I ran a tough, tough trail half marathon last weekend. It was fun, but it is taking me longer than expected to recover, and it was a tune-up race for my “A” race of the season, a monster 25k in two weeks. Did I mention that I am also doing a road 10k this weekend? I originally thought I would try to really race this 10k, but I am now thinking “fun run”. The scenery on the half marathon was beautiful. My favorite section was running through a little pine forest, where the saplings were so close to the trail and the path was so narrow, my legs brushed against the trees as I ran, and I crunched dry pine needles underfoot with every step. The pine smell was heavenly. At one point in the race, I saw a pile of stones beside the trail similar to the one pictured above.
In Buddhism stacking stones is a meditative practice. The patience, stillness, and silence of mind needed to arrange irregularly shaped stones into a pile allow the practitioner to turn his attention deep within. In some practices each stone placement coincides with a prayer of gratitude. According to mystic Hebrew tradition a stone may even be thought of as a silent being.
In Christianity, stone or rock has long been used as a spiritual symbol of strength, constancy or the eternal, the unchanging nature of Christ. In the bible, God is often referred to as a rock that provides a fortress (2 Samuel), salvation (2 Samuel), refuge (Psalms), or strength (Isaiah).
In the Old Testament Moses beseeched God to “shew him His glory”. God told Moses that no one could see His face and live, but that He would put Moses in a cleft of rock and cover his face with His hand while He passed by. In this way Moses got a fleeting glimpse of God’s “back parts”. The rock sheltered Moses. It allowed him to see God – at least briefly.
One of the most well known stories about rocks or stones in the New Testament is the story of Jesus and the adulteress. In the Gospel of John, the story goes, the Pharisees brought a woman accused of adultery before Jesus and reminded Him that adultery was punishable by death through stoning. They were hoping to catch Him disobeying the law. Jesus’ famous response,
I recently read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I liked the (nonfiction) book, which tells the story of an idealistic lawyer (Stevenson) and his foundation the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). Lawyers employed by EJI sought justice for impoverished, wrongly-convicted or unfairly sentenced men and women who had run out of other legal options. In his book Stevenson recounts meeting an elderly woman whose grandson had been brutally murdered. She repeatedly showed up at the courthouse, even after the trial for her grandson’s murder was over. She felt that she was called to lend support and comfort not only to relatives of other murder victims, but also to the families of the accused. She was discouraged by the frequency with which judges sentenced even very young offenders to life in prison without possibility of parole, distressed by the callousness with which people shot and hurt one another. She told Stevenson that she was there “to catch some of the stones people cast at one another,” invoking the parable from the Gospel of John.
Stevenson coined the term “stonecatcher” to describe her, and lamented the fact that “today, our self-righteousness, our fear, and our anger have caused even the Christians to hurl stones at the people who fall down, even when we know we should forgive or show compassion.” He called for more people to become stonecatchers.
I live in a community that includes many Amish members. When 10 young Amish girls were shot, five of them fatally, in their Nickel Mines school nearly 12 years ago, the first public act by the families of the girls was to forgive the shooter (who also took his own life). They not only said words of forgiveness, they gave support and comfort to the shooter’s widow and family. This act of mercy is inspiring and humbling. Could I be so compassionate in the face of personal tragedy? The bible describes many of Christ’s acts of mercy – healing the leper, raising the dead, and giving sight to the blind man to name a few. Christ was the original stone catcher.
In a time when social media judging and condemnation is rampant, we need more stonecatchers to relieve suffering and show compassion even (especially?) to those who don’t deserve it. It is Christ who showed the way. Who are you? A stone thrower or stonecatcher?
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