Finding Rocks on The Way
No cloud in sight, the sun shines and sparkles on the water. Isaac runs ahead of me and perches on the side of the creek, his shoulders resting on his knees with his hands clasped together. He holds this posture, like a scientist pondering the workings of the world. I come beside him and sit down on the grass.
“Look, mama, look,” he points to the ground. “So many rocks!”
We’re at our favorite town park, the one with the water that meanders throughout, the one with the rusty slide the kids love, the one with the swings and monkey bars, the one with the large oak trees perfect for hide-and-go-seek. But today, my four-year-old and I are here not to play, but to find rocks.
Isaac stands up and walks down the grassy slope to meet the water’s edge. “Look at this one!”
I crouch down next to him and pick up my own rock. Together we feel them in our hands and turn them over like precious jewels, surprised by the slight variations in color and texture. Holding the rock to the light, “It’s sparkling,” he tells me. I also catch a glint of light in Isaac’s eye.
He starts collecting more rocks and filling his small hands. Soon they start dropping, and he stuffs them in his shorts’ pockets. “I’m going to take these home and make a rock collection,” he declares.
We’re both lost in thought for a few moments and immersed in the collective task of picking up, studying, and holding the rocks. A light breeze shakes the leaves above us, and the chatter of birds keeps us company. I feel my breath slow down. Tipping my head to the sky, the warmth of the sun cascades over me. While Isaac keeps filling his pockets with too many rocks to count, I find one to keep.
Fitting in my hand, there’s nothing outwardly special about the rock I’ve chosen; it looks like many of the ones by the water. But as I hold the rock, I feel its weight and roughness against my skin. This rock tethers me to this moment and this place. In my hand, I hold the story of this morning — the sun and the birds, the hunt for the perfect rock, creation’s gifts, and the magic of seeing it through my son’s eyes.
The rock reminds me: I am here.
Earlier this morning, I woke up before the kids to read and write. For the last few weeks, I grabbed a black pen and a spiral notebook to fill three pages of words. Many call this practice “morning pages,” but during these past mornings, they’ve been my lifeline, my prayers, and my gratitude.
Every day I wake and write: with sleep-crusted eyes and morning breath. I write to-do lists, frustrations with my kids and family, dreams, and affirmations. I write when I don’t know what to write. I write when the words keep pouring out as prayers and pleas and “God be with me.” I write to remember this moment, and that I was here to see it through.
I started writing morning pages while working through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Over the course of 12 weeks, she goes through the process of unlocking creativity. She invites the creative to listen and to dream. She affirms that we all have potential. We are all created by God and called to create.
The book provides writing prompts, questions, and tasks to spark creativity. This week, one task includes finding five pretty or interesting rocks. Cameron writes, “I enjoy this exercise particularly because rocks can be carried in pockets, fingered in business meetings. They can be small, constant reminders of our creative consciousness.”
Many of the tasks have gone undone due to time, but I can do this one, the collecting of rocks. And even better, I can invite my son to join me.
Watching Isaac hold and gather the rocks, I remember the carefully placed piles of rocks, known as cairns, that I passed while walking the Camino de Santiago years ago.
At 25, I spent 33 days walking 500 miles across Spain to reach the cathedral in Santiago. Thirty-three days of walking and praying, feeling the ground beneath my feet, and connecting with others who desired to make the journey. Forms of encouragement dotted the way — crosses made of sticks, yellow arrows pointing forward, and the cairns.
Those cairns stood on rock walls, in forests, along the side of the road, and on the path itself. The more I see cairns in the world, the more I understand that no two cairns are the same. They come in a myriad of shapes and sizes. Some cairns are made of a few rocks piled atop one another, while others have as many as possible before tipping over.
Sometimes I’d add my own rock, and other times I’d stop and say a prayer for those who had placed them there first. I would wonder about the other pilgrims who held the rocks: about their journey, what they desired, whom they prayed for, how they felt, if they reached their destination, if they found what they were looking for.
Every time I saw a cairn, I knew I was on the right path. They guided me and encouraged me to keep going.
Today, 15 years after first stepping foot on the Camino, I still search for cairns. Sometimes we find them as a family hiking in a state park, and other times I see them along a busy street. The cairns continue to guide me along the way, whether on the trail or simply as encouragement in life to keep going.
Each stack of rocks reminds me that someone else traveled this way, and someone else found beauty and hope in this place. If I can, I still stop to pause and wonder. Who put them here and what stories and hopes and dreams were they holding? Did they find their way? Did they receive the encouragement they needed?
Later in the day, I go to Isaac’s room and see his rock collection. Atop his dresser, the rocks stand in formation, some piled on one another, others in a circle. He points with a smile on his face. “Look at my rock collection, mama!”
And that’s when I realize he made his own cairn, his own declaration with the rocks. He gathered this collection with his own hands and displayed them for others to see. It’s as if Isaac, in his arranging and piling and sorting of his rocks, is saying, I am here.
Maybe this is why I get up early in the mornings to read and write.
Maybe this is why I marvel at the light dancing on the water and take time to hunt for rocks with my son.
Maybe this is why I walk and pause to pray for those who have walked before me.
To remember that I am here. I came. I saw. I lived. To trust that every piece of me I leave in this world binds me to all of God’s creation. To hear God’s voice over me: I created you, and I love you.
Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is a writer, pastor, wife, and mother of two. She lives with her family in Cole Camp, Missouri. She also serves as the Community Manager for Exhale Creativity. When she’s not at the park with her children, walking around town, or tending to the garden, you can find her with a pen and paper. She believes in the power of words, unearthing the extraordinary in the ordinary, and encouraging others to follow their passions. You can connect with Kim on her blog, Instagram, and by subscribing to her monthly newsletter where you’ll receive a free downloadable resource: “Walk and Talk with God: Reflection, Scripture references, and a how-to for your own contemplative walk.”
To learn more about the Camino de Santiago, visit American Pilgrims on the Camino. For the practice of “morning pages,” see Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.
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