Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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Everyday Grace: the power of story
by Mary Cronk Farrell
(From the June 13, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)
A story is told of a woman in a Nazi workcamp who, day after day, kept hope alive in what seemed to be God-forsaken circumstances. Each day began cold and dark, and held little but hunger, sickness, exhaustion and death. For those who did survive, the cold and dark lifted ever so slightly each evening when they gathered round this woman in the barracks and she began to tell a story.
Sometimes an old story, sometimes a new one. One day she’d have them laughing; the next, crying. Her tales didn’t stop the bullets of the firing squad, or the beatings by the work supervisors. But somehow they had the power of a tiny flickering flame struck in blackness. The stories instilled courage to endure one more bruise, will to walk one more step, compassion to share one more bite, and faith to wake one more morning.
The Jewish people cherished storytelling as a way to keep faith long before the Holocaust. We Christians inherit that legacy. We believe God is actually present to us through story. At our Eucharistic celebration each week we listen to readings from the Hebrew Scriptures, the letters of Early Christians and the Gospels. The stories teach, encourage, challenge, comfort, remind, rebuke, inspire – their power seems endless.
Family stories have tremendous power as well. They help us understand who we are, give us a sense of belonging and help us imagine who we might become.
Such was a story told me by my friend Sharon. Born in a farmhouse in Pennsylvania, Sharon was so tiny her grandmother put her in a shoebox in the oven to keep her warm. Her parents practiced no religion, but her grandmother was a devout Russian Orthodox woman. When baby Sharon was no more than a few weeks old, her grandmother secretly spirited her out of the house, taking her to the local priest to be baptized. Through the ups and downs of life, this story has remained an anchor for Sharon.
We believe Scripture stories to be special – inspired by God. But telling family stories can also increase our faith, strengthen bonds, and deepen our vision. Just as the Hebrew Scriptures tell the story of a relationship between God and a people, we can tell the story of how God has been faithful to our family.
The Farrell version might go something like this.
Remember away back when, many years ago, when Brandon was about to be born? Mary and Mike had never been parents before. They felt scared. They wondered how this baby would change their life. But God was faithful and sent a sign. As soon as Brandon was born, he snuggled up on Mary’s chest as if he were right at home. She knew then, whatever might happen, she would love him though whatever came.
Remember when Mike was laid off from his job? It was about Christmas time and we were afraid. We didn’t think we could afford to have Christmas that year. Then friends showed up on our porch with a tree they’d bought for us. And we realized we didn’t need money to celebrate. God had sent us friends who loved us, and that was enough.
Remember when God called us to leave our home and move to a distant city? We left behind family, friends, our supportive prayer group, and a beautiful city that we loved. Remember how risky it felt, and yet how we trusted that God would be with us. Now look at how God has blessed us in our new home.
We can tell our stories in times of celebration, and in times of distress and fear. Remembering how God has been faithful to our family in the past can help us trust in the present. The same power that restored hope in the depths of a Nazi workcamp is available to us. Just a story away.
(Mary Cronk Farrell is a freelance and children’s writer living in Spokane with her husband and three children.)
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