The Power of Personal Stories
By Albert S. Rossi, Ph.D.
Personal stories from childhood which pertain to the Church have unique power. Given the right opportunity, sharing these stories with others can be a gratifying experience for ourselves, and for others. Faith can be shared. Seeds can be planted. Lives can be touched. And, I dare say, God can be greatly glorified.
One parish I know had an interesting exercise in story telling/story sharing after Pre-Sanctified Liturgy.
Following a light meal in the Church hall, the priest led a group discussion by telling a personal story of his own. He opened up. He then invited others to follow with stories of their own. The group slowly opened up to share stories about themselves with the others. The common element in the stories was the presence of the Church in their lives.
The scene was simple and dignified. I have no doubt that something very important happened that evening. They did open and share their lives. They did express their faith. They did touch each other.
And, I am sure, they did magnify God.
IN THE HOME
Similar sharings can be organized or simply suggested on the spot, in one’s home. Once, following a Lay Ministries meeting in my living room, I asked the committee members to join me in a sharing of personal childhood stories about faith and Church.
As I recall, I led with a story about my grandfather and Church. The story was simple and direct. My grandfather tipped his hat as he passed any, and every Church. He said that he believed God didn’t discriminate and was, indeed present in every Church.
We discussed the impact of this story for a little while. Others then volunteered stories of their own. One woman cried as she spoke her story.
My life, our lives, were deeply moved by the sharing.
IN THE FAMILY
When my mother visited our home during my children’s early years; I had a regular request for her. I asked her to tell a bedtime story about her childhood, or my childhood, to my children.
My mother was flattered that I would ask her such a clear, deliverable request. She felt needed and included. She also understood almost instinctively that she had something very, very valuable to contribute to the lives of my children, a part of her very fiber, her very soul.
The story telling time proved to be a relaxed, easy, loving time for my mother and her grandchildren. Judging by the eyes and attention of the children, something almost magical was happening. The children were temporarily transported to the world of their Nanny’s youth.
In subsequent visits, the children themselves began to ask for Nanny’s stories. The children loved them. They felt close to their grandmother and to her treasures, told in the form of her stories.
As a parent, I have often put my children to sleep with stories from my childhood. Those moments were moments of special bonding. The children came to know their daddy as he was as a child.
After awhile, I ran dry of stories from my childhood. The children would beg for re-runs of the oft-told, well worn stories. Soon the children could tell the same stories with as much detail as I could.
SEASONS FOR STORY TELLING
Special seasons provide special opportunities for stories. Lent, Advent, vacations, Thanksgiving, Pascha, Christmas, and other feasts all provide a unique time to tell and re-tell stories about Church, childhood and God.
The task is to understand the power of story telling and to look for chances to share. These chances can be planned for family settings, in home meetings and parish affairs.
As with all efforts to seek God, we ask to be led by and be open to the promptings and leadings of the Holy Spirit. We ask for the right time and setting for a story telling scene, and for the right stories to share. Within the stories is a faith sharing. Inside of the heart of the very story is an impulse given and received from the very heart of God.
Story telling in this form is the passing along of oral history. This is the way God passed along his revelation of Himself to his chosen people, the nation Israel. God moves within the heart of the story teller, and the story receiver, to reveal His own heart. In a way, telling and hearing stories of our experience of Church is a way of entering into the very heartbeat of God. We might say we co-reveal God by participating in His revelation of Himself through our memory and our experience of Him.
A small group gathered for discussion is the easier place to share a personal story or memory. To engage in sharing with a larger group, e.g. the parish community as a whole, a few suggestions are made to the leader to help the participants over a shyness to speak.
1) Focus the thoughts of the group on a particular period of time to relate to e.g. a story or memory connected with
a season or holiday of the Church year.
at the time of a parish anniversary, a memory connected with parish life.
a memory connected with one of the Holy Sacraments, e.g. first confession remembered, a baptism remembered, a marriage celebration.
an event at school, at work, at home where being a Christian was particularly experienced.
2) Emphasize that the story can be a very simple one, such as the memory I related about my grandfather.
3) Allow some time for reflection before beginning, five or ten minutes, or announce the sharing event at an earlier time so that participants can be thinking about it.
4) Ask one or two people ahead of time to be prepared to lead off with their stories. Once a few stories are shared, it helps others to open up.
5) A short discussion can be held after each story, commenting on the impact of the story on the teller, and/or a few concluding remarks can summarize some of the meaningful points brought out in the stories.