Image: Richardson Mountains
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 officer, 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?
There is no right answer to this. A better question might be, which way of telling the story best reflects the reality of the story you are trying to tell?
The first way is certainly more efficient, and it gets the point across with minimal effort, but at what cost. For the man who Philip spoke with, baptism was a moment of grace but for those hearing the story it is not very engaging. It is about as personal as a weather report on the radio.
John, on the other hand, demands of his readers and listeners a certain commitment. It takes effort and imagination 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. 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 all the pieces begin to fit together. This is perhaps most true when people are sharing their personal story.
It takes practice and patience to stay connected when another person is sharing deeply about their life experience, but that sharing is a real gift and often leads to insight not just into who that person is but also into my own life that I would not have been able to come to on my own.
The difference in the ways of telling stories has 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 always constrained to a 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.
Take some time for yourself today and reflect on your own life. If you were to write the story of your faith journey, what kind of story would you tell? Would it be straightforward and clear, or does the hand of God move mysteriously in your life?