Stumbling stones and tombs

Stones on the AltarThis Sunday, I noticed a dozen large river stones sitting on the altar. Its the first sunday of Lent and I was reminded of the stone moved from Jesus’ tomb. This started me thinking about stones, caves and tombs, about stumbling and resurrection. Stumbling brought other images into my mind including stumbling block, mental block, writers block, and then start blocks. Can the same block/stone that causes me to stumble also be used to help me push off for a new stronger beginning? What about the stone at the tomb? What does stumbling really look like, when does the stone become a new beginning versus the heavy seal on our tomb? Is the difference between stumbling and starting a matter of perspective?

I was reminded of three writers.

Theologian Father Richard Rohr wrote a book titled, Falling Upward.

The message of Falling Upward is straight forward and bracing: the spiritual life is not static. You will come to a crisis in your life, and after the crisis, if you are open to it, you will enter a space of spiritual refreshment, peace and compassion that you could not have imagined before.

Rohr does not offer a syrupy evasion of this crisis. But he does underline two crucial points. First, God has not abandoned you, even if you are sure that God has. (“All the books of the Bible seem to agree,” notes Rohr, “that somehow God is with us and we are not alone.”) Second, “We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.” That may be cold comfort during the crisis—when your house has flooded, who wants to think about spiritual growth? But later you will notice. You will wonder how you possibly could have come to where you are without that flood. –Read the full review on Christian Century

In Malcolm Gladwell’s new book David and Goliath, he outlines a question that arose for him as he wrote his previous book Outliers. He noticed that many of the people, thought of as exceptional, also had experienced a difficulty. He discovered people rarely felt they achieved in spite of their difficulty. They achieved because of the difficulty. The difficulty acted as a catalyst or reason for learning uncommon strengths.  As an example, he notes there is a high percentage of entrepreneurs who have Dyslexia.

The stumbling block becomes a seal on our tomb, not when we trip, but when we pick up the stone and continue to carry it with us. Trying to fashion a badge of honor, not realizing it has become a stone around our neck. Gather enough of these and we become buried in a tomb of our own making. A tomb defined by our failures and our misfortune. Why do we carry these around? When we recall the resurrection the tomb is empty, the stone is removed. The women leave the tomb. They leave the place where they experienced deep pain, as they buried their friend and teacher AND they leave the place where he was resurrected. 

Gladwell and Rohr are exploring the same depths as Brene Brown, revealing for us how we learn from our vulnerability, from our stumbles, and our difficulties. We learn more than just how not to trip, we learn our true strengths, we learn the depth of our communities, and sometimes gain clarity about our direction. When we look back we see the distance we have traveled. Gladwell, Rohr, and Brown do not shy away from the trauma these failures hold, they simply call us to remember all that we learn and gain, if we are open to that vulnerability.

Looking at the stones I also remembered the tradition where people leave stones to mark places they encountered God, gained an important spiritual insight, and as a guide in the wilderness. The stones act as reminders and as a ritual to mark a moment in time. A moment that may mean nothing to anyone else. Or may guide them through the same wilderness you traveled. When I look back on my life I hope to see many stones, many places where I encountered God and gained spiritual insight. Even though I now fully comprehend the tremendous amount of pain that may accompany those moments.


Read more about Brene Brown and Vulnerability in a previous post.

5 thoughts on “Stumbling stones and tombs

  1. I learn as always from your insightful writings about contemplating space. I’ve not thought of difficulties in my life as stones, but the analogy works. I did carry around the hurt, confusion, despair around a long while, probably I still do, but I’m trying to leave the “stones” behind and grow forward in my spiritual life. Thank you for your contemplations.

  2. Thank you for such an insightful perspective. I am also reminded of the time that our church shattered and split into many pieces because of a conflict. Our new pastor, Mary Maaga, put a stone on the altar at our first service. She spoke about how in ancient times a stone cairn was used to mark a place of meeting. She invited us all to bring a stone on the following Sunday’s to lay at the altar. Our stones represented the hurt we carried. After a few weeks she said that the stones were no longer needed. We were on a new road and she invited us each to take the stone home with us. The stone I took home is rather large, a stone smoothed over time by wind and water. It sat on my mantel for the last ten years. I recently moved it to the garden because I felt it needed to signify the new beginning I have found in sobriety and the deeper faith that I have also found along the way.

  3. Nice! To extend your thoughts a little, I think the stones on which we’ve stumbled or those we’ve been carrying on our backs impeding our progress, eventually turn into the gravel under our feet, and then, with even more time, the smooth road on which we travel. Drinking was a stone on my back, keeping me in place. Sobriety was first a rocky and difficult road. Later, it was the smooth pavement on which I travelled to a new and more fulfilling – and definitely more conscious and spiritual – life. An old profession – adversarial dispute resolution (litigation and trial) – once an exciting journey – became a rock under which creativity languished. When I gained the courage to lift it off my back, I became incredibly more productive and of far greater service to my fellows. I think we’re always lifting stones and turning barriers into starting blocks. Thanks for saying it so well.

    • Thank you for adding to the reflection. In the review of Rohr’s book, the suggestion is that we continually emerge/learn from difficult times. There is likely, no singular moment which after we are perfectly whole. I think it happens over and over again, hopefully with different lessons.

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