Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Power of a Story

By Robin

Stories have always been important to us. Long before they were on ipads, Kindles, and Nooks; before they were in paperback, hardcover, or leather bound with handstitched spines; before they were transcribed one painstaking word at a time on parchment and vellum, they wielded a sort of power in our lives.

In ancient days the most skillful Story-teller would gather his audience round a communal fire, and regale them with tales of the heroic warrior who left his maiden to fight a battle. And the audience would listen, rapt, shushing fussy babes, pulling loved ones close, wondering if the hero would ever make it back to his love.

That’s the enthralling power of a story.

Legends were born who are still with us today. Beowulf and King Arthur still hold us transfixed in our modern world. We still boo and hiss at their villains: the brutal Grendel, and the wicked sorceress Morgana La Fay. Even though we know how the story ends—we’ve known for twelve hundred years—we hang on till the end, wondering if good will prevail.

That’s the transcendent power of a story.

In the fourth century, the world changed forever. Rome converted, and with it, most of its territories, stretching far west, to include a little island nation full of Britons. “Before Christianity,” according to the Norton Anthology of English Literature, Edition 6, Volume 1, “there had been no books [in English].”

This is my decades old, frayed, taped, beloved Norton, read by every NWMSU student who majored in English during its tenure.

Time passed, invaders became residents, and the language, a jumbled comingling of Saxon (Germanic) and Norman (Italic) evolved into Middle English. That’s when the Story-teller harnessed his power by putting words onto a page. He became the Writer.

By the twelfth century, the Writer began to use the themes of love and war, which were so often connected in the world of the chivalrous knight, as a means of exploring psychological and ethical problems (again, according to the Norton Anthology). That's when men began to see themselves in the character of the knight. They watched as the knight navigated trials contrived by the Writer, and weighed the knight’s emergence as victor or downtrod against what they knew about themselves, their world, and their God, wondering what they would do in the place of the knight.

That’s the self-actualizing power of a story.

This has all been true since the first evidence we have of stories being told orally round the fire. It was true before, in the dark of cave dwellings where no remnant was left for us to study and marvel at. It’s true because our Lord is the ultimate Story-teller. It’s the medium by which he brings us to himself. “In the beginning,” begins the story of a bridegroom who goes after his bride.

We are enthralled by it, wondering if she will take his outstretched hand.

We read the same passages again and again in our study, captivated anew by the transcendent, never-changing truth.

We see ourselves in it. We are the bride, looking down at the bridegroom’s outstretched hand, a hand we don’t deserve. We come to know our own wretchedness by reading of his holiness. We take his hand, accept his mercy, and we are made new.

That’s the transformative power of THE story.

Stories born of human minds cannot hold the same power over us. We need not fear them, ban them, censor them, burn them, or hide them.

Even dangerous stories, terrible stories, and stories written by authors who hate God and his good gifts have the power to make us think.  

That, friends, is when the magic happens! That's when the Story-teller's power becomes the Story-hearer's power. The Hearer, gifted by the Creator already with the ability to reason and reflect, now possesses the power to revere or reject the truth of the Story-teller

It's an amazing power, isn't it? The power to think. Analyze. Critique. Decide. Whether the stories are good or bad, thinking about them makes us smarter, more mature, more aware, more compassionate, better human beings. It opens our eyes to new ideas--right ideas and wrong ideas. That doesn't matter. What matters is we use our power to think about what we're reading, and grow from it.

This is why we crave stories which do more for us than entertain. It's why our love of story has endured many thousands of years, and why it will continue long after our culture changes, our borders shift, and our language evolves all over again. 

We may not read our stories on Kindles and ipads in a hundred years, or a thousand years, or ten thousand years, but we will, in some way, be gathered round the communal fire to hear the skilled Story-teller weave us a compelling tale.

Unlike us, the story will endure. It will never die.

That's the power of a story.

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