This week I was sick with one of those stomach bug things that makes you afraid that you are going to die and then afraid that you won’t. And then I went on a field trip to the grand opening of the North Carolina Museum of Art, which was lovely and wonderful for our students who have been participating in the art project I have mentioned a few times here. Between the possibility/promise of death and the gathering together of my remaining energy for the field trip, I have not been able to gather any thoughts to post here. Most of my thoughts this week have been as follows: Blergh.
At church during the Easter season, we are focusing on the theme Credo, and our pastoral staff has encouraged people to write their own This I Believe statements. I read mine at church last week and meant, all week, to post it. Some of it will probably be familiar to long-time readers here, a sentence or two you recognize from previous posts. And the sentiment will certainly be familiar to most of you as well, since the theme of story is one that I talk about a lot. But I did enjoy thinking and focusing in on the way that I organize my life and belief and putting that into words. One note: if you haven’t read the article I reference (and link to) in the first sentence, please do.
Many of you probably saw the New York Times article about the father and daughter who read together for 3,218 days in a row. The part of their story that was most meaningful to me was the idea that by reading together, they created a shared language. This is something I have experienced in my own life, from my mother’s first readings of I am a Bunny on through the wardrobe into the Chronicles of Narnia. Mike and I have read several books out loud together, including the entire Harry Potter series, and we often reference the books we have read. To some extent, book clubs also fill this role, as we gather together to talk about a book we have experienced. In my life, there is little that inspires, angers, or moves me to tears more than a story. I believe in the power of stories, both fictional and non-fictional, to teach us the truth about the world around us. The world that we experience, that Jesus came and lived in, is full of gray rather than simply black and white. For me, stories are about making sense of the gray. I see the truths of what the Bible is saying much more easily in a story. Jesus was telling parables for people like me who need a story to make those connections.
When Owen Meany and Asher Lev live courageously, it seems easier for me to follow them than it does when I hear a Bible verse about the same thing. When, in the Lord Peter series, Harriet Vane learns what it means to bring her heart and her intellect together, I realize that those are possibilities for me as well. When Jefferson learns in A Lesson Before Dying what it is to be a man, I learn more about my own humanity. Madeleine L’Engle, my favorite author, writes about this concept as “story as truth.” Stories around us, fictional and non-fictional, are the gateway to more than just facts. They teach me the truth about the difficulties and rewards of life, about the kind of life I can choose to live.
As Mike and I have invested here at church, I have come to realize that sharing life with the people around us is a form of telling and listening to those stories. Lingering over meals, drinking lemonade at baby showers, going to funerals, laughing and crying together . . . all of these are a powerful part of telling and listening and creating a shared language. Many of us grew up calling this a “testimony;” I am more comfortable with the idea of learning to write a good story with my life. Learning how to show up when people need me. Learning how to forgive and how to be vulnerable when it is hard. Learning to love and to be loved. These days I am happy feeling my heart quicken when Frodo chooses to take the ring (though he does not know the way), rejoicing when something good happens to a friend, and listening, carefully listening, when those of you around me teach me how to live with the stories you tell and share.