Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Still as stones

"Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters."
(St Bernard)

 (Photo: Gigi, album)

"He puts an end to wars all over the earth,
the bow He breaks, the spear He snaps,
He burns the shield with fire:
Be still, and know that I am God;
supreme among the nations, supreme on the earth." 
(Psalm 45 :10, from the Grail Psalter; Psalm 46 other versions)

A naturally tactile person, I really like stones. It might seem strange to say that I can find objects that are almost iconically inanimate comforting, but I find the strength of stillness very reassuring. My pot plants have a stock of stones, pebbles, shells and bits of detritus that I've found or collected over the years. I have stones that have been shaped or painted, others that have their own stories in their natural mouldings or bands of minerals. I also have a couple of fossils. Stones and rocks, like trees, are silent witnesses to history. We dismissively kick the pebbles out of our path: something infinitely small in the scheme of Important Things, yet something that may have been formed over many lifespans and thrown or plucked out of the solid layer of the planet. From the Stone Age, we've used rocks as tools, weapons and other implements; now we manufacture these from the metals we've discovered in the rocks: the blueprint for everyday living. 
I've often asked friends to bring me back stones or shells from various places they've visited; I've collected them myself from Australia, Malaysia, Ireland and various patches in England. I have stones from the garden of my parents' old house and from the former houses of friends and their parents. I got to thinking about this last night after I emailed a friend currently visiting an area of Australia unknown to me, asking her to bring me a stone: far better than a boomerang key-ring This is clearly the same sentimentality which lends me to thinking that strangers are friends I haven't met yet, but there is vague science running through it: I may never get to that beach, forest or mountain; stones bring a little bit of the mountain to me.
I've been looking at some of the bits and bobs I've collected this morning as I water my plants; ironically, I'm "grounded" again in another sense of the word, by a secondary chest infection. My kind but quite hyperactive GP has told me to "keep warm and stay still". I was quite dismayed by this initially. Staying still, particularly when you're self-employed, often sounds like a sentence of imposed idleness. I realise that I need to give my body a chance to repair itself. When I'm fully fit, I have a lot of energy and I generally like to be doing something. It takes some resolve to be still and stay aside from our routine chaos and the daily rush. Stillness also causes others to pause and pay attention; most probably because they're wondering what the hell we're doing; doing nothing. 
When I worked in London, I once watched a woman on a Victoria Line train who was clearly praying in her seat, eyes closed and hands clasped. I was fascinated and very moved by it, but other rush hour passengers weren't as charmed. In a carriage crammed with the usual mix of damp clothing, body odours, unforgiving outfits, thumping personal stereos and eye-flicking newspapers, this woman sitting very still was the centre of attention. The girls opposite her were nudging and giggling and the woman next to me leant over and whispered that she must be "a bit funny". Worst of all, a man who was standing seemed particularly affronted, continually muttering about seats being taken by people who simply wanted to "******* pray". When she got up at the same stop as me, she smiled to let me go first. Very soberly dressed and probably unremarkable looking to a chap on the Clapham Omnibus, or indeed the Victoria Line, her serenity was absolutely stunning.

Surrounded by the stillness of stones this morning, I've been trying to let go of the anxiety of not earning any money at a crucial time of the month. Last year, I acquired a little Grail Translation Psalter; my favourite psalm has quickly become Psalm 45, more usually Psalm 46 elsewhere. "Be still and know that I am God" feels very pertinent and personal at the moment. I need to get well and I know that I will; I know that the bills will get paid: I just have to be still in that knowledge, and trust. On reflection, surely that's just faith, beating under a lot of unnecessary clutter and spluttering.
It's odd that when you wake at dawn with an agenda of enforced rest, you become aware of the rhythms and energies in the minutiae of morning, even within your own front room or back garden: I think I understand what T.S Elliot was getting at, letting the stillness be the dancing. Have a kind and peaceful day.

"There are plenty of ruined buildings in the world but no ruined stones."
("Hugh MacDiarmid" - Christopher Murray Grieve)

"As in nature, as in art, so in grace; it is rough treatment that gives souls, as well as stones, their lustre."
(Thomas Guthrie) 

"Old Pine"  Ben Howard

"We stood
Steady as the stars in the woods,
So happy-hearted,
And the warmth rang true inside these bones;
As the old pine fell we sang
Just to bless the morning.
And we grow, grow, steady as the morning,
We grow, grow, older still;
We grow, grow, happy as a new dawn,
We grow, grow, older still."


  1. I pray that you will soon be well.

    The Good Lord is only a prayer away. May He bless you always.

    1. Feeling better already Victor: bless you always too!

  2. Oooh this gives me a little idea for when I'm back in Ireland next week.
    Also: Ben Howard is amazing! xxx

    1. Ben Howard's really talented.
      And you're going back to Ireland without me, again?? :-) x