Image: Mountaintop Inukshuk, Yukon/NWT Border
In the scripture readings for today we find two examples of story-telling. In Acts, we find Philip drawn by the Spirit towards someone who is trying to understand the scriptures. Philip carefully clarifies the scripture passage that is being read and then proceeds to share the story of Jesus, explaining its implications. With that the Eunuch, perfectly satisfied with Philip’s conclusions, asks to be baptized at the earliest possible convenience. The story is very neat and very clear.
Then there is the Gospel of John. In contrast to the first reading, those who are listening to Jesus always seem to be in a state of confusion, and it’s no wonder, as the dialogue seems to circle around various points without coming to any satisfactory conclusion. John uses metaphors and figures of speech that are not plain and he often seems to leave his readers with more questions than answers.
Which way of telling the story is better?
It’s a trick question because I don’t believe there is a right answer to this. A better question might be,
Which way of telling the story best reflects the reality of our life?
The first way is certainly more efficient and it gets the point across with minimal effort, but at what cost. For the Eunuch, baptism was a moment of grace but for those hearing the story told it simply becomes information, something interesting that may or may not lead to further consideration.
John, on the other hand, demands of his readers and listeners a certain commitment. It takes effort to stay with John and see where he is leading us with his circular stories. Some may not be able to stay with him but those who do will find that they have gained not just information but insight into the story of God and God’s relationship to us.
This is the kind of story-telling that I have found in my experience as a minister among indigenous people, both in the south and in the north. Rather then the linear expression of a beginning middle and end it is more likely that a story will start somewhere, and meander about making connections until pieces begin to fit together. This is perhaps most true when people are sharing their personal story.
I believe Pope Francis reflects this kind of story-telling in his teaching. In his document Amoris Laetitia, “The Joy of Love,”. The pope has been criticized by some who feel that his reflection on the relationship between the Sacrament of Holy Communion and those who have been divorced and civilly remarried is ambiguous and leaves people feeling confused about the teaching of the Church. I, however, feel that the pope’s approach better exemplifies the story of God’s mercy which cannot easily be neatly tied up in black and white answers and tidy conclusions. It is something that must be grappled with.
The difference in the ways of telling stories is to do with depth and what the stories are trying to talk about. It is easy to talk about material things in a linear way but to talk about matters of the Spirit is much harder as the Spirit is not constrained to beginning, middle and end. In the spiritual life cause and effect are not so clear, outcomes are difficult to predict and our human lives often reflect this complication.
If you were to write the story of your life, what kind of story would you tell?