Glacial erratics and other disruptions

Seeing a huge boulder, a “glacial erratic,” on a walk through a botanical garden commands our attention. What is transforming your surroundings, causing you to wonder and ask new questions?

"As a huge Stone is sometimes seen to lie
Couched on the bald top of an eminence;
Wonder to all who do the same espy,
By what means it could thither come, and whence;
So that it seems a thing endued with sense:
Like a Sea-beast crawled forth, that on a shelf
Of rock or sand reposeth, there to sun itself."

W. Wordsworth, “The Leech Gatherer”

I came upon a huge boulder while strolling in a botanical garden last summer with friend and Old Testament professor Ellen Davis. Massive and smooth, the rock’s out-of-place presence made us stop short, and stand and gawk. I was transfixed by the boulder, and it has remained in my imagination ever since. Like Wordsworth in the lines above, its presence made me wonder “by what means” could the boulder “thither come, and whence?”

An accompanying sign calling the boulder a “glacial erratic” explained that this 24,000-kilogram granite boulder had been transported and deposited by glaciers during the last ice age. It noted that these boulders are “revered for both their beauty and their graphic evidence of the monumental geographical forces sculpting Earth’s landscape.”

My own fascination with this glacial erratic had in part to do with the history of the forces that brought it to this time and this garden, but also with the power that it had over my imagination.

What gave it such power?

In part, that power lay in the disruptive nature of the rock. The out-of-placeness of it, sitting as it did in such a green, quiet space startled me out of my complacency and drew my attention to its unexpected presence. It was a physical interruption to the ordinary. Also, a glacial erratic is a sign that points us back to another era, to ancient history, while being solidly present in its current setting. It causes us to wonder, to ask questions, to ponder an ancient people and an ancient place, and the forces that carried the boulder to where it now resides.

But I think the rock’s real power over my imagination had to lie in the fact that the boulder somehow changed the space in its current setting. Even in its out-of-placeness, it had the power to create a new space that is the relationship of ancient boulder and surroundings. Glaciers don’t just shape a landscape, but they leave behind traces of things that don’t belong. These additions invite and sometimes demand response.

I know that Christian leaders experience glacial erratics too. What are the focal centers that command our attention?

Sometimes, like glacial erratics, these are people or forces that come from the outside, not from within our settings. They are things to which we are forced to respond, because they grab our attention in unequivocal ways. We are stunned at their disruptive nature, yet they shape the space and require us to take another look at the way the space is now transformed by their presence. They are not necessarily hostile or benign, but they command our attention and cause us to wonder and to ask questions, to think about ourselves or our institutions in new ways.

I am sure that God works through glacial erratics in our lives. The God of the burning bush and the resurrection of the body could make good use of the glacial erratic.

How will we decide to pay attention? What differences will those glacial erratics make in our work and calling this year?