The other day somebody at work paid me a compliment, and told me that I was a natural storyteller.
Last night Fran and I had dinner with a couple, relatively new friends whom we’re still getting to know. The subject of “how we met” came up, and Fran and I began to weave our complicated tale: meeting at a pagan gathering, the dance of flirtation and ignoring each other… the story involved a sweatlodge, and all-night conversation by a bonfire, and, eventually, my meeting Rhiannon and her own little efforts to ply me with her charms (she was six years old at the time). Everyone at the table was laughing. Yeah, I guess we (not just me) are natural storytellers.
But that may be true for all of us, you know. I think storytelling is like kissing. Everybody can do it, some folks are more confident, or have more of a swagger about it, or a larger “vocabulary” (!). It’s fun, it’s human, it connects us. Sure, some people might be “better” kissers than others, but you know, unless a kiss has been adulterated by fear or anger or possessiveness or inappropriate lust, it’s almost always a really good experience.
So just like we all need lots of hugs and kisses in our lives, so also we all need good stories. And we get these not from a book so much as from each other. And our stories need to be about nothing more dramatic than our lives. How did you meet your spouse? When did you first comprehend that you really truly believed in God (or, didn’t believe)? What is your deepest, darkest fear, and what do you do to inject hope into that fearful place? And on and on the possibilities go.
I called this post “ordinary mysticism” because I believe that, with eyes to see and ears to hear, even the most mundane stories can become luminous with mystery — mystery revealed and mystery concealed. Just as when Fran and I told our friends last night about how we met, and at one point I looked at her and said “Should I tell them about…” and before I could even finish the sentence she said “Let’s not go there!” Every story has mystery, and I think that’s true even when we tell it all. Mystery is something deeper than secrets, although secrets often can be the place where mystery lurks. One of the big differences between Christianity and the pagan mystery cults of the Greco-Roman world is that Christianity, at some point, went “open source” with its secrets. In the early years you had to be baptized before you could even witness the Communion rite. Nowadays anyone can watch. It’s no longer a secret. But it’s still a profound mystery, and perhaps the openness just serves to deepen the mystery.
I think that’s true with our storytelling, too. We talk about meeting someone special whom we would eventually marry, and the mystery of love lights on us like a butterfly in a spring garden. We recount our health woes, and there is the mystery of suffering. We take a closer look at our spiritual lives, and the mystery of Divine presence becomes manifest. Mystery happens. It is the foundational building block, the necessary amino acid, for mysticism. Let’s do all we can to share it with one another. And that means, let’s tell our stories.