Narrative Engagement

4 Sep

“Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice. To love someone is to put yourself in their place, we say, which is to put yourself in their story, or figure out how to tell yourself their story…empathy is first of all an act of imagination” – Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

As of August 1, I started a new job at a church working with young people. They hired me because of my degree in theology, sure, but equally if not more so for my degree in writing. I work on a team of three, where I am referred to as “the story specialist” of sorts. My job is to help young people get in touch with their own stories and God’s story and learn how to understand and articulate those stories. I love stories. I love the stories of Noah, Esther, Jesus and Paul. I love the stories of Pooh, Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Dillard and Paul Monette. They invite me to pay attention and delve deeper into the messy beauty of life. I remember the moment when I realized that my story was really mine to live. Since then, I have sought the tension between the spontaneity of following the Spirit’s calling and intentionally building a life of integrity.

Our Lady of Victory Chapel at St. Catherine University

Our Lady of Victory Chapel at St. Catherine University

Young people are looking for a sense of story. It brings meaning to their lives. It gives them a compass and architecture. A place to belong, a space to hang out in. They want to know the stories of our tradition because these are the stories that bind us to a people over time and space. The stories are hard to navigate and translate. They have no interest in reading the stories in isolation. And they are just figuring out that their stories are their own to co-create with God. The more they know about God’s story and the more they reflect on their own stories, the more they see that our stories are a part of God’s story. Being a part of God’s fabric is humbling, comforting, exciting. My job is to work with the youth staff and young people as we learn, live and love the story of God and God’s people together. It’s good work.

The world, especially Europe and the United States, is secularizing. We are losing a knowledge of our collective story. Many of my peers find the church to be irrelevant in the world, hypocritical even. When they are curious about why I am committed to the church, I go back to the stories. I think God’s story is beautiful, and I want to be a part of it. I want to live in the daily recognition that my story matters to God. I don’t get too caught up in whether the stories happened or not. I don’t always agree with the dogma or practice the stories lead us to as a church. I don’t think our stories are more right that other people’s stories. I just find the stories to be good and true. The more I study them, the more grounded I feel in who God is and who I am being called to be. I believe the future of the church resides in small groups of committed people reading the gospel stories together, claiming them as our own, and building life stories of integrity. I agree with Rebecca Solit, that this act will challenge us to be more empathetic and imaginative as a people and as a church.

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