Sticks and Stones (on Beauty that Speaks)

I woke up early on the morning I was scheduled to preach and drove to the spacious, wooded park a few blocks from our house.  In preparation for speaking on the story of Elijah’s widow, I wanted to gather enough sticks to spread across a make-shift altar space, creating a tableau of sorts with a children’s book I planned to read and a small tree.  

I was planning to speak about hope, but not the kind that soars.
I wanted to talk about the kind of hope that shows up among the sticks and stones of our lives, the few drops of oil and crumbs of flour; the kind of hope that dwells in the dried out, broken places and is only found in the looking.  

Pulling up and parking, though, I noticed a peculiar absence of branches, even in the most likely places, under the old stately trees at one end of the park.  But I got out anyway and started wandering around, my head bowed, scanning the ground for useable materials.  

Once I really started looking, I saw sticks everywhere and dressed in my Sunday best, I bent and gathered a good armful.  Arriving at church, I spread a table cloth on a long folding table and laid out my wares.  The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Krauss stood on a small wooden stand and behind it the avocado tree planted from a seed my husband salvaged from the compost bin.  

Taking the sticks out slowly I dropped them gently onto the table, making a good old mess and letting more than a few tumble to the ground.  Bits of bark scattered and clinging leaves drifted gently to the floor.  
There wasn’t anything beautiful about those sticks, not in a conventional sense.  

But there was a strange beauty in their brokenness, a beauty in the way they captured the way so many of us feel in hopeless times – dried up, broken and emptied of life. 

I imagined that for some in my congregation that day, hope was like a seed, small and expectant, and for others perhaps it was like a tree, sprouting and green.  But for others yet, I imagined that hope felt brittle and barren like it must have for Elijah’s widow who hunted and pecked along the ground, gathering just enough sticks to cook one last meal.  

I’m not sure if those sticks spoke to anyone that day, but they spoke to me.  

They reminded me that when words fail, beauty speaks, even the strange, stark beauty of broken, barren things.  Proclamation occurs, not just in the form of words and ideas, but also in images and icons, tangible expressions of our flesh and blood, bread and wine existence.  

So when I speak, I bring along my box of props.  I hand out colored play-doh and stones for writing on with permanent ink, I press a packet of wildflower seeds into every hand that reaches and leave piles of sleeping flower bulbs as images of resurrection on Easter morning.  

In this way I practice what I’ve learned and remind myself as well, that the word indeed was Word among us, but it also came in flesh and when words fail to find entry through fallow ears, then maybe some bit of truth wrapped in the form of beauty may still break in through hands and eyes and hearts.  

 This post is a reflection on the topic of "Creating Beauty at Work."  Interested in reading more?  Check out Shelly Miller's post An Apologetic on Beauty @ Redemption's Beauty.

Or visit The High Calling website to visit other posts on the topic: Other High Calling Posts on Creating Beauty at Work.

Also linking with Playdates With God.


  1. When words fail beauty speaks . . . this is often true in my life. Thanks for sharing about my story at The High Calling, appreciate you Kelly.

    1. Thanks, Shelly. It's a good conversation and a good reminder for me when I can tend to be a little to "practical." Little touches of beauty have been feeding me during these months in this un-lovely apartment.

  2. The Creation shouts at us about the glory and love of God.

    1. Yes, I thought about Psalm 19 when I was writing this.

  3. Beautiful, Kelly. Thank you. I couldn't find Shelly at THC - I always struggle to find my way around over there!

    1. I do too, Diana! I should've said her essay is on the second page of community essays. I don't really understand how to navigate not just the website, but the community there (ie. how to participate), but that's ok. Thanks for stopping by Diana. I hope you're feeling better soon (foot-wise).