Monday, June 29, 2009

Or We Travel

Story after story. Stories we travel through that. Well. Take us places we haven’t been. Or perhaps we have. But now. This time. It is different. Or it may be different. Stories that begin with the beginning of the world, some of them. Or begin in the middle of things. In the middle of the action. Stories that are as much about place as character. Or about character as much as place. Or about one character’s view of place. Or one place’s view of character.

But they just keep coming, don’t they? Starting with. Well. I don’t know which of them begins it. In all likelihood there were many stories that preceded what we know of them. The written travel stories that we have passed down to us. Over the millennia. The many years. Unwritten stories that were born with language, maybe, and began as hunting stories. Stories about a hunt that might have lasted days and taken the hunting party far afield, so to say. To places the hunters had never been before.

And herding stories. Stories about herders taking their flocks to places they’d never been, in search of better pasture. Or stories about herds that led their shepherds to places they’d never gone, in search of better pasture.

And trading stories. Stories about men packing trade goods over the mountains or over the lip of the tundra to people they’d heard about and that may wish to barter. May wish to trade what they’ve made for something someone else has made. Wineskins for prayer wheels, for example. Or salt for cloth.

And war stories. Stories about men traveling great distances to kill one another and pillage one another’s tribe or settlement or village or city. Stories that involve heroic deeds. And terror. And death.

Our minds are full of these, aren’t they? Full of the events and the characters and the discoveries and the mishaps and the conflicts and the disappointments and the hope and the faith that drives the traveler to keep going in a strange place. Where there are strange people with strange speech and strange customs. Where even the earth itself seems strange. Hostile. Other.

And so we have the written stories that play themselves out like movies in our heads and hearts. That play against the backdrop of our lives. Or that are like drones. Drone notes. That underlie the melody of our lives.

And so we have the Iliad and the Odyssey, for example. The story of Adam and Eve. The story of Abraham. The story of Moses leading Israel out of Egypt and through the Sinai. The story of Jesus wandering about Israel and Galilee.

And so we have Herodotus’s The Histories. Virgil’s The Aneid. We have Beowulf. We have Boccaccio’s Decameron. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Melville’s Moby Dick. Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Joyce’s Ulysses. Kerouac’s On the Road. Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways.

Thousands of them. Tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands. And how to think of them? They rattle around in the mind as the stories of the Tanakh must have rattled around in the minds of first century Jews. First century Christians. First century writers of the New Testament. The great traveling stories.

And knowing these stories. Writing about Jesus and having these stories. These travelogues. Rattling around in their heads and in the heads of their readers. Certainly made all the difference. Didn’t it? This shared sense of what has happened. What the possibilities are. What may happen next. How meaning works.

How things go. What life is. What it feels like. The sense that it goes somewhere. That character is bound up with meaning. And movement. And God. How God is bound up with us. As we travel resolutely. Hesitatingly. Haltingly. Quickly. Deliberately. Uncertainly. Incompetently. Certainly. Forward into time and place. Into the great mystery. The enormous unknown of who we are and what we will be. What God may do. What will unfold and what it all may mean.

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