Recently, I received a thoughtful email from my friend Susan Stanley.
She is one of the most beautiful writers I know. I asked her permission to publish her words here because I know they will bless you.
Dig Down Through the Muck by Susan Stanley
One of my favoritest of favorite books I own is Kenneth Bailey’s book, Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes. Bailey’s experience and insights into cultural context make Jesus’s words into the revolutionary bombshells they were for his listeners.
Yesterday I read about the parable of the two builders. Bailey writes that in the Middle East, home construction is only done during the summer. Winter is when the rains come, and the heavy clay turns to mud. Days are warm & sunny in the summer, but that clay is as hard as bronze. A good builder digs down through the hard packed soil until they reach bedrock, whether that’s a depth of inches or a depth of >10 feet. He said that for Jesus’s Middle-Eastern audience, the parable of the two builders was about the wisdom of giving their all to the task of unearthing a secure foundation.
As I walked yesterday, I thought of the wealth of spiritual truth in that imagery of digging down through the muck and soil of our lives to find bedrock — solid, unchanging ground that allows us security and lasting rest. It made me think of some things going on for me, and it made me think of you, too.
The process is long, our tools often get blunt and dull, and wow, does that clay feel like bronze and the heavens as brass some days… but the bedrock is there. Rest your efforts when needed. Keep digging through the mud and soil. He’s there.
I just realized that since God is also the Potter, he’s the amazing one who uses all of the clay we dig through to make beautiful vessels!
All the imagery in the Bible of ‘the stone the builders rejected,’ etc. has special meaning for me. I’m the genealogy hound in my family, and in one of my branches is an Irish immigrant named Patrick Sweeney.
In May 1847 as the Great Famine ratcheted up to its worst, he left County Limerick with his mother and two brothers for America. They were on board ship for 53 days before landing in Quebec. That summer in Quebec there was a typhoid epidemic that broke out among the immigrants. 30,000 people died, but somehow Patrick survived.
By 1850 he was living in northern Illinois, had married, and had a 2-yr-old daughter named Margaret. He moved his small family to NE Iowa, to a county so hilly and rocky that its nickname is “Little Switzerland”. He farmed and raised his family there until his death.
Patrick was a stone mason. In 1863 during the Civil War, he was reputedly the sole builder of a small stone Catholic church that still stands there today. My mom & I visited it several years ago. My heart laughs to know that the more modern additions to this abandoned church are crumbling, but the stones Patrick laid more than 150 years ago are still true and strong! I took a few small pieces of stone away with me; when Trent & I go to Ireland this April, I hope to take part of Patrick’s church with me back to his home spot around Dun Bleisce in County Limerick.
Those who work with stone know that building with it means listening to it and using it as it is–they don’t really alter it.
You cannot shape a stone contrary to its essence, and you cannot split a stone where it refuses to part. More than anything else on our planet, stone is (to our viewpoint) unchanging.
No matter the blisters, no matter the scrapes on our skin, we must find bedrock, you & I. Our skin will heal, and the splashes of muddy clay will wash off. An Abba who keeps every tear in a bottle will surely make use of every blut of clay we unearth. It’s my job to dig and keep digging. It’s my job to bend my will and strength to believing the bedrock is there. It’s God’s job to be the bedrock. It’s God’s job to use the clay.
Thank you Susan for such timely and helpful words.