The second part of “Eight Things You Should Know About Sacred Stories.” See December 9 for Part 1.
Third, We retell stories because they embody something for us–an idea, an image, a virtue, a piece of wisdom, an experience, a memory–whatever it is–this thing embodied in a story draws us, touches us, weaves wisdom in us, works magic in the world for us. And it does so each time we retell it. But, this observation requires the next one, and they must be offered along side of each other–especially when we here the recent research that tells us that telling and hearing a story creates nearly the same effect in the brain as having the experience itself!
Fourth, Sacred stories embody what is important to us–even when that is fear and hatred. We are living in a time that is demonstrating this startlingy reality to us far too often. Perhaps you saw the news story of the town meeting in Spotsylvania County, VA, in which an Engineer and member of the local Muslim community was unveiling the plans for a new mosque to be built in the town. This was evidently a zoning board meeting. As the Engineer stood with pictures telling the story of this new place of worship, another man jumped to his feet and began shouting that all Muslims were terrorists and that this mosque would not be built in his town. That was his story–that he told to himself and others over and over again. It became sacred story to him, a real event in his brain–that all Muslims were terrorists, and he will no doubt play out that story to the place that it will lead him. Stories do that. We don’t like to think of “sacred” in those terms, but I submit to you that his story is deeply meaningful to him. It speaks to his fear. It energizes his hatred which is one forceful way of keeping one’s fear at bay.
Sacred stories can have two effects. They can open us up to the way of wisdom and even suggest ways to engage wisdom in our lives. Likewise, they can bind us in blindness, block us off from any other light than the light we think we have, and prevent us from growing. We might be tempted to say–well,then, those stories are not sacred. Try telling that to the person who feels compelled to retell that story.
Stories that bind and blind are most often fueled by fear and hatred. Stories that open us to wisdom both comfort and challenge us. Both kinds of stories speak to what we hold dear, and so we have to ask of our stories: So, we must ask of our stories: what treasure do you see all wrapped up in you each time I tell you?
Fifth, Stories can cease to be sacred. The thing they embody for us can come to it’s final point for us and send us on to new stories. We will know when that happens in a very simple way: we cease to retell, re-read, or listen again to those stories.
Ponder the stories of your life. Which ones have opened you up? Which ones have bound you. Which ones have come to their end?