Spirit, Rocks and Water: Joiners of Space and Time


Photo credit: Pixabay

Walking through the power line cut I glanced down and noticed a couple of stones. Sitting down among the newly leafed blackberries and grasses I took a few minutes to give them a closer look. When I did, I sensed these rocks had stories they wanted to tell me. Indeed they did.

Storytelling on the Plateau

I was sitting on a beach. Well, what had been a beach. Geologists now think that, in addition to once being covered by an ocean, what now is the Cumberland Plateau at one point was part of a river flowing all the way from Canada, bringing sediment from the far north to the sunny south.

The first thin flat stone, about two inches in diameter, revealed layers of history. What I thought of as its top contained small rounded chocolate pebbles that called me to pay attention to them. While I had known about the Plateau’s past, I sensed this stone was telling me that it once was part of a river and that that water had smoothed these stones from the far north and deposited them in the sand. The rock, once a stream, also seemed to want to tell me that once it had been part of a swampy marsh. The stone’s bottom revealed a rich brown layer darker even than the chocolate chips above. It spoke of the sedges and ferns that once had grown and died here, harboring life of all kinds.

The second stone, too, spoke of its watery past, revealing ripples in a sandy bottom of a long lost stream. The rock was a stream frozen in time (at least from my perspective), the stream telling me its story of what happened long ago. Thousands of years and creatures in one stone. Canada in Tennessee. Water and rock, water connecting places, rock connecting times, each telling a story to those who would listen.

Reading below the Surface

The stories they told, however, flowed far deeper that the shallow waters of which they spoke. Many traditions, including Christianity, hold water in special regard as a cleanser and healer. Christianity often uses water as a metaphor for the Spirit of God. Just as water moves through all things, connecting disparate places over vast distances of space and time, so does the Spirit. Just as stones connect us to streams long past, so does the Spirit connect us to people and other creatures in the past and future. Today’s sand and plants become tomorrow’s stone, which later, under the influence of water, becomes sand once more. Stone incarnates water. Water transforms, and makes possible, stone. Our bodies’ water and carbon become the bodies of creatures to come, whether trees, animals, stones or streams. We walk now with the bodies of mountains and daffodils. Water and matter, Spirit and life. Water and spirit uniting matter over space and time.

Christians believe the Spirit joined God to matter, space, and time in the person of Jesus, transforming the relationship between God and God’s creation. As a result, many Christians believe in the community of saints, the communicative fellowship of all those who have been and will be in communion with the Spirit. They believe that, through the Spirit, one can ask faithful people of the past, wherever they lived, to ask God’s help for us now. The Spirit also links all creatures so that we can join in solidarity with those far from us. Spirit, water and matter bring us together into one fellowship wherever and whenever we may be, whatever we are.

The gospels tell us that, when Jesus entered Jerusalem just before his death, he said that, if the people didn’t acclaim him, the very rocks would cry out. We can hear rocks cry out if we’ll but listen. They have stories to tell.

The Center for Religion and Environment, The University of the South


Author: Robert "Robin" Gottfried

Director, Center for Religion and Environment at Sewanee: The University of the South, and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Sewanee. Contemplative Christian, musician, blogger for the Huffington Post on religion and environment, and hiker living on the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee.

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