They say everybody loves a story. I think this is true. From when we were small children the idea of being told a story was very attractive to us. The bedtime story that soothed us to sleep, or the first stories that we read for ourselves, are logged somewhere in our memory. Perhaps there was a time in our lives when we liked stories that frightened us, perhaps now we would prefer to be comforted. Some stories make us cry, some make us laugh, some shock us and some leave us wide eyed. However most of us find it hard to resist the story. In any address, including the sermon, when we move into telling the story, heads begin to lift, people begin to re-focus and the quality of listening increases. On the surface the acts of both telling a story and the listening to a story, are very simple and yet there is much more to both. There has been much written on story including from cultural, psychological and sociological perspectives. The huge mushroom of interest in genealogy and all aspects of the family tree, including by the way the notion of the family tree in need of healing, is rooted deep within us. This search is more than a quest to know who our great aunt Susan was, though it may include that, and more about a need to know who am I, where do I come from and to whom do I belong? In other words what is my story?
I have met people, and indeed if I am honest about it, I include myself among them, who have embarked on the journey to discover and unpack their family story with a jaunty joviality only to find themselves in deeper water than they could have imagined. The simple curiosity to discover a rich or famous relative gradually gives way to something totally different when we plunge into the mess of the human story. In any sustained genealogical search we quickly find ourselves in the rich mix of joy and pain. In my case a fairly light desire to find out a little more about a much loved grandmother has led me to encounters with a whole array of interesting characters whom I now delight in, not least of all because they are family. The sad, the happy, the brave, the cowardly, the ordinary and the extraordinary I enjoy, and give thanks for them all. They are part of me. Over the generations their decisions, actions and choices ripple out to me. I am part of them. With the passing years I am taking my place in this sprawling family tree. Soon I will be a forefather, an ancestor. Soon others will look at my choices and decisions and perhaps smile or frown, or at the very least wonder about great, or more unambiguously, grand uncle Joe, the priest. What will be my legacy? My influence? If any? Is there a sense when one does not have children that these questions become more pressing?
It is not only fascinating, but spiritually very good for us to reflect on our own story. This will seem to many a complete waste of time. An exercise in useless navel gazing. If you can, I would ask you to bear with me. If you can trust me there is something very rich here. The way I think of it is like this, we are our story. We are both the accumulation of all our past events, people and places, and we are also the wonderful as yet un-lived potential of our lives. A very exciting part of this is to reflect back on our lives and see God in it. God in the middle of our lives yes, but God on the edge of our lives and indeed sometimes God invisible in our lives as well. In addition to all the times when his presence was obvious, what about the times when you could neither see nor hear him? What about the times when you felt he had abandoned you? Could it be that he was so involved in the mess of life with you, could it be that he was there in the middle of it all, as you looked around for him?
At this stage in my life I am beginning to understand that the best way of understanding my evolving story is in the light of the Sacred Story. Put another way I can best understand my loneliness and pain when I look at it from the perspective of Gethsemane and Golgotha. Looked at from this standpoint I begin to grapple with the context and meaning. The Jesus Event, by which I mean his birth, life, death and resurrection, changed life forever, as in changed lives forever. I mean yours and mine. So there’s no time like the present. Go to a quiet place, light a candle and ask God’s Holy Spirit not to leave us orphans and to open our hearts and minds to be able to see God’s presence active in our lives. Take your life and divide into five or ten year chunks, e.g: birth to five years and so on. For each section ask where was God in it? With whom, within the period, did I experience unconditional love? Where did I think God was missing? Was he? Prepare to be surprised!