Mississippi agates

By sister alies therese

Did you know Jackson sits on an extinct volcano 2,900 feet under the Mississippi Coliseum, having erupted 75 million years ago and unlikely to blow any time soon? Well, who knows how many Mississippi agates (usually found in volcanic material) there might be?

Maybe you’d find a three-inch thunder-egg shape of varied colors. Agates are often rust-red from the oxidizing iron or yellow, brown, black, grey, pink and even sometimes green. White bands of quartz separate the colors. The translucence of the quartz allows light to shine through and even glow. Fossils are billions of years old, and many are found in our gravel pits. The Mississippi agate is a mere 323 million years old.

Sister alies therese

Shapes are important too, how the water has formed them in the streams as they travel down from the Nashville Dome in Tennessee to the Appalachian Mountains of Alabama. All these rivers are moving toward the gulf and their deposits are still to be discovered near where I live in Northeast Mississippi. They say these ancient gravel deposits were recycled by erosion and made new bars in modern rivers like the Tombigbee. Sometimes they were embedded in floating ice!

Treasures of the heart are frequently the result of much refining and pressure, often formed by the water of tears. Have you noticed? The diamond is beautifully created under pressure; who knew when the first person discovered the magnificent geode’s insides or that a bland and ‘regular-looking- outer- rock’ had a purple amethyst encrusted within?

Consider the Great Star of Africa, (Cullinan I), part of a larger diamond discovered beneath the earth in South Africa in 1905…the largest of the Crown Jewels we learned about during the passing of the queen. It was formed over 400 miles deep in the earth. Worth millions…whose money is it? South Africans think it’s theirs. Why not, it was a gift ‘taken’ from the people’s pocket.

What are the pressures we seem to be under that shave off our rough edges and when someone looks inside, they discover such magnificence? Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman reminds me of one whose guileless splendor exploded through the pressures!

I’ve always been a bit of a rockhound and often collected a small stone from places I’ve visited…a stone from St. Kevin’s Hermitage near Glendalough in Ireland (where his slab of sleeping rock remains), finding a rock with a fossil in a Kentucky creek. A friend brought me the plainest looking rock from her refugee camp in Iraq, another from Elijah’s cave on Mt. Carmel, and another from her workplace in Alaska.

The thing about these stones is that they are indeed plain, nothing could get a big WOW! They are a perfect example of ‘what you see is what you get’. Various sorts of collections like this provide us with ‘prayer-stones,’ reminding us of just who we are praying for. I have a stone from the gravel outside the prison in New Jersey where a friend was on death row. Another stone from Helen Keller’s place in Alabama, and one from a lonely wild cliff in Scotland. Other times I’ve challenged myself to collect perfectly round stones.

Markers have always shown up biblically, sometimes as treasures, sometimes as tablets of information, and sometimes as a place to rest while on an agonizing journey. Stones were piled up for altars and places of worship, as signals of the way to go, and as weapons of destruction; five small ones for David.
Houses, fences and walkways, birdhouses, prisons and barriers, abound in various cultures. We find stone spirals or labyrinths. There is a power in the stone, stability, and a substance not easily blown over even by the strongest of storms. Jesus is our ‘cornerstone.’ That is a forever thanksgiving gift!

Of course, the gems that come from deep within are still the natural resources of the nations, looked for and often sold on markets that do not respect the miner’s work. You might remember the issues around diamonds…were they ‘blood diamonds’ or not, one would ask the jeweler…some knew what you were talking about, and others either did not or ignored the question.

These natural resources were part of what was wanted by colonizers and those who came to take the land (and gem resources) from indigenous peoples and tribes. Rubies, emeralds, agates, diamonds and sapphires are among the beauty God created under the pressure of earth and stone.

Consider this from Exodus 28:15ff: “On the breastplate of decision, you shall have made you shall mount four rows of precious stones: in the first row a carnelian, a topaz, and an emerald; in the second a garnet, a sapphire and a beryl; in the third row a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst; the fourth a chrysolite, an onyx and a jasper…each stone engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes.”

How do you mark your breastplate of decision? Have you discovered your deep withins? Have you turned your pressures and ‘I’m going to blow up’ into something extraordinarily beautiful? Well, even though the Mississippi state stone is petrified wood, the Mississippi agate is there for you to find. Goin’ lookin’?


(Sister alies therese is a canonically vowed hermit with days formed around prayer and writing.)