Telling a story about how we build families and communities...
"Problems are not going to get solved until we sit down with somebody else and really listen to their stories, so we can get to understand each other rather than blowing each other up. The more we put labels on people, the more we're destined not to know them. When you really know somebody else's story, you can't hate them anymore. It's a wonderful tool for peace." ...Nancy Duncan.
It is said that the "eyes are the window to the soul". I'm fairly convinced that this is a truism. I often intuit whether I will like someone or not by their eyes.
We can tell when people are happy or sad or angry from the look in their eyes.
If the eyes are the windows to the soul then I think our stories are the doorways. It is in sharing our stories that we invite people into our lives, let people know who we are, where we come from, what sort of things have influenced our lives and it is a way of being totally open and vulnerable. A lot of people find this difficult to do and others are only too happy to tell you their life story while standing in the queue at the supermarket register. My mother-in-law was the sort of person that EVERYONE told their story to. If you were out with her people would say hello and she would greet them and as we would walk away she'd tell you something about that person's history. Like they had a child die of some dreadful disease or their spouse had run off with a much younger person. Deeply personal stuff and I would say to her "How do you know that?" She would then off-handedly say "Oh I was talking to them in Woolies a couple of weeks ago!" She was a very good listener obviously, and had a fantastic memory. My husband has inherited this trait. I am always saying to him "How DO you know that?" when he tells me something about a complete stranger and he'll say something like "that's the woman who lives at the end of our street" or some such thing. I wouldn't know them from Adam, and he knows things about people we've never met … but then he does do the shopping!
A very private person...
I am a very reticent person, shy, retiring (you can tell can't you from all the talking I don't do?). It's true though I am a very, very PRIVATE person, so to open myself to the vulnerability of being "known" is very difficult. I have learned to do this more and more though during the years and I think involvement for many years in the RCIA process was a huge growth area for me. The time of the RCIA process is all about telling our stories and truly hearing the stories of those who are seeking to belong to the Christian faith. It is in hearing their stories that we can ask them "can you see where God was in that part of your life?"
During RCIA we also tell our Christian stories. The Gospels ARE stories. They are stories that tell us who we are as Christians. This is why I believe liturgy is important in one aspect that Brian has mentioned this week. Remembering. When we forget our stories we lose our identity. Think of someone with Alzheimers Disease. They begin by forgetting which are the cold and hot water taps. The disease progresses and they forget who loved ones are. They then forget WHO they are even to the point of not remembering how to stand up or dress themselves and in the worst case I've seen the person even forgot speech. They are still the person we knew but they are no longer the person they knew. There is a lovely little book called The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks, it has been made into a movie since it was released, about a woman who suffers with Alzheimer's and her husband converts their home into a nursing home, and every day he goes in to see her and she doesn't know who he is, and every day he courts her. If you haven't read it or seen the movie it's really good. Or the movie 50 First Dates. Ok guys it's kind of a chick flick but you could all learn something from it!
In the liturgy, just like at a family Christmas dinner or special occasion, we sit around and tell stories we've all heard a hundred times don't we? We still laugh over them, or cry over them or embarrass some poor relative. For example a quick one that gets told in our family is about an old uncle, before my time, when he was a child about 9 years of age. One Saturday morning he took himself off to confession and when he came home he addressed the family with the words "I've just been to confession so don't any of you bastards make me swear!" We talk about the things we did as children and often have tears rolling down our faces with laughter. We talk about loved ones who have been gone from us such a short time and their presence is still sorely missed and again tears flow and we remember the ones who have been gone a long time and the tears don't flow so much as we remember what they brought to our lives. We remember what they said and did and they are still there with us in some way, their presence is palpable.
Remembering our Christian stories...
It is the same in our Liturgy. We remember our Christian stories. The things that define our belief. The story of Christ. The things He said and did. How He related to people. What He himself believed, and again He is there with us... "where two or more..." These are the things that help us keep our identity of who we are as Christians. This is the sad part of the loss of people at our liturgy. When we stop attending Liturgy we eventually forget the stories and how those stories relate to us, and then eventually forget our Christian identity and our familial belonging with the rest of our Christian brothers and sisters.
Everyone has a story and everyone needs to be able to tell that story and have it heard. Our Indigenous people are still struggling to have their stories heard although increasingly people are listening and "hearing". What wisdom there is in our Aboriginal culture … story tellers every last mob of them … so much we can learn from them. So much of their spirituality resonates with ours. They teach and learn their laws by story telling, song and dance. We nearly managed to erase their identity totally by separating them from those who could share the stories with them and waiting for those who knew the stories to die out. Fortunately the elders have started to reverse this trend and to re-establish their identity by teaching their traditions and stories and songs and dances to the young. Some of the traditions along with their languages are now lost forever as some tribal groups have died out but some are to be saved and that is a VERY good thing.
RCIA is all about story telling. True stories. Not only the peoples' own stories or what they are willing to share of them, and usually by the time they are formally joined to the church it is all of their story that we have heard, but also our Christian stories. We share with them our identities as Christians.
Why Jesus told stories...
The stories Jesus told are all true. The parables are like looking glasses for us. You can take any Gospel story Jesus told and relate it to your life. For example the story of Zaccheus (Luke 19). If you were to read it and then ask a group of people what Zaccheus was like and what happened to him you'd be amazed at the different responses you would get. I did this in RCIA. The answers they gave I wrote down and they were pretty diverse answers. The person who said Zaccheus was short … was usually a small person. That's what I'd say first … he was short. How do I know? Because he had to climb the tree to see. Why would I say that? Because I can relate to it … I'm vertically challenged! People will say all sorts of things about Zaccheus and the other people in the story. You can get a very long list depending on the size of the group and you have to keep asking, "what else?" and "what about the other people in the story what did they do, what were they like?"
When you ask the person who says Zaccheus was welcoming "are you a hospitable person who welcomes visitors and strangers?" they will always say "I try to be." Why? Because that is the Zaccheus they relate to. Zaccheus is them, Zaccheus is us. This is true about all the Gospel stories Jesus told. They were true for the people of His time and remain true. They are HUMAN stories. The Prodigal Son, the persistent widow, the waster of talents, the bridesmaids with no oil … they are stories about us that Jesus told. I have to admit my least favourite story is the bridesmaids who don't have enough oil! I always feel so cross at the ones who did and wouldn't share it. Remember the prissy kids at school who always had EVERY coloured pencil, properly sharpened, just waiting to be used and who wouldn't let you borrow their blue to finish your map of Australia? I never had new pencils or even all the colours. That's what these bridesmaids are like! Think about what this says about me. I'm a Socialist I admit it. I'm with Cliff. Maybe because I never had enough of anything when I was young … but the Bridegroom I know would be angrier with the ones who didn't share the oil they had than the ones who weren't well enough prepared! (Apologies to any of you who were one of those prissy kids … I know it wasn't really your fault. It was your parents who bought you new pencils, sharpeners etc at the beginning of every term! If not and you actually managed to keep them the whole year I take back the apology … you are anal retentive!)
So give it a try. Read one of the Gospel stories once and then write down what you know about the people in the story as the things come to you. Then analyse what you have written. Is what you heard in the story something that is true about you? The things you saw and the other people in the story are the things that are you and the way you see people relate to you. It really is a fascinating exercise. Perhaps you'd like to share them with us?
Stories are very interesting and we love to get a glimpse into other people's lives to see what makes them tick I guess. Maybe that's why reality TV shows have been so successful although a good autobiography or even a novel about people's lives does that without the need to be voyeurs and invade privacy. Better still "listen" to other people's stories. You can learn so much, not just about them but much about yourself.
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