Stories and Spirituality
Miriam Hogan, O.C.D.
The words, “Once upon a time” and “It came to pass” and “They lived happily ever after” usually speak to the heart. They are some of the common phrases that we use to tell stories. I remember that when I was a child, I had a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that was affectionately called my blue book . It was a source of delight not just for the stories it contained, but as I soon learned, for how different adults could read the same story.
In the present time, I am once again drawn to delight in the telling of a good story. Today, I find the stories that inspire me most usually contain some focus on an aspect of the Christian life. For example, the inspiration for this article came from reading a southern ghost story about a black Labrador dog that was a savior figure for a son who was struggling to reconcile, in his own interior life, the ex-army colonel strict disciplinarian side of his father.1
As we approach the season of spring and of the Lenten/Easter mysteries, I am drawn to ponder anew the stories that we are given in the Scriptures. When I was in college, an English professor stated that the story of the Prodigal Son was perhaps the best short story ever recorded. One cannot help but wonder at the same time how Christ might have told the story. We know from scripture that he also had a special way of telling stories. In Luke we learn that walking with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24.27). Although they did not recognize him as the Risen Lord until he broke bread with them, the disciples felt their hearts burning within them while he was talking. What a powerful story!
Sometimes we hear the questions, “O.K., what’s the story” or perhaps more to the point, “So what’s your story.” Often these are not complimentary statements but they can remind us of something deeper. For example we can ask ourselves “ How does this connect to the Christ story?” Another teacher in college, who was head of the philosophy department, 2 encouraged the students to form the story of their own lives. At the same time, he encouraged them to acknowledge that everyone is called in their own way to unite their lives with the paschal mysteries, whether or not their individual lives could be classified as drama, adventure or even tragedy.
Perhaps, the delight and wonder that we encountered as children can also be experienced in acknowledging the story of our own lives. We don’t have to be extraordinarily talented or gifted with unusual happenings to claim an exciting story. St. Therese in her autobiography, Story of a Soul, only writes about common human struggles, the little things of everyday life. What is clear, however, is that she allowed God into these everyday encounters. Her little story, which she was asked to write in 1894, continues to attract enormous numbers of people seeking to deepen their spiritual lives.
Thank God For Little Things
Could it be that the story of St. Therese continues because her life is so interwoven with the sacred stories of Scripture? In this time of computers, televisions, DVDs and videos, we perhaps need to connect once again with our own stories, so that our prayers may be genuine and concrete and we may delight in and thank God for the “little things” that bring us closer to the sacred in our daily lives.
At the Monastery, we all have our own particular stories of how we came to be attracted to religious life. Perhaps like St. Teresa Benedicta, 3 we can recall a particular book or person that deeply influenced us and was a large part of our decision- making process. These stories are important, yet, just as when I was a child I enjoyed observing the reactions of different adults to the same story, I now find myself enjoying how different stories are interwoven. This sharing of our own treasured and valued stories may have a profound effect upon others. For example, I still remember the time that my own mother asked me, “So who was this St. Teresa and what did she do?” On a deeper level the question was what is attracting your heart to choose this way of life rather than another way? Fortunately, the story of a sixteenth century Spanish nun was easy to tie into the Story of the Christ Life and on that level there was acceptance and understanding. My mother’s faith was the unifying element.
St. Teresa of Jesus, who as a child loved stories of knights and chivalry, emphasized that as women of prayer we are also called to make the Incarnation the central focus of our own stories. To put this idea in other words, those of us who share her story are called to live our own stories in the context first and foremost of the Christ story. In this light we can rejoice in making our own humble contributions to the stories of St. Teresa and Carmel in the twenty-first century.
1 Cf: web site URL: themoonlitroad.com/xmashaunt/xmashaunt_page001.html
2 Fagothey S.J., Austin. Author of Right and Reason (St. Louis: Mosby, 1959)
3 It was after reading the life of St. Teresa of Jesus that Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta) exclaimed that “this is the truth.”