I love a good story. Biblical story, TV drama, novel — I love and appreciate the way stories have the power to help us learn things about ourselves and others. Stories help us identify our biases and grow in empathy for our fellow human beings. Stories have the power to convict and transform, inspire and empower us.
I guess that’s why I always feel a little intimidated when I am asked to tell my story. To be honest, it’s no epic drama. Written down in its entirety, I’m certain I wouldn’t have to worry about it becoming a New York Times bestseller or made-for-TV movie.
Yet our culture today, especially our social media culture, leads us to believe that this is the goal — our lives should be legendary! Every moment is a part of an ongoing narrative which, at the end of our lives, we hope will be a story that our loved ones continue to tell.
For those of us who strive to live our lives centered in the Biblical narrative, there is even more pressure to interpret our experiences as having some sort of sensical order and purpose. The faith stories that have shaped us have clear beginnings, middles and ends — usually with some sort of lesson or moral to offer.
Jesus’ story is pattered through his life, death, and resurrection. Biblical scholar Walter Bruggemann uses the categories of orientation, disorientation and reorientation to talk about the narrative arc of the Bible.
But for most of us, life is not nearly this structured. Life is messy, at times chaotic, the subplots don’t always sync up and some never find full resolution. Anyone who has ever looked into the behind-the-scenes work of reality TV production knows that a great deal of “real life” is left on the cutting room floor when it comes time for the final edit.
I suppose that’s why I tend to appreciate the theological reflections of poets like Mary Oliver and preachers like Barbara Brown Taylor, who have a knack for noticing the presence of the holy in the midst of the mundane.
They, and others who see the world like them, don’t try to reduce human beings to characters. If they observe a grasshopper’s movements or wash a dish, there is no need for that grasshopper or dirty dish to change the entire trajectory of their lives. These are simply moments, noticed and savored, allowing the observer to feel grounded in the presence of the Spirit in the midst of everyday (sometimes dull) life.
As we all try to draw lessons from 2020 that will move us into greater meaning and purpose in 2021, I take comfort in knowing that God is just as present in renowned moments of history as God is in taking out the trash, tying our shoes and checking the mail.
Our stories are made up of moments both breathtaking and boring. God invites us to live into and appreciate all these moments, where real life happens.
Rev. Kathy Wolf Reed serves as co-pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Auburn. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Journal for Preachers, The Christian Century, and Presbyterians Today.