Prayer Space: 8th – 14th May – “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”
I have a small obsession with pebbles. The kids and I pick them up, buckets full of them, from beaches – always choosing the smoothest shapes. We usually paint on them when we get home. It started quite a few years ago, on holiday in France, as we walked along a dry river bed in Brittany. Ruby was a toddler, and as many of you will know only too well, toddlers also have a fascination with stones. They tend to pick them up whenever they seem them, and hand them to you with an extraordinary gifting smile, as if they were handing you the world. As adults, we will act overjoyed, thanking them for their gift, but smiling wryly, before dumping them behind us as soon as they stoop for the second handful.
I just remember once being mystified by the look in Ruby’s eyes; why was she so happy? What did she see in this stone? And although I have never been able to answer this question fully, as toddlers are prone to secrecy about their own philosophies, it did lead me to wonder where this particular pebble had come from.
It was liquid once. Hotter than we are able to imagine, in the dark interior of a volcano. Something happened to make it burst out into our weak sunlight, where it turned hard and cold. It may have rested on a mountainside, perhaps for millennia. Then slowly it would have moved down, maybe dragged under a glacier during an ice age or two. On the valley floor, it may have been roughly stepped on by a dinosaur. Eventually, humans came along to occupy the space. The river bed was at the foot of a cliff, where people were pushed to their deaths during the Albigensian Crusade. I imagined a child’s blood being washed off this stone by the river waters when they returned after the summer drought. And since that time, the churn and grind of the meltwaters had smoothed it and polished it, year on year.
It turns out toddlers are right. Stones are an extraordinary thing…
But pebbles are also a powerful symbol of our emotions. We all have a molten core. We are all capable of exploding anger and fear out into the weak sunlight. Those emotions are part of us, and they are there to protect us in many ways. But they also come at a cost. They weigh so much, and carrying them is a burden.
We all have a few pebbles clanging away in our pockets. Remnants of times we were hurt or afraid. If you have ever met someone carrying a rucksack full, you would instantly have known, as bitterness carves itself deep into a person’s face. Others carry a huge a single stone from a time when they were perhaps very small, and unable to deal with their emotions. They might disguise it completely, careful layers never letting you know it is there, but weighed down nevertheless by their past experiences.
Our prayer meeting this week focussed on forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And we each took a pebble, held it for a while, thought about any hard and cold feelings that might be weighing down our pockets, and chose whether or not to drop them into the cool waters of God’s love, as we said a prayer to help us to forgive.
The next step was to pray for forgiveness of our own sins, and letters written to a person we have hurt was the way we made our confessions, to ourselves and to God. As we congregated again in the chapel, we took a spiky mirror tile, and wrote a symbol of our sin on it in sharpie pen, which would not wash off. It was only by using the “wine” that we could wipe the sin away. And as the sharp tiles came together, they formed a flower, reminding us that whatever failings we all have, when we come together, we can become something truly beautiful.
…And on the walls: