To step through the looking glass, to pass through the wardrobe into Narnia, to attend the birthday party of Bilbo Baggins is to reenter the world of childhood more fully than is possible any other way. It is not just a matter of being reminded how strange and new and promising everything was back then, but of experiencing it all over again.
Regardless of how many times you have read the books you loved as a child, the elements of surprise and suspense are always present, so that right up to the last minute you can believe that Scrooge will go on being miserly in spite of everything and that Dorothy may never find her way home.
To us, as to the child, the happy ending always comes as an unexpected gift from on high. It is the deepest truth that children’s books have to tell. Possibly it is the deepest truth there is. – Frederick Buechner
Every storyteller … looks out at the world much as you and I look out at it and sees things happening—people being born, growing up, working, loving, getting old, and finally dying—only then, by the very process of taking certain of these events and turning them into a story … does he make a sort of claim about events in general, about the nature of life itself.
And the storyteller’s claim, I believe, is that life has meaning—that the things that happen to people happen not just by accident like leaves being blown off a tree by the wind but that there is order and purpose deep down behind them or inside them and that they are leading us not just anywhere but somewhere.
The power of stories is that they are telling us that life adds up somehow, that life itself is like a story.
And this grips us and fascinates us because of the feeling it gives us that if there is meaning in any life … then there is meaning also in our lives. And if this is true, it is of enormous significance in itself, and it makes us listen to the storyteller with great intensity because in this way all his stories are about us and because it is always possible that he may give us some clue as to what the meaning of our lives is. – Frederick Buechner
Tell me a story, and I will listen. Preach and teach, and I might turn away. Or I might smile and nod, but my thoughts and heart are far away.
But begin to relate a story, and something in me opens up to receive. Some say that all the world is a stage. Perhaps it is true in that a stage is the setting for a story.
All the world. A story.
A thousand stories. A million. A billion times a billion. But somehow one.
In the realm of literature, the word “archetype” speaks to the idea that certain stories, characters, or settings stand as representations of all stories, people, and settings. Certain places or characters stand for so much more than the simple part they play in the story. A tree is not only a tree; it is life or knowledge or the loss of innocence. A river is not only a river; it is cleansing or rebirth or maybe even death. White is innocence, purity.
And the hero of the story — no matter how flawed or how near to death he comes, or even if he does die — sends some sort of thrill through the heart of the reader. Maybe it’s that part in each of us that wants to be a hero. Or maybe it’s that deeper part in each of us that wants to be rescued. That knows we need a hero. A rescuer. In the words of some, a Savior.
So we read a story. A thousand stories. And we look — often subconsciously – for those archetypes. For answers. For meaning. For a hero.
And if we are looking, we find. Even in the most random story. Or the darkest. Or most intentionally meaningless. Somehow the storytellers do communicate meaning. Truth. About life. About ourselves. About a Story that encompasses wordlessly all other stories, even the most meaningless, and infuses them with wonder. So that no one and no story and no chapter or paragraph or even word that we live could be construed as without meaning and purpose. Not when an overarching Story is penned by an all-knowing Author. Not when His words are Life and His message is love, and His story is Grace and Truth.
Words amputated from stories lose accuracy, lose color and energy, congeal into god talk. They are flowers that fade and grow limp. For every theologian, we need five novelists to keep the language personally relational; for every biblical scholar we need another five novelists to keep the language participatory; for every church historian the church needs another five novelists to keep us aware that we are in the story.” – Eugene Peterson
Some people are more the scholarly type. They like to study. I admit, I’m one of them. I’ve always loved to study … mainly because of the reading involved, but also the joy of learning something new. Of challenging myself to understand and assimilate some concept or lesson. At any point in time I’ll usually be reading through some theological or scholarly book.
But at the end of the day, when I want to read for enjoyment, to read for me, I won’t be picking up the latest theological study. I will pick up a novel. A story.
A lot of people say we read to lose ourselves in the story. We don’t.
We read stories to find ourselves.
In the pages. In the narrative. In the overall story. The greatest stories, the ones that stick with us long after we turn the final page, are the ones that ring true. The ones where we see something of ourselves. Our fears. Our hopes. Our scars. Our joys. Those universal feelings that resonate within us viscerally. The things we know to be true without having to be taught it … because we have experienced it.
A favorite author of mine, N. D. Wilson, in a writing class spoke of this. The importance of writing truth into stories. No matter how far out a plot line might be, or whether the story takes place in some fantastic fantasy location, it needs to ring with truth. Good versus evil. The beauty of forgiveness. The power of sacrifice. The purity of light.
When a story or a book does not show forth these elements of truth … the story rings false. It falls short. The reader can’t help but feel something is wrong about that story.
Then there are the stories full of conflict and tragedy, sorrow and loss, even death … but there is hope. There is light. There is love. And these elements thread the story together, weaving a message stronger than the tragedy and loss.
Perhaps you are a novelist. Or a writer of nonfiction. Or simply a passionate reader. But we all have a story to tell. And we all have a story we are living out. Let your story – your stories – ring true. Whether you’re writing it or living it, thread your stories with hope. With the Weaver of all good things. With the Author of Light and Love. The Lord of Truth and Grace.