Mindfulness & Stacking Stones

To love God means to pay attention, be mindful, be open to the possibility that God is with you in ways that, unless you have your eyes open, you may never glimpse.  –  Frederick Buechner

Day one of a new year!  So full of possibility.  Kind of like a new composition notebook in 4th grade.  Clean.  Fresh.  Ready to be your best self.

If you’re like me, mindfulness may be at the top of your list of improvements for 2019.  Paying attention to where you are.  Being present.

It is to easy to get lost in the busyness of ordinary life that you miss the moment you’re in.  Stroking your child’s hair as you sit on the couch at the end of the day.  Noticing the abundance of stars in the clear night sky.  Celebrating those jeans finally buttoning after two weeks of no cheese and less sugar.

The little gifts that make a life.

One of my favorite ways to mark these moments is through the stacking of stones.  The practice is an ancient one.  Cairn piles were stacked stones, used for centuries to mark burial places.  In the Bible, stones were often stacked to build an altar to God, marking God’s hand in the victory of the Israelites in battle or God’s parting of the Jordan for the Israelites to pass through.

These cairns, or stacking stones, are simply stacks of rocks, each with a meaning assigned to it.  A reminder of an event, or moment, or revelation.  When we see them we think of these times where God has been present.  And instead of them being fleeting moments that slip through our fingers, they instead become touchpoints of inspiration, or encouragement, for the days ahead.

Not only do these cairns mark important moments for those who build them, but they are a visible witness to others of the work of God.  Inevitably, they provoke a question from those who see them. “What do these stones mean?”

Stacking stones claims ordinary moments of life for God and invites those who pass by to notice the holy ground on which they already stand.

Below is an article I wrote years ago about a trip to Italy where I encountered a cairn on a beach on the Mediterranean.  It moved me to know that my experience had been shared by others on a similar journey.

There are also directions below for using stacking stones for your own spiritual practice.  I would encourage you to try this once a quarter and place the cairn where you can see it.  On your desk at work.  At the front door to your house.  A place that you pass by frequently and can remember the ways that God has been present, how God has blessed you, how the path you are on is holy ground.  And also position yourself to share your journey with those who inevitably ask you what these stones mean.

One word of caution, here.  In recent years, the practice of stacking stones has been disruptive in national parks, on hiking trails.  Even on the beaches at Cinque Terra where the picture above was taken.  Keep it a personal practice.  Place them where you will see it.  Don’t be disruptive of public sites.


This article originally appeared on Baptist News Global on 7/26/15.

Truth be told, an altar was the last thing I expected to find at the end of a long hike. We were hot and sweaty, a bit worn out from the steep climb up the cliff side of Cinque Terre and the rugged descent to the sea below. The views of the Mediterranean had been magnificent at every turn along the trail. As the colorful houses hugging the rocky shoreline in Corniglia, where we began, faded steadily from view, reminding us how far we had traveled, the emerging roof tops and bright pastel facades of Vernazza jutting out into the blue water invited us onward, assuring us that there was much yet to be discovered.

The trail ended at the main street of the village. A small park sign pointed us to go left to the beach — at least that’s what we hoped the small drawing of a sun and shoreline below a few Italian words was trying to tell us.   Read more…


The Spiritual Practice of Stacking Stones

Find three stones of decent size, somewhat flat. They don’t have to be huge. Ordinary rocks from the yard will do. Or river rocks from the craft store.  Stack them someplace, maybe on your desk. Maybe in your house.

As you stack them, assign each a meaning — a stone for something specific that God has done, a way that God has provided, something for which you are grateful or hopeful or struggling.

Each time you notice the stack, remember what each stone stands for and offer a prayer of thanks.

And when someone comes along and asks you, “What do these stones mean?” tell them the story of what God has done.

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