Thursday, May 15, 2014
My friend Paul was sharing with me a story about a recent trip to the mountains where he had an odd spiritual experience. It all started while walking with some of his friends along mountain trails on their way to an overnight camp out. As he was crossing over a stream along the way he randomly picked up a rock to take along with him, something he did quite often on treks such as this one.
It wasn't a particularly interesting or colorful rock. He really had no specific motive for picking it up initially other than that it was black and it felt good in his hands. Almost reflexively he pulled the rock from the cold water, dried it on his shirt, and placed it in his pants pocket as they continued up out of the stream and up along a newfound trail.
As the group of friends made their way up the mountain they happened to pass an older gentleman coming down the same trail. After a brief bit of friendly chit-chat one of Paul's friends asked the older man if he had any words of wisdom for their group.
"You mean, like a mantra or something?" the old man asked. "Yeah, something like that," Paul's friend said.
The older gentleman took a short moment to reflect and then he said, "I’ve got just two words for you," he said. "The first is 'Immanuel', and the second one is 'Maranatha'". The group nodded their heads and smiled, and after a bit more brief chit-chat the two groups parted. However the conversation in Paul's group shifted to the words the older gentleman had shared with them and what they could possibly mean.
Eventually the group arrived at the cabin where they had planned to spend the evening. One of the women in the group asked Paul if he had ever prayed before. He said that he sometimes meditated in the mornings, but had really never prayed before. Something about the interaction with the old man made him feel like he should start to pray, or at least to try, the next time he was enjoying his morning meditation.
That very next morning, Paul woke up and went about his usual routine of meditation. He began to think about what had happened the previous day, and did his best to pray about those words and what meaning, if any, they might have for him. He was also holding on to the rock he had found in the stream the day before. The rock that he had selected at random and placed almost absently into his pocket was nestled into the palm of his right hand as he sat, eyes closed, on the floor.
Suddenly Paul felt the urge to open his hand to look closer at the rock. As he opened his hand and looked at it closer he almost did a double-take. There, clearly and naturally formed across one side of the stone was an unmistakable form of a cross.
Paul sat silently and looked at the rock. He wondered now even more about the meaning of the events of the previous day.
Sitting in my living room, telling me this story, Paul pulled out the rock and handed it to me. I was amazed at his story, and even more amazed to actually hold this rock in my hands. The shape of the cross was unmistakable, but clearly not man-made at all. The shape had been formed along the surface eons ago when the rock was first formed, and etched by the constant erosion of the stream it had been pulled from only weeks earlier. Now it was in my hand and I could easily imagine what Paul must have felt when he first opened his hand and realized the significance of the stone and the image that marked it.
I was reminded of the Proverb that says, "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, and the glory of Kings to search it out." (Proverbs 25:2) Paul and I discussed the method that Jesus used to teach people about the Kingdom of God during his ministry on Earth, how he told stories that made people wonder and how he never seemed to answer a question unless it was with a question of his own.
Paul had been given a riddle of sorts and now had the privilege to work out what it all meant. Paul shared with me that, so far, all he knew for certain was that he was supposed to tell his story to people, and not just anyone, but people who would be likely to appreciate it. I felt honored to hold this stone in my hand and to have heard Paul's amazing story. It was with some reluctance that I handed it back to him.
In his search for the meaning of his experience, Paul had printed out the Wikipedia definitions of the words "Immanuel" and "Maranatha" and he unfolded the papers and passed them to me. He and I talked about these words and I expressed to him my sincere curiosity regarding his journey to discover the meaning of this rock that had found him in the stream. In many ways I envied my friend Paul for his opportunity to learn the meaning of this mysterious rock and the two corresponding words left to him by a stranger on the side of a mountain.
As far as I could see things, Paul had been given the words, "Immanuel" (which means 'God with us') and "Maranatha" (which means 'He has come'). He had been given a rock with a very obvious cross on it to accentuate those two words. A rock which he would not have picked up had they crossed the stream a few feet to the right or to the left, and which he admits he might not have picked up at all considering the randomness of his choice of stones there in the stream. He was also, finally, encouraged to pray and that next morning all of these various elements converged together to spark his imagination and his journey of discovery regarding the meaning of the message.
This is why Jesus loved to use parables to teach his disciples, so that when the meaning was finally discovered, the person would own the truth and treasure the revelation. When someone gives you the answer you don't value the information as much. When you're handed the keys you lose the thrill of the chase and the joy of discovery.
I pray that even more people will discover a stone in the stream or cross paths with wise old men bearing clues to the journey of life. We all need more questions to work out with fear and trembling. We all need to seek the Truth. Maybe the clues are already all around us? Maybe we're just not paying enough attention?
All creation cries out and pours forth speech, day and night. Sometimes even the rocks cry out.
[From the book, "The Gospel:For Here Or To Go?" by Keith Giles]