Once upon a time, a long time ago, I had the totally wonderful experience of seeing stalactites and stalagmites in a couple of caves in France. I've never forgotten it, though I was only a teenager at the time. I'd so love to have the wherewithal to take my kids to see them too.
This morning I was at our church's monthly prayer breakfast and was reminded afresh of that experience and at the same time thrilled by the wonderful parable/illustration that was given at the beginning of the meeting by the lovely Sandy, a (theoretically) retired minister who is a member of our church. Sandy and his wife Ruth, who are two of my favourite people by the way, have just come back from a holiday in Northern Ireland where they also visited caves and saw stalagmites and stalactites. They had also seen, as I did, that sometimes a pillar is formed when a stalactite and stalagmite join together.
(Incidentally, if you forget which is which, remember tights/tites come down and mites run up, but apologies for the bawdy tone suddenly introduced to this post). :)
Sandy spoke this morning of how both stalactites and stalagmites form. I've copied and pasted a bit from a website that explains it:
"These features are really very interesting. When the water level is lowered to a level below cave, the water entering the cave from above drips down through holes in the roofs. The Carbon Dioxide of the water is freed and the calcium carbonate dissolved in the water is deposited on the inside of the roof. The deposition starts forming in the shape and size of a ring. The ring continues to lengthen gradually. When the material of the water continues to deposit, the ring elongates down from the ceiling and hangs from the latter. The deposited material hanging from the ceiling are called stalactites. The drops which fall on the floors also deposit their calcium carbonate. The deposited material slowly develops upward. It has a small depression at its top. It is known as Stalagmite. Sometimes these two features meet each other thus forming a pillar. Such pillars are known as cavern pillars".
He then went on to draw out a powerful illustration from that which I for one found very helpful and challenging. Stalagmites don't grow upwards from sloping ground. The ground needs to retain the deposits and not let them drain or run away. For a pillar to be formed, there needs to be something from above and something from below.
In Scottish churches we have a phrase, "pillars of the kirk", which we use to describe certain folk in our congregations without whom we can't imagine we could carry on, people who live out their faith so fully and who can shoulder trust and responsibility in such a way that they become as key as actual pillars in a building.
Pillars don't just happen automatically, either in caves or in churches. There are certain prerequisites in both cases. In caves, these are as outlined above. In churches they are, Sandy suggested, kind of similar.
From above, there is what God sends us and gives us through Jesus' coming to earth to live and die for us, through the Bible, and through the Holy Spirit. From below, there is the need to retain the deposits and not let them run away.
I have rarely missed a Sunday service for the past 45 years. Don't be too impressed! My dad was my minister when I was a kid and missing church wasn't on offer - it was compulsory in our house. My husband is my minister now, and although I honestly do love it and genuinely don't want to miss it, there is definitely the added dis-incentive to taking a Sunday off that it might upset Him Indoors! Perfect, or nearly perfect, church attendance is one thing, but how many sermons I have retained is another. I'd really rather you didn't ask.
My stalagmite would have grown much more quickly had I retained more of what I had heard, and had I spent more of my time over the years in prayer and Bible study.
Sandy's illustration was a good reminder to work on that afresh.