A child once asked a storyteller,”Every time you tell us a story, you have to put it inside your own head first, don’t you?”Wise words.There are no shortcuts in educating children in matters of faith, in sharing stories with them. First and foremost, the storyteller needs to experience the story, to exercise and nurture her or his own imaginative spirit.
But how do we do this? How do we experience a story through our own imagination so that we can in turn offer the gift of the story to young people? The following process of hearing, wondering, and imag- ining can help to move the story out of literalism, factuality, certainty, and fixed answers and into the realm of the imagination.
Read the text (the “black fire”).
Let go of any preconceived ideas or notions about the text. Try to hear it as if for the first time.
Look for as much context as possible: geographical setting, characters, symbols/objects that are keys to the story (for example, the stone at the tomb, the water jars at the wedding, the loaves and fish in the story of a multitude fed). Look for who is at the centre of the story, keeping in mind that the centre will shift as the story progresses.This is the “known” part of the story and it prepares us to imagine the “unknown.”
Move about in the gaps, the spaces between the words, in the silences, and bring questions and wonderings to the text, such as:
What’s going on in the world of the story? What anxieties seem present in the story?
What’s going on in the world of the storyteller or writer?
What anxieties seem present in this world?
What special knowledge does this text require (back-story, words, phrases, proper names, theology) in order to enter the story?
What is missing from the story? What has the storyteller or writer not included?Why might the storyteller or writer be silent on these matters?
What details are missing?
Who gets to speak? Who does not? Why?
What are the characters thinking? What are they feeling?
What hovers and lives beneath, around, and behind the words on the page, waiting to be discovered, waiting to break free, waiting to be liberated?
What questions arise when considering “the other” – people of differing backgrounds, cultures, socio-economic statuses, abilities, ages, stages, orientations?
Consider what’s going on in the lives of children who will interact with this text.
Imagine what might emerge in their lives through interaction with it.
How will the story be told so young people enter into it and engage all their senses as they also imagine it?
Jesus offers us a pattern for nurturing the inquiring, imaginative spirit in the story of his encounter with a lawyer who asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What do you think?” Jesus asks.
The lawyer offers a response. “Good answer,” replies Jesus, which prompts yet another question from the lawyer:”Who is my neighbour?” Jesus tells a story, a story that sparks imagination and takes those present (and those of us reading today) deeper. The lawyer might have entered that story as any one of the characters – priest, Levite, injured one, inn- keeper, Samaritan, even the one at home who is waiting for the traveller to return. I imagine that the story continued to unfold for the lawyer as more questions bubbled up and led to something deeper. But for now, Jesus asks, “Who do you think is the neighbour?”
Jesus facilitates a discovery that goes beyond the set lines or boundar- ies, and with a simple commission says, “Go and do the same.” We can only imagine where the lawyer went from there, and we can only imag- ine to what extent he embraced “the other” as neighbour. He leaves the story, and we enter it.
Two more parts to follow (Monday, March 28th & Monday, April 4th)
Susan Burt is Managing Editor of Seasons of the Spirit, an international, ecumenical, and lectionary-based Christian education and worship resource. She has served as the Australian editor of The Whole People of God and has worked in children’s ministry for the Uniting Church in Australia. Susan lives in Adelaide, South Australia, where she is a member of the Christ Church Uniting Church, a theologically progressive community that seeks to celebrate the best of the old with the possibility of the new.
At Wood Lake Publishing we are passionate about supporting and encouraging an emerging form of Christianity, which is rooted in ancient wisdom and attentive to the movement of spirit in our day. Visit us online at woodlakebooks.com