I’m pretty sure you can tell that it is a stack of stones.
is a stack of stones left by pilgrims to help others find their way.
It is also a long held spiritual tradition to stack stones where holy experience has taken place, and you mark the spot because you want to remember.
Sometimes, it’s just a fun, but bold and brave way to say, “I was here”. To be sure of our own existence.
So, this is the simplest aha moment ever. So simple, that when I say it, it sounds cliché’, and yet it came to me as genuine and revelatory, (which, by the way, is the point of contemplation and the purpose of listening by engaging with art supplies), so I’m holding it as a holy treasure for my Lenten journey...
The aha occurred to me on my way home after Bible study.
If you read all the way to the end of this letter, I will tell it to you, no matter that it is simple.
But first, a little reminiscing.
We decided over breakfast what to do with our day. Benno and I were camping on the eastern slope of the glorious Sierra Mountains.
Magnificently Barren. Ancient and rugged and stunningly beautiful.
Rock under every step, the view in every direction.
We would hike this day, to Italy Pass, a trail that had a ‘not well marked’ designation. As it turned out, there was nothing but little stacks of stones for a ‘trail’, 3, 4, 5 inches high; rocks not easily seen against a backdrop of rock. Mountains of rock, but stones small enough to pick up and stack in delightful little Cairns.
We hiked and climbed and rested our way from 10,000’ to nearly 12,000’ by way of this 4-mile ‘not well marked’ trail.
It was not a trail really, at all. It simply was, a way.
A way through the rocks to more rocks.
I began to feel the presence of those who went before, as though they played with us by stacking stones. Or held conversation. Or offered company without words.
Mischievous Elves knocking the stacks down to make the trail go still.
They were even, companions, keeping us safe. Beckoning. Gesturing. Warning. Including.
With stacks of stone.
Such delight, our silent company! Watching for their signs, following them forward, telling us to turn sharp or turn back, or to go down again and then go up.
Though I am a novice hiker, eventually I felt lighthearted enough that I could join the throng of adventurers who forged this trail with their Cairns, and said to me:
“I’m here, and I see you. And you are here, too, with me.”
And we added, here and there, little stones of our own.
Our marked steps, with this ritual of rock.
Our journey by foot in the Sierras.
Probably 6 or 7 years ago now, with our stone stories still stacked in the Sierras,
No matter that we are novice pilgrims.
Our journey is worth making. Our story is worth telling.
So, my ‘Aha’ moment that I mentioned at the start of this page. . .
It is as if I heard Jesus say, after I finished my art journal and was almost home,
and in just a whisper:
‘that’s me. there. for you. I am your cairn.”
So, simple as it is, trite as it might sound, I hold it sacred.
I inadvertently drew Jesus into my story, onto my page, in a pen and ink and watercolor cairn.
But only in hindsight, it occurred to me, that Jesus himself, could be the Cairn.
He went first.
He stacked stones.
He made a way.
He journeyed the wilderness, kept company with the creatures.
He sat down in a parched and dry land,
in a magnificently barren uninhabitable place, and made habitation.
For my journey right now, into the wilderness this Lent, he is my company.
He is the whispering voice. He is the muse inspiring, the sprite inviting, the mischievous elf knocking the stacks down to make the trail go still.
He is the wanderer in this wilderness who is himself stacked stone to say, as pilgrims do:
“I’m here, and I see you. And you are here, too, with me.”
Walking holy ground,
And looking at me, he said to her, “she is here now”.
His expression, his gentle tone, the essential goodness of what he said, anchored me for the duration of the trip; like a motto or mantra in my head.
She is here now.
As if all the past has come to fruition in the present moment, and that now is all that matters and that the present moment is truly, all that exists.
His words framing the eternal significance of it, that the now matters, because it is full of God.
Now is where God is.
There is no going looking for God. There is no waiting. No hoping. No pining.
No pleading. No searching.
God is here now.
And always in the present moment. We can find God. Right now.
So the challenge is to be, in, the present moment.
There is no thinking, ‘drat! I just missed it!” or
“maybe God will come along again, soon, or maybe tomorrow”.
Mindfulness is a spiritual practice, even a bit trendy in common parlance, the vocabulary of mindfulness.
In simple terms, I guess I would say that
~ the practice of mindfulness ~
is developing an attentiveness that locates you in the very present moment.
Lent gives us the chance for this practice. Lent is a season that helps us locate ourselves in the here and now. We devise all sorts of Lenten disciplines with one ultimate purpose, to center ourselves in the presence of God.
To become attentive to God, right now.
To sink down in and not budge.
To stay. In it.
It’s hard to be present to our own lives. To fully inhabit our bodies, our relationships, our work, our play. Our own selves and souls, constantly scattered.
We’re frantic sometimes to find the thing, the technique, the place, the person, the product, that will bring the soul’s satisfaction of deep connection with the one who brought us into being, or that will give our lives meaning.
It’s still a mantra for me.
Yep! I whisper of myself, to myself, in the third person: “She is here now”.
To locate myself. To re-member myself.
To drop down in to the gravity that presses my feet on the earth. And go, nowhere. But into the keen awareness of the presence of God.
“She is here now”.
And there is no running about. Just being here.
No scattering, no next best move to make, no better place to be, than right here, right now, in the presence of God.
Wherever my feet might be on this good earth.
The Holy Spirit, will take us into the Wilderness tomorrow, Lent I, for solitude and silence and journeying soul work, deep into the presence of God in the human experience.The goodness of God in our temporal life, the transcendent holy one, near and present and indwelling. My life infused with the sacred.
God in my human experience, and me, paying attention.
Boots laced for the soul work of inhabiting my body,
We tease Peter for always saying the wrong thing.
He’s all heart, that Peter.
That fisherman gone falling in love with Jesus,
worshiping the ground he walks on and the storm he stills.
This fisherman with a raging heart to match the sea he sails.
He knows the holy when he sees it.
He flips his lid for it, all the time.
He climbs out of the boat to walk on water when Jesus says “come on!”
He jumps out of the boat and swims a hundred yards to shore one morning,
because he sees the risen Jesus there cooking breakfast.
He’s all in. Always.
This week he’s exuberant about building some tents!
It’s what his Hebrew upbringing taught him about what you do with The Holy.
You build your life around it.
That’s what his ancestors did in the Wilderness after they escaped from slavery in Egypt. They built the God-Tent in the middle of the community, then circled it around with the people-tents.
This Holy presence of cloud by day and fire by night. Right there in the middle.
Up on this mountaintop, Peter suddenly knows himself to be in the presence of the Almighty and feels compelled to build some tents, [ tents, booths, tabernacles, . . . all of these are just different Bible words meaning a branchy structure that you can get inside of, some of them more elaborate than others].
Spot on Peter! Go for it!
Name the Holy One as Holy;
See him, love him, grab hold of him;
build your life around him!
Great instincts! What a beautiful wild heart!
But Jesus tells Peter, “we won’t build our tents up here, but we’ll go back down the mountain together, and for now, we’ll guard our Holy experience with silence. We’ll stay inside of it, together, while we go out into the world.
We’ll live inside of it, out there.
So, my thought about this gospel text, as our crescendo of light culminates and transitions into Lent, and we descend into the wilderness with this Incarnate Holy One, Jesus,
is this. . .
I want to think of Lent as a practice of tenting with the Holy One. Sans branches.
So how do I build this walking talking sleeping waking tent-life, with this precious sacred presence?
What could I do, to weave together a keeping place, guard some kind of silent stillness, with a structure of loosely bound branches (aka ~ a Lenten discipline) for keeping close company with the Holy One?
I’m thinking about what I could put in place.
What could you put in place,
that would make you, as you move about in your daily life, acutely aware that you are the temple, the tent, the booth, the house. . . of God. . .and that you live in this transitional housing called the human body, with God, night and day, day in and day out?
What about you?
What would help you guard, keep, tend, the presence of this brilliant new light of Epiphany that shines in your heart?
What would help you live inside of it, the presence and experience, of the holy one?
How will you structure your tent, this Lent?
Reverend Ruth Pattison
Rev. Pattison serves the people of Highpoint Episcopal Community Church as the Parson, exercising her gifts for collaborative leadership through preaching, liturgy, and the pastoral arts.