It’s All a Story!

I was so moved—and horrified—by the story of our preacher’s father in the Indian boarding school. In painful and powerful ways, it shed light on something in my own family’s story…

It is incredible to be listened to so deeply…

It was easier to tell my story than it was to listen to others’ stories closely enough to engage with them meaningfully…

It is amazing how someone can be seen so vividly through the stories told at their funeral…

My spouse wondered why I was attending this workshop, wondering what stories had to do with church—I exclaimed, ‘it’s all story!  Scripture, our lives, stories are at the heart of all of it!’

These are just a few of the comments from this past weekend here at St. Simon’s as we held another storytelling workshop, hosted two wise Native American Episcopal clergy and celebrated the life—even as we mourned the death—of a beloved, long-time member of the parish. Stories are indeed central in our lives—we are shaped and formed not only by our experiences but by reflecting on them. There is healing power in sharing our experiences as well as in listening to others.

During the Episcopal 101 session last night, we talked about the way Jesus was all about belonging—over and over he ensured those on the edges that they belonged to God. He called upon all people to wake up to the reality that since all belong to God, all belong to each other as well. It is a truth we have not yet awakened to, even today. When we know we all belong, then we behave in ways that help us remember that truth and also embody that reality—loving our neighbor, and even our enemy, as ourselves. Jesus wasn’t interested in what folks said they believed, he cared about being in relationship with them, about how they treated each other, about how they trust the One who loves them.

Our country’s common life is torn and frayed in large part because people don’t feel heard. Polarized by issues and convictions, we fail to be present to one another others’ stories, particularly those whose lives are different from our own. Insulated from the stories and experiences of others, we make assumptions about them. Occasionally, I catch myself having created a whole backstory to explain someone’s actions before I realize that it is only true in my own mind. It takes discipline and intention to realize when that is happening and to choose instead to be in relationship with that person, seeking to understand what life is like inside their skin. It also takes an investment of time, and a willingness on their part to trust enough to open in return.

During this season, how might we open ourselves to one another? How might we have the courage to name what is true for us as we share our stories? How might we engage in truly listening, particularly those with whom we disagree? How might we listen to the story of Jesus—the stunning reality of the incarnation, of God being with us—anew. Not half-hearted listening, assuming we already know what the stories are and what they mean, but deep listening to what God is saying to you and to me at this particular time and context. This Advent, may we awaken to God-with-us in every encounter.