Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Shouting Stones – From the Daily Office – November 30, 2012

From Luke’s Gospel:

They brought [a colt] to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Luke 19:35-40 (NRSV) – November 30, 2012)

Duddo Stone Circle

Duddo Stone Circle

In the rock opera Jesus Christ, Superstar Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is set to music in the song Hey Sanna Hosanna . In it, Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees is set in rhythm:

Why waste your breath moaning at the crowd?
Nothing can be done to stop the shouting.
If every tongue were stilled
The noise would still continue.
The rocks and stones themselves would start to sing

That’s one of my favorite verses of scripture and one of my favorite songs and, whenever I’m traveling and come across a stone monument of some sort, the image of shouting stones and the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice pop into my head.

In northeastern England there is a circle of standing stones at Duddo in Northumberland. I visited those stones in the summer of 2011, spending a lonely afternoon with them, loudly singing the music of Superstar all by myself in the English countryside. To reach the circle, you park your car at the side of a narrow country road and hike through a farmer’s fields for the better part of 40 minutes.

No one is quite sure what the Duddo Stone Circle is all about. It may have marked a burial site, but that cannot be proven because Victorian and early 20th Century excavations disturbed any cremation chamber that may have been there. It may have been a religious site of some sort, but who can tell? It is dated to the Bronze Age principally because of its size. Archeologists tell us that the final phase of stone circle building occurred during the early to middle Bronze Age (c. 2200–1500 BCE) which saw the construction of small circles like Duddo, probably by family groups or clans rather than the larger population groups needed to build the larger circles and henges, such as Stonehenge or huge stone circle that encompasses the village of Avebury in Wiltshire.

The purpose of stone circles and henges is forever lost to us. They may have been religious; they have been astrological or astronomical observatories of a sort; they have been talismanic. Still, whatever their purpose and whoever their builders, they remain today as monuments to community and cooperation, to the human need to communicate and connect with that which is greater than the individual. Though the stones at Duddo have fallen and been stood up again over time, they continue (perhaps 4,000 years after their initial placement on that hillside in Northumbria) to shout that message of human need.

I think that’s what Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees is all about. It’s an acknowledgement that our human need to connect with that which is larger than ourselves can never be silenced. Standing circles, henges, temples, church buildings, cathedrals are all evidence of that, even though they are nothing more than stones. They are stones artfully arranged to shout out, to sing glory to the heavens, to celebrate our connection to the infinite. Even when we are silent, like the long-gone builders of the Duddo Stone Circle, the stones themselves continue to cry out.


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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

1 Comment

  1. Lynne

    It sounds trite, but *part* of the reason I drive two towns over to another church, is to be in what I call a “churchy church.” It’s an old RC church building, ornate and splendid. A testimony to the hard working Italian immigrants that made it and funded it over 100 years ago. But it is also a testament to the Glory of God. You can’t sit in this magnificent structure, with it’s soaring pillars, ornate paintings, shining marble, gold-flecked trim, beautiful statuary, and NOT feel God surrounding you. Now, of course I know He is everywhere! But *here* is where I can sit in the coolness, the quietness, the peace, surrounded by beauty and be present. Be present to God, be present to myself, be present to the needs of others that may benefit from a prayer.

    In the same way, at Newgrange in Ireland, I could feel the bigness, the hugeness, of part of an active history of man reaching out over thousands of years. There too you can feel the presence of God, as He is the same now, as He was then, and always will be. Present. There. Available.

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