When I was a young child growing up in small towns, my preacher dad would take breaks from ministry pressures by going fishing. My sister and I happily followed him down trout streams as he sought the perfect fishing hole. We jumped from boulder to boulder or waded in the clear, cold water and delighted in discovering colorful, shiny rocks on the creek bottom. I saved some pretty pebbles and was disappointed when they dried and lost their shine. But a few came home in my pocket, nevertheless.
Now, my children and grandchildren know I’m likely to pick up rocks anywhere I go. I examine special ones that catch my eye as I dig in the garden, walk in the neighborhood, hike in the mountains, and comb the beaches. I’m likely to have rocks in my pockets as well as a few rocks in the car, interesting rocks lining shelves and filling jars and boxes here and there in my home.
A few years ago, my son gave me a rock tumbler for Christmas. Then I felt more like a collector, amateur though I am. When my first batch of stones came out of the tumbling process smooth, glowing, and glassy—much like the creek-bottom pebbles of my childhood—I was hooked on collecting, learning about, creating with, even “meditating” on rocks.
I have learned more about rocks in the process, and my children and grandchildren admire the polished rocks with me. Sometimes we look for pictures in their designs. I’ve even made a few Christmas gifts with polished stones.
My favorite stones to polish are beach agates and jasper.
Here is my husband searching for semi-precious stones on Agate Beach at Patrick’s Point State Park in Northern California.
As I have said elsewhere, looking for agates on the beach is what it’s like for me, as a poet, to be present to the thoughts, emotions, winds, and waves of gritty life… to dig into my heart in the moment and find metaphors that seem to reveal themselves to me: reflecting light, shaped by experiences and observations, by forces of the environment, by the workings of Love
Rocks appeal to us for many reasons:
- The joy of discovering treasures.
- Rocks tell a story, often an ancient story, about where they have come from and where we have come from and where we are headed. And we sing, “On Christ, the solid rock I stand.” Rocks preserve, encapsulate, and speak of history (for instance, fossilized rocks, moss agates, picture rocks, volcanic rocks, and precious gems).
- Rocks feel solid and permanent, when so much in life and in the world is fleeting and fragile. One of the prayers attributed to St. Patrick begins, “I arise today through the strength of heaven; light of the sun, splendor of fire, speed of lightning, swiftness of the wind, depth of the sea, stability of the earth, firmness of the rock….” Similarly, the prophet Isaiah exclaimed, “He will be the stability of your times” (Is. 33:6).
- Rocks remind us of things hidden. We try to clear our vegetable garden of rocks, but every spring we find more rocks that have worked their way up from the deeps. Small rocks seem to appear out of nowhere; but they remind me that rock makes up much of our earth’s outer layers, and rocks have a constant cycle of breaking down and being re-formed.
- Rocks can speak to us. Even as a child, the famed Jesuit geologist and mystic theologian, Teilhard de Chardin delighted in the hardness and stability of translucent and glittering stones. He later wrote and taught how to see God everywhere, to “see him in all that is most hidden, most solid, and most ultimate in the world” (from Teilhard’s The Divine Milieu). When religious leaders opposed the people praising Jesus, he told them, “I tell you … if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40).
- Stones are sometimes symbols of difficulties and trials. We might say, “I’ve been traveling a rocky road lately.” But rocks can remind us that while constant change is a given in nature and in our lives, God who is everywhere, including in the cycles and changes of seasons, is also unchanging in essence. God’s love will always endure and keep rising and getting our attention and sending us reminders. Though God’s loving reminders may sometimes feel like obstacles when we want an easy path … If we give heed, the very rocks in our path will speak and have the potential to help form us. Beautiful rocks and fine gemstones were formed by extreme pressures over long periods of time. These gems uniquely encapsulate the effects of pressures and changes in the formation of our earth home. Examine the depth and design of many stones and you’ll see exemplified the beauty and creativity of God.
So, take a walk and look for Beauty in beautiful rocks, Stability in solid, hard rocks, Creativity in interesting rocks, maybe even listen to—and consider—what the rocks might be saying as they “cry out.”
On hopeful paths of prayer and poetry,
This post (slightly revised) was first published for “Collect Rocks Day” 9-16-23 at Godspace HERE.