Megan McKenna holds the Ph.D. in Liberation Theology and Scripture from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California. A notable storyteller, Megan is also on the Board of Directors of Pax Christi, U.S.A.
THERE is a story told in Italy about Michelangelo and stones. Whether it is true or not is not debated. What it means though is open to interpretation. This is how I heard the story.
Everyday God would look down from heaven on the earth to watch over his people and to see what they were up to. And every once in awhile he would go to visit his people and dwell with them, though usually no one recognized him. Sooner or later, however, someone would come along and find him and then he would disappear from their sight and return to the heavens. And it seemed that some of his best hiding and watching places were in rocks, stones, canyons, caves, wells, and tombs.
Soon there were stories about a stone that Jacob used for a pillow and dreamed of angels ascending and descending to earth and where he wrestled all night before receiving a blessing from a mysterious angel. And the one about Jacob’s well or Sinai’s mountain and many about the Temple in Jerusalem. Then Isaiah the prophet promised the presence of a cornerstone (but was it a rock or a person?). “Therefore, says the Lord God: See, I am laying a stone in Zion, a stone that has been tested, a precious cornerstone as a sure foundation; the one who puts faith in it shall not be shaken” (Is. 28:16). Then, not so long ago, Jesus came and told his people that it wasn’t necessary to worship in certain places anymore. He told a woman at a well: “Believe me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… an hour is coming, and is already here, when authentic worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth” (John 4:22-23). But then Jesus died on the place of the skull and was buried in a rock-hewn tomb and he became the place to worship in/at. It wasn’t long, though, n before people began building high places and piling stones up to go and worship there. Many years passed and God grew uncomfortable again. People were having trouble recognizing him; they seemed to be looking only in these places that they had built for his honor and glory for his presence and he wondered what he should do about it.
One day God’s attention was drawn to a commotion that was going on around a man in Italy. This man loved stones. All day he would chisel away at the barren slabs and after time, energy, and painstaking effort, the stone would live. It was almost as if he discovered something alive inside the stone and went about freeing it with a passion. He had set many people free already and this time he was attempting to set God himself free! For years he had been working on one huge piece of marble, and slowly over the years the figure of a woman holding the body of her dead son was emerging from the rock. And this time even God was surprised at what was being born out of stone. He went to Michelangelo and spoke to him.
Michelangelo, he said, what are you doing? Lord, he answered, I am setting you free, so that everyone will recognize you — not only in stone, but in everything, everyone that dwells on earth, but especially in all those who suffer unjustly and die violently at the hands of others and in those who mourn for the loss of such vibrant life. I don’t want people to forget you. And the Lord spoke again to Michelangelo: Do I really dwell in that stone? I know in the past I have often gone to rocks and mountains, wells and tombs, but I don’t remember going to dwell in the stone you are working on. And Michelangelo answered God: But my Lord, since your child came to us, you don’t have to pick and choose your places of rest; he left your Spirit everywhere we just have to search it out, discover it, touch it and reveal it to others. That’s what it means to live now. And more than satisfied with Michelangelo’s answers, God left him to set him free from the stones.
That’s the story as I heard it, but I’ve since heard another story about stones that changes my impression of this first one from long ago. It’s an American Indian story told to me by a friend as he handed me a stone polished by cold icy waters and fast moving powers. I held it tightly cupped in my palm as he told me where it came from and why it was ‘my stone.’ Some of us Native Americans believe that God loves stones. After all, our Mother the earth is one round stone. Even our small continent, Turtle Island, is hard and grooved like stones weathered and beaten and used to traffic. We sit on Turtle’s back and dwell here solidly. Our ancestors tell the story that God started creation out with one large block of stone and he worked on it night and day, chipping and chiseling away — and buried in one of the many stones he worked on was hidden the form of a human, a two-legged. He honed and struck at the block of stone, and chips went flying all over the face of the earth. He was so intent on creating and setting loose the figure of this man/woman that he worked furiously, with small stones and even rocks scattered all over earth. When he was finished, he was very pleased and leaned close to the stone, breathing on it and breathing his own Spirit into it. And so humans were created by the power and intimacy of God.
We are people of stones. We live on Mother the Earth and pieces of us are scattered all over the earth, small slivers, round, hard, weathered stones; in mountain streams, river beds, on the sides of mountains. Pieces of our spirit hewn away while God was making us are hidden here. It is our duty to find them these cast off pieces of our spirits and to gather and collect them and to make out of them something whole, something beautiful. As we walk the blessingways we are to be attentive, to look and to find these leftovers that are scattered about. And when we find them all, then it is time for us to be buried in the mountains, to return to the stone of Mother the Earth. With the story’s ending, he handed me a green stone the color of the depths of the sea, cast up from the ocean on an Oregon coast. Take it, keep it, treasure it as a piece of your spirit that has been missing, that teaches you your connection to all the earth and from now on, be awake, be careful of everything, even stones, for they are living stones. Our lives are inter-connected and bound together and we must live with tender regard for each piece and small thing for n it is someone’s spirit.
It wasn’t until years later that I remembered that story and it took on greater depth and meaning. When Dorothy Day died, a friend gave me a stone — she too collected stones from around the world, piling them up. Again it was a green one, in the shape of a drop of water, a tear, back-lighted and warm. It came with a note, and a quotation from Scripture: “This means that you are strangers and aliens no longer. No, you are fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God. You form a building which rises on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is fitted together and takes shape as a holy temple in the Lord; in him you are being built into this temple, to become a dwelling place for God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22)
We are Living Stones. And Paul tells us: “Are you not aware that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). With all of these symbols and stories as background, history can be seen as a struggle between building up the temple of God, of calling forth life from the stones of the earth and encouraging one another to see God’s presence hidden in every rock and leaf, man and woman, and nation and people. It is the task and the work of doing justice, making peace, and bridging differences, being living stones, peace-makers and those who remember that we are all one, all holy and all of a piece. John Paul II’s words make sense: “Like a cathedral, peace must be constructed patiently and with unshakable faith.” Peace is hard work, like Michelangelo and God knew from their work of creation. It takes intensity, passion, sweat, and patience looking to see to the heart of matter and struggling to birth life out of stones, struggling to set all of us and God free.
The American bishops knew this from their work together on their pastoral on war and peace: The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and our Response, made public on May 3, 1983. Christ is our peace — that is the basis of the pastoral’s message. And we, his people, his followers, his Church, are given the mission to bring light into a world that needs hope; and to bring the gospel to bear on the signs and realities in our world that mitigate against peace. Our vision of peace and justice has an objective basis in Jesus Christ and can be brought to realization by hard work and progressive steps of change, transformation, and sacrifice. We are called to the vocation of peace: of making peace more and more of a reality in our personal lives, in our communities, and churches, in our country, in the world, and with our earth. In the very first chapter we are reminded, “…peace can refer to an individual’s sense of well-being or security, or it can mean the cessation of armed hostility, producing an atmosphere in which nations can relate to each other and settle conflicts without resorting to the use of arms. For men and women of faith, peace will imply a right relationship with God which entails forgiveness, reconciliation, and union. Finally the scriptures point to eschatological peace, a final, full realization of God’s salvation when all creation will be made whole” (No. 27).
This peace “is always seen as a gift from God and as fruit of God’s saving activity. Secondly, the individual’s personal peace is not greatly stressed. The well-being and freedom from fear which results from God’s love are viewed primarily as they pertain to the community and its unity and harmony. Furthermore, this unity and harmony extend to all of creation; true peace implies a restoration of the right order not just among peoples, but within all of creation” (No. 32). “O that you had hearkened to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea!” (Is. 48:18).
We are living stones, Christians who see the vision of peace and know the reign/rain of God and yet know all too well the terror and insecurity of the world that relies on weapons (not arms for hugging each other closer) and fear and domination. We live in the middle, in-between hope and the substance of things hoped for. That ambiguity is full of anguish, uncertainty, and grace. If peace is to be a reality in our lives and in our times, then it will happen because we are peace-makers, the children of n God, intent on bringing hope, justice, and harmony to all peoples, nations, and to the land and waters of our dwelling place.
A song puts the prayer simply: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me” — but perhaps it should read: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with us.” Any work of justice, of hope, of peace, cannot be sustained for long alone. Any work for unity, harmony, and community implies others. As families, as churches, as parishes, as communities, we must work together for the gift to be shared with the world. In the Eastern proclamations we hear over and over again: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you!” We are to make our way into the world with our visions, our forgiveness, our judgment, our words of prophecy and hope, and with our own peace among us as witness to the words that we proclaim as good news.
There are a number of materials that can keep the vision alive and present to us, beginning with the pastoral itself: The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and our Response (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, United States Catholic Conference, 1312 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005). The Campaign for Human Development (at the same address) has available a Novena for Justice and Peace: Reflections on the Scriptures for use in small groups and parishes. It is also available in Spanish: Novena Para la Justicia y la Paz: Reflexiones sobre Sagradas Escrituras. It consists of reading, reflections, and prayers for nine days, with an additional prayer to Mary, the Queen of Peace, written by Pope John Paul II in Mexico City, 1979.
Perhaps the most comprehensive program and continuing process is Living Stones, a Peace program for parishes by Pax Christi U.S.A., an international organization for peace and justice, founded in France in 1945 in an effort to reconcile France and Germany after World War II. It concentrates on three interrelated areas of concern: 1) spiritual and liturgical formation as peacemakers; 2) peace education for the entire congregation, and 3) involving parishioners in actions for peace. Parishes can become Living Stones Parishes in cooperation with Pax Christi. There are now 26 branches of Pax Christi throughout the world. Today Pax Christi U.S.A. includes 8,500 people including 94 bishops and 250 local groups who meet for prayer, study, action, and witness. The program provides involvement in efforts for peace, materials that provide education, reflections for Advent, Lent, and liturgies, and all education resources that Pax Christi publishes, including the quarterly magazine and Peaceweaving pamphlets. It provides programs on peace and justice issues, retreats and workshops, and speakers for various groups in the parish. In addition there are bulletin inserts, support, recognition, linking, and community building. The suggested donation is $200 per parish. For information and sample materials, contact Timothy Galucki, Living Stones, c/o Pax Christi, 348 East Tenth Street, Erie, Pennsylvania 16503 or call (814) 453-4955.
Other practical books on peace:
- Merrill Harmin and Saville Sax, A Peaceable Classroom: Activities to Calm and Free Student Energies, (Minneapolis, MN: Winston Press, 1974).
- Jim Wallis, ed., Waging Peace: A Handbook for the Struggle to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (New York: Harper and Row, 1982).
- Joanna Rogers Macy, Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age (Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers, 1983).
- The Promise of World Peace, Universal House of Justice (Lon don: One World Publications, 1986).
- Gene Knudsen-Hoffman, ed., Ways Out: The Book of Changes for Peace (Santa Barbara, CA: John Daniel and Co., 1988).
- James W. Douglass, Lightening East to West (New York: Cross roads, 1983).
- Kathleen and James McGinnis, Parenting for Peace and Justice (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1981).
Some periodicals that endeavor to preach and teach and encourage peace-making are:
- Fellowship (The magazine of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. They describe themselves as men and women who have joined together to explore the power of love and truth for resolving human conflict.) 532 N. Broadway, Nyack, NY 10960.
- S.A.L.T.: For Justice-Hungry Christians, published by the Claretians, 205 W. Monroe, Chicago, IL 60606.
- The Other Side: Justice Rooted in Discipleship, 300 W. Apsley St., Philadelphia, PA 19144. It provides reviews of music, books, films a book service, reflections and articles on groups and individuals working for peace and justice.
- Sojourners, 1321 Otis St., N.E. Box 29272, Washington, DC 20017.
- Maryknoll (English) and Revista Maryknoll (bi-lingual), Maryknoll, NY, 10545. Also provides films, educational resource programs, and mission speakers.
- The New Internationalist, PO Box 1143, Lewiston, NY 14092 from the United Kingdom, gives an international perspective to peace and justice issues, and each issue deals with a specific problem/area of work.
All these aids and resources are primers, goaders, helps along the way, for peace is a person: Jesus. Pax Christi is a reality when it is enfleshed in people, living breathing stones that worship God and are peace-makers and his children. Thomas Merton has said: “We are not capable of union with one another on the deepest level until the inner self in each one of us is sufficiently awakened to confront the inmost spirit of the other” (The Inner Experience). And Gandhi goes one step further: “With every true friendship build more firmly the foundations on which the peace of the whole world rests.”
Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce in 1897 reminded us of our true family: “We are all sprung from a woman, although we are unalike in many things. We cannot be made over again. You are as you were made, and as you were made you can remain. We are just as we were made by the Great Spirit, and you cannot change us; then why should children of one mother and one father quarrel — why should one try to cheat the other? I do not believe that the Great Spirit gave one kind of men the right to tell another kind of men what they must do.” But our unity, our peace is not just among us, it is woven into the weave of the world itself: “It was the wind that gave them life. It is the wind that comes out of our mouths now that gives us life. When this ceases to blow we die. In the skin at the tips of our fingers we see the trail of the wind; it shows us where the wind blew when our ancestors were created” (Navajo poem). We need to remember now what our older brothers and sisters in this land knew and believed and practiced: “While living I want to live well. I know I have to die sometime, but even if the heavens were to fall on me, I want to do what is right. There is one God looking down on us all. We are all children of the one God. God is listening to me. The sun, the darkness, the winds, are all listening to what we now say” (Geronimo, 1886). We are living stones and God dwells with us here in this place, hidden, waiting to be called forth, set free, and recognized. If we want peace, we must work for justice (Paul VI) so as to “be given a white stone upon which is inscribed a new name, to be known by those who receive it” (Rev. 2:17). We are called to build the city of God and one day to hear the words: “This is God’s dwelling among men and women. He shall dwell with them and they shall be his people and he shall be their God who is always with them. He shall wipe every tear form their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain, for the former world has passed away” (Rev. 21:3-4).
“The One what sat on the throne said to me, “See I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write these matters down, for the words are trustworthy and true!” He went on to say: “These words are already fulfilled!” (Rev. 21:5-6). The words are already true. We know the vision, we have the hope, we are summoned to the work, we are born to the trade: we are peacemakers, in the tradition of God who made us and sculptors like Michelangelo. Let us begin by looking for stones, missing pieces of their souls, and together we can build the temple of peace among us.