The Beauty of Stone

Beautiful stones imported to south Louisiana


Here in southeastern Louisiana there is virtually no natural local stone. Geologists may differ about when and how it occurred, but generally agree that the original Gulf coast lay somewhere north of where I now live, between Baton Rouge and Memphis. What we do have here, as a setting for verdant plant and tree growth, is a lot of red clay and or sand, as well as the significant contribution of alluvial (river borne) soil. On this, our eastern and only slightly elevated side of the Mississippi River, they tell us we also have ‘loess’ soil, wind-blown from the west. In other words, where I live rests upon a legacy of materials brought here over the course of millennia – by mud-flow from the north, and dust storms from west.

Stone, as my earlier posts about our patio project suggested, therefore comes here from elsewhere, mostly I suspect by river barge. When visiting a local landscape stone vendor recently I was reminded of something I used to take for granted when living in the midwest or traveling in the far west. It is the beauty of natural stone, whether found on a Great Lakes seashore or on the banks of a Colorado river. What on childhood visits I appreciated seeing in abundance upon the north shore of Lake Superior, I now find to be an almost exotic discovery at a commercial location in Baton Rouge.

And, among the wonders of the handiwork of our Creator is the splendor of variously colored and multi-shaped stones

An unfinished stone border featuring ‘river rock’ from Colorado

Some years ago a teaching colleague shared a story from his work assignment in Saudi Arabia. On a free day, a local guide drove him for several hours through the desert toward the sea. Upon viewing the welcome sight of the water, he noted a large cargo ship discharging material into barges. He asked his guide what they were unloading, to which the response was, sand! “You’re kidding me,” he said. And then my friend learned to his surprise that the sand that has been blowing back and forth forever across the Saudi desert is apparently reckoned by many as worthless for construction, having rounded particles. Sand essential for concrete foundations and buildings needs to have edges, and come from Europe and elsewhere, to provide a proper binding material while the cement cures.

I am mindful of this story when I view the beautifully rounded and smooth rock that comes to us from far away rivers and lakeshores, after perhaps long eons of geological friction. I also rejoice in the variety of color in a material that might otherwise be as uniform as the sand in an Arabian desert, or on the banks of the great river just a few miles from our home.

Random Colorado river stone pieces

I am therefore thankful for the shaping and molding effect of God’s Providence upon me – even after what may seem like an unimaginably long time. Our experience through the rough and tumble of life can sometimes leave us feeling awkward and with uncomfortable or raw ‘edges.’ At other times, we may feel we have been smoothed and shaped in ways more attractive to others and to ourselves. The beauty here may lie in the wisdom latent in one of my favorite, but still-not-fully understood, verses from the Psalms: “You have showed me great troubles and adversities, but you will restore my life… (Ps 71:20)” For why would God show me adversity other than as an act of positive love? And, why would God not to seek to bring us together into a beautiful fellowship within God’s own being? Especially when it may be ambiguous as to whether we have jagged and or smooth edges!


One big ‘stone’ in my life has been Robert (Bob) Hansel, my former CREDO Institute colleague, to whom I owe much. When I first encountered him, he played a decisive role in helping me to discern that I was being called away from a tenured seminary teaching position back to parish ministry. His prior CREDO faculty role as a team leader changed many of our lives – not by persuasion, but by encouraging our personal discernment. Here, I want to acknowledge his wonderful story about his experience in Saudi Arabia (that he tells so much better than I can).

The Beauty of an Ocean Liner


The American President Lines USS Wilson, depicted at Shanghai Harbor


In the mid 1950’s through the 1960’s most American civilians and non-military government officials moving to Southeast Asia traveled with their families and belongings by ship. My family traveled between San Francisco and Yokohama, Japan, five times between 1959 and 1969. Each voyage took 14 days, with a morning to evening stop in Honolulu each way. As a result, I spent ten weeks on the ocean on either the USS President Wilson or the USS President Cleveland, sister ships that alternately plied that route. A most vivid memory is of passing under the Golden Gate Bridge, looking up from the deck.

In addition, my parents were engaged as faculty on a university study-voyage on the South China Sea for about a month in the spring of 1969, on an old chartered Russian ship that formerly was a WWII era German liner. My brothers and I got to go along. We stopped at Cambodia’s first port (Kom Pong Song / at the time just one short and lonely pier), and then at Bangkok, Singapore, and Hong Kong.  ‘Complicated politics’ at that time kept us from docking in South Vietnam, as originally intended.

My younger brothers and me, with our parents, about to depart in 1966

This could have been me and my brother, arriving by ship in Japan, in 1959

Before the era of single class and entertainment-oriented ‘cruise ships,’ ocean liners primarily served the needs of individuals and families relocating to multi-year assignments overseas. Like numerous government officials and their families, and unlike business travelers, my missionary parents were booked in the lowest price range cabins in the first class category of the ships. This was in markedly different circumstances from those who traveled in the aft, more crowded and yet rather limited economy section. Though we had smaller and more sparse cabins compared with those in the top tier, we had meals in the same dining room and enjoyed the same public areas and entertainment options as all others in first class, as well as by the Captain and his senior staff. And in the course of a two-week long voyage, people from very different backgrounds and circumstances became unanticipated acquaintances and in some cases lifelong friends – an unexpected and beautiful thing.

An upper-deck photo of the Wilson en route

Each voyage departure in that era was a real event. The docks were crowded with well-wishers, and folks onboard were given multiple reels of colored paper streamers. We were then encouraged to hang on to one end, and throw the streamer reel toward those on the pier below. Soon, the links between the ship and those on shore were heavily laden with these colorful streamers. And slowly they were broken, one by one, as the ship moved away from the dock area toward the open sea beyond, all the while blasting one of the loudest sounds I have ever heard. Our connection with one world symbolically was broken as we were pulled back, and towards another. This once again brought people from remarkably different backgrounds together.

I remain most grateful for our ocean voyages, which allowed a graceful transition between progressively differing time zones, in addition to all the fun we had on the way. At that time, traveling by jet between the continents seemed like the luxury way to transit the oceans. Now, in retrospect, though the two ships were comparatively modest in relation to modern cruise ships, voyaging on the Wilson and Cleveland was clearly the preferred way to go! For we were all pampered by the ship’s crew, from the uniformed waiters in the dining room and lounges, to the attendants who brought refreshments like ice cream to the inside and poolside teak deck chairs.

Children were especially cared for, in the day-long Marco Polo room, where activities and snacks were provided without interruption. Amazing to me and my brothers were the plastic model car kits simply given to us to help occupy our time, when we were not swimming.

An American President Lines magazine ad from that era

Among my childhood recollections, some of my most significant memories of beauty, in so many forms, are attached to those voyages on what seemed to be the most remarkable ships.