Every 10 days or so during the summer, my maternal grandmother Lottie Bjugson took a long walk to her nearest neighbors, Alfred and Harvey Roberts. Leaving her stark yet beautiful North Dakota farmstead, Lottie would amble along the hills cresting the Sheyenne River valley and carefully descend the sloping gullies and cow paths to the Roberts’ farm.
One day I went with Lottie. Recalling it now, 45 years later, I realize I was not with Lottie. No doubt preoccupied with my young life’s past happenings or future events, I was not truly present on that day of precious memory. In fact, I remember almost colliding into Lottie from behind when she stopped to pick up a small stone; and I recall my impatience as she kept examining the stone, speaking quietly to it and herself, until she finally placed it in her dress pocket and moved on.
About twenty minutes into our coffee stop at the Roberts’ farm, Lottie took out the stone and handed it to Alfred. The tedious examination began again, now in stereo; the stone was–yes, no, maybe–oblong, grey, smooth, warm, granite. Fully probed, Lottie returned the stone to her pocket and we returned home.
Reaching our farmyard, Lottie went to the woodshed. A rusty pail full of small stones stood just inside the door. She achingly bent over and dropped in her new addition. I returned to the woodshed later to look again at the stone. What qualities drew such attention? I couldn’t find any. Like all the stones in the pail, it was completely unremarkable.
During my time at Standing Rock this past year, I met environmental activists from around the world. These extraordinary people had physically relocated their lives to be witnesses for water protection at three camps along the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers. But even more impressively, they had spiritually relocated their anger over past environmental degradation and fear of future environmental collapse into a hopeful solidarity of presence with Earth, each other, and the Sacred.
As I joined these Water Protectors in Native-led prayer, ceremony, and meditation at the Oceti Sakowin fire circle, I thought of Lottie and her stone. I thought of my inattention to the gift of God’s Earth that Lottie offered me. I thought of how I had kept missing the offer in my life. And I thought of how Standing Rock was helping me change.
Today’s rich readings from Jeremiah, Psalm 18, and the Gospel of John invite me to not throw stones out of shameful inattention, angry memory, or fear, but to finally see, respect, and celebrate the stone in Lottie’s pail–the rock of God’s Earth that we stand on, in solidarity, at this present moment.
Michael Schuck is a Professor of Christian Ethics in the Department of Theology at Loyola University Chicago, where he has taught for 30 years. Over the past six years he has focused his scholarly work on directing interdisciplinary international projects, including the Democracy, Culture and Catholicism International Research Project (published volume: Democracy, Culture, Catholicism: Voices From Four Continents, Fordham University Press, 2016) and the International Jesuit Ecology Project which has produced the online environmental science textbook, Healing Earth found at www.healingearth.ijep.net.