N.pngGod obviously prefers ‘story’ since much of the Bible is written in narrative (story) style.  Depending on how you count it, somewhere between two thirds and three fourths of the Scriptures are story – God’s BIG story.  And it is within God’s BIG, redemptive story that we find the little stories of our personal lives taking on meaning and significance.  God is the Author and Master story-teller who is writing us into His BIG narrative – we are characters in His living, dynamic, redemptive drama. 

 

Awakening.  God is passionate about healing, growing and transforming the stories of our lives.  The restoration of our souls is clearly enhanced when we awaken to the storied-reality of God’s love poured-out to us.  An awakening of this kind happened to me while I meditated on a hope-filled passage, Zephaniah 3:17.

 For the Lord your God is living among you.

He is a mighty savior.

He will take delight in you with gladness.

With his love, he will calm all your fears.

He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

Initially I reasoned that God Almighty was certainly able to do what Zephaniah proclaimed – it is within the Lord’s capacities to over-look all my sin, all my failings, all my dysfunction and actually delight in me.  I stumbled for a while over the thought of God doing His delighting with “gladness” rather than just because it’s in His job description.  But the next line reassured me: He is a “mighty savior” and as such He is the source of all goodness.  Adding more faith to my reasoning I accepted what the scripture was revealing - from within His abundant goodness God is glad to delight in me.  Characteristically, the more I chewed on the reality of God’s glad-delight love, the more stunned and uplifted I became in the depths of my being – the work of the Holy Spirit in my soul was becoming more evident. 

 My meditating on Zeph’s incredible assertion was an on-going process taking place over the course of several days.  With each new day the impact of Abba Father’s love tasted sweeter as the Holy Spirit deepened the experience.  Yet I waited rather doubtfully for something to happen with the final line: “He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”  This seemed too much, too over the top – perhaps Zephaniah had gone too far.  Was this hyperbole too hyper – God singing because of His joy about me?  After some time I reverted to reason again: “ok, maybe it’s true, maybe God sings and I just can’t hear it or feel it because of numerous doubts and lingering damage from childhood deprivations and soul wounds.”  But really, had I ever experienced any such thing – God singing over me?  I waited, I pondered and then I remembered… a story!

Cruising and Musing.  Benadetto Bagnato was my maternal grandfather.  Born to unknown parents in 1891, he immigrated from Italy to America in 1910.  Benny eventually established a small neighborhood grocery store in Oil City, PA.  Benny and his wife Maria raised seven children, my mother being the youngest.  Benny was a quiet man, spoke broken English and permitted his children to become as American as apple-pie.  He had a winepress in his basement, a large vegetable garden on a terraced hillside and he made a scratch pizza which was to-die-for-tasty.  I knew him to splurge on only one thing: in 1957 he purchased off the show-room floor a two-tone, powder blue and white Chrysler Windsor.  Benny did not put many miles on his car and because he had no garage this gas-guzzler was parked on the street.  I remember Benny standing on the front porch simply starring at the Windsor – a huge, shiny symbol of American identity.  But I do recall one memorable road trip.

 That summer of 1957 my parents, my brother and I slid onto the wide bench seats of that monster car and began a three hour drive to visit Aunt Mary, the oldest of Benny’s kids.  Sitting in front between my father who was driving and my stoic grandfather, I was eye-level with the shiny dashboard, transfixed with the radio and wishing someone would tune to KDKA for the broadcast of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game.  But Benny preferred we sit quietly and just enjoy the heavy Chrysler float down the road and so we respectfully did.  But after some time a very surprising thing happened – Benny, quiet, reserved, straight-laced Catholic Benny began to sing – in Italian.  He kept the beat by striking his hand on the dashboard and sang what we later learned to be folk songs from his homeland.  Song after song the foreign serenade continued.  This was new territory for all of us – never before had we heard Benny sing.  Goose-bumps arose on my arms.  Only my grandmother knew what the lyrics were about but no one was asking and no one was explaining - we simply listened and absorbed the captivating atmosphere.  Eventually Benny grew quiet and after a few moments spoke in his broken way, “I sing a love song.”  With tears streaming down his cheeks (we had certainly never seen that before) Benny tenderly crooned one last time.  The Chrysler kept cruising and we were left musing about the inner workings of this private man’s heart.  It was a beautiful interlude and we were touched by the unexpected outflow of Benny’s surprising passion. 

Curious Imagination.  With reflection this little family story has become iconographic – symbolic of my journey to experience the meaning of Zephaniah 3:17.  Revisiting Benny’s passionate singing I was originally brought to consider, “What is it like to feel such love, a love which brings joyful tears?”  Lately I have pondered with sanctified imagination, “Did I receive in that Chrysler a foggy-misty glimpse of God rejoicing in song over His faithful children?”  The story now catalyzes in my soul a brighter acceptance of the truth of Zephaniah’s words and energizes a confident assurance that God’s joyful songs are real and on-going.  In fact there are times I ask to hear this marvelous music, much like David asked for God’s blessing in Psalm 143:8, “Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you.”  Zephaniah’s prophecy in tandem with Benny’s story continues to grow, in my heart, a joyful sense of being loved by God.  Scripture and story are doing what they were meant to do.

Overflow and Invasion.  God’s redemptive story overflows the Bible and invades our lives.  The Holy Spirit interpenetrates our messy stories and, in so doing, works us into deeper, more intimate, trusting relationship with Himself.  God desires to attach us more securely to the Trinity and to one another, enfolding us into His circle of life.  And His strategy involves using story as a means to this end.  As we become aware of our life narrative and see the various ‘chapters’ of our lives, …as we reflect on and share our stories with attentive, empathetic story-listeners, something more of God’s goodness arises in our hearts and minds.  Current neuroscience research confirms that the story-teller and the story-listener create a secure attachment pattern with one another, simply by sharing their stories.  This kind of healthy attachment - better known as spiritual friendship, fellowship, even discipleship - leads to spiritual maturation, transformation and growth.  Curt Thompson, M.D. explains:

“One of the wonderfully mysterious outcomes of storytelling and listening is their capacity to enable our left and right [brain] modes of processing to integrate.  The left and right brain are integratively woven together in a way that doesn’t happen when someone simply reads or listens to text that invokes logical, linear, right-wrong processing.” (Curt Thompson, Anatomy of The Soul, Tyndale House, 2010).

Stories are the best way for us to understand and communicate the experiences of life.  By explaining our life as chapters in a narrative, we see more clearly how our chapters are connected – we realize how choices and consequences are linked together.  Seeing our lives as stories helps us understand our developing character and our growing soul – the deeper aspects of who we are and why we make the choices we do.  Realizing our stories helps us determine in what ways our character is strong and healthy and in what ways we are weak, broken and under-developed.  Revealing our stories helps us uncover where we are in the development of our spirituality (our relationship with God).  When we grasp our stories, we more clearly understand our desires, needs, wants, and dreams.  We become more aware of our wounds and our need for healing, growth and restoration.  Then we can more easily open ourselves to what God wants to do for us, with us and through us. 

A Route for Restoration.  Story-telling and listening are a designated route to our destination called soul restoration:

“This interpersonal interaction [sharing our stories] facilitates the integration of various layers of neural structures and brain systems, which in turn creates new neural networks.  Such an encounter is necessary because we cannot change our stories without simultaneously changing the neural pathways that correlate with those changes.  God is in the business of changing your story from poorer to richer, from harsher to gentler, from rigid to flexible, from sadder to joyful, from shameful to confident and free.  Telling your story to an empathic listener is one means through which God works.”  (Curt Thompson, ibid)

 God designed humans to learn, develop and live largely through the hearing and telling of stories.  Our minds and hearts resonate with story and are stimulated by story.  Many of our memories are stored in our brains as… stories.  Allow the Author of the greatest story ever told to range free and uncluttered in your mind and heart, transforming and re-writing your little story as a part of His overarching narrative of redemption and restoration.