Storytelling was my favorite class in seminary. Out of all the classes I took, it was the one that scared me the most, stretched me the most, and inspired me the most. In Storytelling, I discovered part of myself that I had never recognized or acknowledged before. I found an untapped courage and an unheard voice. In learning to the art of storytelling, I began to discover the truth underneath my own.
Telling our stories is powerful work. Here at Holistic Body Theology, I write a lot about my own story. I bare little bits of my soul, take a deep breath, and hit “publish.” I share my story with you lovely readers because I hope that you will find something of yourself here, some bit of freedom or healing, some resonance or camaraderie or commiseration. If nothing else, it is therapeutic, part of my own journey toward self-awareness, healing, and wholeness. I write the truth not just to share it with all of you but to keep the revelation fresh and conscious. And I will keep on writing the truth until I convince myself.
But this blog is not just a platform for my own story. It is also a forum for the sharing of all of our stories. As I am finding my voice and learning to use it, I am also feeling a deep call to find my ears and learn to use them. I am learning to be a listener.
Story-telling needs to be unhurried and unharried, so the listener must be willing to let the narrative unfold….Storytelling is also a dialogue, and sometimes the [listener] must become active in helping shape the story. – Margaret Guenther, Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction
I have been becoming a listener for a long time, listening to the stories of others and joining them with my own as we shape together the unfolding story of God in our lives. In a world crowded with words and noise and advertisements and cultural mandates and every message from everywhere demanding attention and primacy and response, the call to the contemplative life is something like a rising wind, blowing across the desert dunes with such force and persistence that the shape of the terrain is completely rearranged and made new. Suddenly the lay of the land looks different, unfamiliar. The path we have taken is wiped away. We can’t go back the way we came. We can only continue onward.
I want to listen to your stories, dear readers. As I share with you the journey I am on, I hope you will join me on the way and help me shape the story we are all in. The comment box is always open. For sensitive stories, I am always available by private Facebook message or email at bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com. I am honored each time I hear from you, my dear companions on this journey. We are all exploring this intersection of mind-body-spirit we call the human life. We are all moving toward healing and wholeness together.
I am both listener and storyteller.
I am both silent and engaging in dialogue.
I am both resting and moving forward.
I am both broken and becoming whole.
Holistic Body Theology is the art of balancing and honoring the mind-body-spirit connection that makes us who we are: human beings created in the image of God. That is a story worth telling!
Are you more invested in your physical reality or in digital experience?
This weekend, take the opportunity to assess your priorities. Where are you investing your time and energy?
Try the following exercise:
1) Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle of the page, from top to bottom. On the left side, write PHYSICAL. On the right side, write DIGITAL.
2) Throughout the weekend, log the type and duration of your activities. Anything that plants you firmly in the physical world, write on the left side. Anything involving digital community, write on the right side.
3) At the end of the weekend, tally up your time spent on each side of the page. Which side receives more of your attention and investment?
4) Reflect on the results of your exercise. Are you pleased with the choices you made over the weekend? Does the amount of time spent accurately reflect the priorities you thought you had? Did you discover anything new about yourself?
This week we talked about how I learned to find God not in the voice in my head but in the voice of a thousand mundane, ordinary, regular, unexceptional, physical things that mean that I’m ALIVE and DOING something outside in the world with other people.
This weekend, take some time to reflect on the past week, month, or year of your life. You could journal, go for a walk, or share with a friend.
When did you feel most connected to God?
What activities, events, or movements created space for that connection to take place?
Were you in your head or in your physical reality?
If you’re having trouble getting started, I highly recommend Miles to Run Before We Sleep: Step-by-Step Meditations and Reflections toward a Life of Persevering, Risk-taking, Justice, Mercy, and Humility by Tim Hoekstra.
Tim has an amazing ministry and life story to share, and my husband and I were very honored to have been married by him last April. I’m excited to start Tim’s devotional this weekend and may be sharing some insights here in the coming weeks.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- write it down in a journal
- create a collage
- create a mural
- write it on a t-shirt and wear it
- use play dough
- draw a picture
- take pictures
- carve or sculpt
- choreograph and perform a dance
- write and record a song
- finger paint
Come back and share about your experience in the comment box below. I’d love to see what you create!
Something happens when we put words on paper with pen and ink. There is something deeper and more real about forming the letters with our own hands, producing something tangible and lasting. For all the many, many buttons I have pushed to put my intangible thoughts on the digital page, nothing quite captures the something that happens when we truly write the words. This, too, is body theology.
From one of my journals…written in my own hand with pen and ink while amongst friends on March 3, 2010.
I am passionate about connection, connecting people’s stories, connecting to God’s story. More than anything else, I want to change the world. I want to change minds and hearts, leave the world better than I found it.
There is something intensely intimate about story, about relational living. To be relational is to know another’s story, to be known by them.
There are so many people in the world who feel isolated, disconnected, alone, unknown. People have stories to share, but no one will hear them. Or they lack the proper equipping to communicate well. That’s what I love about tutoring writing: empowering others to communicate effectively so they can share with the world.
This is a precious gift and also an innate human trait, this connecting through story. That’s what I want my writing to be about. I want it to impact the world — touch and change hearts, connect.
E. M. Forrester wrote, “Only connect…” Is there anything deeper in the human heart than the desire to connect with another, to connect with the self in a meaningful and illuminating way, to connect with the creator and romancer God? God calls us the bride. What more intimate and passionate connection is there than between lovers? This is my desire for myself and for everyone I meet.
This is what I want my writing to do: create space for and cultivate this deeply intimate, romantic, scandalous connection with the almighty God who loves us so much that God gave God’s only son that we might receive the grace that enables us to commune with the one who knows us intimately and calls us by name.
There is nothing more connecting that calling someone by name; it is an expression of knowing and being known.
If my writing could ever facilitate something as earth-shattering and life-altering as connecting with God, ourselves, and each other, then I would have truly and profoundly changed the world.
This weekend, try using the Bible as a conversation-starter. As you converse with someone who does not agree with you, remember to:
1) Listen before you speak.
2) Learn from the other person’s perspective.
3) Be willing to be wrong.
4) Explore both the boundaries and the space between through your conversation.
5) Look for ways for the current conversation to spark future conversations as you build a relationship with your conversation partner.
Come back and share your experience with all of us. Let’s learn from each other how to be conversation-starters.
In high school, I went on a mission trip to Brazil to perform a mimed drama to Portuguese narration as a form of evangelism. We “told” the story of the Toymaker who sent his Son to Toyland to break the Evil Magician’s barrier of Greed, Hate, Fear, Pride, and Anxiety and restore the relationship of the Toys with the Toymaker who loved them. I remember the one day out of our time in Brazil when our group had the highest response to our story.
Everything else had gone wrong that day, so it was no surprise to us when—after we had gathered children and their parents on the playground, broken the ice with funny skits, and taken up our positions to begin the drama—the sound equipment failed. It took two hours to fix the problem, and in the meantime, our group had to figure out how to entertain nearly 60 children to keep them from leaving.
So we played with them, pushing them on the swings and riding with them on the see-saw. Even though we couldn’t exchange a word, we bonded through a common activity, so that when we finally performed the drama to tell God’s story to people who longed to hear it, every hand went up across the crowd. Every child, every parent wanted to know more about this Toymaker who we’d gone to so much trouble to tell them about.
That was my introduction to “the ministry of hanging out,” building relationships through common experiences and then sharing our stories with each other when vulnerability has become possible. I took that lesson to heart and expanded it in college when a friend and I instituted “Tea in the Hallway.” Every night from 11 at night until whenever people went to bed (which was sometimes as late as 6 in the morning!), my friend and I hosted anyone who wanted to come sit in the hallway, drink some tea (or apple cider for those less inclined), and talk about anything at all. Some nights we had debates about philosophy and God. Other nights, we took care of inebriated students. And occasionally, when most people had gone to bed, someone would linger over a mug of tea and whisper shameful secrets or painful experiences, just because in that moment of vulnerability, there was a raw need for sharing the story in a safe space.
It was during these occasional moments that I learned, really learned, how to listen.
Listening came in handy when I began my honors research project my senior year of college as an exploration into the realm of creative non-fiction. Over almost a year, I interviewed family members and friends of my grandfather, who had died just two years before. I learned quickly that it only took one or two questions to get the ball rolling, and then all I had to do was try to keep up as the stories and reflections poured out.
The story of my grandfather became the story of my family, and my story, too. And in telling these stories, I learned how to clothe the truth in…well, story. Here are some of my reflection on the nature of story and storytelling (or writing) when trying to capture not just what a person said and did but the true essence of a person:
Family stories are all connected. Pleasant or not, it’s hard to separate ourselves from someone in whom we have part of our identity. In fact, to do so would be to deny part of the story. In this way his story becomes our story, too.
When I presented my work to the faculty, I introduced my process this way:
I always liked Chaucer’s line from the movie A Knight’s Tale, “Yes, I lied. I’m a writer. I give the truth scope!” Scope is what I wanted to give my readers in this effort at cultivating a creative piece of writing. It is an essay in the true sense: an effort, a try, as I looked for the balance between historicity and fiction, and I found the tight-rope called memory.
What I want to point out is the flexibility of memory. I was so intrigued at the different little things people remember about my grandfather, and more particularly, the way they remember them. For instance, there is a hot debate at the moment between my mother and one of my uncles over whether my grandfather used to be referred to on the mission field as a “wild man” or as a “wild Indian.” Not that it matters, but the point is that our memories are fluid things, always moving and changing and impressionable. And faulty.
I have taken it upon myself in this little work to sort through all the memories from the interview process as well as the contributions made by email and online posts. I sorted through all the conflicting images and stories, to the reality of who he was not just actually but as we remember him.
This balance between fiction and historical fact is what the gospel writers struggled with as they told their different stories about the same Jesus. When we share our own stories with each other, there is always that element of choice involved. We filter our stories according to the audience and the level of intimacy reached. What I am learning through these experiences is how to foster that level of intimacy, how to create safe space for people to be vulnerable and share their stories.
It is only through sharing that community is truly built, especially in contemporary society where emphasis is placed on the individual, on being self-sufficient. We succeed, and we succeed on our own. And when we get to the top, we are lonely and ashamed of what we did to make it there. We look around for a safe space to apologize, to make it right, and to try again. It is the church’s job to provide that safe space, in whatever way possible.
Holistic body theology is about more than who we are and what we look like. It’s also about what we do with our bodies in the world. We were not created to be alone but to be in community. Through our stories, we connect with deep truth within ourselves, we connect with each other, and we connect with God.
This week, we’ll explore the power of story both for speaking truth and for fostering community. For today, think of your experience with story, and share in a comment box below.