I took a walk on a beautiful day in Omaha this past Sunday. On days like that, I just set out and let my feet go where they will, and on this day, they took me south toward Elmwood Park and the Sounding Stones.
This five-piece concrete sculpture was moved to this corner of the park along Dodge Street several years ago from another park about two miles east. A new development in midtown called for changes to Turner Park and so the sculpture was carefully packed up and moved west. There was quite a bit of resistance to this move by folks in my neighborhood. “That’s art? It’s ugly!” The NIMBY crowed was vocal, but city officials were unmoved and the Sounding Stones arrived.
Personally, I like them. I drive by them daily on my way home, and now several years later, they are a part of the landscape.
So Sunday, my feet took me along the path where they sit and for the very first time I saw them up close.
These are the sounding stones. Five values or attributes, five nouns that describe my life of faith. And amazingly, when I went home to search out the story of this sculpture, this is what I found in artist Leslie Iwai’s own words:
“The location of these stones in Omaha – a city in the middle of our nation – is important. Soundings are taken in the middle of a body of water to measure its depth. Likewise, in taking the ‘soundings’ of our community, we measure its depth. The open core of each stone is to be a place for crying out. God purposes for all people to break complacency and praise Him. But even, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’ (Luke 19:40),” Iwai wrote in her artist statement about the work. (Wayne State College Magazine, Summer, 2006 issue)
I don’t know what the depth of faith is in the middle of my city of Omaha, but on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the middle of Omaha, I lay down in the hollow of that first stone labeled “brokenness” and knew that the depth of my faith starts there, in the brokenness of my life. Loss of my mother at age 7. The child abuse of my siblings by an evil stepmother. My sisters’ near life-ending car/train collision. My brother’s HIV diagnosis. The death of my father from renal failure. The rape and murder of my baby sister.
All those broken parts of my heart have brought me closer to the one who can heal.
And I wondered where the stone of brokenness would take me on that path and so I left that hollow in the middle of brokenness and walked on. I found myself looking upon humility and submission; I found myself at the foot of the cross where I kneel in obedience to a Lord whose blood was poured out for me and for all of us. Humbly. Gratefully.
And then I wandered on to simplicity, because it is so simple. He takes it all away: the loss, the pain, the horror, the fear, leaving just me, the Julie he created me to be. He is all I need and all I want.
And just when I think there is no more, he leads me down the path to community. He has shown me his body – the global church – and connected me into something so much bigger than I could ever imagine.
A depth sounding in the middle of Omaha, landlocked in the middle of the USA, on the staple of the map.
But even as I lingered at community, I thought how each of those stones has become more real to me as I have traveled far from the staple of this map to the places where human sounding stones have fleshed out the depth of faith for me in the past five years.
I thought of the brokenness of Syria and Iraq. I saw the humility of people who have lost everything and yet serve their neighbors who have lost even more. I saw the simplicity of life lived without stuff, yet lived in joy because of their love for a God who holds them and comforts them in their losses. I have seen the obedient submission of those who stay where they have have been planted and grown deep roots, to continue to share the good news in a place that needs to hear it more than ever. I have seen the community of orthodox and catholic and protestant come together as one family and love their Muslim and Yazidi neighbors who are also broken.
My friend Marilyn is currently in Iraq sending back stories of this faithful community of God’s living stones, and two lines in her recent emails struck me as I ponder these five sounding stones standing in my park nine time zones to her west:
- “Do not cry for us—we have may have lost everything, but we still have Jesus.” – A woman driven from Mosul by ISIS, now living in a tiny space in a former Sunday school room of a church in the safer northeast
- “how strange that we (Muslims) try to kill you (Christians) and you help us anyway.” -shared by an elder of the church in Kirkuk
As Marilyn added, “What a powerful testimony to the of sharing Christ’s love and of God bringing good out of evil!”
They are the living stones who cry out in thanksgiving and praise for the one who made them and saved them and loves them still.
And from the depth of my heart and soul, I cry out in thanksgiving and praise to him along with them.
And pray for his peace to descend on us all.