Northern Virginia contains a particular granite known as “Occoquan” Granite. According to the Geocaching website, between the Piedmont and Coastal plain regions of Virginia, along the Occoquan basin, resides a major outcrop of Occoquan Granite. This granite was formed by volcanic activity that occurred around 500 million years ago.
Occoquan granite is marked by variation in its composition and texture, but it always contains an unusually large content of quartz. The color is irregular greenish gray, with feldspar and quartz in coarse grains. A quarry on the north side of the Occoquan River mines the granite roots of the mountains that were uplifted about 475 million years ago.
What goes up must come down
Then, about 250 million years ago, Africa merged with North America and the area that is now Virginia ended up in the middle of the supercontinent known as Pangaea. Believe it or not, a tall mountain range ran through Virginia, following the path of where I-95 is today, including the Town of Occoquan.
According to the Virginia Places website, these mountains had been pushed up by tectonic plate collisions, just as the Himalayas have been uplifted over the last 50 million years by the collision of India with Asia. The granitic roots of those mountains extended down into the earth as far as the mountains rose above the surface, perhaps 20,000 feet.
But what goes up must come down. After Pangaea split up, the soaring mountains eroded away over 200 million years to expose the bedrock that remains in Occoquan.
In my new mystery Windows of the Heavens, a Methodist pastor named Harley Camden is rattled by personal upset and upheaval. One day, in a search for stability, he left the Town of Occoquan, crossed the river on the pedestrian bridge, and walked up the road which ran along the river on the northern bank.
The sun had set, but there was still enough light to illuminate the charcoal gray outcroppings of rock that rose up from the edge of the river and undergirded the road along the ridge. Harley knew that the rocks were old, formed hundreds of millions of years ago when the supercontinent called Pangaea was created. When the supercontinent began to separate into the continents we know today, it left behind the shelves of rock that stand on either side of the Occoquan River.
These ancient formations have been around forever, thought Harley. Putting his hands on a rock by the roadside, one with a flat top around three feet high and six feet wide, he knew that he was making a connection with something much bigger than himself. Sitting down on the rock, he had the strange sensation that his center of gravity was moving out of his head. It moved down, down, down . . . past his shoulders and chest and waist, and deep into the stone beneath him.
What, he wondered, had this massive rock witnessed as it looked over the Town of Occoquan? Native Americans and settlers, Revolutionary soldiers and Redcoats, slave-owners and abolitionists, blacks and whites, and now an odd collection of witches and Jews and Christians and Muslims. The rocks had seen it all, standing silently above the fading light on the Occoquan River.
The Lord is my rock
Pulling out his smartphone, Harley called up a psalm, number eighteen, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge.” Harley read it, and then repeated it. Get outside your head, he thought to himself, let yourself rest in the Lord of the rock. This is what is really real, he realized, a fortress that can stand strong against any assault. Lean on this, rely on this—the rock in which you can take refuge. “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,” Harley repeated to himself, over and over again.
With eyes closed, he began to hear other words being spoken all around him. “In the beginning was the Word,” rumbled the outcropping of rock beneath him, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”
But who, who, who, who—asked an owl in a tall tree behind him—who is this Word, this Word, this Word? “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation,” said the river, lapping gently against the rocky shoreline; “for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.”
The Word, the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation—Harley knew that these ancient truths were all connected to Jesus, the Word of God. He had heard the lines first in the words of Scripture, and now he was hearing them in the sounds of nature. “He himself is before all things,” said a voice from deep within the rock, “and in him all things hold together.” Jesus … Lord of the rock.