Today my daughters went back to school after a two-week Easter holiday. One of the things I love about being on sabbatical is that I can pick them up from school and then spend the afternoon sitting with them around the kitchen table eating a snack and talking about their day. Today my eldest had a project where she was supposed to put various world historical events in timeline order from the Ancient Egyptians to the Normans (this is English history!) to World War II. As we were talking about how the Egyptians built pyramids 5000 years ago we got to reflecting on the fact that Stonehenge, which we just saw a few days ago, is also that old.
Of all of our activities in the south of England, visiting Stonehenge was one of my favorites. I wasn’t expecting this necessarily. It is a bit like going to a movie that everyone has seen and everyone is talking about and you can’t see how it will live up to the hype. There are endless numbers of tour buses coming and going from London bringing people from all over the world to see stones standing in a field. And our first glimpse of Stonehenge was quite anti-climactic. We were just about to reach our bed and breakfast after a very long day of driving in constant rain when suddenly off to the side of the road was the iconic Stonehenge. The most striking thing about that first glimpse was the brightly clad guard standing vigil in the rain to deter any shenanigans from happening in the night.
But the next morning when we visited and listened to the audio tour I found myself experiencing the same sense of awe that countless others have experienced over the years, no make that millenia. And then the following evening we joined about 20 other people for a Stone Circle Tour inside the stones – a tour that we booked about two months earlier. That evening the light and sky were spectacular. It rained for a few minutes of our hour spent in the stones but the clouds and setting sun were a marvelous backdrop to the massive, silent, stones. Up close we could see the more than sixty forms of lichen that populate the stones and give them extra character. At the bottom of this post is a short video montage of some of the photos we took.
It took an estimated thirty million hours of human labor to erect Stonehenge. Work on the project took place on and off over a period of almost a thousand years. They somehow moved stones weighing as much as forty tons from miles away to the site on Salisbury Plain and got them to stand up on end. Then they hoisted more enormous stones on top and connected them with joints to form a continuous, level lintel around the circle. This picture depicts what it looked like when fully complete:
Nobody really knows why it was built and what it was used for. But in all likelihood it had something to do with a people seeking meaning beyond themselves. That is a humbling reminder. For thousands of years people have been striving to know and understand what is beyond their everyday human experience. Standing amidst the monumental work that is Stonehenge made me feel a bit lazy. Sure I spent a few years at divinity school, but how hard do I really work to seek meaning beyond myself? And will my efforts stand the test of time?