The Good Samaritan, Ferdinand Hodler, 1886
This weekend I went to my first Timpanogos Storytelling Festival--an annual gathering where storytellers from all over the country (world?) come to share their tales at a small park in Provo Canyon. I attended one remarkable storytelling by NPR correspondent Kevin Kling. In his introduction, Kevin talked about the fundamental role of storytelling. Ostensibly, he said, we tell stories to answer questions. Our myths and sacred texts give us answers about the why, where, and how come of our existence. But, more importantly than giving answers, our stories serve to remind us of our common humanity. We tell stories to understand each other, to bear our neighbor's burdens, to forgive and seek forgiveness. Stories unite this grand human community of which we are all a part.
This got me thinking about Jesus Christ as storyteller. No doubt, he could spin yarns with the best of them. In discussions at church we try to find the answers buried within his parables. What did Christ mean when he referenced the ten virgins? What does the pearl of great price symbolize? Is the meaning of life packaged neatly within descriptions of the Good Samaritan and Prodigal Son? Christ's stories are instructional, yes. They present us with the moral blueprints by which we are to design our lives. But I wonder if his parables were ultimately intended to awaken us to our common human experience. As with the ten virgins, we all feel woefully unprepared for life at times and at other times feel like we are click clicking through our days with minimal effort. We all know how it feels to look the other way as our neighbor suffers and yet we are also intimately acquainted with the deep edification of the Good Samaritan as we mourn with those who mourn. We've all struggled to fully accept the traditions of our mothers and fathers and we also know the sweet release the Prodigal Son felt when he was restored to those things he once rejected.
Our stories remind us that we are united in the seeking. We come together in the unknowing. We hold the questions in our hands and support each other as we try to unravel some meaning to this messy human experience. If developing empathy is the fundamental purpose of storytelling (as opposed to providing definitive answers), I think it is imperative that we tell our stories honestly. Let's trash (and I mean TRASH) the facades we create for the benefit of the world out there. Let's invest our energy in expanding compassion instead of expending it in trying to look more accomplished, more put together, or more perfect than we really are. I really believe that in sharing our stories honestly, we open ourselves up to the healing of self and others. We all know how it feels to realize that we are not the only ones who struggle, doubt, and spin off our tracks--it's such a comfort! Such a relief! Personally, I feel less of a pariah and more able to tackle my demons when I don't feel alone in my hurting.
This must mean that to share our stories honestly is to involve ourselves with the real work of charity--we are engaging in an act where we seek to be known and seek to know others in equal measure. Perhaps this is what Christ intended all along. In this space of knowing, we inevitably love more deeply, forgive more quickly, and rejoice more easily in this divine adventure of being human.