“The surest way to touch the human spirit—to find home, to find the place where we fit—is in and by and through the practice of telling and listening to stories.” (The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning; Kurtz & Ketcham)
Storytelling is powerful and transformative. I experience the power of storytelling first hand when I tell my own stories. Whenever I tell my story, I feel that I take one step forward to fully owning my story, and I always gain new insight about myself, God and others in a way that I don’t experience otherwise.
Storytelling is an art. When someone shares their story with a listening, thoughtful audience it can bring healing and inner breakthrough both to the storytellers and story-listeners. And, we create meaningful connections when different people and different stories come together in one space.
The Proskuneo community has explored this art of storytelling in different gatherings, but this time in a recent PAN (Proskuneo Arts Nights) gathering, we devoted an entire evening to engaging in storytelling and story-listening as an art form. We invited storytellers from diverse cultures and generations, all around the theme of new beginnings. Each storyteller had the freedom to share their unique way of storytelling with three diverse audiences. To help us better understand the art of storytelling, I want to share some of the reflections these storytellers shared with me.
Each storyteller had a unique preparation process. One wrote out her whole story in essay form and presented it with pictures that reflected the story. Another wrote a poem first which led her to share her story, connecting each line of the poem to a part of her story. Another felt the opportunity to tell her story was an invitation from God, and by faith, she stepped out and told her story without writing anything down. As she paid attention to each room full of people, she simply told about a “mile-marker” moment in her journey and then responded to the Spirit’s working in the interactions with story-listeners in the moment.
The storytellers expressed that it was difficult for them to choose which story to tell. One storyteller chose a story because in her own words, “I want to gain more knowledge of my identity and where I come from. Knowing where I come from and having a place to call home is important to me.” This storyteller had a challenging moment when preparing to tell her story because she felt “discouraged worrying that what I see as important, people might not see it.”
Another storyteller chose multiple stories of various new beginnings in the time span of a decade because there were so many transitions in his life in the past decade. Another simply told a story based on a significant moment of her journey at an event. Another told a story based on a poem she wrote which allowed her to share many moments in her life which were connected by a common thread. Her poem begins like this:
She said I was a teacher.
I said, but I’m not able to speak.
He said I was a musician.
I said, but I don’t play an instrument.
She said I was a mother to many.
I said, but I only have one child.
He said I had a pastor’s heart.
I said, but I am a woman.
And her poem ends by saying,
I said my life is almost over.
He said, oh no child we’ve only just begun.”
How beautiful are her words and her stories! Imagine how powerful it would be for you to listen to her story and experience the connection in the moment!
When asked how their act of storytelling affected them personally, one storyteller expressed,
“I am very thankful for the experience. Coming from a culture where we rarely present our feelings to others, having the space to share my story with others felt like I finally had a voice. Reading my essay, I felt like I was also speaking for those children’s lives that have been interrupted by the civil war, and those that are being separated from their homeland and having a difficult time knowing where they belong. What made the whole event pleasant was knowing that the audiences were willing to listen. I felt like they were very supportive. Learning that people were willing to hear my story, I felt that my story did matter.”
Another storyteller shared,
“One of the things God taught me was through one of the listeners in my group. He remembered me sharing my story at our church several years ago without as much detail. But because there was a specific direction of overcoming a lot of my own mountains within my story, he recognized that the day that I was sharing at church those years ago I would have been having to overcome each of them as well. But at that time I wasn’t as aware that I was fighting against them. It was kind of neat to view it through his eyes and through a rear view mirror to see how far I’ve come.”
Storytellers noted that because the audience was different each time, they told their stories differently, even evoking different emotions each time. One told her story in relationship to one member of the audience who shared a meaningful part of the story. It seems clear that interacting with different people when telling your story can open your eyes to see your story in a different light and can facilitate meaningful connections with others. Storytelling often brings people together as a community, as we collectively share a significant moment together and encourage and empower one another with our voices and our presence. I often experience healing and restoration of dignity and humanity by telling my own story.
Hopefully, you feel encouraged to tell your own stories and willing to learn how to better share your stories with others. Through these storytellers’ experiences and perspectives, I hope for you to see and recognize that it is God who is writing your story, and He meets with us and connects us in the midst of our stories. I want to leave you with a quote from a storyteller that rings in my ear and deeply resonates with me.
“Throughout the process of storytelling, the word ‘compassion’ came into my head a lot. Having compassion for one another despite not experiencing what each of us went through in life reminded me of what God’s love looked like. It was because Jesus cared for the sick, outcasts, and those who felt like they did not belong anywhere. Jesus made space for them. In Genesis, we read about a dysfunctional family like Abraham to Jacob but God was still willing to use this family to restore humanity. God did not walk away from us despite the mess we were in. Instead of judging one another, making space and listening to others would be something Jesus would do. Caring for others and believing that God would make something beautiful out of each one of us is something I am learning to do.”
[written by Joy Kim]