Each year at the Easter Vigil, we recall the pathway of salvation history through a series of seven Old Testament readings. The third reading is from Exodus and recounts the dramatic passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea into safety on the other side. One year, the reader for that reading gave a particularly dramatic interpretation of the words. I was enthralled as it helped me immerse myself in the story without needing to read along. This brought to mind how these stories were passed along from generation to generation until scrolls and later books became more commonplace. People couldn’t often read for themselves, so they relied on the storyteller or reader to learn these lessons and stories of the past.
This came to mind once again just these past two weeks.
I am currently on a road trip across America – eventually crossing 13 states and driving over 5000 miles. My mom drove the southern route to California with me and now my dad has so far driven with me up to Oregon and eastward. On both legs, I have learned more about my family than in any one sitting before. Throughout the Southwest, my mom shared of camping and road trips with her parents and other stories of her childhood that came to mind. I learned more about my parents’ love story and many tidbits of my grandfather and other family members I was unable to meet.
The time with my dad has likewise been enlightening. Tales of his family that remind me of things my brother does, and adventures that were only possible when growing up on a Midwest farm in the first half of the last century.
I am growing more connected to my family and our history through this trip. We’ve stayed with cousins I haven’t seen in over 20 years, and I got to hear my 82-year-old dad and his 84-year-old brother tease each other and playfully argue like they were kids again. Mostly over who was at fault when they both got in trouble as kids, but still a good time.
And it reminded me of the tales the Israelites must have told around their campfires in the evenings, or as they were wandering the desert for 40 years. And the stories of our faith that are still passed on today. Stories that tell of who we are and where we’ve come from. And stories that hopefully point us towards our ultimate destination of Heaven.
While we will not be driving for 40 years (14 days is plenty) and it is not a religious pilgrimage (though I do enjoy going to Mass in new-to-me churches), my current trip parallels what I have experienced on pilgrimages before. Walking in the places where saints walked and hearing their stories in the spots they occurred bring their lives into clearer focus and deeper understanding. Just as hearing tales from my parents’ pasts flush out their lives for me and bring me closer to them, so, too, does “traveling” with the Saints on pilgrimage.