A few years ago, in the summer, I would scoop up my precocious three year-old and we would brave the Georgian heat to go for a walk.
“Long walk or short walk,” I would ask.
“Long walk,” she replied. As if there were any other kind to her.
We would take off down the road. When we got to the first intersection, we would pause. She would look in each direction, weighing the decision. Then she’d choose. More often than not, we’d turn right toward the main road. When we got there, we’d have to turn left since there was no sidewalk to the right. Then I would give her choices at each new block. But we both knew where we were headed.
After we were about a half of a mile from home she’d turn to me and say
“I’ve got a good idea!” hardly able to contain her excitement.
“What is it?” I’d ask breathlessly (but knowingly).
“Let’s go to the fountain and then The Toothpicker!”
“What a great idea!” And so we picked up our pace and headed downtown.
Along the way, she would ask me to tell her a story. Sometimes she would tell me what story she wanted to hear. Other times she asked me to make up a new story. They always involved one of two types of characters: a family or a princess. So I would tell variations of fairy tales or I would tell stories about subjects I thought she might need to learn about. I told stories about learning to deal with a baby brother. And months later, when I was closing in on a new position, I started telling stories about moving.
I’ve always been conscious of the power of stories. What they say and how. I wrote a whole series about favorite and least favorite stories for children. And I became incredibly conscious about how those stories might shape my daughter.
There is no wonder that it is stories that shape our understanding of GOD and inform our relationship to GOD.
Stories that tell us about the beginning:
At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth,
when the earth was wild and waste,
darkness over the face of Ocean,
rushing-spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters—
God said: Let there be light! And there was light.
God saw the light: that it was good.
God separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light: Day! And the darkness he called: Night!
There was setting, there was dawning: one day.
(Genesis 1:1-5, The Schocken Bible)
Stories that tell us about liberation:
So YHWH delivered Israel on that day from the hand of Egypt; Israel saw Egypt dead by the shore of sea,
and Israel saw the great hand that YHWH had wrought against Egypt,
the people held YHWH in awe,
they trusted in YHWH and in Moshe his servant.
(Exodus 14:30-31, The Schocken Bible)
And stories about incarnation
He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
(Luke 2:5-7, NRSV)
For it is through stories that we learn about GOD and share our love for GOD. It is how GOD is to be revealed and known and understood. It is also how we learn to deal with adversity and our ministry of reconciling this world.
And GOD, as our divine parent, knows the importance of stories, for stories are the essential tools of parents. They are essential for brain development. A child’s success in school is tied to how often a parent reads to them. They are essential for creativity and problem solving. Children learn how to arrive at multiple solutions based on our story characters’ wrestling with their circumstances. They are essential for building character. The storyteller is able to shape the values of the listener through the character of the heroes and villains. Each is a sign of the importance of storytelling.
In being a children immersed in stories, we know that GOD wants what is best for us. That GOD wants us to be healthy, creative, and generous. GOD gives us a world to explore and playmates to run into. We know that GOD loves us and wants us to be good, very good. Of all that can be known about GOD, I am most sure of this, as that is what I want for my daughter.
On those long walks home, she would ask for more stories. I’d ask her to tell me a story instead. And more often than not, she would.
- Talking GOD: the Tony Jones Challenge (drewdowns.net)