In our Education for Ministry (EfM) group, one of the members presented a theological reflection (TR). TRs are studies based on objects or metaphors representing things we encounter in our lives and ministries (and we all are ministries, a job we inherited at baptism). The person who presented the subject is a great storyteller, and he began with a story as told by M. Scott Peck called “The Rabbi’s Gift.”
The story starts with a group of monks who left their home country to seek peace, silence, and solitude. They found a place and began to build a new monastery. New people found the monastery and grounds to be full of serenity and sanctity. New postulants also came, increasing the numbers of the monks. For years, the place grew, but the monks noticed fewer new people were entering the order over time. Fewer pilgrims were coming to their monastery. It puzzled them for so long that finally, they took their problem to the Abbot, who confessed he didn’t have an answer either. Then they remembered a wise rabbi who visited occasionally, and they sent the Abbot to ask the rabbi for wisdom. I’ll leave it to you to read the rest of the story.
How many stories do you remember from your childhood? I’m sure there are a lot that you still remember and probably have told to your own children and grandchildren. Robin Hood, the Easter Bunny, Mary and her little lamb, Jack and Jill, King Arthur, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, and so many others are parts of childhood. When we share them with the next generation, we pass along not just the stories but often our responses to them and what we gained from hearing them ourselves.
We also tell stories of our own lives, descriptions of what we did or said, or some accomplishment we had reached. Sometimes we exaggerate just a little or leave out bits that don’t make us feel good about our selves. Our stories began when we were born, with the tales our parents and grandparents told us about what we did and were like before we had any conscious memories of them. Family gatherings are generally story-fests, because everybody has a favorite story of what family members had done that was funny, odd, adventurous, or informative. We incorporate these stories into our life story just as we continue to add to that process with each passing year.
We learned stories in Sunday School too. There were heroes like David the Shepherd, Noah and his ark, Moses, Joshua, and Elijah. We heard of Miriam, Delilah, Bathsheeba, Deborah, Esther, Sarah, Rachel and Leah, and Rebecca. We learned at various stages of our lives and were often taught to understand the stories as truth and as lessons we should learn from each one.
Many of us subsequently learned that there is truth and being true. We learned that a story might not be entirely true yet contain a lot of truth from which we could learn. We learned the lessons of Jesus, often told in stories (parables). There were specific teachings and truths that the listeners could hear and understand without needing the information to be 100% true. It’s only been in the last 200 years or so that we’ve added a layer of literalism to stories that the original hearers (and Jesus) never intended. The story of the Good Samaritan probably never happened. Still, Jesus used it to illustrate helping someone, even someone of another grace, religion, group, or whatever, because it was the right thing to do. The story of the pharisee loudly praying in the Temple or synagogue was a contrast with a man who stood quietly in a corner, offering his prayers to God without trying to impress anyone. Jesus illustrated by using masters and servants, women, children, the rich, the sick, and the workmen with whom the neighborhood would be familiar with the work they did as subjects of tales that conveyed messages and lessons he wanted them to get, lessons about trusting God, doing good, loving justice, and caring for one another more than ourselves.
Often, we illustrate the stories we have learned by how we act to one another. If we have been taught love, then we see the world as a place where love is abundant. If we learned to be wary of others if they try to get more than their share of something, then we will be suspicious and greedy to make sure our own share is bigger and better. Suppose we understand that we are different from another group and that the other group is somehow inferior. In that case, we don’t learn to treasure diversity and attempt to understand the differences and respect those who are different.
What is the story your life tells about you? What stories from your childhood and youth still linger in the way you see the world and react to it? Where are the examples of Jesus and his words in how you live your life? What do others see in you that would lead them to seek what you have, faith-wise?
I think this week, I have to work on how I present my story, especially the part where Jesus should be present. I need to remember the early church’s account of how new converts sought out the underground church because of the stories told about how they showed their love of one another through care, concern, and obedience to God’s will.
Think about your story this week. Where does it go from here?
Image: Storyteller Under Sunny Skies, clay sculpture by Rose Pecos-SunRhodes, Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico, 1993. In the permanent collection of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives in Avondale. Arizona, just outside of Phoenix.