Hearing the Story (2)

One of my earliest   memories is of “Listen with Mother,” a short radio programme broadcast in the   early afternoons during my childhood, in which soothing voices read stories   suitable for small children. “Are you   sitting comfortably?” the voice would ask, “Then I’ll begin…”

One of my earliest   creative experiences was “Listen with Mother,” a short radio programme   broadcast in the early afternoons during my childhood, during which a   soothing voice would read a story suitable for small children. “Are you sitting comfortably?” the voice   would ask, “Then I’ll begin…”

 

Interest in   stories. How they work. What they do. What we use them for. Who tells them and why.

 

These words,   repeated each day, signalled that the story was about to start. They were an invitation to pay   attention. They suggested how I might   do this - by sitting in a comfortable position.   And they gave me permission to slip into   an alternate reality. Like the sign on   a door which says “Please come in”, they invited me into a different mental space,   where, through my “mind’s eye” I could “see” things differently. Even now, they fill the child in me with   the thrill of anticipation. They say,   in effect: here and now, we are encouraging you to dream…

Stories as windows   into other worlds.

permission to   imagine an alternative to the world I am sitting in.

Permission to   listen, imagine, dream.

 
 

This formula   signalled the beginning of a process which was simple, personal and   profoundly creative. Whilst the story   was being told, it shaped my thoughts and governed my experience. I saw what the words described, and felt   what they conveyed. And even when it   was over, I still had access to those images and emotions because I could   remember them. I had internalized   them. They were inside me now. They   were mine.

Explore other   possibilities, inhabit different worlds, different points of view. What they look like, feel like.

 
 

Each story gave me   a mulch of impressions and ideas which not only entertained but also informed   me, indeed formed me. Each story   offered possibilities with which I could play,   characters I might meet, challenges I   might have to overcome and hints as to how I might overcome them.   The story took me away from the reality in   which I was living, but by enabling me to imagine alternatives, prepared me   for possible challenges ahead. By   paying attention to stories, I was able to rehearse for the parts I might   play in years to come.

   
 

Stories focus on   process, rather than product, for any story suggests or encapsulates a   sequence of events which generates layers of development and change. A skilled storyteller is able to suggest   these layers through description, dialogue, the interaction of character, but   the raw material of story – event, conflict, process, change – is present   even in the simplest narratives.   Stories focus our attention on the road rather than the   destination. By listening to, and   reading, stories, we learn how to face and engage with the unending stream of   change in which we are immersed, whether we like it or not, from birth till   death.

The best stories   tend to be honest about the challenges but also point us to the resources   available to help us meet them. They   show us what might lie ahead of us and if so, how we can meet it in faith,   hope and love.   Such stories are good   news because they encourage, equip and enable us to live more compassionately   and courageously. They rehearse us and   resource us for the part we may be called upon to play.

Unless we pay   attention - listen, reflect, respond - we will not get all that the story is   giving us. We will not receive the   gift.

Thus began a   journey which was simple, personal and profoundly creative. I had to sit still and pay attention, but   while my body was quiet, my mind was free to roam. Listening to the story, I entered the inner   world of my imagination; a different mental space, where, through my “mind’s   eye” I could “see” things that were not “there”.   These things were not “real” in the sense   that I could touch them, but in another sense they were very real indeed,   because, whilst the story was being told, it shaped my thoughts and governed   my experience. I saw what the words   described, and felt what they conveyed.  

   

Several different   things can be true at the same time.

I heard stories,   too, in the Sunday School run by the Presbyterian Church in Wembley. This was the church where my parents   married, where I, my brother and sister were baptised, and which we attended   regularly throughout my childhood.   Here, I was taught all the popular Biblical stories and the story of   Jesus, but though I listened dutifully, nothing in them connected with my   experience. The culture was alien, the   characters generally adult and male, and even though they were depicted as   fallible human beings, their problems were so different from mine, and a   victorious outcome never seemed to be in doubt.

 

stories Jesus   told, stories about Jesus (incidents in his life), the story of Jesus’ life,   death & resurrection (the big story).  

True of us,   too. All these sizes but can be a   consistency. The small story can sum   up the person. What’s your favourite   food?

   

Stories have   layers. The story behind the story.   (More to this than meets the eye, different points of view,   surface/depth) What we are told is not   necessarily the whole story. What’s
  the story? What lies behind what we   are being told?   Methodist Recorder   (What’s the story?)

The Times small   ads (16.9.57)

Parables – what’s   the story? Listen! Let anyone with   ears to hear, listen! More to this   than meets the eye.

Stories help us   understand and inhabit the different layers of truth in us, in other people,   in our world.

   

We need to pay   attention to stories, because they are telling us more than we think.

“Morning by   morning he wakens – wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was   not rebellious, I did not turn back.” (Isaiah 50.4b-5)

Stories told by   Jesus are designed to be   obscure, to make us search, to take a lot of unpacking. Not cheap and easy. Because it is the process of searching   which makes us grow. Parable about the   sower not only about the process of growth, but as we reflect on the story,   it comes true – We grow!

     

This process of   paying attention is the secret of the kingdom of God, like a key that unlocks   all the parables, all the stories Jesus told, and the truth about Jesus. Doesn’t want to make it easy for us. Accessible & available to everyone, but   not easy. No cheap grace. We have to want it, and although given   freely, show that we want it, show we are willing to give our all for   it. If we listen, reflect &   respond - God will show us what it means.   Reassurance vv.21-34. 

Then, one day,   when I was about seven years’ old, my father came home from a church jumble   sale carrying a dozen Famous Five   books by Enid Blyton. I picked up   “Five on a Treasure Island”, and I was hooked. Whatever her faults as a writer, Blyton   understands the romance of islands, castles, ruins, captives, smugglers,   travellers, secret passages and hidden treasure.   Her characters are ordinary children,   without any conspicuous talents or super powers.   And they inhabit a world in which adults   are generally absent, incompetent or even criminal. In other words, she understands the sense   of isolation and insecurity and powerlessness which can haunt the happiest   child.

 

Famous Five –   vivid scenes, taken into another world.   A world adjacent to this one, where we are at the centre of our own   story,

 

These stories gave   me images that intrigued me, situations I could recognise, characters I could   make into imaginary friends, challenges I could see myself meeting, engaging,   overcoming. But more important, she   gave me the sense that, as a child, I was not powerless, but a person of   unlimited potential.   With my own   hands, brain and courage, I too could follow the secret tunnel, solve the   mystery, free the captive and discover the hidden treasure.   With my loyal gang of friends, I could   stand up to the villains, foil their plot, bring them to justice and right   the wrong.

 

able to make   choices, make changes, take action to affect what happens to us, change it   for the better, save others, save what matters most to us. Narnia.   Harry Potter.

 

Like all Blyton’s   series, the Famous Five stories are   genre fiction, written to a formula.   But the formula works for a reason.   It encapsulates the process of creative renewal. It shows us the way of healing.

 

symbols   (treasure),

 

Pears Cyclopaedia:   Wrote stories from an early age. Won   prizes. “The Floating Bomb” (1969)   “The World of the Seventies” Other   competitions as a teenager.

 

Being   silenced. Seen and not heard. Growing up.   Stick to the facts. Prejudice   against writing, writing as a woman.   Seeking education in order to write.   Few published.

 

Journal. Delving into my own story. What stories told about your birth? The phantom face. Family archive. Mum’s interest in family history. Recovering the story. “Who do you think you are?” pilot.

 

Am I living at the   centre of my own story, or am I living out someone else’s story? Feeling powerless to determine my own   fate. Or expecting others to take   action to make my life better.   Inhabiting the centre of our story.   Becoming aware of what it is.   Looking back in order to understand the choices we have made and what   was influencing us at the time. Not selfishness or self-centredness, but living my story from the inside out.

Telling my story –   interest in reminiscence. Not wanting   the story to be lost. Passing it down   the generations.  

our own   stories. If we pay attention, listen,   reflect, respond, we will see more, learn, make the connections, grow. The threads will become woven together, and   our threads with the threads of others, day by day.

 

If we lose the   story, we lose something precious.   Connection between the different parts of ourselves, the   generations. If we discover more about   the story, we become more ourselves, more complete, even if the knowing is   painful. 

Everyone has a   story to tell. Your story is   important. Sharing our story. Speaking it out. Being affirmed. Feeling that we matter. Strengthens us. Builds our confidence.

The good news   comes to us in the form of a story that helps us imagine other possibilities   to the reality in which we are living.   It shows us that the world is not fixed; that life contains more   potential than we can otherwise see; that we can choose between various ways   of seeing, thinking, believing and acting; and that by making a creative   choice, we can change the way our life evolves.

     

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