If you’ve ever been hill walking you may have come across a cairn; a pile of stones or rocks heaped up in a significant place. The most common of these sites is at the highest point of a hill or prominence – often marking the top of a big climb. It lets you know you’ve arrived, you’ve done it! Just like many who have been here before you, it’s time to sit down and enjoy the view, and if you’ve packed one, have a spot of lunch. I’ve got a video to show you in a moment that I took at the top of a mountain in North Wales recently…
Photo: A cairn near our cottage in North Wales
The cairn is a place of pause and appreciation. Every stone represents someone who passed through here before us. There may have been some hard climbs and bad weather on the way up and we feel a sense of relief and achievement. Placing a stone on the cairn helps to mark this achievement and share it with others who come after us.
The turn of the year is a good time to reflect on life and particularly our journey over the past year. We can consider what we feel good about as well as the difficulties and challenges that we’ve had to face. Articulating these or even writing them down can help us move forward with a renewed sense of purpose. It can be a bit like sitting on that hill top and deciding to place a stone or two on the cairn. This can create a meaningful moment that can become a monument, not just for us but for others too.
Reflecting on the past year
First it’s good to focus on the positives. One of the oldest descriptions of a cairn is in the book of Joshua as the Israelites cross over the Jordan River to enter their promised land. This passage over the river was accompanied by an amazing miracle as God held back the flood waters to allow the thousands of Israelite families to cross over. Joshua gave this instruction to 12 of the Israelite tribal leaders:
“Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. Joshua 4:5-6 NIV
“Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.” Joshua 4:9 NIV
So place a stone on the cairn (or write a note in your journal) that represents those times of Gods blessings and provision in your life. Let it be a testimony to his faithfulness and goodness. When I think back on this past year I think of Aliss opening the Miracle.Cafe in Bangor, of new friendships, the kindness of people letting us stay in their homes, and all the times God made a way where there was no way.
And then there are the stones that represent hardships and pain. I’ve had a tough year in many ways this last year, particularly with close family health issues and bereavements. But often it’s the hardships and difficulties of life that shape us most of all and times of reflection can help us to see beyond the grief. In this way we can begin to appreciate the preciousness of our relationships more than ever and thank God for what others have imparted into our lives.