Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Nature Of Stones

Cities are the dreams of man. Mountains and rivers and oceans and sky are the dreams of God.

Working for a toy manufacturer, I spend a lot of time in the big box stores (Wal-Mart, Target, Toys R Us) and it can become depressing to be around retail and materialism day in and day out, especially during the holidays. It's hard to be in the midst of consumerism and not feel disconnected from reality. This is not reality. This is not the world God created, but the one built by man, just as unholy and hollow as any Tower of Babel.

Back when I used to have to travel both Carolinas and Virginia for the last toy company I worked for, there were times, when I found myself pulling my car over by rivers (especially when I was in the mountains) so that I could simply go and sit by it to breathe and be whole again. I needed natural sunlight as it sparkled on the gurgling waters as they moved over stones. The water was fresh and cool to the touch. It brought me back to what was real and needed. It was by such streams and rivers that I found solitude and an inner silence that gave me peace. A peace I cannot find in a store or in traffic or in cities.

I would close my eyes, just listen to the sound of the waters and breathe in.

Breathe in that air. Fill up on it. Let it rise within you. Become whole again.

This is the world God created.

We are, all of us, exiles. We are all refugees from Eden. And, deep within us all, is that desperate longing to return. That's why we clamor to the mountains or the beach. We long for the awe and wonder and peace that only nature can give us. It is, in its own way, a call to worship.

When we look out over a valley from a mountain peak, we feel it: awe. It's a prayer. It's gratitude. It's an understanding that there is something greater than ourselves. It is a reaching upward so that our souls soar like red-tailed hawks.

It is when we are knee-deep in a river stream or standing on a rocky cliff, gazing out at the world below, or the ocean waves are pounding against our chests that we realize we're alive. Really and truly alive. Alive in the way that God meant us to be. We are not trapped within our man made constructs of skyscrapers and highways and traffic.

Sometimes, these experiences make us feel so alive that we lose our breath, we find tears welling in our eyes. That is why we hate leaving, feeling an infinitesimal sense of the regret Adam and Eve felt as they were thrust out of the Garden.

Here, in the mountains or at the ocean, we feel the forces that are greater than ourselves. We return to the very world that made our ancestors look with both wonder and fear at what lay around them. It was a world of both greatness and terror. Imagine a night with no electricity. Where the canopy of stars and the light reflected in the moon was all that there was? Abram was probably knocked to his knees at the thought that these stars would become his numerous ancestors, a promise from God that life was as sacred and varied as the very constellations above him. Oh to feel that magnitude . . .

But then we return. "Back to reality," we say, perpetuating the lie that this is how life is supposed to be.  Something in us breaks each time we leave. Each time we give up the very creation of God for those of our own making.

That is why I collect stones from rivers and those from oceans from places I have visited over the years. I have a basket of them. And there is one that I keep in my pocket, wherever I go, to remind me that this is reality, not the stores I'm calling on or the traffic I'm stuck in. That small, smooth stone from a mountain stream with its purplish color is a talisman for me. Whenever the pressures and the stress and the anxiety of this "modern" society becomes overwhelming, I can simply reach into my pocket and feel that stone and know that wherever I am, that is not reality. This simple stone is. I can concentrate on that stone and all else falls away. I can reflect on the mountains (my favorite places in the world always have mountains and streams and lakes) and the very stream it came from. I can be reminded that this is the beauty and the grace that God gifted us, made us stewards of and I am thankful for. I can, for a moment, leave the frayed and broken and fallen world of man, and, spiritually return to a small semblance of that Edenic place where we were meant to be.

So if you are like me and feel like a wanderer and sojourner among the world made by men, rush to the mountains and stand in the cold of a stream. Close your eyes. Breathe in deeply. And be still. Then, before you leave that place of nourishment and peace, find yourself a small stone. Find one that is smooth and weathered by time and the movement of that water. Pick it up and hold on to it for dear life. Let it remind you of how the world is meant to be and, will, one day return to when it really is "on earth as it is in heaven."

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