One of the most basic of all human traits is the desire to make sense of things. We want to see our life as a story, to know that it has a plot and a meaning. In many cultures the story-teller holds a privileged and revered place in the community because a community, too, gets its identity from its stories, its story. Our Judeo-Christian tradition reflects this need for a story when it interprets all of human experience in terms of one single over-arching plot: the story of God’s passionate love for creation, and especially for humankind. Thus the history of the world, the history of the Israelite people, the history of the church and our own individual lives – even the worst and most painful events -- would somehow make sense to us if only we were able to see them in terms of the larger story of God’s loving plan.
On the weekend of June 4-6, 2010, I will celebrate with forty or more classmates our fiftieth anniversary of graduation from Saint Benedict’s Prep. Even during the planning meetings for the reunion the inevitable story-telling has already begun. At the coming get-togethers of the class of 1960 incidents and people we haven’t thought of in half a century will undoubtedly come springing back to life with clarity and vividness – and lots of loud laughter. I’m looking forward to seeing some friends I haven’t seen in decades, but I’m looking forward just as much to listening to their stories.
DISCOVERING MY OWN STORY
Recently I’ve been finishing the manuscript of another book, this one a series of reflections on how certain insights from the New Testament helped me during five specific periods of struggle and suffering in my life Each individual reflection tells of how the Lord watched over me, guided me, kept me safe from harm, supported me and so forth during my own “troubled times.”
As I read through the nearly finished manuscript I began to discover patterns and connections I had never noticed before, and started to see new aspects of individual chapters as I reread them in the light of all the others before and after them. I’ve come to see them for the first time not as a collection of separate chapters but as elements of one single coherent story – my story.
Although my life’s story is by no means over, and is made up of far more than just periods of “troubled times,” this book has somehow come together to reveal a shape and a sense in my life. What a beautiful gift!
MARRIAGE AS STORY-WRITING
This weekend I’ll celebrate a nuptial mass during which my nephew Chris will marry Lisa, the love of his life. I’ve been reflecting on what it must be like for two people to commit themselves to writing a new story: while each keeping their own individual stories, Lisa and Chris are setting out to write a completely new story, “our story,” with its own plot, its own meaning that is somehow different from the sum of their two individual stories. I’ve never been married, so if you have some insights to add to this idea please write them in the “comments” box below.)
THE STORY OF GOD, THE GOD OF STORY
So all of these recent experiences have made me reflect on how central it is for us to be in touch with our story and to have an idea of what it means, of how it hangs together, and ultimately that it makes sense. I also realized God’s great wisdom in inspiring the bible to be written as a story: the story of God and of God’s love for all of us throughout history, right up through the class of 1960 and Chris and Lisa on their wedding day.