CousinsatCathedralRock2We step out from under the canopy of trees to an open expanse of rock, a solid place to stand and admire the formations over our heads. At the side, creek water rolls over boulders and skitters through, continuing its slow chisel into the earth. I tip my head back, squint my eyes and look up to take in the work of ancient winds and waters, art sculpted out of red sandstone.

Who knows how it was decided which parts of the rock would stay and which ones would float away? Whatever the give and take, the layers that lasted stand now as jagged steeples pointing up in an uncluttered sky.

No wonder the people call this place Cathedral Rock.

CathedralRockKidsinCreekLetItGoThe cousins toss their shoes in the air, not caring where they land. They run right to the edge of the creek. Fresh pink feet wade into the cold water and burnt sienna sediment pulverized from Sedona’s red rocks.

My husband and brother follow right behind, gathering a few small stones in hand. They whir them over the surface of the water and watch them skip to the other side.

There is supposed to be an inward vortex here, one that brings calm and tranquility and self-reflection, but if it exists it is no match for such testosterone. Before I know it, the guys are heaving boulders into the water and shrugging as if they’re surprised these don’t skip like the small stones do.




LittleOneSkippingStone SkippingStoneSplash


I’m one to carry heavy things, even if on the outside I look like I’m happily skipping pebbles. The world is weighty and it keeps me up at night. Friends fight cancer or fade away with degenerative diseases. Ebola decimates west Africa. I work at building creative visions into reality, but have trouble finding help to make them happen. Riots erupt in Ferguson, New York, Baltimore and on my Facebook page. The school wants to add one more tedious task to my already unattainable list. Passenger planes fall over earth and ocean. My husband lands an amazing job, but two other family members lose theirs. Sister Meriam Ibrahim is delivered safely to her family from her jail cell in Sudan but Pastor Saeed remains in an Iranian prison where he suffers for his faith in Jesus. Marriages struggle. Friends sink into depression. ISIS terrorists capture my brothers and sisters in Christ across the ocean, behead them, and call it holy work.

I lift these burdens from the path, lug them along and then wonder why I can’t keep up with my daily tasks or periodic deadlines. It can be hard to catch your breath when you spend your days wrestling with the world and your nights wrestling with God, trying to figure out His ways in the midst of chaos.

Last summer, as we interviewed key leaders of relief and justice movements from the developing world, a Coptic Orthodox priest shared the story of Christians from his congregation who laid themselves over their Muslim friends to shield them from harm during the Arab Spring demonstrations on Tahrir Square. I had seen chaos of the protests on television, but somehow I had missed the reports of these acts of courage and compassion, acts which had brought many to Christ and significantly changed the atmosphere in the community. When our translator heard me express my surprise, she said something I’ll never forget: “It’s like the Book of Exodus. When you look at Egypt, you may see the plagues, but underneath, God is bringing His people through.”

On the flat rock that flanks the banks of this creek, the kids busy themselves with other stones. Starting with a large stone, they set up a foundation and then bring other smaller stones to rest one on top of the other in artful balance, following the lead of previous hikers who have set up rock stacks by the hundreds.


But as I admire the tiny formations built by human hands, these cairns as they’re called, questions interrupt. Is there something deeper to these stacks? Could they be little totems built for worship of something other than the Lord? Should we be contributing our own cairns to the array? As my temperament description says, idealists like me “live a paradox, drawn toward purity and unity but looking over the shoulder toward the sullied and desecrated.” There’s always complexity, weightiness.

At this moment, my son walks up with two stones and the answer to my unspoken question. “Mommy, this is like in the Bible when God’s people would stack rocks to remember what God did for them.” (Hear it all in kidspeak in the video below!)

Somehow, I had forgotten the stories until he chimed in. But his reminder is permission to let my shoulders relax. These stacks are not only for saying, “I’ve been here,” like a hiker’s temporary graffiti, but for saying, “God and I met here,” like Jacob who gave up a night of sleep to wrestle with the Lord.

What Do These Stones Mean? from Darcy Wiley on Vimeo.

I’m not the kind who can just toss a boulder into the water like it’s a pebble and be done with it. I’ve discovered that part of the job of being me is to hold heavy things and feel the gravity of emotion in order to be able to put each feeling and insight in its place. In fact, as a recent podcast about the complicated INFP noted, if those with my temperament type don’t allow an emotion to rise to it’s authentic peak, it will circle and circle in the mind and go nowhere fast, the opposite of tranquility.

I need to explore, read, ask questions, observe and wrap my heart and mind around a thing. I need to carry the rock for a while and bring it to bear with others before I discover just how to balance them all together. This long-suffering means coming to terms with a life that will probably be less-productive and embracing one more artful.

Words are the stones I stack. Whether the ancient word of Scripture, spoken word in conversation, lyrics shared in song, a phrase underlined in a book, or the act of writing a piece of prose myself, words help me gather themes and symbols and questions from uneasy places and put them in balance. Like the hikers who leave these cairns behind as trail markers, I leave evidence of what happened here. I point to beautiful vistas, those hard to climb to, and say, “Go this way if you want to have your breath taken away.”


ToddlerStackingRocks can cry out. Stones can tell stories. Just as my children gathered stones and mimicked the stunning rock formations that stood tall over our heads, we all as sub-creators made in the image of God can bring layer upon layer of story or color or melody to tell the story of how He has shown Himself mighty, making the supposedly impossible come true.

His people told the story in twelve rocks on the bank of the Jordan, the place where God repeated the miracle of the Red Sea, pulling back the water for His people to walk through.

“When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ …So that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty.” -Joshua 5:21-24

Piecing together these stories is an exercise in balance, a testament of glory, a collection of tiny steeples pointing up.

As my husband and brother heave boulder after boulder into Oak Creek, shaking the ground around us, my sister-in-law shouts out, “You guys are going to alter the course of the river!”

Maybe it’ll be that way with our rocks of remembrance, too.


{How has God shown up for you lately? Where might you be able to set up a cairn of your own to say “God was here”? I tend to pick up words to share my experiences. What creative pursuits are an exercise in balance for you that might also end up as a work of art for others to enjoy?}

This post includes an affiliate link that, when you purchase anything through the link, provides a small commission (at no extra cost to you) to keep Message in a Mason Jar running. Thank you for your support!