Family Photos and Ancient Paths

In my dining room, on a large off-white and wood grain cabinet, there is a shelf filled with black and white photos. Eight windows into my family's past.

Each are framed differently, each show signs of wear and yellowing around the corners. Each, as every photo does, represents a person.

There is the high school photo of my grandmother, dad's side.

Then there is the childhood photo of my wife's grandmother, her mom's side.

Near to them are my mom's parents, Granny & Popaw, engaged in an embrace, then my wife's grandfather and his sister. My wife's mom wears a childlike shriek of glee behind a faded picture of my father-in-law's extended family, who sit at the right hand of my great-great-great-grandfather and his wife seated in their front yard. My exponential great grandmother has a Bible clutched on her lap, and the kids are so far back in the background you can barely make out their faces. They are lives. Lives lived, some of them over and some of them over well before mine began.

Yet they were. They had dreams and visions, fears and likes, favorite foods and haunted thoughts as they scattered dust along their way.

We are a forward looking people, for the most part. Innovation is not just a noun, it has become an adjective that expresses real and legitimate value. Attach "innovative" to music, medical procedures, or any sort of technology and you have the attention of the world. I'm not against innovation, please hear me out on this, but when I looked at the gray-hued photographs on my shelf I'm reminded that life has been going on since well before I held it in my mind.

There is bigger, there is more, and some of it is old and forgotten. Too soon forgotten.

I feel a sense of nostalgia, yes I said it, when I think about farms sprawling in every direction and families living all in the same house together. Yes, I feel a sense of loss whenever I realize how disconnected I can be due to the dinging in my pocket or the buzzing in my mind. There comes a longing for a simpler time - it's more of a haunting than a longing because I'm not sure how far I'd go to have it, but this haunting sits with my spirit. It sits with my soul. It says that perhaps I've muddied the waters with all the ways I've tried to clear them up.

Then a fresh breeze blows into my mind. The words of an ancient soul, one who wept for people who seemed hell-bent not to weep for themselves or even consider the savage infidelity of their simple movement away, out and forward. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, speaks for God:

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. (Jeremiah 6:16, NIV)

The ancient paths. The ways of walking that are engraved in the rings of the very soul of humanity. The ways of doing and being with God, the fruits of a Spirit tearing brazenly through our well-constructed "lives" setting everything on fire that could bear to be purified, Jeremiah says "go and find it. Go and find them." The ancient paths, that's where rest is.

I find myself searching for the ancient paths more often than ever these days, remembering my forebears and knowing that I am not the first. There are ancient paths well blazed, decayed now in the yellowed pages of a forgotten King James Version clutched on the aproned lap of a woman of the earth. Even more so as a father who looks so old in his daughter's sparkling new eyes, I'm searching for the ways that give her and I life and light, vitality beyond simple utility, grace upon grace.

Let us keep our technology, our innovation, our creative work after a creative God, but let us keep it loosely. Tucked in our back pocket we turn and look, and ask, "Which way to the crossroads? Which way to the ancient paths?"