This page is from a book on Christian monastics, Desert Wisdom, Sayings from the Desert Fathers.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Abba Agathon and his pebble.
This past year has been a particularly quiet year. Working from home, our semi-rural neighborhood, and my enjoyment of solitude have all blended together to result in twelve months of much less spoken conversation than I’ve experienced in years.
After two decades in noisy workplaces and long days filled with a workday and then volunteering projects many evenings, I’ve welcomed this quiet with wide-open arms. To help preserve this quiet, during the day there is typically no TV, music, or radio. The pups are usually sleeping or outside for a good part of the day. My environment isn’t silent, but it is very free of noise.
This quiet has made room for new types of sounds and awareness.
Particularly, I’ve been listening to the movement of the seasons and of nature. This year, I was highly aware of the changes in the sound our creek makes before and after rainstorms. I listened to the cycle of birds arriving and leaving and arriving again to the trees around our home. I better know the sound the wind makes as it whistles through the tall cedars, and how the maples and beech creak differently than the evergreens.
But even with all this quiet, or maybe because of it, I lately have been very aware of the impact words can have – and how I need to be mindful of what I say.
When I think about Abba Agathon, I wonder if he used his pebble as a tangible reminder of this scripture: My dear friends, you should be quick to listen and slow to speak or to get angry (James 1:19, based on several verses from the OT). Every time I read that passage about the Abba, the words from James are what immediately pop into my head.
I know that I can tend to speak before I think about the impact my words might make. I’m sometimes horrified (later) when I think about what I’ve said or implied in an attempt to be funny or to prove my intelligence to someone. I’m guessing that most everyone feels this way sometimes, but what Abba Agathon and his pebble have helped me realize is that I want to do a better job at listening first and speaking slowly, to pay attention to people more and to worry less about what I’m going to say or how I can impress.
This month, while thinking about the Abba and his pebble, I’ve been more aware of the pebbles and stones that are everywhere in our yard. Suddenly, they’ve become more than just rocks to pluck out of my flowerbeds or to rake out of the lawn before I mow for the first time this spring; I find myself paying more attention to the individual stones, sometimes even wondering how it might feel to walk around for an hour, a day, or the Abba’s three years with that particular stone in my mouth.
The man who first built and owned our current home was a geologist. Over the years, we’ve found endless reminders of his profession in small rock-treasures that are all over our property. Geodes and petrified wood are in the flowerbeds. Unusual stones are embedded into the cement foundations of outside staircases. And in the basement, under piles of debris and dust, we found a cracked and brittle plastic tub full of polished pebbles.
It’s a small pile, and seems like any other pile of rocks I polished back in the 70s with my noisy rock-polishing machine.
That is, until I remember to slow down and look just a little more closely. To maybe consider individual pebbles instead of just looking at a box of rocks.
And that’s when something interesting happens:
Maybe it’s not *just* a box of rocks after all. Maybe it’s something more.
Delicate lines and color shifts, and the play of light on endless crystals.
Creamsicle colors and wonder at what massive level of heat and pressure must have existed to fuse such different materials together.
More wonder at how moss or fungus or something more animal in nature could become trapped in stone for uncountable years, for a few people to find and ponder and wonder at millenia later.
Thinking about the quiet intricacy of these pebbles is helping me remember to be quick to listen, and slower to speak out without any awareness of the impact of my words. I hope that when you see pebbles this week, they help you listen in new ways too.