by Jen Hutson, CDA mom
What Stories Do
We talk of stories as an escape – a retreat to recharge from our taxing milieu. And a thin watered-down story might give the temporary illusion of rest. But only a good story refreshes.
We who think we have flown away crowned
will see that we fly only just off the ground.
In a story, the truth is a heavy gift that arrives on wings. What you teach in a story is lighter than in a lesson. You close the book and rather than ending, the story, now implanted within you, continues on. Instead of providing a mere distraction, the story distills our lives, displaying the truth of them in a way kinder than even conversation.
O little seed I scarcely knew,
You slipped in me and grew and grew.
We say to a child “Do your homework, do your lessons.” But you cannot “do” a story. It is less a lesson and more of an awakening. Stories “are never discarnate, they always begin and end in the realm of time and sense, however much they give us glimpses of another realm which transcends it.”1
Transcendent but tangible, spirit and flesh,
The stories of Christ to temporal enmesh.
Show Don’t Tell
Think of your Bible. How much of it is didactic? A portion, you might say. Now how much of it is story? Quite a bit… a majority really.
So why is the Bible primarily story? Perhaps the starting point of the answer is Jesus. The Bible begins and ends on him. So, consider his parables. Why did he speak in parables rather than explicit truth? Jesus knew a story’s intrinsic ability to reveal truth. Jesus himself was a storyteller, but more precisely, a story carrier. He was and is Logos – the Word – the message.
Word made flesh to the souls impart,
The stories of Jesus disrupt every heart.
Though I would rate college high on my list of formative experiences, I honestly remember scant teaching from my professors. One moment stands out as a beacon of instruction. Fresh out of high school with a melancholic portfolio in hand, I sought my writing professor for advice. Kindly he looked at me and said, “Show. Don’t tell.” Good stories (and parables) show. They are not sermonic.
Preach not to my ear, preach not to my mind;
Instead speak a vision and heart will align.
The Eye that Sees Truth
There is an innate wisdom in the human soul, implanted by God (remember we are imago Dei). This wisdom is the eye that recognizes Truth. (Capital “T” Truth is God’s absolute Truth, in contrast to the moral obligations purported by our current epoch.) Sadly, this innate wisdom from our Creator goes unnurtured in many and seems to perish. But where it matures, it receives nourishment from stories. And this begins at a very young age.
You may recall the wonderful works of Christians now gone – C.S. Lewis, Tolkien etc. Perhaps you recall an unexpected echo of Truth from a book once read. A longing, a sorrow, a joy or revelation that resonated with your wise eye. There are many of these moments to be discovered in our Christian greats. But even “writers who claim to have no faith and are chronicling the human heart and delineating for us our common human condition, are also teaching us about the incarnation.”2
The words that we speak, self-determined appear,
But they’re graven with Truth, as the mark perseveres.
All good stories (Christ centered or not) can speak truth to us, and therefore reflect back the Truth present in our own lives. Rather than asking if a story is “Christian,” you should ask if it is good. The story of Christ “never ceases to inform and give sudden depth and resonance to all subsequent stories that have been told in its light. A great deal of our best literature is lit from within by the memory of the gospel and in its turn sheds light on that gospel.”3
Lit from within by Christ’s divine light,
Story will shine as a lamp in the night.
God’s truth is requisite for life. It is as essential to every living creature as the subatomic particles of which we are made. His Truth created and sustains the forces of our universe and the tissues of our own beings (see Colossians 1:14-19). And so, God’s Truth is recognizable in Lewis, and even in the words of those who are convinced they write not of God or his world.
The Good and Salvific Story
But as previously mentioned, not all stories are created equal. We have made much of the world silly and therefore we have become a people of silly stories. (This is especially true for children.) And I’m not referring to Dr. Seuss. Rather, I mean the silliness that comes of making small things into big things, and big things into small (e.g. social media and the news). Let us not cheapen life for our children. We must not deceive them by offering feeble and frivolous stories. Life is not cute. It is light and heavy, dark and blinding, tragic and comic. So, we should choose stories wisely as our children will carry them embedded within. A story is not an end in itself.
So, see with your own eyes that every good story bears in it the mark of Christ, just as the best story of all – the epic narrative of our salvation. We see Christ in the garden – captive to his salvific story. And on the cross – was he held there by the power of story? By the story he embodied in flesh and the story to come from the resurrection?
I boldly say yes!
The story that carried our Christ to the cross
Distills truth within us so all else is dross.
Look for the next topic in this series: Planting vs Programming – Unpacking the Truths from stories with our children. If a story can bring us to salvation, where else might it lead?
- Guite, Malcolm. “Through Literature: Christ and Redemption of Language.” Beholding the Glory: Incarnation Through the Arts, edited by Jeremy Begbie (Baker Academic, 2001), p. 32.
- Ibid., p 41.
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