“I liked the story you told.”
“I loved the service today.”
“I liked that parable.”
These were some comments from nursing home residents after I led a worship service one Sunday morning. I was reassured to hear these affirmations because I never know for sure if my homily—or in this case, the story that served as my homily– is the message they needed (or wanted) to hear. Will it be interesting? Relevant? Meaningful? Or will the residents simply fall asleep, losing themselves in a reverie of boredom, only to wake up when it’s all over?
The story I shared that Sunday morning was a story that came across my desk one day. I don’t know where it came from originally, but its essence was about friendship, thoughtfulness, and befriending and helping those who are most vulnerable: the elderly, the poor, the dying. The story touched the hearts of nursing home residents.
Yes, I thought, I need to tell more stories. Residents relate to stories, remember them, and are often moved by them. While a homily may analyze, outline, explain and justify, it doesn’t seem to touch hearts in the same way a story does. A story has the ability to hold our attention, wake us up, move us to tears, or settle us into quiet reflection.
Our lives are all about stories. Stories are, it seems, the stuff and substance of life. How easy it would be to move through life robotically, moving from one thing to the next, missing out on the power of our life experience to teach, guide, and nurture us.
Author, Nobel laureate, and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said that discovering our personal stories “is the essential expression of our spiritual quest. Without such stories we cannot be fully human, for without them we are unable to articulate or even understand our deepest experiences.”
The process of discovering, reflecting, and sharing our stories, whether through writing, art, or conversation with someone we trust, can help us understand how past experiences have shaped us and make us the persons we are. Such a process, it seems, is therapeutic. It opens us to the possibility of healing.
As we delve into the multiplicity of meanings in our everyday life, we move beyond the surface of literal events and come to understand and appreciate, at least with some insight, the unseen, silent, and sacred dimensions of our life experience. And when we choose to share our stories, we offer others a gift.
Yes, I must remember to tell more stories. Stories touch the hearts of their listeners.