Of Gems and Leaverites

Mark Ditmanson

Some years ago, I had the privilege of making pastoral visits with a couple in the Minneapolis area. The husband had limited mobility because of a serious accident and so they spent much of their time at home. Part of our time together was always dedicated to faith conversations, but part of our time we spent sharing memories of the blessed moments they had experienced as a family.

One of their favorite stories was about a passion that grew as they and their daughters would scour prairies, foothills, valleys, shorelines, and mountain trails discovering stones of amazing beauty and intriguing composition. Moreover, I was amazed at the collection they made. They had stones from all over this great land; in fact, they had them all over their garden and in their house and more in boxes in their garage.

In the process of the hunt, their girls would find a stone, either pretty because of the crystals and their glitter, or interesting because of the stripes and jagged edge. Sometimes they might even find an agate or even a geode, which was a special find. They would run with the find to show their parents. When they would bring a stone to their father, he would hold it up to the light of the sun, turn it around, look closely at it, and assess it.

After the time of musing about the stone, occasionally he would then tell them it was “leaverite.” So they would ask him to put it in the stone-collecting bag. If he had declared it a leaverite he would refuse to put it in the collecting bag. At first, they would protest, “But you said it was leaverite.

“Yes I did,” he would say with a wry smile, “I did say leaverite, and I mean, leave ‘er right there.” It became a favorite joke and one that was especially fun if someone new came along for the hunt and then wondered why leaverites were never collected.

Eventually, after his widow died, their daughters presented me with a gift their mother wanted Pastor Mark to have—it was a box of beautiful stones and a few leaverites and an old sandy bag so I also could go rock hunting with my own family.

Some of those rocks are now in my office, some in my garden, and some in a box in the garage. Every time I look at the twisted chunk of quartz in my office, I think of that couple and their family, I give thanks to God for them, and ask a blessing for them in return for the blessings I received. I have noticed more than a few people up on this North Shore seem to have an interest in stones as well. What do your stones mean to you?

My father had some stones on his desk. One was a rectangular rusty rock from a canoe trip to Lac La Croix. One night around the campfire he had held it and began to marvel at the right angles and weight. As he was a teacher of the church, he would talk long into the evening about God’s creation and the importance of our stewardship of this fragile planet we call home. As he unpacked the faith story that stone had to share, one by one we all crawled into the tents, until he was the last one by the dying coals of the fire. He packed that rock home.

Another stone was a Lake Superior skipping stone. It was a perfect one, which would have sailed far out into the lake on top of the water, but he kept it—to hold down letters. When I was younger, I thought that was not what the stone had been destined to do. As a kid, I had thought skipping stones were meant to go back out into the lake, and I did my best every vacation up here to send them back with as many skips as I could achieve. Later however, I recognized the new purpose, and good purpose, my dad had given the stones from Lake Superior and Lac la Croix; they were reminder stones. Both of those stones could have been leaverite as in “leave-er-right” there. But in the decision to hold and meditate and preserve, the simple and ordinary came to hold new meaning.

Stones have always had meaning for people. Joshua commanded the people of God to collect 12 stones from the Jordan River to create a memorial so that they could remember God’s providence and retell their history. When officials told Jesus to silence his followers, he replied that even the stones would shout. Stones, even “leaverites,” have a story to share. It simply requires our listening.

Each month a member of the Cook County Ministerium will offer Spiritual Reflections. This month our contributor is the Reverend Mark Ditmanson of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Grand Marais.

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