Story: Language of the Soul

by Hugh Farquhar

The Psalm Reading in the Revised Common Lectionary this coming Sunday is Psalm 78:1-7.

I always consider myself fortunate to have grown up in a home where stories abounded. I think my mother read stories to me when I was still in the womb. I continued the practice, reading to my children until they came of age and could read to me. Now, my happy place is sharing stories with my granddaughter, snuggled up with me under a blanket in my easy chair.

Stories have power, and Biblical stories especially so. Story is the language of the soul, and stories lead us profoundly into ourselves, feed our inner hunger, spark our imagination, and shape our values.

Jan Richardson writes, “There is something in us that hungers for a story, an empty space that is shaped precisely to its contours. We reach for the threads that a story offers, we enter the rooms it opens to us, we inhabit the skin of another and somehow, in the hands of a good story, we are returned to ourselves. And we are perhaps holding the threads of our own stories a bit differently, or entering a new space within ourselves, or finding ourselves able to inhabit our own skin more completely.”

Psalm 78 speaks about the spiritual heritage of the Hebrew people and about their commitment to pass it on from generation to generation through stories.

Note the first four verses written by one who was speaking on behalf of the faith community, “I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old.” “Dark sayings” as a translation of the Hebrew is misleading. It sounds like they are passing on negative thoughts and ominous tales. This verse is a parallelism, commonly found in the Psalms. The second line echoes the first . . . it means the same thing. The Hebrew word is חִידָה (chidah) which means “a story that needs to be explained, a riddle, or another word for parable.”

“Things that our ancestors have told us . . . we will tell to the coming generation -all the wonders that God has done.” Then, the author proceeds to recite the nation’s stories from their liberation from Egypt to the elevation of King David.

We will tell the coming generation! They wanted their children to grow up with a sense of their spiritual roots, so they passed on stories about their ancestors and how God was their Rock, even in the wilderness. They wanted their children to grow up with a moral compass, so they told them stories about how Moses received the ten commandments, about what it meant to live a good life.

How does this Psalm speak to us today? If our children are to have a healthy sense  who they are, of what life is about, and of how best to live it, it will not be because we taught them doctrines, creeds, and Bible verses, useful as they may be in the practice of religion. It will be because of the seeds sown by the stories told in families, mosques, synagogues, and churches. where they feel loved and included.

Picture: Regular bedtime reading ritual with my granddaughter, Evah.

Hugh Farquhar is Minister Emeritus at St. Paul’s United Church, Riverview, NB. For the past twenty-eight years he has been a Sessional Instructor in Biblical Studies at Atlantic School of Theology, Halifax, NS.

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