Mention the word ‘stone’ and what springs to mind? Something solid, hard, inert, permanent, cold, immovable? We might say someone is ‘stony faced’, or has a heart of stone. There may be a ‘stony silence’ in a room after a heated discussion. Painful stones can lodge in our kidneys and gallbladder!
You would certainly never think of stone speaking or telling a story. And yet … this does happen, if you are still and take notice.
Think back to Jacob who slept on a stone pillow and dreamt of a stairway to heaven – he was awed by the power of God in that place. He erected his stone pillow as a pillar and consecrated it as a place of worship and a reminder of God’s promise. When people saw this pillar at Bethel they remembered what God had done. (Genesis 28:10–22.)
Then there was Joshua, who led the Israelites across the Jordan. God held back the waters of the river ‘in a heap’ (Joshua 3:15) so that the ark might be carried across on dry land. Afterwards Joshua directed the people to take one stone for each of the twelve tribes, from the middle of the river and set them up as a permanent reminder of the day that the Lord dried up the Jordan so that they could cross. These memorial stones would tell future generations what God did that day.
Throughout Europe there are many ‘standing stones’, the most famous perhaps being Stonehenge in England. Built several thousand years ago, this site is still not fully understood but it is obvious that it was significant to generations of people, as a record of their history and religious rites. Standing stones are silent witnesses across thousands of years.
One of my favourite stone walls is in an underground building cut into a mass of solid sandstone, two or three storeys deep. I’m no geologist, but I can spend an hour or more sitting at the base of this massive wall, ‘reading’ the history in the many layers deposited over aeons: wave-shaped lines of hardened sand, swirls of volcanic ash, rippled lines of pale gray sand and fossilised tree roots. Water seeps from small watercourses that still run deep underground. This wall is a record of the earth’s history and speaks to those who can read it.
Stones tell us stories but they also have eyes and ears.
Earlier this year our cathedral spent three days reading aloud the entire bible, with nothing left out, and someone remarked that over the years the stone walls of the cathedral would have ‘heard’ the bible read countless times.
Consider what some of the thousand-year-old cathedrals and abbeys have witnessed over their lifetimes: not just prayers and praise and readings of the bible, they have sheltered pilgrims and refugees, seen dramatic events and ceremonies, observed history. They are infused with the faith of bygone souls. The marks of the stonemasons and builders are more tangible; so too is the wear and tear. Decades of footsteps have hollowed out stone steps and flagstones. In one English abbey I was intrigued to see how a carved stone balustrade was quite worn away at the edge by the robes of the monks who brushed past as they hurried to and fro several times each day.
Testament to faith
Marks on these stones include damage – bullet holes and sword cuts tell of battles fought within the hallowed walls. The stones of Coventry Cathedral suffered the fierce bombing of World War II. Stains tell of floods and rain and fire.
Human hands have carved stones that tell stories from the bible or depict the faces of Christ and the apostles, as well as just ordinary church folk. In one cathedral there is a face, made by one of the workmen in the Middle Ages and deliberately placed on top of a rafter looking up to heaven, not down. It is not intended for people below to see, but rather that God will see.
Such stones are testament to the faith and practice of many generations. They live and speak.
Peter tells us to be living stones.
4 As you come to Him, the living stone, rejected by men, but chosen and precious in God’s sight, 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture: ‘See, I lay in Zion a stone, a chosen and precious cornerstone; and the one who believes in Him will never be put to shame.’ (1 Peter 2)
Christ is the cornerstone – the stone that sets the foundation and from which the rest of the stones line up. At other times Peter talks of the keystone, the one placed at the centre of an arch to lock all the other stones in place.
While these stones are static, they are also vital and alive, as we should be, telling the story, witnessing to Him.
Sheelagh Wegman, BA, IPEd Accredited Editor is a freelance editor and production editor for the Tasmanian Anglican magazine. She enjoys cooking, sings in the choir of St David’s Cathedral in Hobart and lives in natural bushland on the foothills of Mt Wellington.
Sheelagh Wegman’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sheelagh-wegman.html