Throwing away and gathering
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 (NRSVA)
1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
I once got to have a shot at the traditional craft of drystone walling. These are the sometimes waist height or shoulder height, manmade ridges formed out of carefully balanced stones. These pieces of geological origami seem to emerge out of the landscape — absolute congruent with it.
I was part of a team (theoretically…) helping to rebuild a fallen down section in a field in Yorkshire. I found there was a real playful quality to analysing my surroundings for just the right piece for each given situation for a drystone wall has no cement to hold the stones together. Like skiing or parachuting or abseiling it’s just comes down to gravity and skill.
As well as tracing patterns on the land drystone walls become habitats themselves for creatures to live in. They are organic, they tumble and crumble and are replaced bit by bit, section by section. They are little rocky tides coming in and out gradually over hundred of years as we come and go — growing crops and raising animals, tending gardens and building homes.
The skill of drystone walling is finding the right stones and putting them in the right place. Perhaps a stone disregarded for one generation of the wall has weathered over the years and is picked up once more to provide just the right angle to patch a gap. A drystone wall like any manmade structure is a fragmentary piecemeal thing. They just happen to show us especially vividly how time passes and how the intentions and plans of yesteryear adapt and change over time. There are hand built drystone walls that have long outlived sky scraping tower blocks. The sky remains unscratched by the little tumble-down-tumble-up walls.
There is something very Ecclesiastical about drystone walls. They remind us that there is a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together. Something that worked once may need to be rolled away, no longer fit for purpose. While something that used to be an unloved reject could be vital for fitting into a breach.
This year what are the stones we are gathering and what are the stones we are throwing away?
Lord in heaven
help us to place with care
what you have carefully given us.