Today is the first Sunday of the month when we share guest posts from people living and teaching the Contemplative and/or Celtic Christian way around the world. One of the beautiful things about the internet is that people doing amazing things in isolated parts of the world can learn from one another and grow together. We hope this article inspires you to dive a little deeper into what it means to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors while looking forward to what kind of world we will leave for our grandchildren.
Noel Moules is a thinker, teacher and activist for peace, justice and deep ecology. He is the founder and director of the Workshop programme for applied spirituality (www.workshop.org.uk), a founder member of the Anabaptist Network UK (www.anabaptistnetwork.com), and an Associate Tutor at the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham UK (www.woodbrooke.org.uk). He was born in India and spent his formative childhood years in the foothills and forests of the Himalaya. I hope you enjoy his reflection as much as I did!
My name is Noel Moules; I identify and introduce myself as a “Triple – A – Christian”. I am an Anabaptist, committed to following the radical nonviolent Jesus along his path, which was and is the way shalom (living in harmonious companionship with the whole of creation). I am an anarchist, energized by Jesus’ call to live by the life-giving free-flowing values of the Spirit where love fulfills the law. I am an animist, following the example of Jesus living in relationship with every expression of nature; because he knew that everything is alive, sacred and connected, he understood that everything is person, to be nurtured and respected. As of course the Celtic saints certainly knew, as does every tribal and Indigenous person across the planet, and so should the character of everyone who names the name of Christ make clear by how they live.
So how does all this change the way we encounter the world today? It changes absolutely everything without exception! With this as a backdrop, I would like to share with you just one precious moment as to how beautiful and all interweaving this Christian animist path can be in interweaving encounters with nature as persons, threads across the biblical memory, and deep personal understanding. Here is the wisdom of stones.
Gritstone is the dark coarse sandstone that forms the bedrock of the Peak District moorland where I live, on the watershed of the Little Don river, towards the north of the United Kingdom. I regularly explore its wide-open spaces sheltered by big open high-arching skies.
It was a crystal clear day that wrapped me in a clean gentle wind as I walked. The rough grass heath was strewn with ancient weatherworn gritstone boulders. I love the power of their presence and the harsh texture to the touch. I paused to rest, sitting in silence close to one, feeling a beauty and strength flowing through my caressing fingertips.
Here was surely a symbol of immovable stillness; yet at the same time I knew this rock was alive. I could feel it. In that very moment at the quantum level she was trembling and teeming with activity. We both might be moving within space-time at a different pace and rhythm, yet wonderfully we were also inseparably interconnected in the mysterious dance of life.
The spiritual reality was also overwhelming. We were both created and supported by the Spirit, the Word and Wisdom of God, plus the cosmic presence of the risen Christ. Sourced and sustained identically. Suddenly two wilderness stories, both relating to Jesus, came to mind:
The first was that haunting test-question, asked amid the heat and hunger of the desert, “Can you turn this stone into bread?” Yes, of course Jesus could, why tempt him if he couldn’t. He didn’t – only because in that moment it would have been an inappropriate use of power – later he would turn water into wine. Nevertheless a compelling link between stones and bread was made.
The second was the reflection on the Israelite wanderings in Sinai with water miraculously flowing from a rock, which according to Jewish tradition then accompanied them for the rest of the journey, meeting their needs, until finally it become a foundation stone of the Jerusalem Temple. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, was absolutely clear, “This rock was Christ”.
Touching my rock companion gently and respectfully, it was indeed true; no one would give a stone to a child asking for bread. Nevertheless this rock was just as much an expression of the sacred and the holy as any loaf of bread. A vital dimension of Jesus’ declaration that, “This is my body.”
My kaleidoscope of emotions recalls Revelation promising a double gift, still expected: a gift of bread and stone. Hidden manna – that feral bread which still leaves me asking, “What is it?” – waiting to be found, wanting to feed me. Alongside is a white stone – an amulet of love, given as protection and promise – carrying my unique name: my character, my identity. My rock reminds me; woven into the very fabric of creation is everything I need and everything I am – the same is true of her. Together in God we journey forward to find it.
For more than 2,000 years our local gritstone has been carved into millstones so grain can be ground into flour to make bread: manna from the rock indeed. Intriguingly, this same gritstone is known locally as, “God’s own rock”.
For me this overwhelming ‘gritstone moment’ is vital in reminding me that what is true of rocks high on our windswept moors is equally true of absolutely everything on our planet, plus all things further and far beyond.
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