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I’ve been both giddy and annoyed recently by the way that “story” has been trending in the public sphere. In my house, where my husband is one of the best storyteller-communicators that I know, and where I am a writer, story is our life and kind of always has been.
Knowing the richness and value of one’s own story and believing in the power of others’ stories to change, heal, empower, and impact us has made me feel thrilled to hear so many people buzzing on the importance of story these days.
Conversely, it seems that any subject injected into the popular social arena can easily become weak and meaningless with overuse, which causes me concern. Story is too important and too personal to risk such ruin.
This week I attended an event in which our very own Jennifer Holberg was interviewed about her new book, Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith. I looked forward to reading this book from the moment I heard about it here on this platform, and it did not disappoint. This is a book for all readers and writers. It is a book for all people. As I read Jennifer’s book I relished the promptings to know our stories, tell our stories, and listen to the stories of the world, great and small.
We are all both storytellers and story receptacles. And stories are power.
When we tell our stories it allows us to understand ourselves better. If we pay attention, the essence of who we are, how we think or feel, and what matters to us shines through those stories. It is clarifying.
In receiving the stories of others, we are swayed, molded, and sometimes even changed as we come to understand other people better. The world spins and grows through story.
My own life is delightfully filled with stories. I love to read stories, both the fictionally dished-up via novel, and those told by real people by way of memoir.
My daughter, a tenth grader, has been plowing through stories these days. She read Les Misérables by Victor Hugo in just two weeks and then jumped into The Glass Castle, a memoir by Jeannette Walls, barely coming up for air. Next on her list, for tomorrow she reads so fast, is A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. My GOODNESS. The stories she soaks in!
What worlds are we soaking in, and what does it do to our psyche, our whole life and being?
And I don’t mean just books. Everyone around us is a walking story, and honestly, most of those stories are dying to be told. People are always looking for listeners and when we receive those stories, they have dramatic power to shape us and our own story.
Stories open us to a whole range of emotion and feeling that we may never have tapped into otherwise, experiences we may never have had opportunity to go through ourselves, or lessons others have learned that we can vicariously learn and glean from. We can take even more than we receive from a story if we want to.
And, of course, there is the story of God, of creation, the fall, and then the solution, of Jesus, and our salvation. The story.
One of the things that came up in the interview with Jennifer Holberg was the difficulty that teachers and preachers (and writers and storytellers at large, I think) are up against in telling the story. After all, that is a major goal: conveying the on-going and everlasting hope and goodness of the Christian story of faith in as many interesting, beautiful, honest, and declarative ways as we can.
Yet the story faces the hardship of breaking through all the other stories. It has to bore through our individual stories to make a difference. Because our story- who we are, how we are, what and why we are- it forms a hard shell around us, seemingly impenetrable. We are who we are, protected by the shape of our story.
It is rather circular, but I’m not sure there is any other grand solution here apart from continuing to tell our stories and open ourselves to the stories of others. Because stories soften us, making us more receptive to a host of other stories including the most important story.
Storytellers, all of us, cannot give up. The world turns with our stories ever unto eternal life, and listeners abound. I hope you will pay good attention to your story, and that you will share it today with an ear in need.