A faith-based program at the Fayette County Detention Center using pastoral experience, Correctional psychology, Wisdom traditions including AA, group dynamics and volunteers. The project coordinator has 17 years experience in correctional consulting and 40 years experience in pastoral counseling (overlapping :-)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

THE ROLE OF STORY, a meditation

It is all the question of story.
We are in trouble just now
because we are in between stories
--Thomas Berry.

The SGN of Ky Fall retreat was held at Knobs Haven, Loretto Motherhouse (our usual place, near Springfield, Ky. ), September 15-17, 2000, Friday even through Sunday noon.
The retreat theme will be Storytelling, and the Role of Story. Paschal Baute and the other SGN members will be the facilitators.

Meditation: The Role of Story
Paschal Baute, 1998, 2000

One of our problems today is that our theology has become so focussed on words, that it has largely betrayed the power of the Word (in its original Aramaic, dabbar, meaning creative energy)--as Matthew Fox noted. In our attempts to reach a rational understanding of mystery, we have often lost sight of the story which sustains and nourishes theological discourse. We have neglected the story as story with the result that over centuries we have turned stories into ideological statements, giving literal meaning to something that was never meant to be taken literally. We have forgotten that story is the most dynamic and versatile tool available to us humans for the discovery of meaning and mystery. *

Norman O. Brown once claimed that meaning is not in things but in between, It=s not in the events, nor in objects, nor even in proven discoveries that ultimate truth lies, but in the process of searching, seeking, experimenting, and discovering.

Over time, teachings taken from stories, parables and lives have assumed the ideological proportions of dogma. Then stories that invited wonder and awe and insight, initally offering hope, new life and liberation became millstones, burdens that no longer inspire but instead stifle and stultify. All the major religions today, --and theology in general -- suffer from narrative starvation and privation. Even when the original myths are still narrated, they are so couched in rationalisitic, legalistic or devotional framings that inhibit and even prevent the story from being dynamically retold in today’s context.

The entire bible , as well as the sacred texts of other wisdom traditions, is primarily a library of love stories, about mystery--not a record of facts and events. In a faith context, what brings meaning and integration to experience, facts are secondary, always secondary. . AIt is the story (and not the facts) that grips the imagination, impregnates the heart, and animates the spirit from within, empowering. O.Murchu says it well here:

“Whether or not there was an empty tomb, whether or not any body actually saw the Risen Jesus, is not of primary significance. If through modern archaeological research we were to rediscover the remains of Jesus, thus establishing that he never rose physically from the grave, that discovery would not undermine th faith of a genuine believer. It would create immense doubt and confusion for millions who follow a dogmatic creed rather than a spirituality of the heart. (But It could also be the catalyst for a profound conversion experience.)� p. 114.

Jesus did not preach in any formal sense, nor did he theologize, nor attempt to establish anything like what we have today as church. Jesus told stories, the best remembered of these being parables. These have an archetypal, primordial significance: They are not just ordinary stories. In fact, there is no such thing as an Aordinary@ story, because none of us are ordinary. The parables belong to a vein of prophetic discourse aiming to disturb and challenge the hearers, and to motivate them to move into a very different way of envisioning the world and themselves.

The parables of Jesus are designed to help the person gain insight into their own blindness, to begin to critique their own situation. We can learn to use stories and develop stories, tell stories as part of our own ministry.

By ministry, I mean serice to others, that we all need ministry and we all are called to ministry.
By which I mean a service to one another, and a servant leadership. Our own story (stories) are not only instructive for ourselves but for others.

Bausch (1984) delineates the marks of the New Testament parables.
They uncover:
our competitiveness and envy & invite us to brotherhood and sisterhood instead.
our wrong centering and invite us to a right centering
our need to hoard and exclude and invite us to share and include.
our assumptions and challenge us to turn them around
our timidity and invite us to risk all for the sake of God=s Reign
our self-centered despair and distrust and invite us to hope.

What is the role of Church in all of this? Jesus showed little concern for church and no concern whatever for its organization, as Achurch@ is mentioned only once in the four Gospels, in a single text whose historicity is doubtful. Church is meant, we suggest, to be the community that continues the stories, both the servant and the herald of the exciting news of the New Reign of God in the world now. Perhaps the main function of church is to gather the people and tell the stories that proclaim the Good News. All else may be secondary (depending on your model of “church.�) This can include ritual, tradition, orthodoxy, and canon law.

But Christian churches today have betrayed the reason for their existence. The major crisis facing the churches is not the drop in numbers, failure to organize, insufficient programs, shortage of ordained clergy, or lack of financial support. The major problem is that they have lost touch with the Reign of God agenda, that is, they no longer tell the stories in a way that speaks to the modern heart and mind. Churches, I suggest, have lost their souls. They have forgotten that the Spirit calls each one from within, singularly, usually by a story or sharing often through some personal crisis. The institutional churches instead try to fit people into ideologies, rituals, programs, traditions, or literal interpretations with no understanding that context influences everything. Most all churches today are inward looking, concerned with what is deemed necessary for their survival, and sometimes or too frequently what is necessary for the survival of the current power structures.

So far astray are most churches that any group that meets in order to tell the stories, in a setting where personal faith is valued, is likely to be more engaged spiritually, more vulnerable, more encouraged, more accepted, more deeply moved, with more incentive to personal change than in an hour of preaching or Eucharistic celebration. For example, there is usually more spirituality in a 12th step meeting than occurs in most religious services, by this I mean more openness to change and more commitment to change.

Without vulnerability, personal change is unlikely. “Church� or the realization of the Reign of God already amongst us, happens whenever there is this kind of vulnerable sharing, this kind of listening to the uniqueness of Another’s journey. Whenever we respond to each other in a caring way, “ ministry� happens, inadvertent ministry, the priestliness of us all is affirmed, and the Story of this mystery we call Emmanuel is implicitly recognized and welcomed. And we are continuing the stories...Note here that hospitality to the Stranger is one of the most common threads of all Wisdom traditions.

This is what we have done now in our Spiritual Growth Network now for eleven years. This retreat we shall focus explicitly on the role of story and storytelling.
Each will be encouraged to develop their own stories and story telling, as ministry.

*Note: Some of these comments find their origin or inspiration in a book by Diarmuid O=Murchu, entitled Quantum Theology, (Spiritual implications of the New Physics) New York, Crossroads, 1997.

By the way, what we have done basically for now eleven years in the Spiritual Growth Network of Kentucky is to gather the people and tell the stories, and listen well to the amazing diversities and graces of the journeys, and be enormously enriched and encouraged for our personal journeys. That is to say, we minister to one another through our stories–become sacaments of Divine Grace to one another.

Stories are designed to force us to consider possibilities
Stories hint that our taken-for-granted daily realities may,
in fact, be fraught with surprise. --William J. Bausch


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