This morning, I sat in the sun and read stories from around the world while I drank my coffee. I started reflecting on how uplifted I feel when I finish reading a story that illustrates a moral. These stories are the seeds of lessons that span centuries and even millennia. It is through listening that these seeds get planted in your heart.
Sometimes the seeds fall on rocky ground. The heart or the mind is not open. The attention for listening may be underdeveloped. The story does not always take root. But I don’t concern myself about this too often, as I know firsthand the power of story to lie dormant until the perfect conditions arise for it to sprout new life into the person who has heard it.
I haven’t always been aware of it, but I have been carrying story seeds in my heart all my life. I have access to all their emotions and a deep love for all their characters. It started when my mom enrolled me into Bible Club in the first and second grades. I was a child growing up in Pennsylvania Mennonite country during the eighties where it was still permissible to use a school bus to drive us from school to one of the many of churches in our town during school hours for Bible Club!
My mom left the Catholic Church when they wouldn’t acknowledge her Justice of the Peace marriage. However, she still wanted me to have God in my life, so she was happy to sign up for Bible Club. I think it might have been free. Initially, I don’t think I had an opinion about it one way or another. As a child, I lived in a kind of dream world on which the everyday world only sometimes encroached.
But that all soon changed as I went each week to Bible Club like a dutiful and devoted devourer of story. The old church ladies would seat us in rows of metallic chairs in the Church basement. Then they started to tell us bible stories using cut out characters, animals, and scenery backed with felt on a felt board.
I sat entranced.
It might not seem like some white-haired lady slowly arranging some felt figures on a board could be very engaging for a young child, but I really plugged into the stories like a tick on a dog. I don’t really remember much about those sweet wrinkled dears, except that they were gentle, they were ever so careful in setting up their storyboards, and they really seemed to love sharing these stories with a new generation.
There was always one that would take us back, one-by-one, to a private room to hear to us recite the week’s Bible verse and to check how far we could get reciting the names of the Bible books in order- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and so on. I treated learning those Bible verses and the books of the Bible like a religious rite. The strange names and King James language sounded like an incantation.
I was a very quiet, withdrawn, and depressed child. I don’t think I showed a lot of expression, and teachers and peers were content to leave me to my undemanding mystery. But I remember, it was important for me to practice my bible verse each morning before I went to school with my mom. It made me so proud to recite these verses flawlessly to the old ladies each week.
Later when my mom started to go to the fundamentalist churches of the area, I astounded all my Sunday school teachers with my intimate knowledge of all the Bible stories when I had never gone to church before. The truth is once I hear or read a story it lives in my heart as an experience that feels like it happened personally to me.
I burned with rage and shame when Cain killed his brother Abel. I suffered Noah’s sense of alienation when people mocked him for building an ark. My heart was deeply warmed by the goodness of Deborah when she followed Ruth into a new and unknown land. I rejoiced with the women who went to Jesus’ tomb and discovered that the boulder had been moved from the opening, and their Lord had arisen.
I am no longer the born-again believer that I was raised to be. I cannot buy into the idea of original sin, and I don’t want to convert anyone into believing there is only one path to Salvation. The basic tenets of Christianity do not resonate with my body, so I carry them no longer. My family, however, remains Christian, and I honor their continued adherence to this path.
But my friends- the Love and the sweet cultural heritage of these stories, of all the world’s blessed stories- they live in my heart forever! I want for our children to have all the stories, especially those from indigenous cultures around the world which they might not typically encounter. I desire for them to discover for themselves which stories take the deepest root for them. My mission is for children to know that their lives are stories that can change with each decision made in each new breath. There is nothing to fear permanently when we are armed with an arsenal of story.
If you don’t like the way a story is going, you can change it. Make your life a magnificent collage of all your favorite stories. Every person is a story, and the madness of this world is something we can heal when we have access to all of our collective stories. It’s all here. All we have to do is listen.
Shall I tell you a story?