Storytelling is a practice often exalted but rarely meditated upon. “Story-rich” media abound, and storytelling is considered a vital skill for one’s career.
The telling and interpreting of stories is clearly also a central feature of Christian life, not just within the reading of scripture, but also within the liturgy, evangelism, and contemplation.
So, needless to say, the opportunity to spend a day reflecting on storytelling as a spiritual practice was irresistible. The day incorporated teaching, discussion, fellowship, and opportunities for reflection (no surprises there). Thoughts of the day are still percolating but here I’ve tried to summarize some of the moments and ideas that have particularly stuck with me.
First was the simple but powerful idea that stories cannot be atomized and still be understood. It is not possible to reduce the meaning of a story to a single term or sentence. Our time opened with a reading of the parable of the prodigal son, and the teaching over the day reminded me that with stories like this one, terms like “repentance” and “grace” cannot be properly understood. As someone raised in a Christian family Jesus’ parables, and other stories from the Bible, were part of the background of my childhood. I literally cannot remember a time without them and had never noticed before how my Christian vocabulary depended on them.
After discussing the nature and power of stories, and taking the time to listen to a few excellent examples, we moved to thinking about stories from a theological perspective. This meant reflecting on a particular story first from a near perspective, focusing on the emotions, characters, and metaphors of the story itself. From this we expanded to a wider perspective, considering the story within the wider Christian tradition and asking “how is the divine presence in this story”? Finally, we focused on our relationship with the storyteller (in this case Bishop Dietsche) and asked how the story spoke to our own communities and lives.
As the day closed we convened as a group to discuss how we frame and share our stories with others. This conversation prompted me to reflect on my own struggles to tell a single story about my life, both to myself and to others. Like many reading this (or so I imagine), I live my outward life in an overwhelmingly secular context but my inner life is founded on my identity in Christ. This creates an undeniable tension in my conversations with colleagues, friends, and family. Our group discussion provided many stories of others grappling with similar challenges. Most resonant for me was the reminder that the stories that we tell about our lives and faith will always be incomplete, and will often be misunderstood. As someone who often has to remember that “done is better than perfect” this was helpful advice!
Coming together to learn about how stories are composed, develop a spiritual practice of listening to stories, and reflecting on how we think about our own stories, was all the more enriching for doing so alongside other young adults from the diocese. After a brief said Eucharist we went our separate ways, but I continue to reflect on our time together and look forward to next year!
Authored by, Alistair Cree of Trinity Wall Street
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Read stories and reflections from young adult voices here.