By Lacy Finn Borgo
There is an unmistakable clang that reverberates throughout the laundry room as million-year-old granite bits slam up against the stainless-steel drum in my washing machine. One peek through the looking glass offers sloshing glimpses of denim jeans belonging to little girls. I gather in a deep sigh and wonder if I have indeed washed all the gravel in my driveway, gravel that has been gathered and stored as precious treasure in front and back pockets.
My daughters, who are now moving into adulthood, loved to collect rocks. One of our favorite children's stories was a contemplative reflection on the practice of choosing just the right rock. In Everybody Needs A Rock by Byrd Baylor, the reader’s attention is pulled to the weight of the rock in the hand, the colors and patterns that can be seen, the smell of the earth, the feel of smooth or jagged edges all culminating in an awareness, a connection to the world around them.
Children are drawn to the natural world. Like the universal fingerprints of God, goodness beauty and truth, the natural occurrences of fire, earth and water connect children (and adults) to their own sense of belonging in God's wide and wonderful world. Recalling the gravel washing, and also the nights watching my children play around our backyard firepit long after all the marshmallows had been eaten and the Graham crackers forgotten, prompted me to wonder how reflecting on fire, water and rock might draw children into an encounter with God.
One late night while perusing Etsy, I came across a set of felted and stuffed elements from the store ifeltfanciful.etsy.com. The set contains felted fire, water and rock. I wondered how children might respond to these toys during Holy Listening, my spiritual direction ministry with children at Haven House, a transitional facility for homeless families.
As is our usual ritual, the child and I began our time sitting on the white blanket dotted with green leaves. Each was invited to switch on our battery powered candle reminding us both of God's presence with us in this sacred space. In front of the candle I offered the felted fire, the felted water, and the felted rock. Then I asked, “What do you think these are?”
Children immediately noticed and named fire. Jimmy said, “Oh this is flame. See. Here are the little sticks.” Which then led very quickly to naming water, “It's like a big drop of water. And the funny eyes make me laugh.” Intuitively knowing where we were going, he moved to the rock, “And this is a rock. I like it , it's smooth. I especially like its green hair.”
As of yet, not one child has associated the green “hair” with moss . But what can I say, we live in the high desert we know little of moss. The children were enamored with the toys and projected their living experiences onto them.
Next, I asked each child to tell me three stories, one of fire, one of water, and one of rock or earth. Alice said, “I remember gathering sticks for a fire and I didn’t like it. It was really hard to make a fire. But after the fire was big, we could get warm next to it.”
“Warm next to it,” I mirrored back, “What was that like?” After a long thoughtful pause, she said, “It's like when I sit next to my friend and listen to her feelings, it's like that.” “Do you have someone to listen to you?” I wondered. “Yeah, my mom and Ryan at Haven House.” We sat in reverential silence of the truth of warmth shared between listening people. “God is like that too,” she added, “it feels warm when God is listening.”
Justin picked up the water drop and carefully held it cupped in his hands. He said “Water is like, still and deep. And when people are fighting all around me, I sit very still and feel like the flow of water. Sometimes I think of water when I’m all squiggly and jumpy inside and I feel calm.” In that moment, we held still and silent, while Justin rubbed his hands over the fluffy water drop, maybe re-experiencing the soothing presence of water.
Alex said, “the rock is shade for lizards. The sun is so hot, and it can burn you, even lizards. And fish too, they hide in rocks from predators. So maybe rocks remind me that I can hide with God.” Alex went on to tell about a time when he felt afraid at school and he hid behind a teacher, who was like a rock.
Each child found a truth that had been whispered to them through their experiences of fire, water and earth. To be sure God is whispering these truths through creation to human beings (children and adults) all the time. We only needed an invitation to reflect and a listening ear to hear.
Find and friend and share an experience:
Read Everybody Needs a Rock follow all 10 rules. Take a child with you.
Share a conversation with someone around their experience of fire, water or earth/rock.
Lacy Finn Borgo is an eternal being in whom God dwells and delights. From this very core flows her work as a teacher and spiritual director with adults and children. Lacy has authored Renovaré’s spiritual formation curriculum for children Life with God for Children: Engaging Biblical Stories and Practices for Spiritual Formation. She has co-authored a family devotional series titled Good Dirt: A Devotional for the Spiritual Formation of Families. She holds an M.S. from SUNY, Geneseo and a DMIN in Leadership and Spiritual Formation from George Fox Evangelical Seminary. She is also a graduate of the Renovaré Institute for Spiritual Formation. Lacy is part of a family that includes two nearly teenaged daughters, one husband, two parents, four dogs, six cats, seven goats, two horses, and numerous chickens all within a quarter mile radius. The rhythms of life and death, place and community have formed her—for these she gives thanks. For more information about Lacy, check out Good Dirt Ministries.