The cairn as a symbol of designation,
a sacred moment noticed and set apart.
“The sacred moments, the moments of miracle,
are often the everyday moments.”
It was a difficult and unsettled time for my children, as their dad and I were going through divorce proceedings. Everything about their lives had changed, and everything had changed without their consent. While we were reeling and reacting to a new and unfamiliar life, two kind and generous friends offered us their lovely lakeside condo for a few days. The kids and I were able to have some much-needed time away, time to relax and regroup a bit.
The first night we were there, my son and I stepped out on the balcony to look at the stars. They were so bright and plentiful in the deep darkness! As we stood there in the silence, the magnificence of the universe arrayed before us, I quietly said to him, “We will always remember this moment.” Those words introduced a holiness, a sacred blessing to the night. Even in our heartache and upheaval, we stood there together and sensed deep peace and awe. Years later, we still recall that moment with gratitude and even reverence.
Hikers or climbers who pause to build cairns or set additional stones are designating that spot or moment as special in some way.
A cairn site has four main purposes. The first is the marking of a grave or in memory of a loved one in their passing. The second is its use by climbers as a symbol of their success in reaching of the summit of a mountain. Thirdly, a cairn is used as a form of a path specifically across glaciers or barren, stony terrain. Lastly, a cairn has been used as a sea marker to help mariners determine their location.1
When dedicated hikers add a stone or build a cairn, they are inviting us to notice a new route, remember a moment or person, or simply appreciate the beauty of creation. The cairn designates the area as uniquely set apart – giving it more significance than we would normally notice – and the site becomes more sacred and precious.
In the same way, when we begin to recognize that God is present, filling each moment with inspiration and hope, and offering unfailing love and goodness, all moments become holy ones. All places become sacred spaces.
Whatever you are feeling today, whatever you are experiencing, how might you offer your first rock to designate this time as sacred and holy? How might you regard this new journey as a divine one? In the Old Testament, there are numerous times when the faithful would build altars in the middle of the wilderness. This may be a wilderness time for you. Is it time to build an altar – to recognize the presence of God, even here in this moment?
Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.
Genesis 28:16-18 (NRSV)
As you place your rock to begin your cairn, consider these words:
“This is a moment I will remember as sacred, because…”
Holy and awesome God,
I place this first rock with holy intention. May it become a sacred space and a holy place. May it serve to remind me that you are present, within and all around me. In your presence I can find every moment, every part of creation, every journey as sacred and meaningful. Help me to notice the divine. Help me to notice YOU.
Next week’s cairn focus will be: A Guide for Our Path
Photo by Karen, at Hocking Hills State Park