Wrapped in Story
You are a story. I am a story. Our lives are narratives that intertwine with and pull away from other people’s narratives. Marriage, for example, is a hopeful intertwining of two story lines. When we get together in family we recall stories gone from our midst: “remember when Uncle Fred used to…?” “Remember those funny shoes Uncle Jim always wore?” We remember people as characters in our story.
Friends and relatives hold us in memory eternal across generations. They keep us in the story here on earth. As he lay dying, my mentor and friend Joseph Sittler said that he felt as if the threads that connected him to others were snapping one by one. His story was unraveling like the cuffs of a well-worn sweater. Henceforth, he would have to be remembered in other stories.
God is story, not an abstract formula or a mathematical fact. When we say that God is personal we mean, in large part, that God is story. The rabbis said God created people because God loves stories. If you want to know who God is, you ask what story joins God and people. Christians say, “God is the one who raised Jesus Christ from the dead and calls us to the community of faith.” This is our story, and in it we dwell like a woven blanket that enfolds us.
Christians say that we are sewn together with a community of saints. They are on the walls of Orthodox churches, pictures of those who invite us into the presence of God through their stories. We are in the story together and forever. Their prayer upholds us. Their presence is a constant reminder that, among the faithful, the wall between living and dead is very thin indeed.
We don’t begin with abstract formulas – “God is all-powerful” – we begin with stories. Jesus would say, “The Kingdom of God is like a woman who lost a coin and spent the day seeking it.” He told stories to help us understand God. When Jesus called God Father, he used a name that takes shape and meaning only in relationship, narrative, and personal story.
Our wounds become part of our story, too. We used to joke about people who asked us if we wanted to see their incisions after an operation, but there is a point: our wounds are paragraphs in the story of who we are becoming. When you have been wronged, or when you have wronged another, you never forget. These wrongs, even when forgiven, become part of your story. When our story line strays from God we like lost sheep need to be returned to the fold, another way to say we need to be re-written into the story. When we move from one place to another, we have to begin writing a new chapter in the story of our lives.
World events enter our stories. No American alive and alert when President Kennedy or Martin Luther King or Bobby Kennedy was assassinated will ever lose the psychic scar from those events. No matter the outcome of war, too, the experience is etched in our stories. Human agony cannot go unrecorded. We must remember and tell the story in hopes that future generations will learn to overcome the story line that leads to war.
To be lonely and unloved means you are not written into anybody’s story. Love means that your story is embraced by and joined to another story. In God, we are embraced by a Love and a story that is eternal rather than fleeting and momentary, and toward which all human stories and loves point.
Fr Gabriel Rochelle serves the Las Cruces Orthodox Mission. He loves stories and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PUBLISHED 5 SEPT 08