Upon This Rock

by Joanie Butman

Those of you who know me well know I have an affinity for stones and enjoy making cairns as gifts of encouragement. While walking one morning this summer, I stumbled upon a treasure trove of cairns. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a cairn is a man-made pile of stones. Over the years, they have been used for many purposes:  accomplishing a summit, memorials at burial or battle sites, art forms, and, when placed at regular intervals, they indicate a path across stony or barren terrain. The Inuits call them inuksuit, which is translated "You are on the right path."  They are used as directional markers that signify safety, hope, and friendship. Inuits consider them "symbols of survival.' 

Anyway, on this particular morning, I rounded the corner to discover a veritable garden of stone structures in every shape and size – our own little Stonehenge in Massachusetts. It was magical though the photos don’t do it justice. I’m no scientist, but some of the structures appeared to defy the laws of physics much like faith defies logic. I was amazed at the seemingly precarious positions in which they stood.

As this site was on my daily walking route, over the next couple of weeks I witnessed their slow demise and noticed which ones withstood the vagaries of nature and remained erect – true symbols of survival following a particularly violent storm. The cairns remaining after a month had one of two things in common. They either had: 

  1. A strong, stable foundation or
  2. A foundation that was supported on either side protecting it and keeping it stable.

It occurred to me that here was a perfect example of two important aspects of Christianity; namely,

  1. The stronger your foundation and your connection to it, the less likely you are to crumble in a storm.
  2. Christian fellowship is essential for support when your own foundation is undermined.

Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. It’s all about building and maintaining a strong relationship with your foundational Rock and sharing it with others. In our society where individuality reigns, it is tempting to ignore our responsibility to other Christians. Prayer is an integral part of that responsibility.

Perhaps it’s because everyone I know seems to be in some form of crisis, but prayer has been a frequent topic of conversation with my friends all summer. Without a doubt this is an area where I am definitely the weakest link. As far as I’m concerned, the power of prayer is just one of those mysteries that’s meant to be experienced not necessarily understood.

Even so, these stones illustrate two truths on which my friends and I agree, despite our drastically different approaches to prayer. First and foremost, prayer builds and maintains the strength of the connection to your foundation so that when trouble comes you won’t be shaken. Second, even if the connection to that foundation is precarious, the prayers of others can help protect you in any storm and uphold you during times of distress.


Unquestionably, God wants us in prayer constantly because he wants us in continual communion with Him. He wants us to offer Him our joys, sorrows, fears and anxieties. Not so that He can eliminate them, but so He can share them. He won’t necessarily take away our pain, but He can transform it. He is always patiently waiting to help us face any storm. He doesn’t guarantee a peaceful life. He offers peace amidst life, which is anything but peaceful.

Personally, I believe the true value of prayer is that it is an expression of our love for God and for each other, and it is this love that comforts us and pleases God. God doesn’t instruct us to pray always because He needs to be reminded of our needs. It’s because we need to be reminded of His presence and sovereignty; which, in turn, fills us with His comfort and peace.

Years ago I created a photo book of rocks and cairns I’ve collected over the years. I leave copies in the waiting room during my frequent visits to Sloane Kettering. Just yesterday, someone asked me why I don’t find my trips there disturbing. Other than the fact that I feel incredibly close to God there, I consider myself a walking ‘symbol of survival’ for those sitting where I was six years ago. I can’t give out rocks to everyone I meet, but we are all living stones. We can all choose to offer hope and encouragement simply by sharing our stories. People want to hear from someone who’s come out the other side of the pain they are experiencing. Richard Rohr describes this phenomenon in Everything Belongs

All we have to give away is our own journey. Our own story. Then we become living witnesses. The only authority we have in other people's lives is what we ourselves have walked and what we know to be true. Then we have earned the right to speak...We must believe in such a way that we give hope and meaning to the next generation...That's what our lives are for: to hand on the mystery to those who are coming after us, which means that we have to appropriate the mystery ourselves.

There are many forms of stony or barren terrain as we navigate through life. My hope is that you choose to find your own inspiration whether it be a cairn, a person, a photo, a verse or a prayer to encourage you to remain on the path God has chosen for you despite the difficult conditions. I don’t know what your struggle is. Life itself may be the storm you’re facing today. However, even when you are tempted to feel like you have no choices available, you can still choose prayer. That is always a wise choice.