Ministry in Context

"I Love to Tell the Story": A Reflection on Telling Stories

I’d sung it many times in my young life. When we sang I Love to Tell the Story at my grandfather’s funeral, it stayed in my head and in my heart; I didn’t understand or even appreciate it then. I do now. I’m aware of how important stories are to the Christian community and to me. Our lives are woven together and it’s the stories we tell about ourselves, about our community, and about our lives of faith which make up the warp and weft of our shared life.

In that vein, I offer a reflection from Mark Nepo’s book, The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want By Being Present to the One You Have, (Conari Press, 2000).

Stories are like little time capsules. They carry pieces of meaning and truth over time. Whether it is a myth from 4,000 years ago or your own untold story from childhood, the meaning waits like a dry ration; only by the next telling does it enlarge and soften to become edible. It is the sweat and tears of the telling that bring the meaning out of its sleep as if no time has passed. It is the telling that heals.

Often we repeat stories, not because we are forgetful or indulgent, but because there is too much meaning to digest in one expression. So we keep sharing the story that presses on our heart until we understand it all. I remember my first fall in love, how deep the fall and how painful the landing. When it was over, when she left me for other loves, I was devastated. Throughout my college days, my sadness was a wound that needed air, and each telling of my story – though even strangers grew tired of hearing it – each telling of her sudden eyes and her sudden leaving was stitch that healed the wound in my heart.

And when my mother-in-law lost her husband of fifty-five years, when I sat with her two weeks later, after all the flowers and speeches, she stared into that moment of his passing and told me over and over of his last breath and of finding him slumped in his chair. At first I thought her adrift, but realized this is how she was trying on the meaning of her grief. Like a shaman or monk, she was chanting the mantra of her experience until its truth was released.

Imagine how many times Paul told the story of being knocked off his horse by God. He did so, most likely, because with each telling, he was brought deeper into revelation. Or how many times Moses told of his meetings with God. He did so, I imagine, because with each telling, he saw God more clearly. Or how many times Lazarus told of being brought back to life by Jesus. He did so, no doubt, because with each telling, he was brought deeper into his reawakening.

The truth is that though we think we know what we are about to say, the story tells us and saves us, in the same mysterious way that breathing is always the same but different.

In Advent, in this time of waiting, we begin again to tell the familiar and yet fresh story of Jesus, of the faithful who have gone before, of our life together, and of our lives as Children of God. We wait with longing and hope and faith to hear our own story in this old, old story of Jesus and his love.

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