporate the gathering of rocks into their prayer life. Display them where you pray. Pick up the objects regularly. Remind yourself of the stories they represent and the lessons they have taught you. Use them to focus your prayers and to build your faith.
The aspect I have not shared about though is the use of rocks as memorial cairns and this morning I thought I would share the section of my book in which I talk about this. You may not want to collect rocks as I do, but all of us need tangible objects that act as memorials to the loving relationships in our lives. We need objects that stir our memories and stop us forgetting the faithfulness and enduring love of God. These days most of us collect photos or video footage of those we love. When houses are destroyed by earthquakes and floods it is the loss of these items that is often most devastating to people. These memorials remind us of the love that surrounds us. They provide anchors and add stability to our lives.
Unfortunately photos are not an option where God is concerned, but there are other concrete items, like my rock collection, that encourage us to remember the acts of God in our past and the intimate moments of love we have shared. This is one important way that we connect to the acts of God in the present and learn to trust and hope for the promises of God in the future.
God understands better than we do how easily we forget and how destabilizing it can be for our lives. Numbers and Deuteronomy are full of admonitions to the Israelites to remember their God who brought them out of Egypt and faithfully led them through the Red Sea and the wilderness. Their memorial symbol was the tassels on their clothing, something they wore every day, always in their vision, reminding them of their great and loving God: Then the Lord said to Moses, “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel: Throughout the generations to come you must make tassels for the hems of your clothing and attach them with a blue cord. When you see the tassels, you will remember and obey all the commands of the Lord instead of following your own desires and defiling yourselves, as you are prone to do. The tassels will help you remember that you must obey all my commands and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt that I might be your God. I am the Lord your God!” (Numbers 15:37-41)
Collecting or making objects that help root our prayers in the faithfulness of God can provide important signposts that lead us onward towards the heart of God. Cairns of rocks have been used as signposts along paths of pilgrimage for thousands of years. They make us aware of the many who have gone before us. We are not alone. The God who has provided throughout human history is still a God of grace and mercy and love.
I was never more aware of this than when watching the film The Way recently. This powerful and inspirational story stars Martin Sheen who plays Tom, an irascible American doctor coming to France to deal with the tragic loss of his son. He decides to embark on the historical Camino de Santiago pilgrimage where his son died. On “the Way” Tom meets other pilgrims from around the world, each with their own issues and looking for greater meaning in their lives: an overweight Dutchman supposedly trying to slim down for his brother’s wedding, a Canadian woman trying to give up smoking and an Irish writer who is suffering from a bout of writer’s block.
There is a tradition on the camino to bring a stone from home and rub all your fears, hurts and sorrows into the stone which you can place at the base of the Cruz de Ferro. Others pick up a stone along the way or write a wish on paper. They deposit them at the cairn of Cruz de Ferro where a huge mound of rocks with their prayers, and hopes and suffering have accumulated over the centuries. This is a holy spot whose sacredness spoke to me even from a distance.
I have been intrigued by the Camino de Santiago ever since I read Phileena Heuertz’s moving story of her own pilgrimage along The Way, in Pilgrimage of a Soul. Pilgrimage, memorials and anchors are so important in our lives.
Unfortunately in our highly mobile society where many families move every couple of years, memories, like everything else become disposable unless we make a deliberate effort to convert those memories into sacred memorials that can remain with us throughout our lives.
So my question this morning is – what are the memorials that mark your life? How do you preserve and build them so that they do remain as anchors of stability?