Storytelling Is Powerful
While the Bible is a “once upon a time” book, it is as up-to-date as the latest, breaking news. Once upon a time God created, once upon a time God led the people of Israel out of captivity into a land of promise; and once upon a time God sent Jesus into the world to reconcile all humans to God’s self. The Bible is the story of God’s activity in the world and in the lives of humans.
The story didn’t stop with the Book of Revelation! God continues to act in human history—forgiving, loving, and reconciling. Because the story goes on, we have the remarkable privilege of adding our own stories of God’s activity in our lives to the long line of saints who have gone before us—Abraham, Sarah, Ruth, Moses, David, Deborah, Peter, Paul, Lydia, Calvin, Luther, Ewing and McAdow and King, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., and on and on.
Before the Word was written, it was spoken. The Hebrew people were storytellers. Storytelling is how people learned about God many years ago; it is still an effective way to share our faith.
In Joshua 4: 5-7, we read “Joshua said to them, ‘Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, one for each of the tribes of the Israelites, so that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever” (NRSV).
This biblical passage reminds us that much of spiritual formation is done through storytelling. Learners hear biblical stories, interact with the stories, and develop a new understanding. This kind of storytelling is not so much about methodology as it is about sharing and growing in faith. It’s not so much about learning facts as it is about relevancy to life experiences and connection to our memory as God’s gifts to our understanding.
Learners may experience the biblical passage by reading it themselves, listening to it being read, or hearing it told as story. They become familiar with the Bible story. Next they see it in light of their own stories. They communicate with others their own understandings of the biblical story as they tell their own stories; through this kind of storytelling, learners are able to understand how others interpret the story. Through the sharing of stories, learners come out with new understandings of the biblical passage so that it becomes not just “my story,” but “our story.” They also discover that God’s story is ongoing.
In a recent adult Sunday school session, the class read Mark 10:1-12 where Jesus taught about divorce. As the class began to study the passage, participants shared their own stories; their stories began to intersect with the biblical passage. Four adults in the class were divorced and remarried; two were unmarried; one was not divorced, but had married a divorced person; five had been married only once and had marriages of some length of time. All had stories to tell. The scripture passage, along with the storytelling, made the Bible come alive. None of those learners left the same as they had come into the classroom.
The Bible is the primary catalyst for enabling learners to connect God’s story of yesteryear to their lives today. The more that the story becomes “our story,” the more we in the church will be able to tell it and live it. Storytelling is powerful!
Photo by Tanner Larson on unsplash.com.