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Stories as holy documents

For the past several years many of us in the diocese have been regularly engaged in the practice of “Dwelling in the Word,” which involves listening to stories from scripture and then reflecting on what that passage is saying to an individual and his or her partner. Some congregations do this at vestry meetings, others have done it as part of the sermon; in the diocese we dwell in the word at the beginning of every Staff, Standing Committee and Diocesan Council meeting. At last year’s Diocesan Convention the deputies engaged in dwelling in the word – and we will do so again at two different times (with two different passages) at this year’s Diocesan Convention, January 26-27. Our diocesan website has some basic instructions for how to most effectively engage in this practice.

What I keep hearing from others – and certainly experience myself, is that the dwelling exercise invites creativity, fosters imagination, deepens listening skills and, as we read the same story several times (I have read Luke 10:1-12 over one hundred times in the last few years), new insights continue to emerge. Instead of it all getting old – it always – yes always, feels fresh and new. And transforming.

As we continue this journey of Joining God in Shaping our Future, we are learning that the discipline of listening to biblical stories has been a catalyst for paying attention to our own personal stories – stories of insight and creativity; stories of transformation.

I have started to listen more intently to my own stories – particularly moments or memories that continue to shape who I am today. While many of these stories had largely been forgotten or thought to have had little consequence – and at least initially didn’t seem to have much to do with my life of faith, by digging them up and reflecting on the same personal story (much like dwelling in the word) I am beginning to realize how important these stories have been and continue to be. And as I begin to tell these stories, I become more aware of how much the divine breath of the Holy Spirit has been involved in the stories and in my life.

At our upcoming Diocesan Convention, we are going to provide space for deputies share their stories. Indeed, the theme of Convention is “Stories from the Journey.” We will have two Masters of Ceremony who will offer guidance and support throughout our time together, and some intrepid people have offered to model this process by telling their own stories.

As we continue on this journey, I am discovering – in myself and others, that Episcopalians aren’t naturally inclined to tell stories, at least not about our faith. Episcopalians will talk about their affiliation – “I belong to this church and I serve on the vestry, altar guild, teach Sunday School, etc.”; or occasionally impart some theology (which tends to be rather abstract), but are reluctant to share how their lives have been changed.

In recent years our culture seems to have developed a passion for stories. NPR has The Moth Radio Hour – which broadcasts the winners of story competitions; there is Story Corps (also on NPR);  TED Talks invariably involve the telling of stories; actor John Lithgow has a Broadway play in previews, “Stories by Heart,” where he will share stories of his own life.

Our stories are holy documents that have been printed on our souls. We need pay attention to the stories, reflect on how the Holy Spirit may have been involved – and then pass the stories on to others. It is an essential part of joining God in doing God’s work.

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