Becoming an Agate

by Maria Theresa Maggi on May 5, 2020

I would have walked right past it, but just as I was stepping into a patch of early morning sun on the still mostly shaded beach, I happened to look down and see a somewhat ordinary pocked gray rock look as if it had a galaxy on the top of it. OOOooo! I breathed in and stooped to get a closer look. It seemed oddly backlit for all its density.

And then I saw it. Inside the dense pocked gray and under the lighter whitish streaks and spots that made me think of a galaxy I could see  agate underneath–translucent and slightly orange in color, it was exposed in the tiny dark divots and underneath the creamy white bits of blasted rock, making them look like stars when the sun hit the rock.

Many people who live here and those who come to the beach in non-corona virus times actively look for agates to collect and polish. A few of my neighbors have rock tumblers that make the stones shiny, even and smooth. I’ve never been very interested in that as an end in itself, but I do like finding interesting rocks or agates and sticking them in my pocket from time to time. The previous week in the early morning I saw these beauties lit up in the first patch of sun on the beach and I took them home and tried to recreate what had caught my eye–the sun shining right through them as they lay on the ground.


This morning during yoga and meditation I remembered what my mother used to say my patron saint, Theresa of Lisieux, maintained: that picking up a pin is enough if you do it for the glory of God. That simplicity of purpose always impressed me, both with relief that something so small could be enough if done from the heart, and dread that it was too boring–she had not had to defy the Roman emperors and die as a martyr the graphic deaths us Catholic kids read in books like the encyclopedic Picture Book of Saints. If the church required such atrocities as getting boiled in oil, stabbed nineteen times or disfigured by smallpox to become a saint, how could lifting a pin off the floor also raise one to sainthood? Still, that outrageous notion resonated with me. I still love its humility and its world-in-a-grain-of sand kind of sensibility.

There was another Saint Theresa my Mom used to tell me about, after she’d tenderly tell me about the one I was named for. The other was Saint Teresa of Avila, a Spanish nun who had been a scholar and a mystic. My mother felt especially empowered by Teresa of Avila’s ability to rail at God comfortably. Her favorite quote was the saint’s calling out God for his seeming cruelty by exclaiming, “If this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!” To my mother having a direct apprehension of God also meant you were on intimate enough terms to tell him off.

Eventually, I became comfortable with both these mysteries–that feeling close to mystery doesn’t always feel good or ensure an answer I’d like to get, and it’s okay to say so, even in my prayers, while at the same time doing very simple humble things can open up the infinite in my soul.

Remembering the paradox of these mysteries helps me understand why looking at that agate trapped in the coarse gray of rock means so much to me. It lets me know the agate is in there, it just hasn’t come out yet. I stopped that natural process by taking it home with me, but it reminds me we are in process, even, or maybe especially, in the midst of something frightening and life threatening we can’t time or control. And within that uncertainty there’s light to be caught, and refracted, to bring us closer as we endure suffering or feel the suffering of others, maybe even because we can no longer escape or deny how interconnected we all are.

Rachel Naomi Remen says, “we each were born with the capacity to discern the wholeness in all things, all people, all events and institutions, that this is our common purpose in being alive. We can nurture it and strengthen it, we can lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby we can restore the world back into its original wholeness. This is a collective task involving all the people who have ever lived, all the people presently alive, and all the people yet to come. We are able to do this not because we are doctors or artists or writers but simply because we are human beings. So we share a collective purpose: we were born to restore the wholeness of the world. You might say that no matter what our ‘life work’ is, we all have a single work.”

Holding this agate-in-progress in my hand reminds me to be patient with this mysterious work, that transformation can be slow and painful, or swift and unpredictable, but it is also inevitable. Somehow, though still encased in rough opacity, the light found that agate-to-be and made it shine from within. There will be another side to where we are now, even if I don’t know what it is or when it’s going to arrive. But in the meantime this humble rock reminds me to notice the way the light is getting in and shining through, even in the midst of a pandemic.

Maria (moonwatcher)



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1 Lynne May 6, 2020 at 10:37 am

Maria. Your musings always move me profoundly, today’s maybe more than most. Thank you for posting this.


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