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December 9, 2018, 6:00 AM

Favorite Things


Favorite Things

 

Not far from Seattle, in Puget Sound, is Whidbey Island. I had never been to the Pacific Northwest until my father had a stroke in 1995 while vacationing in Yosemite and was airlifted to Seattle for treatment. My parents had deep roots in the West Coast but didn’t take us there—they had both been raised in the wild and lonely instability of post-frontier Colorado, California, and Washington and chose to replant their lives in the more conventional and traditional East. Now, as a middle-aged adult, I was seeing their homeland for the very first time.

My uncle Jerry, dad’s younger brother, drove me out to Whidbey Island one day as a welcome diversion from the Intensive Care Unit and my mother’s distress. He was a geologist, and knew my love of all things made of rock. I was entranced by the redwood forests and the old fort from World War 2, protecting the nation from a Japanese invasion. But the most memorable encounter was a hike at Deception Pass State Park, and the beach there which was covered with the most beautiful rocks I had ever seen.

Red, purple, and green rocks in all sizes littered the beach. Striped and spotted sea agates, worn smooth from centuries of waves rolling them over the sand. Rocks with colors unimaginable to an East Coast girl—and in such profusion that I would fill my pockets, only to empty them out for more remarkable specimens. When I finally flew out of Seattle I was travelling with an aphasic, confused, and partially paralyzed father and a suitcase full of treasures.

My father is long gone but the rocks are still here—polished and arranged in various bowls and vases in both of my houses. They are arranged alongside other rocks—stones from Maine and Mexico, California and Carolina. I have brought home rocks from the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea, worn slate from the Hudson River and smooth white sea eggs from Topsail Island. There is a stone I use in group meetings instead of a talking stick, which fits in most anyone’s hand and has a well-worn groove that nobody can resist putting their thumb into.

Two of my most precious rocks came to me after my grandmother’s death. They are petrified sand urchins, lovely fossilized stars etched in the grey surface. Gramma was a physicist who specialized in the stratosphere and helped the air force with missile technology. But when I hold her sea urchins I wonder if the marvelous transformation of a fragile shell into a stone contained some lovely metaphor for her who studied light and air.

Perhaps it is no mystery why I love rocks so much.

I wanted to be a geologist like my uncle but my poor study habits didn’t yield grades that would get me into such a field. Truthfully, however, I find that more knowledge about rocks is unimportant. Their permanence is the attraction. That I can hold a rock and consider how much older it is than I, and wonder about what it has witnessed and experienced in this world.

Jesus told us that heaven and earth would pass away—but I think he simply means that there will be an end to the present truth of constant change. Even rocks which eventually wear away to sand and then become rock once again will achieve eternity; the perpetual cycle of creation and destruction will cease and be replaced by an everlasting reign of Christ. I imagine that the Kingdom of God will contain beauty so solid that nothing can crush it or blot it out.

As I age, it becomes more difficult yet more obvious that nothing is forever. Everything changes and nothing lasts, not even the ground beneath our feet. The ephemeral character of the life we live pokes holes in our joy and brings respite to our grief. Crazily, we plan for an increasingly uncertain future.

Heaven and earth will pass away. But the Word, the eternal dabar will always be. Creating and recreating. The permanent, eternal truth which is beyond our comprehension is our only safe harbor, the only foundation, the ground on which we can rely.

Psalm 18, ostensibly written by David after a final victory over Saul, is a song of thanksgiving for the permanence of God in a world that can seem as if it is crumbling beneath us. As I hold a smooth purple rock from Whidbey Island, striped like Jupiter, I marvel that our God is more beautiful and permanent than this. That the day will come when I no longer feel the need to pick up and possess every lovely thing that the waves wash up at my feet. That what I feel now in my hand is just an intimation of something more complete.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer. Thanks be to God.

 

 


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