Western society embraces stories; western society despises stories. We read fiction to the tune of billions spent each year, but we don’t believe stories convey truths to be lived by. Stories grab us by the ears, but only the hardest edged logic is trusted. Towards analysis and facts we have no suspicion, but narratives are tools of power and manipulation. And yet stories speak to our hearts. Too bad their sole value seems to have been whittled down to little more than a time killer, entertainment, a way to stave off my boredom. Too bad that the thing which grips most profoundly is counted a fantasy, a figment of the imagination.
Why have I said all of this when my advertised subject is prayer? It is because I intend to communicate in the posts that follow by means of ancient narratives and narratives in our day are suspect. We do fine with them as long as they are considered mere entertainment. But the moment that someone suggests that they might actually be a means of perceiving truths about life—nay, even more, of communicating truths about life—a great howling protest arises. Well, howl on, for I am going to suggest it—no, even stronger—I am going to assert it. But I will make it a little easier for you by not insisting that you take the stories as true in some ultimate sense. I believe they are, but I don’t insist that you do. I simply ask this, that you enter in to the stories. Allow yourself, as a kind of experiment, to see life through each story and having seen life through the story, only then to ask whether it brings something valuable to your understanding of yourself, life, and the cosmos.
I have suggested this course of action because I believe we have been terribly wrongheaded in our thinking about stories. I believe that good stories are one of our greatest assets in figuring out how to live life well. And so I hope that you will take the narratives I plan to discuss seriously, not pushing them away because of fear or prejudice. We have relativized story out of our concern for the abuse of power, but you will notice that we have not escaped story by this move. (Nor have we escaped the abuse of power). Story is still foundational to our lives. Story resonates with us. Story is vital for us. So we have not escaped. We have only dug our hole deeper. Story relativized, story on its own without any attempt to find truth enshrines naked power as the only solution to our differences. And naked power always turns ugly. Might it be that the good fruits of power—for there are good fruits—can only flourish when power is rooted in good soil? And might it also be that the abuses of power—for there are abuses—can only be rooted out when we have found a firm place to stand?
My next installment will be an actual story. I do hope you will join us on the journey.