First Impressions: Telling Our Stories Today for Tomorrow

by Ned A. Parker

Two years ago I had the opportunity to visit the Holy Land with my dad. He’s been there more than a dozen times (+/-). Until recently, he was leading storytelling pilgrimages at least once a year — sometimes more. At each holy site, he has a pilgrim tell the Biblical story of that site. For Christianity, this is the way our sacred stories were transmitted before they were finally written down.

Telling the stories gives them life in a way that reading the recorded Word does not.

They breathe again.

When we learn stories for telling, they occupy our hearts, minds, and souls in a different way than reading. When we can face our audience, we are able to interact with the power of the spoken Word. We begin to recognize that the stories are indicative of those things happening within and around us, which Paul describes in his Letter to the Church in Ephesus, as “bigger than we could possibly understand or imagine.”

In order to tell them, we must ingest them first. Through this process, I find, their ‘big-ness’ is made manifest and made holy (or set apart). At the same time, they become more fully our stories.

This week I am learning to navigate the halls of Andover Newton at Yale. I’m hearing a lot of stories. Sometimes the sheer number of stories and their magnitude are all-but overwhelming. And then I realize that they, too, are indicative of something happening here, which is far greater than I can “understand or imagine.” In those moments, I stop feeling overwhelmed. Instead, I recognize the generosity of story-sharing as part of sacred hospitality and spiritual service. It is an identity-marker of who we are.

Some of the stories I’m hearing are from members of Andover Newton; some are from folks at Yale Divinity School. Some stories are lovely memories; some stories are unfolding even now. Each of them is shared with joy. Sometimes I am surprised by stories that I hear about the rich historical ties between Andover Newton and Yale. Other times I am overwhelmed with emotion when I hear stories shared by students as they bring the Word during daily chapel services. I have already received calls from Andover Newton alumni/ae who are excited to share their own stories about our ongoing relationship with YDS as it develops.

Over the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to hearing more stories from those of you willing to share. I understand that some of the stories are difficult and some carry emotional weight. I believe it is in their telling we develop a truer and more sacred bond. Like the stories, this is a bond that breathes with the community that tells them. We tell our stories today to foster tomorrow’s community.

The same was true for our spiritual forbears.

Hearing them and hearing you, I am grateful.

May it continue to be so.

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