In the movie The Way, the gendarme character hands Martin Sheen’s character a pocket-sized rock as Sheen sets out to walk his dead son’s pilgrimage. In one of the late-late scenes in the movie, the erstwhile group of pilgrims arrives at an impressive pile of pocket-sized rocks… larger than any ebenezer I’ve yet encountered. Each person murmurs something about their pilgrim-journey, what the rock now means for them, and puts their rock on the pile. Except for Sheen’s character… he doesn’t speak of anything interior, which is in keeping with what’s gone before. But he, too, leaves the rock on the pile.
If I was going on a pilgrimage, even if it was in place, I could see I needed a rock.
In the movie, the rock came from the starting-place, so I went in my backyard, my starting-place. At the base of the big oak stump are all sorts of stone shards, in all sorts of sizes. I looked around at their limestone whitishness, chips and chunks contrasting with the grey-beige dead grass and the creeping green horseherb. I noticed one poked above the dirt’s surface, a pyramid longer than it was wide that made me think there must be more of it underground. I dug it out. White above and grubby below, it reminded me of an iceberg: more than meets the eye.
Into my pocket, rock-berg.
As I had promised myself, every day I put my rock in my pocket — or my pocket-bag, if I lacked a proper pocket — as I put my cross around my neck.
On my first day, I thought about my rock a lot — what could I make out of it, meaning-wise? Was it pointing me toward something? Was it bringing me a message?
All that felt forced, though. One of the side effects of a literary brain is how skilled it is in generating imagery, and out of imagery, portent. But rendered like this, the images and portents are spun up like cotton candy — which can be fun, sometimes. Not this time, though. This time I felt the empty calories, and stopped.
Rock-berg still came along. I decided I’d wait for it to metaphorically crash into something.
Pilgrim that I was, I moved through my days, watching, listening, waiting, be-ing. With my rock, also be-ing — as rocks be.
By the end of the week, still no metaphor for us.
By the end of the last day, I took myself and the rock off to the labyrinth at the church where I’m an intern. Friday afternoon would be a solitary time there, I figured. And having begun my pilgrimage walking the labyrinth at John Knox Ranch, it seemed symmetrical to end the week walking a labyrinth again.
Walking a prayer-labyrinth is like making a pilgrimage, too.
One can begin, at the entrance, with an intention: something to hold up to God, something to carry into the center, a word… a rock. Regardless, one is generally encouraged to venture slowly along the twists of the path while meditating and/or praying one’s intention. After a bit — and no matter how many times I walk one, I’m perennially surprised — one finds oneself in the center. In the center, perhaps one releases something that’s knotted within, or has realized something God had been saying, or leaves something behind. Some labyrinths accumulate pocket-rocks at their centers, little ebenezers or extra borders. This one doesn’t lend itself to that… and while I had felt an inner tugging, it wasn’t about putting my rock down.
After going in, there is always going out — I turned around and spiraled my again-novel way back to the outer edge, exploring the contours of the enoughness of “I don’t know.” On that walk, it felt light — or I felt the release of noticing I’d been foolish, silly, that be-ing was plenty in and of itself. I reached the end, which had been the beginning, and started looking around for where my rock belonged.
A few feet back down the path and about as far off to the side there was a large pile of whitish local limestone. At a guess, I’d say they’d been cleared from the ground where the bricked path and labyrinth now stand — pulled up and shifted so that some dirt would be smooth, but left in case someone might want them again. Or because there was no need to move them further, since apart from the labyrinth that part of the property is still scrub. I’ve been part of this congregation in chunks — February through early May, September through (eventually) early December — and they have become very dear to me even while I feel no imperative to stay. We have left an imprint on each other, something good, and enough.
So I tucked my much-smaller rock into the large pile, which may or may not be transformed into something, or even remain part of the grounds. But for a while, my “more than it seems” rock will continue to be part of this community. And I will keep practicing to leave my querulous “more than it seems?!”-ing behind. Since even nothing-in-particular is still enough.