Telling the old stories can be endlessly entertaining: “Remember the time she said…?” “Did I tell you about the time when…?” “I’ll never forget the moment at which he announced…” At a celebration last night, the stories flowed along with the libations being poured. And there was joy in hearing those old, old stories. Laughter and tears connected us as as a community as we joined memories.
Yet as my life continues and I am anticipating a turn into a new decade, my spirit is asking for some discernment about those old stories. Tales such as those that accompany a celebration have an important role in reminding us where God has been present in shaping and transforming us in to the likeness of Christ. Moses says very clearly to the Hebrews on the verge of the promised land: Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you…for it is God who gives you power… (Deut. 8: 2, 18). I want to remember those stories of the Presence of the Holy One at the turning points, in the liminal spaces, of the angels and saints were my companions on the inner and outer ways. I want the gathered people of God in whatever configuration the Church keeps emerging to have a place of honored memory for the sagas of the One Who Has Led Us Safe Thus Far.
However, there are old stories that should not be rehearsed in our faith journeys: stories about the nature of God that are inadequate and false, fables about ourselves that are impoverished and enslaving, chronicles about the way that God works in the world that are time bound and rigid. In the worlds of public discourse in media of all kinds, people rehearse ancient stories that assign blame cosmic blame when tragedy befalls. We hear it proclaimed that God is unhappy with a particular city or nation because of the kinds of people who live there or the political choices that are being played out. This vengeful, fanciful, partisan God is not the God who in Christ came in Love to the entire world and does not want any to perish. When we repeat or reenact these stories, we do not contribute to the healing of the world, the tikkun olam, but rather we deepen the tearing and destruction of the peace of the Holy that passes understanding.
Stories about others–other genders, other races, other classes, others provenance–can carry lies as well. Many women of my time and place in US Christian history grew up believing that they were less loved, gifted and responsible than the men who populated their lived and the world. Most of them have tales to tell about being told overtly or tacitly that they were not allowed, not capable or welcome to be all that they were meant and called to be God. Those stories of limitation and devaluing, sometimes of abuse, need to be jettisoned, not in the recording of what actually happened, but in allowing those old stories to continue to be unchallenged or to continue to be accepted as God’s story about women.
Sitting with other in sacred conversation, I often find that souls are shaped by the stories that have brought them to this place. Spiritual direction is often the stage on which the value and truth of these narratives can be explored. Can the God story, replete with Jesus in a bathrobe on the sanctuary wall, still sustain and nourish the breadth and motion of one’s adult life? Does a vengeful God, unmitigated by the embodiment of Christ in Jesus, still take center place in our divided and broken world? What new telling of the Mystery of God can accompany and energize our task for the present moment: to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God?
And the stories we tell about ourselves: are they really true? are they kind? do they help us go more deeply into the heart of God? Can we come to see ourselves as God’s work of Art, created before the beginning of time for good works, for God’s beauty and joy in the world?
Can the Church as it emerges, evolves, changes and re-imagines itself in this time, sift through the old, old stories, retain the ones that are true and adequate, and let go of the ones that bind, cripple and exclude?
I love to tell the old stories…but they must be faithful to the One who continues to be at work in us and the world
Patheos blogger Elizabeth Nordquist reflects on the old stories of God and ourselves that shape our journey of Spirit.