In their book Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussatt introduce one section this  way: “We live in a story-shaped world. Usually the first stories we hear put us in touch with our loved ones, our family history, and the natural world.”

Among my earliest memories are two story-tellers in my family. My maternal grandmother, a long-time primary school teacher, read to me whenever I visited her house. And my Dad not only read to me and my younger siblings; he told us stories from his own imagination. I still have one he eventually wrote down, now a fragile couple of disintegrating pages in his penciled handwriting. The manuscript has to be at least 65 years old.

The photo I chose for today holds stories way older than my Dad’s. These could be 500 – 800 years old, or far older. (These petroglyphs are in New Mexico, 828_edited-1-1and estimates of their age vary greatly.) Looking at the symbols, only the artist knows what these figures stand for or what story might have been meant by the relationship of one drawing to another. Take a long look at this rock and see what story comes to your mind.

But going back to my own family history, yes, I was raised a child in a story-shaped world. And much later, as a pastor, I lived in the world of comparatively ancient stories, a Bible full of them.  I like what someone said recently, “Those stories are all true, and some of them even actually happened!” Frankly, I take fewer of those stories literally than when I first heard them in early Sunday School days. When I read or hear them read now, I don’t judge the historical or factual truth embedded therein. But I like to ask what is true for me there? That is, what do those stories tell me about God, my neighbor, or myself? And how can I better live by the truth I understand from the myths of Genesis, the poetry of the Psalms, or the parables of Jesus?

Now, the life and teachings of Jesus? I buy it all. I have no problem still taking leaps of faith here and there. Sometimes more here than there, and vice versa (!). When I write and “preach” sermons based on the biblical story, I know the congregation expects at least two things to happen. I will connect the ancient stories with their own stories, and more profoundly, God’s story will transform their own, thus helping them embody the grace, peace, and love that Christ lived in his story. The foolishness of preaching is that those two things may not move from theory into practice very often. But when they do, even for just that one listener on that one Sunday, another light shines in the darkness.

Just as there is mystery and fascination in those petroglyphs, imagining what the artist was hoping to convey, the probably even-older biblical stories contain deep mysteries too. A quick glance or scan doesn’t help much. But imagination, thought, prayer, patient reflection — may very well lead to a revelatory moment or a lifetime of spiritual intoxication (thanks to James Loder for that term).

I’m writing in Lent, the season fed by stories of Jesus in the wilderness, wrestling with temptations, overcoming them, and moving into his ministry of teaching and healing, telling parabolic stories and living the one we still find inspiring a couple of millennia later. Yes, some of it is hard to believe. But some of my story is hard for me to believe. I am truly thankful that I smiled as I typed that!

Yep. We do live in a story-shaped world. What’s yours like? Scratch it onto a red rock, or journal it, or tell it. And if you know the truth of it, own it, and share it. It will no doubt help me with mine!