Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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Of Stones and Graves

April 15, 2020

Jordan Durbin

Living Stones

I’ve been a rock re-arranger for as long as I can remember.  As a child, I regularly summoned my brothers to assist in moving quite large rocks for the building of rippling waterfalls and dams and stone stairways to our creek.  We would roll and heave and drag the largest boulders we could possibly move until they were in just the right place, coming home with palms that were scraped and scratched and smashed to prove our hard work.  I love stone.  On the occasion that I am required to ask my husband to help position a stone, he usually groans, knowing that any rock I need help with is mighty indeed.  I built a small stone wall along our driveway when we moved and am constantly lamenting the need for more rock.  I’ve moved this particular border once (it was too close to the drive to allow for the number of plants needed to adorn it) and am currently eyeing it again, thinking its position is still not quite right. 

On one particular stone in my rock wall grow several amazing species of lichen.  Bloated barnacle shapes and flourishing trumpets all scaled perfectly for passing fairies or leprechauns cover the aforementioned rock.  Even with as gardening minded as I am, I cannot wrap my mind around the mystery of life growing on a rock.  They must have been breathed straight from the mouth of God, for Ohio granite is stout stuff, and yet here grow these little silvery wonders.  Life and rock don’t really seem to fit together. 


Bachelor of Science in Mud

I create from stoneware clay.  It’s a medium fired (2200 degrees) clay that can withstand more thermal shock than earthenwares like terra cotta and isn’t quite as persnickety as porcelain.  This past year, for the first time, I saw a glimpse of my work as a potter as viable.  In college, I found incredible joy in the process and learning of clay. It was a messy, awe-inspiring world to me: turning soft, pliable mud into gleaming, useful beauty.  I can still smell the studio and feel the quiet energy of being the only one late at night still throwing or trimming or glazing.  My work was unrefined, but I loved it enough to spend every available minute making, even when I there were no more class credits to be gained.  While my alma mater had a small arts program, it wasn’t large enough to offer a ceramics major, which is probably just as well.  If finding a job with a fine art degree was challenging, I can’t imagine handing out a resume with “B.S. Dirt” on it!  I didn’t see way to make a living making pots, and while my professor was very encouraging of my passion and called me talented, he did not show me a way to breathe life into or from my piles of clay.

For fifteen years, all my love of pottery lay buried.  It almost broke the surface one time on a visit to a particularly fantastic gift shop in North Carolina, but life and babies and ministries and houses were present and pressing and there wasn’t room for clay, too.  I don’t begrudge those years at all!  They were sweet and good and right.  There was dying and rooting to do under the soil.  It just wasn’t time.  But when a friend a couple of years ago offered me a kick-wheel, it felt like I broke the surface of the ground!  Even then, it took almost four years to believe that making jars of clay could be a life-work. 

I strained through the years to control my pots, to keep them to a clean, orderly shape and finish.  This is kind of a joke, for anyone who knows that potters are basically something between alchemists and magicians.  We all try to figure out what a certain texture or glaze will produce, but I’ve never yet seen a potter who isn’t surprised by some piece or other when they open the kiln!  Just a couple of months ago, I scheduled a day to play in my studio.  This is an important part of my own growth and probably not one that I do often enough.  It gives me permission to not have to produce a certain size or finish, but to simply enjoy and wonder at the relationship between made and maker.  Out of that labor of play, came a new, much more organic and lively piece, one that I wasn’t completely sure about.  It finally felt alive. 


Buried Deep

It’s amazing, isn’t it, that all life seems to start by being buried?  I was gathering seeds today, preparing for that most wondrous of times: planting season.  Every time I sort golden beets from savoyed spinach I am gobsmacked by the vitality locked in those tiny capsules.  They truly look like nothing at all.  An uneducated person would definitely never pick up a purple cauliflower seed and say, “Whoa!  Look at the power inside this thing!”  And just to make sure these unassuming seeds take root we gardeners bury them.  In the dark.  In the ground.  In a hole.  Not exactly what you would expect to do with something you want to multiply and grow.  I guess that’s why we’re always surprised and awestruck when those first seedlings push through the darkness and stretch into life.

I wonder if those disciples felt buried.  Years of fishing or tax collecting, all their tools of the trade and education tossed aside, left at the shores of a life left behind to follow the Only One who had words of life.  “Where else can we go?  You alone . . .” John 6:68.  And then, the garden, the soldiers, torches, ear slashed, back torn apart, “Crucify!!”, thorns, cross, nails, darkness, death.  These strong, rough men were scared and grieving and broken.  Maybe they wanted to crawl right inside that crypt with Jesus.  All of their hopes were wrapped in linen, soaked with myrrh, and laid in a fresh grave.  There’s nothing really powerful about a tomb.  It doesn’t inspire awe or radiate energy.  In fact, it’s probably the single most hollow place in all this broken world, but there is more life and power in Jesus’ dead bones than any living thing on earth! 


Acquainted with Grief

One of my newly favorite attributes for Jesus comes from my favorite book, the gospel according to Isaiah.  In chapter 53, our Savior is called one who is “acquainted with grief”.  It’s a paradox almost on par with living stones: that the Source of all light would intimately know and understand grieving hearts.  In her lovely work, The Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones talks often about God’s upside-down kingdom.  It’s a truly masterful term, appropriate to so many of the ideas we hold close.  Things we cannot logically reconcile within our human understanding, yet are completely true. “Acquainted with grief” is one of those opposing companions to my mind.  We are acquainted with things and people we know, it’s a word we use for the familiar, friendly, and comfortable.  Grief isolates.  Grief is created by the absence of something or someone familiar, friendly, or comfortable.  Grief is an immovable rock.

It doesn’t seem that Jesus should know grief very well.  However, in another of those upside-down moments, He is the only One acquainted with grief from every possible side!  He stands at Lazarus tomb and shares the pain of bereavement.  He feels the sharp, anxious grief of being betrayed and rejected by His dearest companions in Gethsemane.  And He alone through all of time has seen what grief looks like from inside the stone walls of the tomb.

This is truth and comfort and hope to our every lonely, pain full moment.  It is the reason that lamenting songs and F# minor scales and stories that require cases of boxes of tissues echo long enough for the sorrow to be sweet; why they call us back to them again and again.  We never walk these valleys alone.  When we arrive after dark nights and tear-drenched roads with palms scraped and bleeding from the unrest of grief, Jesus is already there, holding the keys of death and hell in His own pierced hands.  He is with us.  When we look up to find ourselves inside a tomb, where every dream of goodness and joy has died and the walls are closing in, He is there.  And best of all, He knows the way out.  He loves to move rocks, too.

The featured image is (c) Lancia E. Smith and is used with her glad permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project. 


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  1. Jody Collins says:

    Oh Jordan, this was soooooooo good. I enjoy collecting and moving rocks myself, but yes indeed, so does God.

  2. Jordan Durbin says:

    Thank you so, so much, friend! I really can’t explain my fascination with stones, but I love them!

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