By the time the son asked the question, the stones would have been bleached whiter than when they were carried dripping from the Jordan’s path. Each would have become a fixture in its place, stumbled upon at night. Perhaps the boy who asked the question would have mounted the stone in a child’s victory and proclaimed himself king over the place a year or two before it came to him to ask the awaited question.
The father must have grinned when it came: ‘What are these stones?’
It is almost an embarrassment that one must say in our time that biblical faith is inter-generational. It is passed to the daughters and sons not by some neutral election of one religion among the menu on offer. Rather, it is inculcated as the default way that ‘our family’ responds to the mercies woven into a story that has been in the telling for generations before it was our shadow that fell upon these stones.
Yet it is just as easily missed that biblical faith is so often evoked, nurtured—in a sense, even born, though not exactly conceived—in a question. The potency of a wondering, the generative energy of an unscripted interrogative is as important to the shape of biblical faith, one might venture, as dogma and its declaratives.
‘What are these stones?’
The wise parent will not have burdened the child prior to the question with the woes and weights of our people. The story of liberation will have been told, of course. But it will have been unembellished by strainings at pedagogy, narrated in bare simplicity because it entertained a young boy’s imagination and elevated a daughter’s self-understanding long before it became the teaching of a father.
Story precedes instruction because story is itself a most powerful lesson that does not require a scholar’s abstractions to shape a life that is still tender, unbent and virginal before drought, covenant breaking, and an enemy’s curses.
‘What are these stones?’ So often in the literature the adolescent passage from a known, giddy innocence to the burden of understanding conviction is wrought, awkwardly, by a question that stops hearts and time as if to announce a passage too important for the menial calibrations of a plan.