What Mean These Stones?

IMG_9484 2Piles of rocks like this one mark the pathways I follow on my long daily uphill trudges deep into the forested mountains near my home here in Germany. Today, I felt to stop at this one. I spotted a small angular stone at my feet and placed it without ceremony on the very top of the heap. Then, tugging my red neoprene jacket closed across my chest, I sat down cross-legged in my gray jogging tights right there on the bed of pine needles and gravel.

Under a shroud of birdsong, the following lyrics came to my mind:

“Here I raise my Ebenezer
Hither to thy help I’ve come
And I hope, by thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home…”

That verse from the hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is one I recall mumbling through when I was younger because, honestly, I wasn’t sure why we were singing about Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge in an otherwise lovely anthem to Christ. The word “ebenezer,” I’ve since learned, means “stone of help” (stone=eben; help=ezer), and holds a key to our spiritual steadiness. It might also unlock greater understanding of who we women are and what we are doing with our gifts, resources, time, lives.

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“Ebenezer”, or stone of help, appears twenty-four times in the Old Testament. In 1 Samuel 7:12, for instance, after intervening in and winning Israel’s battles for them, God commands his followers to raise stones and stack them, therewith constructing a lasting memorial commemorating the miracle he has wrought in their lives. In Samuel we read:

“Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”

And in Joshua 4:21-23, after the Israelites cross the Jordan whose river bed has been miraculously rendered dry by God’s hand, God again commands his people to raise or stack stones as a lasting monument to the wonder they have witnessed.

“And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land.”

With a simple stack of stones not only would the eyewitnesses of God’s help be reminded of what they knew of God’s power, but generations yet to come would be reminded of what God had done for their fathers and, in turn, could do in their lives.

Of course, God didn’t need these monuments. Man did. God knew man’s nature then as he does now. He knew that once our crisis passes and our adrenalin levels have normalized; once our howling prayers of fear or desperation have faded to a whimper, then a drone, then to vain repetitions; once we’ve stepped on safe dry ground and slid back into daily distractions; once we don’t need him quite as acutely as we maybe once did, we quickly, tragically and cyclically forget him. Without deliberate mortal markers that cause us to remember him, we will forget.

Poor creatures! We all seem destined to die of spiritual Alzheimers.

Against such disease, God commands us to do the unlikely: grab some rocks. Stack stones. The point here, significantly, is not that men, as slaves, build some monument of vanity to God. Nor is the point for man to construct a Tower of Babel to physically ascend to God. The object of the stones is simply to take the time to remember. It’s not complicated or sophisticated work. Anyone can do it. But raising rocks of remembrance will do our eternal spirits the ultimate good. Simply remembering God and connections with him will invite him into our very immediate and intimate midst. We will meet and be one with him exactly where and when we remember him. This is the sublime and simple promise we hear weekly in the sacraments prayers: If we will  but remember him, we will have God with us.

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What might this all mean for women specifically?

While “ebenezer” is used twenty-four times in the Old Testament, (out of which sixteen times it refers to God as our ultimate and divine “helper”), it is only used twice to refer to Eve. When God presents Adam with an “ezer k’negdo”, God gives man not a “helpmate”, as the word has traditionally been mistranslated. Rather, God is blessing Adam with a mighty help — a help meet or equal to Adam’s needs. Eve is given to man and the sons of Adam as a protector against mankind’s enemy. Woman is a formidable partner who comforts, strengthens, and helps win humanity’s most fierce battles. She saves.

We women are all Eves. Women are charged with the holy mission to identify the enemy of mankind in all its forms and lead out in this tired world’s battle. For my work with Their Story is Our Story (or TSOS Refugees, a grassroots NGO where I am a founding member), I am fighting to give voice to my oppressed, persecuted, and voiceless refuge sisters and brothers the world over. And at Mormon Women for Ethical Government, (a non-partisan, peacemaking political activism NGO for which I am also a founding member), we aim to harness our covenant power, wrapping it up in our natural sisterly unity in order to identify, confront, and defeat darkness within government.

But as with anything that has great potential for power, there will be opposition. The danger, as I have observed it in myself, that threatens our effectiveness is if we rely on ourselves or any other faulty source of guidance and forget God. If we rush into our days, not with soothing scripture but with scathing news headlines blazing in our minds. If we, in all our passion for what is good and light, drive ourselves into the ground, cynical and depleted and empty in the end. If we catch ourselves feeling mostly frantic or furious, overextended or overburdened, exhausted or even excessively excitable. If we “feel dark clouds of trouble hang o’r us” which “threaten our peace to destroy”, then we must stop.

We must find a stone.

We must bow our heads.

We must remember him.

We must remind ourselves that in this battle — like all the others since before the world’s foundation — he has been our Savior:

“We doubt not the Lord nor his goodness/
We have proved him in days that are past.”

So sisters, raise your ebenezer! Stack stone upon stone upon stone. Take slow, systematic inventory of your intimate history with God. Reflect on him and his unspeakable love until your entire body feels refreshed, renewed. Write down that witness you have until tears mix with ink. Read it out loud until your throat constricts with gratitude and awe. Share that belief with someone, without shame or exaggeration. Remember stone by stone by stone what he already has wrought in your life and then witness to someone else that he will do just the same in theirs.

Here is just the start of my stack:

I remember when peace extinguished bone-crushing anguish
I remember inexplicable moments of epiphany
I remember a burning prayer answered in the cool of the night
I remember impossible insights via the spirit
I remember dreams that warned and instructed
I remember dreams that were more visitation
I remember his voice and his hands on my troubled head
I remember a-ha! revelations and slow-melt awakenings
I remember pounding my fists on the tiled kitchen floor. And his patience.
I remember holes and hunger filled
I remember the right person saying the right thing at the right moment
I remember when I knew. I simply knew.
I remember he has always, unfailingly remembered me.

IMG_9462(A version of this piece was published on June 24th, 2018 as one of the weekly Sabbath Devotionals for the members of MWEG, or Mormon Women for Ethical Government.)

 

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2018.  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

Unpacking From Prague: Women’s International Network

Let’s hear it for Reality/Dream Mashups.

Our last post anticipated leaving for and taking part in a global conference called W.I.N. (Women’s International Network) held this year in Prague. Back on that page, I dreamt myself into the hours and days ahead as I would arrive in my hotel room, unpack gear and gown for that conference, and line up my photos of family and special ones of our son, Parker. All of this was supposed to prefigure a personal dream-fulfillment of speaking publicly on my research and writing about both global living and living after loss.

So, just to return and report: Things didn’t go exactly as I’d dreamt.

They went better.

Everyone beat their own Sewa Beats djembe.  "Sewa": unity, service, joy.

Everyone beat their own Sewa Beats djembe. “Sewa”: unity, service, joy.

Quickly, let me tell you about the women, the ideas, the spirit, the music, the presentations, and the splendid city of Prague. What a week. . .

Kristin Engwig, social entrepreneur and founder of W.I.N., presents awards to women from Norway, Turkey and Nigeria.

Kristin Engwig, social entrepreneur and founder of W.I.N., presents special awards

. . .A week that began (small detail) without the aforementioned luggage. . .

Special award winners

Special award winners from Norway, Turkey and Nigeria

. . .And continued when Dieter-with-the-silky-customer-service-voice spoke from my hotel phone: “We regret to tell you, Mrs. Bradford, that we somehow have no record. . .at all. . . of your luggage.”

Which is when Maya Angelou’s even silkier voice slid into mind:

I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.

(See entire quote here)

So I gathered my few adrenalin-swollen, anxiety-twitching wits, channeled Angelou, and reframed both my expectations and the outlines for my two presentations. (Because in addition to my clothing for the week, I happen to have packed all my lecture notes, additional literature, and important talisman family photos in that one missing bag.)

Besides Angelou, I also channeled two generations of pioneer stock. And by darn, I found that one can squeeze a lot out of a bar of hotel soap the size of an Oreo.

Here’s what’s interesting. As soon as I got my mind and spirit settled and my Dreams compressed to Reality (i.e., this opportunity was not going to fulfill my high-pitched dreams; my presentations would be spotty and unpolished and I’d too closely resemble those pioneer forbears of mine after five days in recycled jeans and stinky boots), then it seemed everything trundled right along, sort of obliviously. Seamlessly. Like an empty luggage carousel.

The W.I.N. conference got rolling and I got swept up in it. Everywhere there were interesting, energetic conversations with leaders from backgrounds as numerous and diverse as their 75 nationalities: An entrepreneur from Kosovo; A girls’ school founder from India, another from Bhutan; a leading politician from Iceland, another from the Czech Republic; a researcher from Mongolia, another from Nigeria; corporate heads from all over Europe, mothers who are mentors, consultants, physicians, and writers; daughters who are film makers, painters, vocalists; sisters who are environmentalists, economists, pianists; and everyday marvels who are mountaineers and ultra-athletes (which title, in case you wondered, is given to those who run 315 km in 50 hours with neither sleep nor rest. And live to speak about it.)

Prague's old city

Prague’s old city

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By the end of our second day of plenary sessions and break-out courses, I’d already sped by foot throughout Prague’s old city, scouting out sumptuous architecture and random sales (for a couple of pieces of basic replacement clothing.)

When I returned to my hotel room, wouldn’t you know it? There stood my lost suitcase, rescued and delivered, as it had been, from the Bermuda Triangle of transiting luggage: the bowels of Charles de Gaulle airport.

Quickly, I changed clothes, hung the rest including that gala gown, organized my lecture notes and stacks of literature, and lined up my family photos. I washed my face, straightened my spine, and raced off to my session where I spoke to people about my writing. And they listened intently. They were extremely gracious toward me.

New friends over lunch

With Lisa and Sherry, new friends sharing lunch

Indian, Bhutanese, Nigerian, French Swiss, Canadian, American of Iranian/Indian descent, English

Indian, Bhutanese, Nigerian, French Swiss, Canadian, American of Iranian/Indian descent, English

The last evening, at midnight, while other conference participants crowded onto the dance floor of this, the Zofin  palace. . .

Zofin palace, Prague

Zofin palace, Prague

Over my head: Zofin palace

Over my head: ornate coffered ceilings of the Zofin palace

Irish, Turkish, Indian. . .

Irish, Romanian, Indian. . .

Majbritt, a beautiful soprano and, as we discovered, Swiss neighbor

Majbritt, a beautiful soprano and financial analyst, and, as we discovered, my Swiss nearly-next-door neighbor

. . .I stepped out onto a veranda with a couple of other women. We needed to catch some air. In the crisp blackness in front of me, my breath swam like liquefied cotton batting, and vanished – dreamily – as I looked out over the Vltava (Moldau) river.

“Changing moon,” the German next to me sighed, throwing her head back, peering upwards at the porthole of speckled white caught in the tangle of chestnut tree branches. “Exceptionally auspicious,” the redhead on the other side of me added. “A very powerful moon. It has pull.”

“And what does that mean? Pull?” I asked, searching for what the others were seeing. Was it pulling, pulsing, that moon? Or was that just the bass from the dance band inside? (And excuse me, but was I hearing a Czech translation of “Shake, Rattle and Roll”? No, but close. It was a Czech translation of “Hit Me Baby One More Time.” A proud moment, to be sure, for my native country.)

“It means,” continued the redhead, wrapping an Indian shawl up over her shoulders, “there could be change coming.”

Change? Like?”

“Like. . .well, you know. You’d better pay attention to your dreams. They can pull you to a new reality.”

More award recipients from all around the world

More award recipients from all around the world

The ribboned river swallowed the moon in pieces as I turned to go back to my hotel. There, I repacked my suitcase (boots, jeans, gown, lecture notes, my sacred family gallery) for the early morning flight and for whatever dreams and realities will rise under the pulse and pull of the next moon.

Landing in Geneva

Landing in Geneva