Over the last two pastor’s columns I have been talking about stories: sharing your story with God as part of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and just last week, sharing your stories of God with your family. And I continue to think about our stories of faith and this life of grace.
One of the amazing moments of my sojourn to Israel this summer was actually holding mustard seeds in my hand. And, trust me, you had to look very closely. I took a picture and when I show it to people most guess that it is very fine grains of dirt. When I say that it is a mustard seed, then the power of Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed comes to the fore.
Stories are like a seed. Each one carries a power which is mysterious, compelling and continuing. When it falls into the soil of the human mind and memory, it takes on a life of its own. The stories do not have to be lengthy, filled with richly written passages, or have grand flourishes of style and composition. Ernest Hemingway once was challenged to write a story using only six words. He accepted the challenge and wrote: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” I think most people read that story and are stopped in their tracks, arrested by the power of a story.
For me (and hopefully for you too!) so many stories of the Bible carry that same power. The stories are the ground and seed from which to harvest rich wisdom in every age and season. I know well and tell many stories from Scripture because they are part of the seedbed of my faith. I have only just begun to harvest the wisdom and truth of stories such as the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the many accounts of Jesus and the people – Zacchaeus, the Canaanite woman, the centurion and more.
We do not have to fully understand or have plumbed the story for its full meaning in order to tell the story. Their power is not dependent on us anyway. Just as Bible stories should just be told well and often and, thereby, planted in the soil of our faith, also, family stories told well and often are planted in the soil of our families.
Are we good curators of our treasury of stories? The critic Eugene Peterson says, “We live in a world impoverished of story; so it is not surprising that many of us have picked up the bad habit of extracting ‘truths’ from the stories we read: We summarize ‘principles’ that we can use in a variety of settings at our discretion; we distill a ‘moral’ that we can use as a slogan on a poster or as a motto on our desk.”
When we do that we become, not curators trusting in the power of the story, but producers whose goal is to clean up the story, polish it and shape it into something that will serve their own purpose. A curator wants to preserve it exactly as he found it and is focused on passing it on intact to future generations.
What about your stories? I am sure you have a treasure trove of stories filled with tales of love, sin, grace, compassion, shame, regret, and all that makes up the tapestry of this thing called life. Be the curator of your stories: Know the stories, love the stories, and consider the stories. Even if the story contains details of what were not your best days, try to see it from a higher vantage point. What was God accomplishing through that story and what followed? How was your own life assisted, improved or even made possible by that story? Finally, in the right time or place, tell the stories. Release its power to others in and beyond your own time.
Those stories can become witness to the faith, testimony of redemption, or a testament to the power of grace in your life. Such are the power of curated stories.