August 24, 2012

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

We are all part of a larger story that leads to God

Cynthia DewesTell me a story. Does that sound familiar? Surely, people have been telling each other stories ever since Mr. Cave Man first came home to his wife with a blond hair on his fur shirt. The tradition has continued down to the present day when popular storytelling festivals are sponsored by historical societies, bookstores and many other groups.

We all love stories and use them for amusement, instruction, inspiration or even an alibi as in the case of the Cave Man.

Jesus often told stories, which we call parables, to illustrate concepts he was teaching. He used subjects and metaphors which his mostly rural and uneducated listeners would understand.

For example, he told about the farmer’s seeds sown on good ground or rocky soil or shallow dirt, with results that varied from producing fruit to withering away to never germinating at all. We know he was explaining the consequences that would follow the different human responses to the Good News.

Children love to hear stories from their elders, either made up or read aloud from books. The bedtime story is a sacred ritual in many homes, and Mom and Dad may suffer from such popularity when Junior wants to hear the same story over and over again. And Grandpa can’t try to hurry things along by shortening or changing the narrative since Junior knows every word by heart and demands to hear each one.

Sometimes adults use stories to teach moral lessons to children. In the German community in St. Louis to which my husband’s family belonged, a book titled Slovenly Peter (Struwel Peter auf Deutsch) was popular. This was a selection of horror stories in which the child protagonists who misbehaved were punished in creative ways.

Take the title character, Slovenly Peter, who wound up wretchedly with fingernails a foot long and filthy hair that looked like an Afro gone wrong. While we thought it was hilarious because of its outrageous cruelty, “experts” today might arrest parents for child abuse if they read it to their children. That doesn’t credit the kids with much sense, but that’s another, uh, story.

Campfires are a great place for storytelling. Organizations like Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts always use stories to liven up their nighttime campfires. Families do, too. Funny stories are popular at these events, but spooky ghost stories are the most favored subjects. Many a little camper who attended the dark night campfire has been sleepless in his tent afterward, imagining monsters and evil assaults from the outdoor noises in the woods around him.

Recently, I read an autobiographical piece by the famous writer F. Scott Fitzgerald in which he explained the way he went about creating a story. He said he couldn’t help observing people and events all the time so he put his notes in a “story idea” file for later use. Amusingly, he described how even this file didn’t always produce imagination, thus causing much pacing and muttering when publication deadlines loomed.

Not only do we tell stories, but also we are part of one. We are part of God’s story, in which our lives contribute to the richness of his continuing creation. We encounter people, events, emotions and insights which God knew were coming before we did. We struggle on, living lives which may bring surprises, traumas, joys and contentment, hopefully in sync with God’s overall plan. We can only hope that someday we will discover the end of the story, and it will be a happy one.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

Local site Links: