Monday, May 09, 2005

Touchstones

You've heard of Stonehenge, but you may not know that there are standing stones all over the Celtic lands of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, and the Isle of Man. While other cultures used standing stones, the Celts used them extensively. Scotland, alone, has over one thousand standing stones. Some are in circles, others in long lines that can go miles, and some are clustered around huge cairns used -- probably -- as burial sites back around Moses' time. Many of the stones were originally plain and then adorned later by master stone carvers of the Picts. Others were elaborately adorned but time and weather have worn them down to the point where only sophisicated electronic equipment can discern the old markings. Some have ogham script along the sides, but most of that has been lost -- again, due to time and tide.

Many imaginative theories have arisen over the years to explain why these stones were raised and placed just so all over the northern lands, but it must be said that every theory has been lacking in one way or another. Caesar said they were Druidic temples but we now know the stones predate the Druids by a thousand years. More modern theorists declare that they were astronomical observatories or calendars. "See," they whisper excitedly, "how they point just so on such and such a date!" Unfortunately, everything is pointed somewhere at some time so these theories are probably just wishful thinking.

Whatever their original purpose, enough records survive to show how the later Celts used the stones. They served as touchstones for the community, places of gathering where the people could reconnect as a tribe -- one with each other and different from all others. It was where they came to settle differences, to trade, to worship, to find brides or husbands, to set races or other competitions, or to touch base with their cultural history and listen to the storytellers (the seannachies).

We all need touchstones. They are the re-centering points of our lives. They give us meaning, or remind us of our meaning. They serve the same purpose as our to-to lists: they show us how we are doing. Touchstones comes in a stunning variety of forms. For some, family is a touchstone. For others, it can be the raising of the flag. Everytime I see that flag go up and hear the Star Spangled Banner my allergies act up and my eyes start watering... even though my people lost that war! When I see a soldier walking through the airport, it is a touchstone, reminding me that the important matters in life aren't American Idol and Paula Abdul. When I come to worship with my brothers and sisters I encounter a significant touchstone that re-centers, re-focuses, and re-aligns my life. Others use vacation spots, hobbies, favorite old books... but touchstones are important to all of us. They keep us from descending into the anonymous, grey "they." We are something and we are going somewhere and we can tell because of the touchstones in our lives.

Every year or so I travel back to the Western Isles of Scotland. I stand on the tiny island of Iona where Christianity came to Scotland and reconnect by the huge stone cross in front of the ancient abbey. I watch the ships come and go in the little harbor of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. I go the winged isle, the isle of mists -- the Isle of Skye -- and walk the cliffsides north of Portree before heading over just out of Edinbane and touching the stones. When my daughter was two I placed her atop one of the stones and took her picture. She is smiling, laughing, beaming in that photo. I saw her graduate from Lipscomb this weekend and took more pictures -- she was smiling, laughing, beaming. Touchstones.

Today is very busy. I got home at 1:30AM, was in my office by 8AM and I have tons of work to get done. But whatever else I do today, nothing will be as important as visiting the touchstones. I will pray, tell my wife I love her, hug my parrot, talk to my son, call my daughter, play a song on a guitar or ukulele. If I do not do these things I become a wanderer, a lost soul, without compass, community, or meaning.

Whatever else you do today, get to the touchstones in your life. Reconnect with the eternal.

9 Comments:

At 5/09/2005 11:39:00 AM , Blogger TCS said...

We are Living Stones!

 
At 5/09/2005 01:23:00 PM , Blogger Dee O'Neil Andrews said...

Patrick -

I read a book several years ago about a man's trip to Scotland and Ireland to visit all of the stones he could. Up until then, I'd never heard of them.

The book was full of pictures of them and I found it to be very interesting and thought provoking then. So, your post today reminds me of all of those pictures of the many touchstones.

That's really neat that you get to go there every year to visit all of those places. I guess the touchstones for me are mostly mental and emotional ones, you know? Remembering certain things in life and what the truly significant moments are.

I guess we all have these touchstones in our lives. But, like you say, we need to remember them more often and seek them out day by day.

Thanks for the eloquent reminder.

 
At 5/09/2005 09:39:00 PM , Blogger Steve Duer said...

Reading this post, I couldn't help thinking of the passage in Joshua when the tribes staying on the other side of the Jordan set up the stones to remind those who were going on into Canaan that it had been a 12 tribe effort. We need those markers in our life. Thanks for the reminder.

 
At 5/10/2005 09:18:00 AM , Blogger David U said...

Patrick, what a wonderful encouragement your post was today!
Like many of you, I feel blessed with so MANY different touchstones in my life. Thanks again for the reminder.

In HIM,
DU

 
At 5/10/2005 01:59:00 PM , Blogger Arielle said...

You'd really enjoy the book Secrets of the Lost Races by Rene Noorbergen. Mr. Noorbergen supports the theory that Stonehenge, ect. are related to astronomy - though what he says is that they are actually a form of computer, meant for predicting certain astronomical events. The standing stones - and this is even more fascinating - correspond to ley lines - that is, magnetic lines that run through the earth. Within a ley line the fertility of the earth is greatly enhanced. The ley lines can be manipulated and the standing stones were more than likely a way of doing so.

Our ancestors were not the grubby cavemen that most people like to imagine these days!

Hehe, sorry, I know this is slightly off-topic.

 
At 5/12/2005 03:50:00 AM , Blogger Difster said...

Years ago, I heard that Stonehenge lines up somehow with one of the pyramids in Eqypt.

You might be able to find the info on khouse.org. I'm too tired to look for it.

 
At 5/12/2005 01:32:00 PM , Blogger Josh.Graves said...

Even if we are related...this is one of the better posts I've read.

Your language of touchstone is strikingly parallel to the vision of the purpose of "worship assembly" in Paul's thinking.

I know this scares you...you are a theologian...:)

Good stuff.

 
At 5/12/2005 02:11:00 PM , Blogger Cheetah, the cheetah said...

I have always been fascinated by the history of the British Isles..did I say that right? I've read lots of fiction books about them. In regard to touchstones, I think everyone wants their lives to matter is some way once they are gone and touchstones are one way we can do that. I hope I've taught my kids that life isn't about what feels good or is easy today, but rather about what has eternal value.

 
At 5/12/2005 04:56:00 PM , Blogger don said...

Patrick, I need to say three things, the first two of which don't really have to do with the meat of your post:

1) My 6th-grade son just did a project for school on Scotland, complete with tartan kilt, photos on a board, and a prof. here who plays the highland pipes. One of his photos was of the abbey at Iona, and I could imagine you standing there as I read! Cool.

2) A high-school friend of mine has discovered within the last 7 years, a network of stones laid out in a grid over "an immense area" in my home county and adjacent areas in Missouri. They at first looked like natural outcroppings in the Ozarks, but he noticed they had been cut, followed markings and found the next, and the next, in a series of lines and grids, and is doing research on these at present. I know that doesn't have anything to do w/your blog, but is quite amazing, and may be N. America's answer to the Celtic, Egyptian, and South American cultures which left similar traces!

3)It occurred to me from your's and others' comments that the touchstones we have are all around relationships. This is the only eternal thing. Nothing material will leave this world, but our relationship here, and with God, will last, and may actually help determine the eternal destiny of many. That's why the touchstones are important. Good thoughts, as always. thanks.

 

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