“Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”1 Peter 2: 4-5
I’ve always loved stones. I pick them up everywhere. I especially like smooth ones and sparkly ones and those with interesting patterns in them. Even more than their appearance though, I like the way they feel when I close my fingers around them.
Recently I was talking to my friend Prill about how I am getting her library of books to its new owner, my youngest son, an English high school teacher in Columbus. I told her I’m mailing them, one box at a time because this way, he not only gets the library she has entrusted to me for him as a gift, but he gets to be surprised by a new box of books that arrive on his porch every week. In Covid-time, to get a care package weekly in the mail is no small thing. I intend to drag this out as long as possible.
Prill was delighted. She said, “Ohhhh — I like that. A touchstone!”
The word, Touchstone, has many definitions. One is: a test or criterion for determining the genuineness of a thing. By that definition, I suppose this new ritual is a touchstone in that these boxes of books contain genuine love.
Chase has travelled to Prill’s house since he was a baby. When you enter her home, a haven of hospitality, the first thing you see is a wall of leaded glass on your right. Through that glass, you can see the wall to wall dark oak shelves filled with books, glossy covers in tact. In the far corner is her sturdy desk, and opposite that, a maroon leather reading chair, ever inviting. That she packaged up a dozen grocery bags of books from this sacred space to gift Chase was as meaningful as it was generous.
Still, there was a hint of sadness when I picked up the bags of books from her deck out back because it was the first time in almost 40 years that I went to her house but did not look through that glass into her library because: Covid.
My friend Linda told me recently that she calls her mother in Minnesota every day. In the past, conversation was easy. Her mother remains sharp, independent, and spry. In BC (before Covid), they might talk about her trip to see Hamilton, or the quality of the Swiss Chard at the farmers market, or the puzzling menu at her friend’s birthday dinner. But since Covid intercepted their calls, their conversations had devolved to: “How are you? About the same. Me too.”
This dialogue a meaningful conversation does not make.
Unwilling to be outmaneuvered by a virus, Linda and her mom, who both do the daily New York Times Crossword Puzzle, took to working on the puzzle together during their daily call. Linda said, “it gives our calls a purpose beyond Covid-talk and it helps us stay connected.”
I like this. I like having a trunkload of books to send to my third-year virtual teaching son in batches. I like having to choose which books I’ll send this week. Boxing them up. Sometimes adding a half-pound of local Lobster Butter Love Coffee; a shareable box of Reeses Pieces; or a Dr. Pepper-flavored lip balm.
I like to imagine Linda and her mom, tackling 37 Down and 3 Across together, apart, on speakerphones. Covid-speak silenced.
I have always loved the verse above from 1st Peter that describes disciples of Jesus as living stones. It reminds me that when we join together, we can be for one another a refuge, we can offer protection; we give and gain support — for a wall of living stones is a strong wall indeed.
Now, during Covid-time, joining together is a struggle all its own. It requires imagination, determination, and sanitation. Even when we do physically meet, we have to practice a fractured form of hospitality. We do not embrace, or shake hands, or touch — at all. You can come over, briefly, but I can’t invite you in. We bring our own beverage; no sips will be offered. No smiles seen.
It’s interesting to me that new rituals to keep us connected might be called “touchstones.” Crossword puzzles and care packages serving as touch; outward manifestations of genuine love. While we carry the weight of 2020, these touchstones are holy life-giving rituals.
In the Gospel of Luke, the story of the last week of Jesus’ life on earth begins with a parade: a procession with palms as Jesus enters Jerusalem. In Luke’s telling, those who would ultimately crucify Jesus order him to silence his disciples who are crying out, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” To this, Jesus replies:
“I tell you, if these were silent, even the stones would cry out!
Of course they would. Because nothing — not Covid, nor the cold of winter, nor even a crucifixion — can keep love away from the beloved.