Storytelling is the only way to make sense of having your life turned upside down and inside out. Think about your “Mary at the tomb” moment or your “Paul getting flattened by the Holy Spirit” moment. How are you going to tell others about what happened? How are you going to tell yourself what happened? Storytelling is the only way.
Storytelling is often the only way to cause change. When you encounter seekers, they are looking for a change. You can tell them the rules they have follow to make a change. You can tell them the reasons they have to change. You can even tell them the benefits of change. Usually those are not enough. Did you know most people who survive a heart attack do not change their lifestyle and eating habits? People are very resistant to change. However, when you tell your story of change—your story of dying and rising—your chances of causing others to change rise dramatically.
Storytelling transforms dry, abstract doctrines into compelling dramas that engage both the teller and the listener. Every doctrine has a story underneath of it. You can try to teach by reciting the doctrines. You’ll actually teach if you tell stories.
Storytelling changes obligation into dedication. When I was a child, I was told I had to go to Sunday Mass or else I’d be committing a mortal sin. I was obligated to go. We even still call it the “Sunday obligation.” We can try to obligate people to live the disciplines of the faith, but we won’t have much luck. Why do you go to Mass? Why do you live the disciplines of the faith? Tell your own story, and you’ll have a much better shot at inspiring heartfelt dedication and commitment.
Stories help seekers imagine
Storytelling engages the imagination. Your job is to convince unbelievers or barely-believers that death has no power, that we have everlasting life, that no matter what our burdens, we can be joyful, that God heals all wounds and injuries, and that Christ brings a peace beyond anything we’ve ever known. That requires some powerful imagining. Story is the only way to get there.
Stories teach things we didn’t know we knew. Stories operate on both the level of the conscious and unconscious. If you’ve ever reread a favorite novel or rewatched a good movie, you discover “lessons” you hadn’t noticed the first time. Stories implant complex ideas in seemingly simple packages. We and the people we tell stories to will gain insights from the story long after its telling.
Stories last throughout the ages. We have, for example, been telling the story of the Prodigal Son for millennia. However, only those of us over 60 remember the Baltimore Catechism doctrinal formula that explains the sacrament of reconciliation. (The BC didn’t even call it “reconciliation”!) Doctrinal constructions have their place, but stories are what make the teaching stick.
Stories will guide the seekers when you’re not around. If your story is compelling enough, seekers will remember it when they are faced with an unknown future. You can’t always be there to guide them. But if you tell your story well, the seekers will always have access to your wisdom.
Stories transcend time
Stories move seekers out of chronological time and into sacred time. Good stories transcend time. Stories help seekers see how their past has led to their present reality. And stories provide a hopeful future.
Stories reveal God. God can only be known through symbolic behavior and communication. You can’t write a mathematical or chemical formula that equals “God.” Stories reach into the hearts of the seekers and uncover the Holy that already dwells there. Your dying and rising story rescues the seeker from the drudgery of the day-to-day and tells them, “You are a child of God.”
Stories lead to more stories. If you’ve tried to teach with the lecture-textbook method, you probably seldom notice any enthusiasm among the speakers for the next lecture. But if you tell stories, your listeners can’t get enough.
Stories are scary. Scary in a good way. Remember when you first fell in love? Scared silly, weren’t you? But what a great feeling. Somehow, not being in control, not being quite so protective of our emotions, liberated us to grow and love. When we tell our story, we have to give up control. We have to let God’s love guide the story and the response from the seekers. And the feeling we get when we do that is energizing, unifying, and thrilling.
What do you think?
Can you think of other reasons telling your dying and rising story is important? Please add your thoughts below.
See also these related articles:
- Discover a simple way to help the whole parish catechize the RCIA way
- How to use your parish as your RCIA textbook
- How to reduce hoop jumping in the RCIA
- Is your RCIA team cooperating with God’s grace?
- How to completely transform the way catechumens learn in the RCIA
“Story Corps” by TimothyJ | Flickr