“Make up a story… For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.”
~ Toni Morrison, The Nobel Lecture In Literature, 1993
Grace and peace to you
I recently read an interesting article entitled “Stuck in an old story”, written by Tania Katzschner, who is a socio-ecologist based at UCT. Addressing the issue of “invasive alien vegetation”, Katzshner challenged the old story that she believes we are stuck in by stating that “they are not a disease awaiting a cure, [but rather] they are a constitutive aspect of our social life…,”
Regardless of the field of study, it is brave to challenge the accepted and dominant story. This is because so much is connected to it. Tampering with the dominant story is like messing with the foundation of a building — it causes everything above to shake. Consequently we required to re-evaluate each floor and sometimes a complete demolition is necessary which can be costly and painful especially if we have lived there for a long time and happen to fancy the place.
This applies to every aspect of our lives. As Maria Popova, from @Brainpickings writes: “The stories we tell ourselves and each other are how we make sense of the world and our place in it. Some stories become so sticky, so pervasive that we internalize them to a point where we no longer see their storiness — they become not one of many lenses on reality, but reality itself. Stories we’ve heard and repeated so many times they’ve become the invisible underpinning of our entire lived experience”.
Or as the poet Muriel Rukeyser said, “The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” This is so true! We each have stories that invisibly underpin our entire lived experience. Stories we have internalised about ourselves, others, God and nature. To question them takes bravery. Today we will reflect on the story that Baptism proclaims. It is a counter-cultural story. It is a subversive story threatening the ruling stories of domination. Sadly it is also a story that has been co-opted and tamed over the years, entangled in law and dogma. It has become a dominant and an exclusive story that itself must be bravely questioned.
I agree with spiritual leader Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, who says at the root of our ecological and economic crises is a ‘story’ crisis: a dysfunctional worldview about the universe and our place in it. I believe that the untamed story of baptism is the exact counter story the world needs to hear to be healed and set free.
Here is an example of the transforming power of story from The Name of the Wind by the author of epic fantasy Patrick Rothfuss:
“Chronicler shook his head and Bast gave a frustrated sigh: “How about plays? Have you seen The Ghost and the Goosegirl or The Ha’penny King?” Chronicler frowned. “Is that the one where the king sells his crown to an orphan boy?” Bast nodded. “And the boy becomes a better king than the original. The goosegirl dresses like a countess and everyone is stunned by her grace and charm.” He hesitated, struggling to find the words he wanted. “You see, there’s a fundamental connection between seeming and being. Every Fae child knows this, but you mortals never seem to see. We understand how dangerous a mask can be. We all become what we pretend to be.”
Chronicler relaxed a bit, sensing familiar ground. “That’s basic psychology. You dress a beggar in fine clothes, people treat him like a noble, and he lives up to their expectations.”
“That’s only the smallest piece of it,” Bast said. “The truth is deeper than that. It’s…” Bast floundered for a moment. “It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”
Frowning, Chronicler opened his mouth, but Bast held up a hand to stop him. “No, listen. I’ve got it now. You meet a girl: shy, unassuming. If you tell her she’s beautiful, she’ll think you’re sweet, but she won’t believe you. She knows that beauty lies in your beholding.” Bast gave a grudging shrug. “And sometimes that’s enough.”
His eyes brightened. “But there’s a better way. You show her she is beautiful. You make mirrors of your eyes, prayers of your hands against her body. It is hard, very hard, but when she truly believes you…” Bast gestured excitedly. “Suddenly the story she tells herself in her own head changes. She transforms. She isn’t seen as beautiful. She is beautiful, seen.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Chronicler snapped. “You’re just spouting nonsense now.” “I’m spouting too much sense for you to understand,” Bast said testily. “But you’re close enough to see my point.”
Its “re-story” time.