Standing Stones

I will be your standing stone. I will stand by you. I will be your standing stone. I will stand by you. Jacob had gotten himself into a heap of trouble. I’m talking here about the biblical Jacob, son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham. His mother, Rebekah, favored him over his brother Esau. Though they were twins, Esau was the firstborn and due to receive their father’s blessing and inherit his property and livestock. As their father, Isaac, grew older he lost his eyesight, so Jacob and his mother came up with a plan to disguise himself as his brother and receive Isaac’s blessing and inheritance for himself. They succeeded with their plan. Jacob was blessed by Isaac. But his defrauded brother, Esau, vowed to kill him in revenge. So, Jacob had to flee, leave everything he knew behind him and set out for a foreign land where his mother’s brother lived, hoping this uncle would have pity on him and let him become part of his household. Traveling alone, he stopped on the way for a night’s rest and had an amazing dream. Now, in Biblical literature, a dream often indicates that God was giving a message to the dreamer. And Jacob dreamt of a ladder going up into the heavens and angels walking up one side of the ladder and down the other. In this dream, Jacob saw God at the top of the ladder and God reminded Jacob that God would be with him always and that Jacob would be given the land where he slept and that his descendants and wealth would spread as far as the eye could see. Jacob was alone. He had messed up badly. In one of the most troubled and troubling moments of his life, he was lost. And then he was found or at least, felt a spiritual presence reassuring him that he would emerge from this difficult time. And, especially, he now felt that he was not alone. Now, some people would say that God already knew that Jacob would one day make amends to his brother and heal the rift between them. But, the Universalist part of our faith tradition would remind us that we are held in the arms of God, held in the arms of a greater Love, no matter what. Without feeling that loving embrace, who knows what the course of Jacob’s life or any of our lives might be. Have you ever felt that kind of love and support in your lives? Have you ever had someone in your life whose support and encouragement were, what we might call, “rock solid.” You knew you could count on them to have your back and support you on your life’s journey? You knew they would share your joy and companion you through times of suffering, doubt and grief? This person or these people, or this God or spiritual power, might be called your “standing stones.” There are several references in the Hebrew Scriptures where the Israelites followed ancient customs by setting up standing stones as a reminder of God’s presence and God’s covenant and/or any actions on their behalf which they might attribute to God’s goodness and benevolence. The stories of these stones were passed down from generation to generation through oral tradition Some of those stories were then written into the Hebrew Scriptures. Another Biblical reference of standing stones is when Moses has twelve pillars erected at the base of Mount Sinai after receiving the ten commandments. The twelve pillars represented the twelve tribes of Israel which were named after the twelve sons of Jacob. But archaeologists have found evidence that long before the Israelites entered Canaan, pagans in the Middle East erected sacred stones to honor their gods, to declare covenants and treaties between cities, or to honor the location of an important event that had spiritual significance. I will be your standing stone. I will stand by you. I will be your standing stone. I will stand by you. I was scrolling through some music on YouTube a few months ago and came across this beautiful, somewhat haunting chant. I had never heard of “standing stones,” but I was mesmerized by that song. And you might be as well. Melanie DeMore, an African American singer, songwriter and choral director wrote this chant for a friend of hers who was dealing with stage 4 ovarian cancer. So, thanks to the internet, I went on a search for standing stones, their history and their meaning. And I was reminded of the story of Jacob. The morning after his dream he takes the stone he was using for a pillow and constructs a massebah, the Hebrew word for standing stone which means “to set up.” The most well known example we have of standing stones, are found in the British Isles and Brittany and called “menhirs.” These are large stones that were set into the ground vertically by Neolithic people. We think of them as circular shaped formations as in Stonehenge. But they also appear in lines, or even in clusters. We know very little about their function and use because the people who set them in place did not have a written language, so we have no record of their culture. It’s also very difficult to date them. But, because of the numerous examples of these objects, archaeologists assume they had clear purpose and meaning, and had practical uses as well as ceremonial ones. Standing stones mark a sacred location, a memorial, if you will, reminding us that we should honor both this place and the remarkable event that occurred here. I think of them giving a sense of strength. They offer an image of perseverance and timelessness and of the commitment of those who erected them. They meant something. They gave people’s lives some meaning, purpose and value. They signaled to the ages that something important happened here. Another way to look at “standing stones” in today’s world is to think of cairns, those stacks of stones we sometimes find or build along a trail to help travelers know the right path. The word “cairn” comes to us from the Scottish Gaelic and can date back to prehistoric times, when they could be used as burial mounds, or for defense and hunting. They are also used as landmarks and trail markers in many parts of the world. From ancient times, I’ve read. they have been used by people of the Artic region; an area dominated by tundra with no natural landmarks. In most cases throughout the world, cairns are used to aid travelers in places where the trail where the way is not obvious and people could easily get lost in a harsh and unforgiving wilderness. Like cairns, the stones in our reading were carefully placed to mark a path. They help people, strangers, in fact, pass safely through a wet and marshy area by literally providing a dry place to stand. I will be your standing stone. I will stand by you. I will be your standing stone. I will stand by you. I don’t know about you, but I have felt a little lost at times, wishing there were more clear markers to show me the way. I have felt the loneliness and fear of harsh and brutal times. And there have been people in my life who have been like “standing stones” ready to support and comfort me when I have been in need. Today, with COVID-19, it might feel like we are living in a barren landscape where we do not know the way. It seems like everything has changed and this virus has altered our way of life. It is a very frightening and confusing time for all of us. What might it mean for us to actually be standing stones for ourselves and each other? What might it mean to actually face the moments of feeling lost and disconnected, terrified and confused, and reach out to support and listen to each other? How can we help each other feel that we are not alone during this crisis? Like Jacob, we might turn to a God, or Higher Power. Our spiritual source can hear our cries, our confusion, our fear, loneliness, our pain, our feelings of anger at being wronged, or remorse at having done something or experienced something dreadful. Many of us did not grow up feeling the unconditional love and support of the people who were supposed to care for us. We weren’t always seen for who we are and given the messages of encouragement that we needed. Many of us were taught to care for others but not to care for ourselves. We were often taught to follow societal or religious conventions and disregard the calling of our own hearts and souls. Some of us were damaged by violence, neglect or abuse. So, we first have to be and to find our own Standing Stones. One of the things that I have learned over the years is that, as Standing Stones, we don’t have to do very much. It’s not our job to meddle in people’s lives, to tell them what to do. It is our calling to stand with people, to help provide guideposts along the path, to help them get up when they have fallen, to share their joy and comfort them in their sorrow. And sometimes, the best we can do is just to be there, solid and sure, just standing by when nothing else matter. Amen, Blessed Be

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