Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Digging Rocks ~ Unearthing People

The local old-timers nearby say about the ground here, "For every piece of dirt, there's three rocks." The photo here makes the point, these rocks having been pulled out of a 3 foot flowerbed extension. Once I worked for a week with a car jack before dislodging a boulder from a garden!

For me, the best time to dig rocks is between 7 and 9 in the morning before the sun clears the hills. The morning after rain is good too; the ground soft and workable. But while I was pulling rocks today, I held one in my hand and thought, "No one has ever laid eyes on or touched this rock before." Each rock has a story:
  • How long has it been buried in this spot before my shovel hit it?
  • How did it get here? Was it pushed by water or ice?
  • How old is it? 
  • Did Indians walk over it?
  • How was it formed?
  • How would a rock expert identify it? 
But it was really the un-earthing that caused me the deepest reflection, because there are millions and millions of people on this earth who are hidden away: who have never had eyes fall on them, who we might say need to be un-earthed, recognized, named, held or helped.

Years ago I was in the lower church of St. Francis of Assisi in New York City anticipating the start of Mass. And immediately after I moved into the bench I became aware of the most incredible smell ever - so awful it was impossible to stay there. Everyone else had moved far away to the other side. And off in a shadow against a pillar was a sleeping bag-man. We might remember Paul Simon's song, The Boxer.

In the company of strangers
in the quiet of the railway station
running scared
laying low, seeking out the poor quarters
where the ragged people go
looking for the places only they would know.

This man hidden in the church shadows had a story, as does each human person - like the garden rock, maybe a very long story:

  • What was his name?
  • Where was he born? To whom?
  • Was he loved as a child - fed, kept clean, educated?
  • Did he ever know love?
  • Did he marry? Have a family?
  • Did he have friends? Jobs? A home?
  • When was the last time someone spoke directly to him - except the persons who might have said, "Get lost!"
  • When did he last eat a home cooked meal, soak in a tub, sleep on clean sheets?
  • When was the last time he was hugged or kissed?
  • When was the last time he laughed?
We might recall these gospel stories of Jesus un-earthing people who were hidden away, or looking in at life from the outside? 
  • Jesus taking the little girl by the hand, "Little girl, arise." Mk 5:41 
  • Jesus hearing blind Bartimaeus and saying, "Call him over." Mk 10:46-52
  • Jesus calling for the mothers to bring the children forward. Lk 18:16
  • Jesus calling embarrassed Zacchaeus down out of the tree. Lk 19:1-10
  • Jesus sitting in conversation with the woman at the well. Jn 4:1-25

While sitting in a doctor's waiting room, a crazed man, surrounded by bulging plastic bags, sat muttering out loud to himself. An old-fashioned nurse in white uniform (even a cap) came through, and seeing the fellow, went over to him, sat down real close, put her clipboard down and started a conversation which seemed to break the spell. Eye-contact, touch and conversation broke the spell! I'm so glad to have witnessed that un-earthing. 


  1. A rock has no choice but to be un-earthed. People might want to stay buried, but they might not know the freedom that un-earthing can bring. I can attest to the fact that the risk is worth it. Take the opportunity and help someone out of the darkness and to bask in the light of day.

  2. I always love these posts that relate our lives back to the earth. Great analogy, and thoughts here. Will be thinking about this all day.

  3. The amount of digging determines how much un-earthing we can accomplish. As your picture shows us, of we work hard, we can dig up a significant amount. Everyone has a story, but are we willing to do the work to find out?

    1. The digging is indeed hard work. It's nt to be confused with being nosey - but about caring and that our motives would be clean. I was standing on a supermarket line once where the checkout person was in a lively conversation with a parishioner who didn't know I was within hearing distance. The conversation ended with: "Keep digging; see what you can find out." Ick.

  4. I think about some of these questions when I'm sitting on a crowded train. Looking at people, I wonder what kind of life they live. Are they happy? Do they go home to a loving family? Or do they sit alone and eat take out food for dinner? Will my striking up a conversation with people make a difference to them? We all can write some sort of book about ourselves, for even the most boring among us has a story to tell. Just like the rocks you dug from the ground, we all have a beginning and a journey.

  5. I must look through the archive here - there was a post about Thomas Merton and his experience while waiting for a fellow monk to pick him up and he was standing at an intersection in Louisville, Kentucky.

  6. Ah, there it is - scroll back to January7, 2014 - "Merton's Epiphany."