We live in a world of stories. Childhood fairytales shape our dreams and hopes. Family legends, imparted over kitchen table conversation, at reunions, and during road-trips, build our memory and craft our beliefs. Historical narratives inform our understanding of culture, politics, our larger world. Film, music, literature, and poetry mysteriously and continuously speak to our deepest heart – communicating truths we implicitly know and others we long to grasp.
Stories serve the way in which we are able to make sense of our world, our relationships, our behaviors, everything. They are how we speak of our circumstances, our deepest emotions, and our biggest questions; how we create and apply meaning. And they connect us to one another, bridging differences in language and perspective, time and place, past and future.
Most of us acknowledge that it’s less about a particular story and more about story, itself. It is the device, the vehicle, the means through which we express, listen, and even participate in our own life and others’. We admit (and even enjoy) that most stories, when told over and over again, not only shift and morph over time, but take on a life of their own.
The fish gets a little bigger, the storm gets a little wilder, the love gets a little stronger, our bravery or disappointment gets a little exaggerated in the telling over time. There is creative tension in story. When we hear it, when we read it, when we speak it, when we write it, we filter words through our own experiences and our need for meaning. We shape the tale to reinforce our understanding of how life is. ~ Christina Baldwin
This is what we love about them. This is why we tell them. This is why we live our lives within them. This is the power of story.
But when it comes to the stories in Scripture, something implicitly and explicitly changes. Our claws come out and our defenses go up. Or maybe we just shut down. Though told for thousands of years, these particular tales have taken on a life that is not their own. Instead, they have been claimed and co-opted, parsed and paraphrased, interpreted and indoctrinated. Now, seen as either sacrosanct and inviolable or completely irrelevant, it’s no wonder we struggle to hear or tell these powerful narratives in beautiful, meaningful, and truth-filled ways.
Frankly, it is this very tension that keeps me connected to them, working with them, and yes, telling them. Believe me, I feel the pull every single day: the embedded and assumed doctrine that permeates their pages and the deep, rich, yet-to-be-mined wisdom within; the patriarchal God I seek to escape and the shockingly kind, compassionate, and feminine one who pursues me. Further, I am not willing to let our collective seen and felt tension, our theological arguments, our political agendas, our denominational differences, or even our general ambivalence allow us to drift and fall apart when I know that stories (even these stories) are what bring and hold us together. More than all else,
I cannot bear to let the stories I love, stories of women, drift and fall away. To even contemplate such a possibility completely breaks my heart.
Whatever is unnamed, undepicted in images, whatever is omitted from biography, censored in collections of letters, whatever is misnamed as something else, made difficult-to-come-by, whatever is buried in the memory by the collapse of meaning under an inadequate or lying language — this will become, not merely unspoken, but unspeakable. ~ Adrienne Rich
It matters, perhaps more than most else in my life, that these sacred stories not become unspeakable; rather, that they rise up in power and strength, relevance and meaning. And I don’t know how to make that happen without just continuing to tell them – one at a time, even to one person at a time.
Are there days in which I long to abandon the lot of them and talk about something else? Absolutely. Are there other days in which I wish I long to stand atop a mountain and command entire swaths of civilization to listen to me? Most definitely. Are there more days in which I long to sit in even the smallest, most intimate of gatherings, hands clasped around warm mugs of coffee, and tell you tales of amazing women (and even their God)? All the time.
Here’s why: underneath all the doctrine and dogma are women whose stories have changed me; women’s stories; stories and women who change me still.
Nearly every day, whether in the most mundane or significant of circumstances, I think of one or another of them. They come into my mind and heart. And I imagine, consider, and wholeheartedly accept every ounce of wisdom they offer, every word they speak, every strain of strength and solace they sing into me. They are that present, that real, that relevant, that powerful.
Further underneath these women’s stories is their god. And I wish I knew if that was my deeper quest; if that was what/Who I am really seeking. I don’t know. Many have said it’s what all of us are seeking all of the time. This feels true., but short of that answer, I wander in and wonder at the grace to be found in the stories themselves. That is enough. They are enough. And I experience myself to be enough in their pages and presence. Now that I think about it, it’s possible that this, in and of itself, is god: any moment or reality in which I know that I am enough and that I am never alone. That’s the sacred in these stories. And that’s their power. I dare not let it (or them) slip away…