"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Everyone Loves Stories --
Even Jesus, Even God

My son Sam with his 5th grade classmates, twins, Michael & Geoffrey
St. Peter's School ~ Philadelphia ~ 2004


“There is something deeply built into us that needs story itself.
Story is a source of nurture . . .
we cannot become really true human beings
for ourselves and for each other without story.”

Vincent Harding (b 1931)
Civil Rights Veteran
{Thanks to Jan Donley for first posting this quotation}

Tell me a story! Tell me about the day I was born. Tell me about that time. Once upon a time. In the beginning. Long ago and faraway. Long ago, in someone else's story. Be the hero of your own story. The Never-ending Story. Just So Stories. So many stories, so little time, so much time -- sprawling and interminable (see Buechner, below). I like Harding's assertion (above) that we need these stories to be "really true human beings" and Myerson's conclusion (below) that we "just want to connect." In fact, that's one of the founding premises of this blog:
Only connect!

Out of the vast number of stories about stories, I've picked Harding, Myerson, Buechner, and Myerhoff for this short post. These authors share the observation that our humanizing stories are never disconnected. The narratives may sprawl across time and space, but only say the word, write the letter, make the call, turn on the searchlights, sit in the chair, and tell the story!

Julie Myerson (b 1960)
Home: The Story of Everyone Who Ever Lived in Our House
"These letters and phone messages are peculiarly and unexpectedly touching. I realize that actually they're a part of what I'm trying to explore: the fact that all of us badly want to be part of a story, to be the Right Person, the One someone's looking for. Don't we all, at the end of the day, just want to connect our lives with the lives of others and experience that satisfying symmetry of time and place that comes from being notified, written to, called to account" (78 - 79; for more on Myerson's book, see "Our Island Home" on my Book List).

by Jessie Willcox Smith

Frederick Buechner (b 1926)
Listening to Your Life: "The Truth of Our Stories"
"In the long run the stories all overlap and mingle like searchlights in the dark. the stories Jesus tells are part of the story Jesus is, and the other way round. . . . And my story and your story are all part of each other too if only because we have sung together and prayed together and seen each other's faces so that we are at least a footnote at the bottom of each other's stories.

"In other words all our stories are in the end one story, one vast story about being human, being together, being here. Does the story point beyond itself? Does it mean something? What is the truth of this interminable, sprawling story we all of us are? Or is it as absurd to ask about the truth of it as it is to ask about the truth of the wind howling through a crack under the door?" (305)


Barbara Myerhoff (1935 - 1985)
"The Story of the Forest"
"There is a Hasidic story, repeated to me by Shmuel [a member of the Israel Levin Senior Center, the subject of much of Myerhoff's work] before he died, that sums up my feelings about nine years of work with the...Center people....

"When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews, it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted. Later, when his disciple...had occasion...to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say 'Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer.' Again the miracle would be accomplished.

"Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Lieb of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say: 'I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.' It was sufficient and the miracle was accomplished.

"Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: 'I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient.'

"And it was sufficient." *

Why? Because God Loves Stories!

{Thanks to Melinda Stolz for sharing this story with me.}

*Myerhoff's Notes:
1. Quote from Mark Leviton, "Numbering Their Days," University of Southern California Chronicle Oct. 1980, 26.

2. This story of the forest is also told in Elie Wiesel,
Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters,
trans. Marion Wiesel (New York: The Bibliophile Library, c1972).

Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, July 14th

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my shorter, almost daily blog posts

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my running list of recent reading


  1. Kitti, Thank you for writing a post about the power of story. I love all of your passages, but I especially like, "What is the truth of this interminable, sprawling story we all of us are? Or is it as absurd to ask about the truth of it as it is to ask about the truth of the wind howling through a crack under the door?" (305)

  2. Mumbi writes: "The 'Storytelling' picture reminded me of my childhood when we would sit around a wood fire where a mother would be cooking supper so late in the evening and children would sit around telling stories as they waited for the food to cook. Those stories were so captivating that I wish I could hear them all over again...stories like...why an ant has such a thin waist line...and how the zebra got its stripes...and why the hyena walks with a limp."

    Thanks Mumbi!

  3. “We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”

    ― Jonathan Gottschall
    _The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human_

  4. "Neither novels nor their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made - up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species." ~ John Green