“Therefore the stories we tell, the literature we hold dear, even the films and TV we watch are all crucial to the education of our moral imagination and moral feeling… It matters greatly what kind of stories we live.”
Karen L. King, The Gospel of Mary Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle, 123-124.
I was struck by this quote because I’ve had some serious first-hand experience with how stories affect my “imaginations and feelings”, and not in a good way.
When I was a kid, during the Cold War with the USSR, my mother and my grandmother used to sit at the dinner table – after my father had left – and talk about how the Soviets were going to attach the US with nuclear bombs and we were all going to forced to be communists and give up everything we had. Every night. Really. Every night.
To a child, that was scary. Here were two people that I trusted more than anyone else predicting that basically I wouldn’t have a future. I started having trouble sleeping, nightmares, anxiety, you name it.
And, in addition to the fear, it took away my hope. Why? Because these were both very religious, faithful women who seemed to have given up hope. What good was believing in God, praying and expecting protection and support if we were going to be taken over by a country that had more or less outlawed religion?
At least that’s what it seemed like to me.
So, I asked them to stop… or at least to stop talking about it in front of me (and my younger brother). I didn’t need to hear that kind of story repeated day after day. What good was it doing? None. It probably wasn’t doing them much good either.
Fortunately for me, they did stop. Or at least I didn’t hear the stories again.
But how often do we hear stories like that? Repeatedly? Stories about how bad things are and how bad things are going to get? Stories that stoke our fears and getting our adrenaline going? That stress us out and fill us with fear? That take away our hope?
Does this sound like the evening news?
Do those stories exist? Sure they do. There are bad things that happen all the time. There are things that threaten us all the time. But if that’s all we pay attention to, that’s all we see. And we’ll forget that there’s more.
We’ll forget who we really are. The great spiritual traditions of the world always remind of who we are. Jesus taught that we are all God’s children. The Buddha taught us that we are all one, all part of the universal energy, inseparable from each other. Confucianism teaches that gentleness and goodness are the root of humanity. And so on…
We have, at our core, a divine nature that gets buried under fear, anxiety, and the demands of our ego. It’s the story of that divine nature that we need to hear and tell. That’s the story that will help us fulfill our highest potential.
Is that the story you tell yourself? Is that the story you listen to?
I have to admit that I don’t always. I can get caught up in the other stories as much as anyone else. But I bring myself back. I try to limit the ‘bad news’ stories to those that I need to know what’s going on in the world. I try to make the rest of my stories uplifting, energizing, hopeful. (Note: Hallmark Channel is particularly helpful with this endeavor.)
It’s not fun to have an adventure where there is no hope of joy. And there’s no hope of joy if all we see and hear is sorrow.
Let’s tell each other stories of hope and joy and freedom. Let’s listen to stories that uplift us.
What story are you going to tell to today?