The Power of Stories

antique-booksI have loved stories ever since I can remember, becoming an avid, insatiable reader as a child.  Some years ago, I realized that if I wanted to make a talk or workshop memorable, I had to tell a powerful story. Better yet if I could illustrate and connect the important points of my workshop together through a series of stories. We are surrounded with stories: novels, TV shows, films, video games… Some would call our communications culture an entertainment culture; even our news has become “infotainment,” which means that for us to retain facts, they are best told to us in an entertaining way (usually narrative- or humor-driven). We may think that we are sophisticated technologically, but our nature as human beings hasn’t changed. We always have and still find a good, simple story hugely compelling.

While it’s lamentable that many of us seem to need to be entertained to stay well-informed, and that our attention span as a culture seems to be growing collectively shorter, it’s reassuring that the power of a good story hasn’t changed. Stories have always been compelling, and stories can go well beyond simple entertainment.

Stories are often an important way in which we find meaning in events that are troubling, complex, or outside of our usual experience. Looking at a seemingly random incident in the light of its causes or consequences can comfort us with a sense of meaning or purpose. A good story can:

* help us learn from another’s experience

* feel a sense of community or support

* discover our identity

* recognize a pattern in seemingly random events

* discover what we share with others who are different from us

* walk in another’s shoes

* be inspired to see how important even one small event or choice can be

Perhaps because a good story “works on us” on several levels (intellectual, emotional, imaginative, experiential, spiritual, etc.), stories remain one of the most important ways we have of making sense of our world and of our lives, and of communicating in a meaningful way with others.

In the Bible, God uses stories to communicate with us. From prophets in the Old Testament, to Jesus, to the adventures of Saint Paul, to the Fathers of the Church, to theologians today, the events of the Bible are seen as salvation history—that is, the story of how God redeems, heals, and saves his people.  Our individual lives can also be seen or interpreted as our personal stories of God’s healing, saving action in our lives, and our response to God: our personal salvation history.

In The Silmarillion, when Tolkien told the story of the creation of Middle Earth in a way beautifully reminiscent of Genesis, he wrote about creation as “great music.” As a Catholic and as a story writer, when I reflect on the world that God has created and my place in it, I see God as the Creator but also as the Storyteller, and Jesus not just as the Word of God but also the Story of God.

Seeing our individual lives as part of God’s salvation story for all humanity helps us to see the larger context of our lives, and to accept life’s ups and downs more easily, discovering meaning (or at least some meaning) behind the challenges, sufferings, joys, and routine of our lives.

* * *


To Journal About

1. What are my favorite kinds of stories?

2. If I think about my life as a story, what kind of a story is it?

3. How do I see my life as my salvation history? What role does God have in the story of my life?

Discernment Tip:

Re-read my favorite story in the Bible. Why do I like this story? What might be God’s invitation to me through this story?


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