Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Once upon a time..."

"Once upon a time...."  "A long time ago, in a land far away...." "Es war einmal...." "Well, this one time..." "There was once a little boy..." "Einmal geschah eine wunderbare Geschichte..."  "When I was your age..." "Did I ever tell you about the time..." "It was a dark and stormy night..."

What is it about stories?  Stories are so important to us that we have a form for them; all the phrases I started this post with are phrases that signal the start of a story.  Different types of stories, but all stories.  Why?  Why do put so much emphasis on stories? We write them in books and read them to our children before bed, we tell them as we gather around the table for a large meal, we swap them around campfires,  we treasure them in our hearts. 
I think we treasure some stories because the relate directly to us.  Stories about our families, how our grandparents immigrated from the Old World to make a new life here.  Stories about uncles who got into mischief at school.  It makes sense for us to treasure these stories. They help shape who we are because they are about our ancestors.  
We treasure other stories because they relate to our faith heritage.  These are the stories we tell our children in Sunday school, the stories Veggie Tales makes into movies, the ones turned into Arch books - David and Goliath, Daniel and the Lion's Den, Joseph, Joshua and the battle of Jericho, The Christmas story, Easter, the miracles of Jesus... I think we treasure these stories because they tell us something about our G-d, the G-d we serve and love.

But what about the stories that have nothing to do with us?  "Cinderella", "The Velveteen Rabbit", "The Little Engine that Could", "Walter the Farting Dog", "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day", "Snow White",  "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", "Oh, Wie Schön ist Panama", the list could go on and on....Why do we treasure these stories?  Some may be for pure enjoyment, others though...I think we hold on to them tighter than we would like entertainment.  And so many of us hold on to the same stories. I think maybe it has to do with what the stories teach us.

I believe that stories have the power to teach in ways that simple words cannot. I could make a list of the qualities of G-d and tell it to my Sunday School class.  They might remember it for an hour (I'm hopeful), but chances are, they would quickly forget it.  I tell them a story where they can see a quality of G-d and the chances of them remembering it increase greatly.  They know that G-d is loving because they've heard stories about how He loves.  I know my Uncle was mischievous because Mom has told me stories about some of the things he has done. 
We hold stories in our hearts and they tell us something. Earlier this summer, under the recommendation of someone I decided to trust, I began to read "Waking the Dead" by John Eldredge.  (PS:  I highly recommend this book).  Eldredge talks about how myths are some of the truest stories we know.  At first I balked at that. How could myths be true?  But then, after wrestling with it for a time, I realized what he was saying.  Myths and fairy stories are true in the sense that we hold them in our hearts and they speak to the deep parts of us.  I don't have the words to explain quite what I mean.  Read Eldredge's book or wrestle with it yourself.  I think you will find that the stories you treasure most often speak to a deep place in your heart.  I know it's true for me. 

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