Religion column: The restorer of paths

Published 7:00 am Saturday, October 26, 2019

By Fr. Jonathan Filkins

After the New York Stock Market crashed, some ninety years ago this month, the American populace descended into a very serious economic condition, called “The Depression.” At its apex, 25 percent of eligible working men were unemployed. Families were left to the streets, entire communities dissolved and the Great Migration west began from overworked farms. Concurrently, a great drought occurred, enabling many tons of fertile topsoil to be lifted into the air and destroying vast agricultural lands.

Few of us alive today can testify what it was like. What we do have are the graining photographs and journals of their time. Perhaps some relative, in our youth, relayed some bit of the depravation. For many, if not all, it was a time of questioning, of insecurity, in the ability of our Creator to provide.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

In John Steinbeck’s remarkable novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” we discover the Joads, a desperate family who felt called to California to start a new life; for there were few other options; if they were to live at all. They began in their decrepit Ford Model “T” truck, with all of their worldly possessions roped down to every available post and frame. In between, all of the many members of the extended family were squeezed in. So, they began their journey, in the swirling dust of the Midwest and with very little to rely upon. A grandmother dies, hordes of fellow travelers are met, unscrupulous manipulators are encountered, and a general malaise of, “No work here. Keep on going,” is felt along the way. Yet, there was always a thread of generosity and hope.

The tale is not about a specific family, but it does encapsulate the very nature of the times and places. It has been regarded as a marker in the panoply of American literature, and a literal masterpiece of character development and scene. Throughout the novel, there is a clear acknowledgement of a greater power, watching over the family, and providing the courage and guidance to carry on.

Lest we believe these distant pasts are somehow behind us, we should know it is estimated a serious majority of our fellow citizens are one check away from financial collapse. Our media is regularly conveying this dark reality, as we discover those evicted living in their cars, or on the streets themselves. Yes, some of them have drug issues, but many others have simply not had the skillset to make good decisions. Unlike the Depression, we do have “economic safety nets,” which may fleetingly cushion the blow; albeit not generationally.

Of particular note, is the continuing decline of our urban centers as indicated by population shifts, income levels and crime data. What is quite similar, to our previous pasts, is the earnest desire to pursue a path of betterment. It makes no difference to whom is being referred, as it is an innate part of our nature; given to us by our Creator.  The greatest hubris humankind may offer is the superior nature of their thoughts, over that of God. We, as Christians, believe our divine messenger was Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In his ministry, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” In an entirely unambiguous fashion, we are told who is the navigator of our lives and the path we are to take. As the Joads discovered, as they bounced back and forth on the dirt roads of their day, there was always the promise of a better life and the optimism of seeking that path, with the inspiration of what may be called no less than the “Holy Spirit.”

When we are desperate and seemingly without resources, either for provender or otherwise, upon whom do we rely? Seemingly, we alone are not the proper response.