August 7, 2020
Stories from other Traditions
Just after the effects of the pandemic began to be felt and understood, and the Stay-at-Home orders began to be issued, our garage door broke. In order to have a new door installed, we had to clean out enough of the garage for the installers to be able to work. This was no small task. Over the years, anything that I felt we should keep, but that I didn’t have a particular place for it to land, was put into the garage. Now, there was no choice but to sort through things. We made enough room for the installers to work, but also committed ourselves to completing the task of cleaning things out, and either organizing them or discarding them.
Along the way I have rediscovered boxes of books, some of which I knew were in there, and others that I had totally forgotten about over time. As I opened one of those forgotten boxes, I came upon a collection of books having to do with Native American culture and stories, most of which I read years ago when I took a class about such topics out of pure interest and curiosity, without any kind of formal grade attached to it. I remember the class and the experience of those books with a deep reverence for the experience.
I sat down and began to re-read one of the books of stories. Yes, I know, that meant that the rest of the cleaning was temporarily set aside. But, what struck me as I read was the power of the stories to tell truth, to lead one into an experience that offered insight, even a lesson about life. The stories had a deep sense of the spiritual, while being grounded in the everyday experiences of the storytellers.
So often, in the midst of ministry, I spend my energy trying to make concepts clear, to pass along an understanding of grace and compassion and incarnation and more. Yes, those things are, I believe, important. But they stray away from Jesus’ prime teaching style, that of simple parables and stories that were meant to engage the imagination and emotions of people. In re-reading some of these Native American stories, with their simple yet profound wisdom, I am reminded that while part of our task in the church is to educate and inform, it is also a journey of linking people to the God who loves them in ways that are often mysterious, ways that can be touched through stories sometimes more powerfully than through outright instruction.
When I took a couple of courses in storytelling years ago, one of the prime encouragements was to allow people to draw from the stories the insights or lessons that they heard. It was an understanding that one could trust people to hear the stories and draw them into their own spirits, without telling the story so as to make our own point unmistakable to people.
As I have taught the children and youth through the years, I have discovered that despite their attention and my best efforts it has often been the case that they have not absorbed all of the details of the biblical stories that I had hoped they would grasp and retain. However, as we have talked, it has also become quite clear to me that they have grasped the wisdom and insight of the stories, as they have reflected back to me the importance of compassion, and caring for one another, and listening and acting in love. They allowed the truth and gifts of the stories to become a part of them, even if they couldn’t recite back the details of particular stories. And isn’t that really what Jesus was trying to offer to people in his day? And isn’t that what he is offering to us today?
I am grateful for these reminders that have come through the re-discovery of Native American stories that were packed away in my garage. These stories, and many others from traditions that circle the globe, offer wisdom to us, if we open our ears and our hearts to the tales they tell.
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