Stones - Written by Lou Everard
Do you remember the Easter rocks that some of us painted and left for others to find around Shelford village in March and April? It seems a distant memory now, after all that has been happening around the world. But I want to remind us, because I believe those stones are still significant for the ongoing spiritual health of our community here. I wonder who has them now?
It was mainly the children who were excited by this. Schools had to close in the lockdown and it was an outdoor distraction parents could take advantage of. The messages on the rocks were those of peace, faith, love, joy, hope and resurrection - the good news that Jesus brings.
Then, over the summer, a verse from Isaiah was brought to a prayer meeting, and I was moved to write about my experience of planting roses, and digging out the stones that would be an obstruction to their growth. God brought to mind the parable of the sower in Matthew 13.
The message then seemed to be one about clearing out of our lives the sharp unwanted stones that we can carry with us, buried, but interfering with our spiritual health and stopping us sharing Jesus’s good news effectively with others. These might be old, unredeemed thoughts and habits, hardnesses in our hearts that have never been properly brought to the light. Sometimes, we are not even aware of them. They may be sinful in some way, and need proper repentance, or they may just be unhelpful, stopping us from activities that would lead us ever closer in our relationship with God. There is no doubt that the devil has a keen interest in keeping them there, to keep us from entering into the full, joyful, fruitful life that Christ offers us.
Since then, our church leaders have been sharing their thoughts on deep wells and wide doors. Stones are often found to be blocking wells, preventing the water reaching the thirsty, sometimes having collapsed inwards from the very structure of the well. Again it seems an apt metaphor for helping us deepen our relationship with God, for us to be clearing the stones away to rebuild those deep wells of faith.
In her last blog of the summer, on “Deep Wells”, Liz Jenkin makes reference to how the lockdown may have caused some to “meet their shadows”, because of the sudden changes, fears, sorrow and uncertainty we have lived through. Have you had the experience of having things you have relied on being suddenly whipped away, exposing you to new issues you have not chosen to face before?
Liz suggests things like low-level anxiety, fear of an empty diary, dependence on affirmation on social media. All these things may be caused by obstructions in the metaphorical well of life that we bury in the hustle bustle of “normal” life. It’s as if the lockdown has taken us on an enforced retreat, where we are much freer to meet with God, and receive His grace to know that these obstructions can be removed and the places they occupy healed. This has been part of my experience at least, although it hasn’t been easy and is an ongoing process.
The other reference to stones in Liz’s blog is to their use in building. The wells she speaks of are made of stone. Stone is a strong material. It is a permanent material. We use it for building shelter, and also for building barriers. So it can bring us together and protect our families or separate us from others we perceive as enemies. It can imprison us. But it can keep us safe.
Stone objects, like the Derbyshire wells visited by tourists, are also used as monuments, to remind us of things past. They can cause us to give thanks as for deliverance from the plague, to grieve for loss, and remember individuals we love or celebrate the lives of those we admire. Inscriptions on stones last for years. They keep us in touch with past ages.
A friend, Jean, came to me after reading my blog about “Roots, Rocks and Roses”, because the story I told and the verse that prompted it, Isaiah 62:10, reminded her of a book she had, “From History to Hope” by Shirley Bowers. She lent me this book, and I have been amazed to see how God used this very scripture in a wonderful mission that Shirley was given to reconcile the people of Huntingdon (Oliver Cromwell’s birthplace) with first, each other, regardless of denomination, and then with the places in Ireland that Cromwell has destroyed in 1649 onwards during his time in power. Cromwell had believed he was doing God’s will, as he killed and displaced thousands of Irish Catholics, driving them west into poverty and exile, or to their deaths. The Christians in Huntingdon had the courage to dig down into their past and bring up the stones that exposed all the hurt, injustice and death that had left lasting scars in both communities.
Isaiah 62:10 reads: “Pass through, pass through the gates! Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones. Raise a banner for the nations.”
Just as this was a message for Shirley’s amazing ministry to Ireland, I want us to own it too. Many years ago, a vision was given to Great Shelford Free Church of a banner hanging across the ceiling in the sanctuary, that said “Great Shelford Free Church - moving in the power of the Holy Spirit”. That is the banner we are to raise, and I believe we are already building the highway and the stones are being removed to bring people back to Jerusalem. The wide doors are being flung open and we need to prepare the way. But the lesson from Shirley’s book is clear. Seek the right direction daily and wait for God’s timing in every step.
God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is within us” ( Ephesians 3:20). “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7)
Merciful Lord, thank you for your guidance, and the work of your Holy Spirit in our lives. Stand with us as we enter a new chapter of life, where everything is changing and our leaders are having to make important decisions on how best to serve our church and community. Bless them and grant them your grace and wisdom. Help us to follow you in everything, and be open and loving to one another as you speak to us.