“Looking out upon her audience, Angharad saw the faces grim in the reflected fire glow; and they seemed to her in this moment not faces at all, but empty vessels into which she would pour the elixir of the song which was more than a song. They would hear and, God willing, the story would work in their hearts and minds to produce its rare healing fruit.” (Scarlet, The King Raven Trilogy, by Stephen R. Lawhead, 2007, p. 200)
We each have narratives that inform the decisions we make and how we feel about life. These stories are powerful. In fact, these stories have the power of life and death in our relationships with each other and with God. These stories are formed from our life experiences or from the tales told around the table. Marraige counselors know the power of our stories. In an effort to improve the attitude and feelings of well-being they will have a couple tell “the story” of how they met and how their courtship progressed. These stories elicit what may be remnant good-will in order to help them gain traction for making adjustments and grow in their relationship.
Advertisers & Story
Advertisers know that the stories we absorb are powerful. In fact advertisement is an effort at telling a story that moves us; that moves us to buy into their product or brand. The most masterful I saw recently was the one of a group of men fishing while the audio relives the fateful moment they learned they had won the Lott0 649. I hate it; but its good. In 30 seconds we get backstory and a present story. People who let this story shape their lives will buy lotto tickets in spite of their dismal chances.
Soul Training & Story
I have been thinking about story and its power to shape our souls while reading James Byron Smith’s book, The Good and Beautiful God. His approach to spiritual formation in Christ, is that we must adopt the stories or narratives of Jesus as part of our soul-training in God’s grace. These stories of Jesus will orient us toward the revealed character of God. Smith writes:
“We are shaped by our stories. In fact, our stories, once in place, determine much of our behavior without regard to their accuracy or helpfulness. Once these stories are stored in our minds, they stay there largely unchallenged until we die. And here is the main point: these narratives are running (and often ruining) our lives. That is why it is crucial to get the right narratives.
Once we “find” the narratives inside our minds, we can measure them against Jesus’ narratives. Because Jesus is the preexistent and eternal Son of God, no one knows God or the nature and meaning of life more than Jesus. Jesus’ narratives are the truth. He himself is the truth. So the key is adopting Jesus’ narratives.
Jesus revealed his Father to us. The New Testament reveals a God who is pulsing with goodness and power and love and beauty. To know the God of Jesus is to know the truth about how God really is.
In order to change we first have to change our minds. Jesus’ opening line to his first sermon was, “Repent, [metanoia], for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Metanoia refers to the changing of one’s mind. Jesus understood that transformation begins in the mind. The apostle Paul said the same thing when he proclaimed, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). (The Good and Beautiful God, 25-26)
Lent and The Good News
Lent is the seasonal Christian journey toward the Cross and the Empty tomb of Jesus Christ. It is our opportunity to reflect deeply on the meta-narrative of God’s love for people and His purposes revealed in Jesus Christ. Each week of Lent I am taking time to reflect at length on a narrative Jesus told to reveal the Kingdom of God and to bring healing to his listeners. I invite you to join me in this process and experience God’s grace in fresh and new ways. Choose a story from the Gospels for each week and bring it to mind throughout the day and on each evening. You may discover that you need to fast from other stories. It may be that you are entertaining your soul to death through the constant emersion of media stories and that you need to turn those off by fasting from TV or movies over the next few weeks. May the word of Jesus accomplish the Father’s will through the ministry of His Spirit in us.
Below is an excerpt from Stephen Lawhead’s book Scarlet that I believe captures the work of God’s grace through story and how we can cooperate with Jesus’ grace.
Here, Angharad stopped; she let the last notes of the harp fade into the night, then added, “But that is a tale for another time.” Setting aside the harp, she stood and spread her hands over the heads of her listeners. “Go now,” she said softly, as a mother speaking to a sleep-heavy child. “Say nothing, but go to your sleep and to your dreams. Let the song work its power within you, my children.”
Bran, no less than the others, felt as if his soul had been cast adrift–all around him, washed a vast and restless sea that he must navigate in a too-small boat with neither sail nor oars. For him, at least, the feeling was familiar. This was how he always felt after hearing one of Angharad’s tales. Nevertheless, he obeyed her instruction and did not speak to anyone, but went to his rest, where the song would continue speaking through the night and through the days to come. And although part of him wanted nothing more than to ride at once to Llanelli, storm the gaol, and rescue the captive by force, he had learned his lesson and resisted any such rash action. Instead, Bran bided his time and let the story do its work.
All through the winter and into the spring, the story sowed and tended its potent seeds; the meaning of the tale grew to fruition deep in Bran’s soul until, one morning in early summer, he awoke to the clear and certain knowledge of what the tale signified. More, he knew what he must do to rescue Will Scarlet.” (Scarlet, p. 309)
Jesus said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain–first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29 NIV