by Laurie Gudim
The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’
– Matthew 4:3-4
We were at the top of a hill across the valley from the Grand Teton mountains, which were draped artistically in cloud. I was one of a dozen high school students on a field trip led by a young geologist, a graduate student employed by the Teton Science School. It was to be a presentation on the geology of the area, which is fascinating. The Tetons are a young mountain range still growing by an inch or so each year, a process which tilts the valley at their feet to the west, so that the river that runs through it is perpetually carving a new bed.
But instead of focusing on the astonishing mega-geology, our leader picked up a rock from the ground at her feet. It was an ordinary stone, about the size of her fist, that had nestled at the base of some sagebrush, probably for decades. It was rounded and somewhat smooth. “Here is an ordinary rock,” she said.
Then she proceeded to tell us how this rock had had its beginning, with everything else, at the birth of the universe. Just as we ourselves did, it first took form as the dust of stars. When our planet eventually came into being, this rock was part of its lava core. At some point it was pushed up to the surface and became part of a granite slab. Finally a glacier filling the valley took the slab into its maw. As the slab was broken apart and ground down, the stone was born as an individual thing. It lived in the heart of the glacier, where it was smoothed and rounded. Finally the glacier melted, depositing it in a huge pile of sand and dirt. There it remained hidden until wind and water eroded away everything that covered it.
When tempted by Satan to turn stones into bread, Jesus replies that it is written that one does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. He does not have the hubris to use his power for his own personal gain. And here’s another aspect of the devil’s challenge: if he did, what would happen to the stones?
Everything that exists has a history through which we can see its importance to God. Each plant, each insect, each fish and bird, and all of us who look through eyes and respond with brains, is a word from God’s mouth. And so is every stone in the desert, created at the beginning of the universe and shaped through countless eons, a particular thing with a history and a relationship to the Creator.
Would you take what is meant to be a stone, heavy and warm to the touch, lying on the earth and providing homes and shade for dozens of tiny creatures – would you take such a thing and make it into bread? Just because you could? Just because you needed the bread? Or would you listen to how God speaks in that unique form in that particular place? Too often we think of things like stones as having value only in their use to us. But the rock is beloved in its own right, spoken by God to be that stone in that place.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image: from Flickr