Precious memories, unseen angels sent from somewhere to my soul,
How they linger ever near me and the sacred past unfold. — J.B.F. Wright
When Joshua and the Israelites were nearing the end of their long journey to the Promised Land, the whole caravan stopped next to the Jordan River for the ancient equivalent of a “Kodak moment.” Per God’s command, 12 men, each representing a tribe of Israel, took 12 stones from the middle of the river. Joshua placed the stones at Gilgal, saying, “When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you...” (Joshua 4:21-23).
With the right technology, a group photographer might have arranged the Israelites in front of the stones, those in the back row with their arms around each other, their sweaty clothes and weary smiles conveying to future generations the exhilaration of the moment. Lacking photo albums, the Israelites instead relied on the 12 stones to help them remember this direct experience of God’s deliverance. The stones prompted the sharing of memories that in turn became a source of identity for those coming after them.
Although our modern-day versions of memorial “stones” come in more creative, and portable, forms—journals, videos, time capsules, audio recordings—we seem partial to scrapbooks and photo albums. The nearly $3 billion “scrapbooking” industry is ample evidence of our desire to remember and be remembered (that, and the power of marketing): A small empire of product suppliers, Web sites, magazines, “scrapper” forums, and even a television show (Scrapbooking, which airs on the DIY network) produces a constant stream of tips, ideas, and materials for preserving—and “enhancing,” as one retailer describes it—our memories.