Faculty View | Caught Up In Story
by Dr. Gwen Macallister, associate professor of English
Early in the semester, I usually ask my freshman composition students if they consider themselves to be storytellers. Typically only a handful of students will immediately answer yes. However, I counter this and say, “What if I said that every single one of you is a storyteller?” I go on to explain that whether we realize it or not, each of us lives caught up in stories. We narrate our experiences to our friends or family members on a daily basis over the dinner table, the phone, or even in abbreviated form on our Facebook pages. We relish telling about an unusually funny or strange occurrence, and we find solace in explaining our deepest aches. Not only this, but we delight in hearing the stories of others. Almost all children are easily enthralled with a good tale whether it’s the simple rhythms of Green Eggs and Ham or the adventures of Lucy and company in Narnia.
The power of story seems undeniable, but why? Narratives have the ability to shape our understanding of the world around us, our relation to that world, and most importantly our relation to God Himself, the Author of all that is. Interestingly, the vast majority of Scripture (about seventy-five percent) is in narrative form, enabling us to be deeply drawn into the various ways God has dealt with His people in the past. The thoughtful reading of Scripture should lead us into consideration of how its stories speak into our particular lives. Literary theorist Paul Ricoeur speaks of “transformation” as being a key effect of narrative. When we engage with a text, whether it’s Scripture such as Esther or a literary classic like The Great Gatsby, we are opening ourselves to the realities presented there, and ultimately, we are challenged to see how they may shape our ways of thinking, acting, and being in our own present reality. Where in our lives are we called to be as courageous as Esther was going before King Xerxes? In what sense are our dreams as empty and superficial as Jay Gatsby’s dream of achieving Daisy Buchanan’s approval and love through the pursuit of wealth and status?
Finally, narrating our own experiences helps us better understand their significance to us; just the act of selecting the right word to describe an emotion can be the catalyst for seeing more clearly how an event has impacted us. In fact, I believe that recounting our experiences is a means of spiritual growth. As we narrate the stories of our lives, we are remembering how God has been at work, authoring each particular moment to make us into the men and women He has designed us to be. We can be encouraged then to continue to trust God for all the future stories yet to unfold. Let us live thankfully and filled with wonder that we are caught up in the beautiful eternal Story beyond all stories authored by the Alpha and Omega, He who sees the End from the Beginning.