Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Power of Story

 I was reminded of the power of story this summer when I attended a family reunion -- one of the big ones with dozens of cousins.  My grandparents are our common ancestor, they are long gone as is my parent's generation.  The playmates I knew as kids chasing through the hay fields are all grown up.  Some are grandparents themselves.  The old farmhouse has been renovated with a modern kitchen and new wiring, the barns expanded and modernized.  Tractors and harvesters have taken the place of draft horses and hired men. 

      What remains is the land and our story.

     The fields, cleared by my grandfather yield corn and grain and hay, just as before.  Cattle and babies live off its bounty.  The valley traps the heat, the hills on either side offer a cool respite.  I sit under a tent on Sunday morning and listen to a preacher talk about God and gardening while my eyes rest on the old homestead.  It’s a wonderful moment of connection.  I feel the pioneers smiling.

But it’s more than the place that draws us together, it is the stories.  Cousins I hadn’t seen for decades gathered on the verandah and we talked about playing hide and seek in the big house.  (It’s the only house I’ve ever known with both a front staircase and a back staircase, plus a couple of interconnecting rooms. Perfect for restless children!)  Members of the succeeding generations added their stories, weaving their memories into the fabric of the family.  I mentioned the phrase, "put your face in the water," and a dozen voices answered "and blow bubbles."  It's one of the enduring stories of the family.
       My grandmother, that pioneer lady, with her eyes and heart set firmly on family, faith and farm, lives on in all of us.  We  each add another chapter, or maybe only a paragraph, but together we build the story of who we are, where we came from and what we stand for.

  I’m sometimes annoyed at businesses or sports organizations that run advertisements that tell a story to align themselves with the nation or with a particular value.  I keep thinking, “it’s only a game,” or “it’s only fast-food” but those ads remind us all of the power of story.
      Some people dismiss fiction as fluff, preferring documentaries or hard news.  Yet, story is who we are.  It roots us in place and time, it encompasses us as a family or a nation or a faith.  A genealogy chart may show our blood lines, but it’s story that makes us human.
       Lisa Cron in her "Wired for Story" explains that the latest advances in neuroscience prove that "story, as it turns out, has a much deeper and more meaningful purpose than simply to entertain and delight.
       Story is how we make sense of the world."

       Like much of modern science, these findings confirm what the Bible already tells us.  When Jesus wanted to teach a lesson, he told a story (parable).  These stories were so powerful that two thousand years later, in a mostly secular world, we have "Good Samaritan Laws," and the word "Prodigal" shows up in titles from religious tomes, to popular music to romance.

     So, here’s to my pioneer ancestors, here’s to family, and here’s to the storytellers among us, may your work "make sense" of our world, and may your stories teach great and eternal truths.

Alice Valdal lives in British Columbia Canada.  One of her most treasured possessions is a family history book -- done on xerox! 
  Visit her at www.alice or                                       at!/alice.valdal.5 

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  1. I can't tell you how much I agree with this Alice! For a long time, I didn't know what I should be writing because I thought of stories as "fluff". I didn't want to write another Christian How-To book - who am I and what do I know enough about to do that anyway? But then I fell over an interview with Ted Dekker describing Jesus as the ultimate fiction author and my insides popped. Stories... stories laced with Truth that is living and active... I can write those. Lovely post!

  2. Thanks Diane. Have you ever tried telling a Bible story in contemporary terms? I keep wondering what would make a Good Samaritan today. Just saw a news article about a bride whose dress fell apart hours before the ceremony. A newly arrived Syrian refugee, a tailor, came and fixed it for her. Does that qualify?