I'm the youngest in that photo, my great-grandmother is the oldest. Her grandfather was living with her when he died in 1922. He had been in Pickett's charge on Round Top at Gettysburg, where he was wounded. He had become a pastor after the war, but had enlisted from Stokes county, N.C. under Stonewall Jackson. My mother became a Methodist minister and pastor herself after her divorce, and always spoke very highly of the godly example her grandmother had lived in front of her.
I also knew my maternal great-grandmother on my father's side, and it is my great-grandfather who bought the farm that we still own and love. My father's paternal grandmother is the one who supplied our (my father's and my) sense of humor and and ability to find the funny in just about anything, a trait often mentioned with fondness and relief by my great-aunts, and it is to her family's reunion that I go in two weeks. My ADD comes from my mother's father, and it is his creativity and talent for drawing that got passed to my nephew, who now works as a computer graphics illustrator.
If you are a geneticist or some sort of materialist, you might find all that information is some sort of confirmation that genes will out or we are all acting out of some sort of determined path carved out for us by Nature's influence on our physical composition. If you are the member of a family, you will recognise the cascade of taps on the shoulder, words spoken in season and out, and family legends passed on not in story or myth but in lingering examples that shaped one person and then the next.
As I woke up this morning, I was thinking about the image of a gloved hand reaching thru time and the generations. If you were a scientist, you might think of that hand as ideas carried in people, and how powerful an idea can be as it stirs up change and influences every generation that finds it and acts on it. If you wanted to clothe that same idea in religious garb, you might think about how powerful habits, weaknesses and proclivities get passed from one generation to the next and how spiritual forces shape and move human beings.
If you grew up in a family, then you'll know that hand as Una Mae patting you on the shoulder and pointing out how ridiculous Portly was in all his affectations and seriousness. You will watch Hallie sketch in the evening to relieve his stress and draw dry cleaner advertisements in the day to earn a living. If you are descended from a family, then you will pull out a doily and wonder how "Mom" made fabric out of thread and still cooked and cleaned and kept the grandchildren long past "retirement age." In every case, you will see that it is not ideas that are being passed thru time, but people who are giving of their lives to those that follow, and I am not a copy of their DNA, but I've been touched, tangibly altered, by the works of their hands imprinted onto living people.
The god conundrum works the same way. Some people think of god as an elemental force, the set of existence whereby things, including people, came into being and we describe his nature in physics and biology and sociology as great waves of events as effects ebb and flow. The more philosophical or religious elevate god to a plane where he has made laws and principles or declarations of intent and we all are measured against his standards and plans, creating our successes or failures along the way as we work with those concepts and ideas. Then there is the third way, where God is a person who is creating a family.
The way I met him was to watch him in red letters while he lived in front of his family. He loved little kids, like me, and he seemed to be always looking for the next guy to feed. I always liked how he could talk to the wind or the sea, and how the fishes would do what he asked, and how at the end of a big city disaster that got averted he said how glad he was the animals wouldn't have to suffer any more, too. When I got older I really appreciated how he didn't talk down to women and he would never embarrass someone if he didn't have to, even if they got themselves into a bind. I liked how he loved being with people so much that it didn't matter who was having the party, he was going to be there - so much so he got a rep as a drunk! (Man, talk about not worrying about what folks think about you!)
My favorite story of all time is when he was coming into town and and everyone came out to see him, but there was a blind beggar sitting in the dirt asking him for help, too. My God? He stopped, he turned around, and he saw blind Bartimus on the ground, and he touched his eyes with the palm of his hands. Blind Bartimus saw like a natural man. That I can type out a lyric that says God stopped, turned, saw and touched just blows my mind and is completely out of line with nature, but a living person can see and move and touch with love and kindness. To be family with this man is incomprehensible, but true.
If you want to hear some more about being part of a family, and that image of a living person's hand in a glove, listen here. I didn't have that link in mind when I first wrote this, but it sure fits, and it's true.