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May 2015

Praying Around the World

A couple years ago, when I met Pastor George Mbonye, of Kisoro, Uganda, he sat across from me at breakfast at a hotel one morning and talked with me. Our team from Amazing Grace Adoptions & Orphan Care had been forced to stay overnight at the hotel, a rare luxury for George, when we were too late returning to Kisoro from one of the national parks, a “rest” day from our normal activities. Our drivers were nervous about taking the mountain passes at night. We should have been.

Pastor George was describing an early journey he took to one of his churches in the mountains. “I did not know when I began the ministry how it would happen. I traveled many miles, by truck, by bicycle, by foot. I did not know where I would sleep, outside or inside a church with no doors or windows.” He described being without water or food at times, weakened, and he said “I did not know if I would wake up. But then I opened my eyes and I was moving.” George has such an economy of words. Every word counts. “I tell the pastors that the bachelor’s degree or PhD begins in the heart.” He tells them “their wives are the engine of their ministry.” Struggles of providing are, he says, “like a dog growling at him. If you run, it will bite you. You must stand and confront.”

Now, I look at Kisoro on Google Maps. I see the terraced fields on the mountains, Lake Mutanda in the distance, and the Inpenetrable Forest of the Congo nearby. I can’t find Kisoro Baptist Church on the map, though I look down the unnamed streets of Kisoro Town. I imagine the omniscience of God compared to my feeble looking, divorced of the power to do much to help George or the people there. But maps don’t show souls, don’t chart faithfulness, and looking is worth something if followed by action. I take my finger and touch Kisoro and pray a prayer for George. That prayer goes all the way around the world, is carried right to the Father, and it matters.

The Armchair Arborist

Diana Wells’ Life of the Trees: An Uncommon History, is a wealth of information for armchair arborists, succinctly and creatively written, about all kinds of trees. I reached for it today. I lay this afternoon in a hammock in our backyard, a rare moment of rest, really, and tried to sleep, but the noise of the birds was deafening. A flock of crows had landed in the treetops, and their coarse voices and thrashing in the leaves kept me awake when I was on the cusp of slumber. I rolled over on my back and stared up at the maple tree that towered over me, its thousands of multi-pointed leaves dappled in hues of green. On our bird feeder, a robin quietly chewed seed, tossing scraps for the squirrels, while I lay still and watched just feet away. The maple is fire-red in autumn, like a burning bush in the back 40, and I have seen it for 30 autumns.

Wells says that the color comes from anthrocyanins, which is what is produced when “cholorphyll is withdrawn from the leaves and the tree shuts down for the winter.” Like a sleeping pill, I think, like putting on a red nightshirt and contemplating winter. But that comes later. For now, I enjoy the color green and let my eyes travel up the trunk of the maple, see how at points it is bent and gnarled, like it endured a hard winter and wavered but kept on pressing toward the light. I imagine what it must be like to light on the uppermost branch and look around at treetops, a slight wind gently rocking my seat.

My wife says she’d like to know more about crows, that they are supposed to be smart. And I agree that I would too. I know that they are said to be among the world's most intelligent animals, which is why the scarecrows don’t scare, I guess. But I am thinking that they are being too loudly smart. She said she’s been watching them, that they have taken over our yard in the last few days. “The other day,” she said, “I saw one crow hop over to another one and put something in its mouth. That was so sweet.” That makes me smile, and I think better of them. I forgive them.

Where he Stars Shine Down

I am reading the Annotated Edition of Pioneer Girl, The Autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Does this mean I lose my man-card? Here is my defense: Pioneer Girl, which Wilder finished in 1930, is not the sanitized version of Wilder’s life told in Little House on the Prairie. It’ s compelling, rich with details about the people and places of the prairies of southeastern Kansas, written in the first-person, creating an intimate look at everyday life — books, songs, Christmas presents, and all the items of that life.

“I lay there and looked through the opening in the wagon cover at the campfire with Ma and Pa sitting there,” she wrote on the first page. “It was lonesome and so still with the stars shining down on the great, flat land where no one lived.” I can attest to that. Last year I was in the Tall Grass Prairie Reserve of the Fint Hills of Kansas, and the slightly rolling hills stretch to the horizon unpeopled and almost flat. And beautiful. But imagine it without power lines, a ribbon of asphalt, or the occasional drone of an airplane, and you feel a great loneliness. You look out from your wagon bed and are comforted by the sight of your mother and father settling the day’s affairs over stiff black coffee.

I know that feeling. My parents did the same, only I viewed them from a bed under a roof, and they sat, speaking in low voices, around the kitchen table. I listened for any sign of worry in their voices, and not hearing any, could sleep. Pioneer Girl starts like this: “Once upon a time years and years ago, Pa stopped the horses and the wagon they were hauling away out on the prairie in Indian Territory. ‘Well, Caroline,’ he said ‘here’s the place we’ve been looking for. Might as well camp.’” That’s how all great stories begin, in a time and in a place. It makes you want to get out of town, to walk where the “stars are shining down.”

Alright, I confess. I watched all nine seasons of Little House. With my children. Of course.

The Pedestrian

There once was a wonderful little journal called The Pedestrian: Explore the Ordinary.  It lasted all of two issues, and I miss it. In one of the essays in Volume 2, “An Essay on the Esse,” Chris Arthur references a quote by Alexander Smith, that “the world is everywhere whispering essays.”

I like to think about that, to imagine the gray squirrel and red fox and labyrinth of infrastructure under a city street, or the settling of an old house, or the rattle and hum of the car engine as whispering something. What I don’t often know. But most of the time, sad to say, I’m just skimming the surface, hearing disparate transmissions, not really comprehending what’s being said. “Be still, and know that I am God,” He says, and, not only that, I think He means for us to be still and listen to everything, or maybe one thing. And write it down.

In his memoir, The Sacred Journey, Frederick Buechner exemplifies this. He is doing nothing more than sitting at his desk in his study in Vermont, listening: “On the wall behind me, an old banjo clock was tick-tocking the time away. Outside I could hear the twitter of sparrows as they swooped in and out of the eaves of the barn.” He went on to speak of workmen hammering and talking, of his stomach growling, of a rooster crowing. “They were all of them random sounds without any apparent purpose or meaning, and yet as I paused to listen to them, I found myself with something more than just my ears to the point where they became in some way enormously meaningful.” I think, as the book bears out, he was hearing the whispering of an essay, he was hearing the sound of his own life.  I might too, if I listen.

Just Beyond Our Grasp

You would think that we know most everything there is to be known about trees. We don’t, and as Alan Jacobs recounts in his short essay, “The Life of Trees,” most of what we do know is of recent vintage. He notes that when two great storms rolled across Britain in 1987 and 1990, uprooting thousands of old trees, botanists’ assumptions about the long taproots that anchored these trees in the ground were also uprooted. In fact, after being pitched indecorously bottoms up, they found that these trees didn’t have taproots at all but roots that, while extending only two feet down, stretched horizontally for vast distances.

Same with the crowns of our tallest trees. One scientist climbed into the canopies, discovering a rich and complex ecosystem and, not only that, flying squirrels so unfamiliar with human beings that they allowed scientists to scratch their heads. The tops of the tallest redwoods were discovered to be so dense and interlocking that “you could put snowshoes on and throw a Frisbee around.” All of which seems decidedly unscientific and fun. Oh, what we don’t know.

This reminds me once again how little I know about some of my closest neighbors, that is, the trees in my backyard. I don’t even know all their names, even though I look at them all the time. Maybe if I took the time to know them, to learn their names and particular characteristics, I would appreciate them more, pay attention to them more, understand when they are injured, have gratitude for the shade they provide and all the other unseen contributions they make to my life. Maybe I would stop thinking about myself all the time and more about others who are worth knowing and, even when known, are still full of mystery.

I didn’t know this: Cows, says Jacobs, “prefer tree leaves to almost any other food, but just can’t reach them. Sad, really.” No, funny, to think about a cow trying to reach a tree leaf. But I suppose we can’t quite grasp what we reach for either, but still we hope, wonder, and wait, among neighbors, among trees.

What's On My Desk

“The critics of suburbs say that you and I live narrow lives. I agree. My life is narrow. From one perspective or another, all our lives are narrow. Only when lives are placed side by side do they seem larger.”  (D.L. Waldie, in Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir)

There are probably 600 books in my library. I haven’t even read some of them. I’m not bragging. I just feel a little less narrow with them around. Six hundred books. But on my desk are three: Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir, by D.L. Waldie, which is a memoir of both a person and a place (Lakewood, California) so intertwined that I can’t tell the difference sometimes. It is a nourishing book. I regularly pull it out for its poetry, its humanity, and its faith. Inexplicably, it makes me want to walk the streets of Lakewood, but I settle for walking its pages.

And there’ s The National Geographic Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways, which takes me out on the back roads. It presents, in its own words, a “labyrinth of possibilities.” I put the open road it presents next to the narrow focus of Holy Land, like a tramping Woody Guthrie meeting George Bailey. It’s a wonderful life if you can hold the two together.

But looming large is the ESV Study Bible, which, due to its largess I do not usually read, and yet it feels right to have it weight the other two books, tethering wanderlust and home to unseen realities. If I remove it, the other two seem diminished, so I leave it, the others hugging its sides. They’re all keepers. Side by side they’re huge: sidewalks and highways and galaxies. What more could we want?

Resacralizing the Quotidian

Someone recently quipped to me that "None of this has eternal significance. It's all gonna burn up." I've heard it before.

Not so. While it's true that God will judge and radically reshape the earth, nothing of God will be lost. N.T. Wright captures the biblical sense of our hope so well here, in a bit from his Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church: "You are --- strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself --- accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God's new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of creation; every minute spent teaching a severely mentally handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care or nurture, of comfort and support, for one's fellow human beings and for that matter one's fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world --- all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of God. God's recreation of his wonderful world, which began with the resurrection of Jesus and continues mysteriously as God's people live in the risen Christ and in the power of his Spirit, means that what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted. It will last all the way into God's new world. In fact, it will be enhanced there."

While there is discontinuity between the old and new earth (for example, there will be no sin or ability to sin in the new earth), we sometimes act as if we begin again from a blank slate. And yet what Wright is saying is that all that is good, true, and beautiful here is preserved and enhanced there --- even, I say, our memories. It's another one of saying that everything matters --- for eternity. That tends to resacralize the quotidian, renovate the mundane, and animate the pilgrim --- in short, make life worth living. (And, by the way, N.T. Wright rivals the Apostle Paul in sentence length.)

Guardian of the Galaxy

When Scripture uses the word "shepherd" to describe God, I'm tempted to say the word has grown cliche, that I've heard it so many times and are so far removed from its agrarian roots that it has lost its impact. That's my problem, not that of Scripture. But reading some of those verses today, my eye fell to other words or implied words that lay under the penumbra of that well-worn word and stretched my imagination. Knower. Life-giver. Protector. Giver. Fulfiller. Leader. Restorer. Seeker. Binder. Strengthener. Overseer. Those words are a little fresher.

The richest thought is captured when He says "I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick" (Ezek. 34:16, NKJV). That He is looking for me every moment of every day, tirelessly, and selflessly, and, not only that, has the power to restore me and all Creation --- that's something like a Cosmic Shepherd, bringing back and restoring all Creation to its purposes. Shepherd of Stars and Worlds and Space. Healer of Worlds. Protector of His own. Guardian of Galaxies. That is a shepherd.

The Years the Locusts Ate

n Joel 2:25 the Lord says through the prophet to His people, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten-- the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm-- my great army that I sent among you.” Matthew Henry says this is a prefiguring of the gospel, the years being the judgment we experience when we live apart from God and under the law; the repaid years, the blessings to which we are restored having experienced God’s grace by repentance.

I was reminded of this when listening to British septuagenarian and singer-songwriter Bill Fay. His song, “ I Hear You Calling,” off his latest album, "Who Is the Sender?," and a remake of his 1971 recording, has these lines: “Some say messiah coming/ give me back my time/ All my time is lying on the factory floor/And all my time is lying on the factory floor.” I found that sense there, that having been consigned to the drudgery of factory work for many years, the narrator looks forward to the redemption of all that time when Christ returns and restores all things.

I suspect we all have some lost years, some wasted parts of life, some days when we served only ourselves or labored under the curse and failed to look to the Cross. What a great promise that we’ll get all that time back, that the years the locusts ate will be repaid. Indeed, the One who owes us nothing will give us all. 


In college I had a friend named Adrian. Adrian was a believer in Jesus and yet his artistic temperment made him a bit eccentric, even socially awkward at times. He was an actor, a U2 fan when they were just a little Irish band, and a deep thinker who was a generous if honest critic of some of my earliest public writing (generally, longish letters to the editor). He was also prone to finding female companionship via the classifieds in The Spectator a/k/a "white male seeking white female" (this was prior to internet dating), which seemed a little risky to me, a little “out there,” or, in today’s parlance, creepy (and, I might say, largely disastrous), had poor hygiene (he lived alone, save for an equally sloven cat), and chewed food with his mouth open. I avoided meals.  But I loved him because he was generally kind, thoughtful, witty, full of grace, and a good writer though sometimes appropriately morose (which was fitting for an artist).

Once, he invited us to a university production of Hair. In the last scene, of course (I say, of course, but in my naivety I did not know it), the entire cast, for one inglorious moment, appear fully nude. That night we saw too much of Adrian and avoided his productions in the future save for one obtuse vignette that he assured me had no nudity (though, just prior to performance, he warned had quite a bit of language). Nevertheless, for a time, he provoked me well with his trenchant observations on life and his very public witness to faith via his student newspaper column.

Adrian wasn't a stereotypical Christian. I suspect he’s still unmarried, banging away on his typewriter in a decaying apartment building, and living alone with a cat. I can’t see him otherwise, don't have a category for a 60-ish Adrian. Twenty-five years on, I often wonder about him. Hearing the rousing opening of “I Will Follow,” Bono’s anthem of belief, I wonder if he still follows. I hope so.

Fly You to the Moon

In Rocketmen: The Epic Story of the First Men On the Moon, Craig Nelson recounts an experience which Apollo 11 Communications Chief Ed Fendell had after Neil Armstrong had taken that "small step" onto the surface of the moon. In the aftermath, Fendell went home, slept a couple hours and headed back to Johnson Space Center, to Mission Control. Stopping at a Dutch Kettle to eat some breakfast, he overheard two older men, gas station attendants, talking about the moon landing: "One of them says to the other, he said,'You know, I went all through World War II. I landed at Normandy on D-Day.' And he said, 'It was an incredible day, an incredible life, and I went all the way through Paris and on into Berlin,' whatever the heck he was talking about. He said, 'But yesterday was the day I felt proudest to be an American.' Well, when he said that, I lost it. It all of a sudden hit me as to what we had done, you know. And I just threw my money down, grabbed my paper, and walked out and got in the car and started to cry."

Reading that tears came to my eyes too. When Fendell was crying in his car, I was ten and likely asleep in bed, the full gravity of the moment lost on me, though I do recall our family gathered around a 9 inch black and white Zenith TV watching a man on the moon. But reading about it now, I have the greatest admiration for men who with razor-sharp focus and dogged determination did what John F. Kennedy called for: a man on the moon.

But I was ten and my world was bounded by a few backyards, maybe a neighborhood, as far as my bike could go or was allowed to go. I went to school, watched Gilligans Island, played Capture the Flag, bothered my sisters, and generally grew up, and the space program was relegated to the periphery of my vision (perhaps for good reason, as I would have made a lousy engineer and even worse astronaut). God gave me smaller dreams. But to some He gives big dreams. I have met a few of them. They are passionate, focused, and at times obsessed. And not always very good at much else. But they can fly you to the moon. They can do that.




A Wood Between the Worlds

"Surveys have been taken to assess strength of a local identification by determining how many locations in cities are immediately recognizable by residents. But there are other factors that make the home familiar; from the song of the cicadas at summer twilight to the violence of the prairie wind."  (Craig Miner, in The Wichita Reader)

I'm interested in those "other factors."  Like the red fox that crossed my path this morning. The familiar birdsong in the morning. The smell of rain on hot asphalt. The bright laser-sharp rays of morning sun through a pine forest. Even the regularity of dog-walkers, like Mike with Abby, or Tony with his aged canines. They all settle me here, make home familiar.

I picked up The Wichita Reader in Eighth Day Books on Douglas Avenue in Wichita, in a city of trees planted on the prairies of Kansas, home of Dorothy and Toto, where the wind always blows. When I go there, I go to Eighth Day, three floors of books in a white house and, oddly, feel at home. It's atmospherics: ink, dust, and mildew, I suppose, and tales of faraway places, and wise book tenders, and no one to rush me. I smile at the red head girl who who plies its lanes. I wished her home.

Eighth Day is The Wood Between the Worlds, you know, a place that opens to other places. Or it's Dorothy's spinning house that fell over the rainbow. I go there in my mind. But I'm dreaming again. The red fox moves away. The road bends uphill. Huffing, we climb. A woman stops and says, "Oh, he lives here. We see him all the time." I'm glad of it.

Round Words

"I keep on speaking the language of the Christian faith because, although the words themselves may well be mostly dead, the longer I use them, the more convinced I become that the realities that the words point to are very real and un-dead, and because I do not happen to know any other language that for me points to these realities so well."  (Frederick Buechner)

For the unbeliever, words like redemption or salvation are either flat and lifeless or, worst, have some negative connotation, as in intolerance or self-righteousness. Yet for the believer, these words are round, having depth and breath, like a well that never ceases giving water. At times they are flat to me too; other times they rise up on the page and shout at me and then I think that the realities to which they point are ones you can never really fully explore.

Honoring Trees

"Trees cannot talk, but they do speak. With our eyes focused on franticly flickering screens, perhaps our ears have grown dull to their still small voices, yet they whisper on."  (John Murdock, in "Remembering a Good Oak")

We don't have to worship nature (which is idolatry) or sentimentalize it (which obscures its deep meaning) to dignify it, to regard it in more than a utilitarian manner. I doubt the developers who recently clearcut a rolling tract of land near our home thought about this. Large oaks, some older than anyone I know, are gone, felled, shorn of branches, and loaded naked onto a truck bound for the paper mill. The deer who used to live here will have to find a new way, the fox adeptly alter his path, and I'll not ever see it the same. Pines I honor in mass, their creaking frames swaying in the wind. A good oak, however, an aged one, I sometimes see alone, rest my hand on it, just for a moment honor it for standing so long in a world of change. They should not have to fall unnoticed. 

One of the things I enjoy about great trees is their suggestion of immutability. In that, they imperfectly reflect God, who is unchangeable. The maples and pines in my suburban backyard aren't great trees like the stolid redwoods or sequoias, yet many were here before me, before this house of 30 years, and so are worth reflecting on. They offer some assurances. The world changes around us at a dizzying speed, and yet trees just stand, a silent witness to a God who is called a "strong tower" and a "rock." I wonder if someday, like the great trees of Middle-Earth, they too will rise up and say, "Enough."

Tea Leaves (On Mother's Day)

One of the most enjoyable things I remember about my mother were the few occasions on which she told stories of her childhood. She told of walking through a field of tobacco late at night, on the way home from working in a silk mill, probably as young as the age of 14. She was always a bit nervous, she said, as she passed one tumble-down house where men sat drinking on the porch. But there was a man there she knew, and she did not worry when she saw him present, as he knew her family and made sure the other men didn’t bother her. She liked to repeat that story, and so I suspect it was a reassuring one to tell herself, that someone was watching over her.

One story she told only once, to my knowledge, was how her older brother accidentally shot his younger brother of three or four, playing with a rifle and not knowing that it was loaded. She said she ran and met her Daddy walking back from the mill, and he didn’t say anything all the way back. Nothing at all. One can only imagine how that kind of family tragedy plays out in a child’s psyche, unwinds in a life of over 80 years.

Even during the Great Depression, she and her siblings always had enough to eat, she said, even if not much else. They played on the dirt road with an old bicycle tire rim and a stick to push it. Picked wild strawberries and blackberries. Did the wash with a hand-cranked strainer. Ploughed the garden. Slept three to a bed. One night, she remembered, giggling, the picture above the headboard of their bed fell off the wall in the night, scattering them, scaring them laughing. They used an outhouse. Washed their faces in a bucket of water that in winter iced over, in the house, before the wood stove was lit. She went to school, did well, and graduated, a mark of pride for her.

But mostly my mother said very little of her life, which I suppose is a mark of the quietness of her generation. After she died a few years ago, I looked through the pages of each book in her library of two to three hundred volumes, mostly Christian books, looking for things she underlined, notes she made, papers inserted. But the best I received were multiple bookmarks, indicating something that gave her pause on that page, perhaps, and which so made me pause on that page. But that’s like trying to read a life in tea leaves. “What were you thinking?,” I’d say to myself. ‘Why here?”

She left me with aphorisms aplenty. “Everything happens to you and Dick Tracy,” she would said, of those prone to calamity, one she often used of her older sister. “Those houses are so close together they can swap wives through the windows,” one that took me by surprise but made me smile. About my longish stint in the hospital: “A hospital is a good place to be from.” I asked her why the shades in her home were always drawn, except for an inch or two of light. “I might see something I don’t want to see.”

She stood ramrod straight. Even when elderly, she didn’t slouch. She hated to cook, but I never knew that because she never told me until much later in life. She disliked gardening. She liked to read. She was an avid watcher of David Janseen’s “The Fugitive,” “Gunsmoke,” “The Ponderosa,” and any other Western. She read Louis L’Amour books. As a family, the only movies I remember seeing were John Wayne movies, even Patton, even through his swaggering, swearing soliquoy at its beginning, during which time she wouldn’t look at me. My parents didn’t tolerate swearing and cussing, but John Wayne could be forgiven.

But as I said, these are snapshots in an epic personal history she was living and not telling. Most of my mother’s life is and will remain a mystery and even though my siblings and I might piece together more of her story via our collective memories, it still wouldn’t fill the gaps. All we have are a few tea leaves. But that’s OK. She loved both God and family well. She wasn’t effusive in her love, but when I was young and fell off my bike or got in a fight or broke the dish on the coffee table jumping up and down on the sofa, I’d run up and throw my arms around her, an embrace I can feel the shape of even today. And she would hang on tight. She always did.

Bone and Blood

                people so tuned
                            to the humdrum laws:
gravity, mortality ---
                 can't open
                            to symbol's power
unless convinced of its ground,    
                            its roots
                                    in bone and blood.

(Excerpted from "On Belief in the Physical Resurrection of Jesus," in The Stream and the Sapphire: Selected Poems on Religious Themes, by Denise Levertov)

In the manicured lawns of my neighborhood, it is difficult to find a small smooth stone. I don’t mean the stones and rocks used in landscaping but the ones that were here before, the ones half-buried in soil and yet exposed, the unowned, the non-possessed, the ones hiding from the civilizing influence of mowers and rakes and even backhoes. These, I think, are the ones that “cry out.” The others whimper.

Near the creek stretched so thin that it can’t be said to run, one cries out, to me. I stoop and pull it from the earth, brush the clinging dirt from its form. Its shape bears the memory of water, smooth and cool, not white as I sought but gray, and mottled, no form or majesty that we should look at it, no beauty that we should desire it. A homely stone. I say, “I have been looking for you.” It responds by warming in my hand. I put it in my pocket and keep walking. Thinking twice, I take it out and hold it as I deliberate.

I went looking for a stone because I want to be reminded that God is present with me, not just some impersonal energy or life force coursing through the world but someone real and present with me. Beside me. In front of me. Behind me. So as I walk I hold my stone in hand, reminded by its insistent otherness that God is present.

Presence is underrated. In a world of electronic communication, we deceive ourselves into believing that we know those we never touch, and yet deep down we know that pixels aren’t people, are no substitute for flesh and blood. We need the person And yet when we don’t have the person, an object can be an icon of their presence.

“Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away?” (Jer. 23-23-24), and the stone in my hand says, quietly if boldly, “I am at hand. I am here. Hold me tighter.” And I do. “My presence will go with you,” says God to Moses (Exod. 33:14), but I am frail and near-sighted, a poor listener, and God hasn’t spoken aloud to me but once, maybe, and so I carry this neglected stone, this pitiable icon, to picture God’s presence. It is a faint signal and occluded window to a radiant God, but it is present, and sturdy, and it becomes in my hand a metaphor we know of God as a Rock. The words I read in Scripture sometimes fail to fill the space in my soul. I need a thing. I need a person.

Holding this little stone, it takes life as I consider where it points. I might say of it as did Milton of books, when he said that “books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.” And so, this little stone, is an extraction of its Creator and a signpost of His immutable character, a surety of His love, a guarantee of His salvation. I know, that’s a lot to put on a little stone. Yet it bears it.

Back home I place it on my desk and examine it. I know that what I see is a product of the way light interacts with the mineral structure of the stone. I’ve read that atoms of different elements absorb specific wavelengths of light. A virtually colorless stone like mine is absorbing little visible light. Still, it’s here. On the corner, at the periphery of my vision, it beckons: “I’m here.”

“‘Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him?,’ says the Lord; ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ says the Lord’” (Ps. 139:7-8). My heart nods in assent, though with a finger of doubt I reach out and touch the stone, my Rock, "bone and blood."