I must say, it has been a delight to be a Story Listener. I have heard stories of peasants and kings, of teachers and slaves, of nature and community. I have heard stories of hope and healing, of adventure and awe, of fear and freedom. I have heard stories where real and imagined characters escape death. I have heard stories where real and imagined characters discover love. I have heard stories where real and imagined characters flee from love, and discover heartache akin to death.
I have always loved being a story listener. I remember stories that my father told on church retreats, and stories my grandfather told on summer evenings. I have been entertained by countless stories my husband tells, too. He is a fantastic storyteller. And, in my work, I listen to stories all the time. People tell me the stories of how their babies were born, how their illnesses emerged, how their love bloomed, how their hopes changed, and how their faith grew. I am a good listener, and I know that every story needs a good listener. Listening to stories is one of the greatest joys of my life.
But at some point in this sabbatical, I decided that if I really wanted to be a better storyteller, I couldn’t do it just by story listening. Ask any storyteller, and they would say that to become a better storyteller, you actually have to tell stories. It is funny that I would be nervous about this, I know. I stand up, week after week before a crowd armed with nothing but a few words and a whole lot of faith. But, while I pretend to be outgoing on Sundays, I am really shy at heart. So, I made a deal with myself. Throughout April, I decided I could be a somewhat shy story listener. But, come May, I decided that I would have to pretend to be outgoing, and start telling stories.
Wow, did May arrive quickly.
On May 1st, I had a plan. A dear friend and colleague took me up on my offer to tell a scripture story to his congregation. Is it any surprise that after weeks of enjoying storytelling venues, I fled to a church for my sabbatical foray into telling? In honor of my sabbatical, my friend assured me that I did not have to be the preacher, just a storyteller. I told the church the story of the Feeding of the 5000. It is a wonderful story, and I loved the opportunity to tell faithful followers one of Jesus’ great miracle stories. And for the children’s message, I told a story of a girl in India named Gaura Devi.
I had a college professor tell me that I never choose the easy route. I wish he hadn’t been so right.
This sweet story of an 8 year old girl takes place in the Himalayan Mountains of India, forcing me to try an Indian accent for the dialogue. To say I’m not good at accents would be an understatement. And the lyrical chirp of an Indian accent is not easy at all. So, I wasn’t very good at it. But, I tried. Fortunately, the 4 children sitting in front of me for the children’s message were not very discerning about accents.
Since then, I have ventured into telling stories to storytellers, mostly personal stories from my own life and family. I have received some beautiful feedback. You know: they laughed; they cried. I didn't faint or fall apart.
In the storytelling world, tellers perfect their art by telling the same story again and again to different audiences. In the church, we pastors tell different stories to the same audience (more or less), so there is not the same opportunity to “perfect them over time”. But, if there is one thing I have learned, I know that I don’t need to be perfect, and neither do the stories I tell. They just have to be authentic; told from my heart.
In church, we are invited to listen to the greatest story of all: God’s. God tells a story of peasants and kings, of teachers and slaves, of nature and community. God tells a story of hope and healing, of adventure and awe, of fear and freedom. We are invited to be story listeners, and story tellers, sharing the great work that God has done and continues to doin our lives and in the world. God’s story never gets old. It is the kind of story we could hear again and again…and enjoy more and more each time! Praise to our Storytelling God!