Once Upon a Time… (Stories Matter)
“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” —Muriel Rukeyser
Once Upon a Time…
… in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…
… a young shepherd boy stood before the giant with only a sling.
… a starship set out to boldly go where no man had gone before.
… four reptiles stumbled upon green ooze in the sewers of New York.
… a special child was discovered in the town of Smallville.
… a one-legged cook performed mutiny aboard a ship.
… a hairy-footed Halfling discovered a magical ring.
Stories have power. Stories resonate deep within us. Our minds will cling to few things as tightly or resiliently as a well-told story. Stories tug at our emotions, enlighten our insights, and offer guidance to our hands and feet. In short: Stories Matter.
If told that 20% of Southerners owned slaves during the Civil War we are bothered. After readingUncle Tom’s Cabin we are emotionally broken and spurred to action. Stories are the flesh and blood that reality dawns to help blinded eyes understand it more clearly and truthfully.
A story can be told in a cornucopia of languages – yet the act of storytelling is a universal rite. Cave-art can be attributed to every civilization on every continent at the same point in their cultural development. The reality of the pictorial stories declares a simple truth: We do not learn to tell stories; the value of storytelling is encoded into our very DNA. Storytelling is part of being human.
We must teach children mathematics, reason, and philosophy – but we need only cultivate imagination. Humanity has always understood the world through story. Simone Weil once said, “Imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life.” Should this surprise? We are, after all, created in the image of the Great Storyteller.
When God orchestrated His holy scripture to offer guidance, He did so primarily through story. A Book intended for all cultures was written in a language all cultures could understand and value – the Language of Story. Fittingly, over 60% of the Bible is narrative. Often lost in the clutter of systematics is that the Bible reads less like an instruction manual and more like a New York Times best-selling thriller. No wonder even a tamed-down television adaption shattered viewership ratings earlier this year. The Bible is a gripping story and the most plagiarized book in history.
When God took on human flesh He did so in the form of the most prolific storyteller the world has ever known. Jesus spoke all things in parables (Matt. 13:34); yet often the same cannot be said of modern preachers. It has become sadly common to preach Jesus almost exclusively in a manner and style that Jesus himself used quite sparingly. Jesus told stories. Stories are powerful.
So let’s put away this nonsense about stories being a trivial child’s fancy. We do not outgrow stories any more than we outgrow being human. Yet, even then, in the celestial sphere stories remain as potent as ever. Stories are, and will always be, an essential part of the human equation. We understand the world and our place in it through the lens of story. Not only that, but we are all active characters in the epic, continually unfolding story being told each new day. As Hans Christian Andersen once said, “Life itself is the most wonderful fairytale of all.”
So this week — Enjoy a story. Tell a story. Live a story.
Because Stories, do indeed, Matter.