Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
The Grandfather tells a story, by Albert Anker, ca. 1884.
And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal. And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land.
— Joshua 4:20-22
The book of Exodus, in describing the journey from Egypt to Canaan, emphasises teaching and the passing on of tradition. Several times the motif of future children asking their parents for meaning is used to strengthen this message. For example, when your children say to you, 'What do you mean by this service?'...1 and when in time to come your son asks you, 'What does this mean?'...2. This theme is refrained in the book of Joshua.
In Exodus the teaching is centered on the passover, and here it is focused on the crossing, the becoming. The laying of the stones in Gilgal signifies the moment that Israel became a nation. This is to be commemorated always. It is storytelling that will ensure the Israelites' relationship with God is kept alive. Having the right narrative is essential for continuing tradition, which is essentially our way of knowing who we are, and from whence we came. Stories provide us with meaning.
Our stories today serve a similar purpose, but sadly storytelling and thus tradition is on the wane, lying in the shadow of the new idea or product, and the immediate gratification offered by our modern consumer society. Whereas each family, each community once had its own stories that were told and retold, establishing a sense of identity, a oneness with the group, we see this less often today, giving way as it does to social media gossip, bickering, arguing and even abuse. Families and communities are neglected in favour of individuality, where being right is more important than being friends.
Stories left untold soon wither and die and we are left with a sense of emptiness, a rootless not-knowing. When we lose our traditions we lose our meaning. To ask "what does this mean?" and to be offered a blank stare, or a brush-off is the beginning of a rootless life. This may explain the great rise in depression in recent generations.
1 Exodus 12:26
2 Exodus 13:14