Remembering your story is an important spiritual task of aging; one that has its roots in the oral history tradition of the people of Israel.
Church at Home for the last two weeks of January focuses on remembering God in our stories. We begin every Church at Home with a prelude, to center our hearts and minds. I play that on my violin, and will often bring the words with me so that congregants may reflect on and pray the words as I play.
Prelude: Though I May Speak With Bravest Fire
Hymn of Praise: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Prayers of The People
Pastoral Prayer and Lord’s Prayer
Hymn of Faith: How Firm A Foundation
Scripture: Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Sermon: Finding God in Our Stories
Hymn to Prepare our Hearts for Communion: There Is A Fountain
Closing Hymn: We Are Travelers on A Journey
Read Deuteronomy 26:1-11
On the last day of my Writing as a Spiritual Discipline class, Dr. Younger and Carol had us over for breakfast and a last writing exercise. After breakfast, Dr. Y. gathered us together and read for us from Deuteronomy 26. When he finished reading, he told us we would have about 5 minutes to write our life stories in as much detail as possible, without mention of God, or faith or Jesus. Pretty much just facts.
Mine was something like this:
“I’m Sara. I’m pretty much awesome because I rock at the piano and I also play the violin and am fluent in 3 languages. My parents are so lucky to have gotten me when they did. I mean, what did they even do all day before I came into their lives? Sit around and stare at the wall?! Lucky for them, I came to bring life to their meager existence. I majored in Social Work in college and now I am in seminary and I’m quite the preacher.”
The stories went on like that, each with its own humorous, biting edge.
But, then, Dr. Y. read the passage again. Again, we were given about five minutes to write our stories in as much detail as possible – this time, acknowledging the divine in our stories.
“ I’m Sara. I was adopted at 2 months into the most amazing family. I grew up having family conferences and Bible studies, and while “normal” kids were playing with dolls and action figures, I was playing with saltines and grape juice, a makeshift cardboard box pulpit, and a congregation of stuffed animals and my dog. Amazingly, through God’s mercy, I survived a rollover accident when I was 20, and so I recognize every day I have on this earth as a gift. I came to seminary reluctantly, not on full speaking terms with God; but we have since reconciled and I discovered I really love to preach. I think I have a gift there, and I’m excited to see where God takes it. “
Do you notice a difference?
Acknowledging God in our stories is a powerful thing. It can encourage us when we are down – giving us that extra push we need to carry on, letting us know that God is with us, and in fact, has always been with us.
When I was a chaplain resident at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, my supervisor had all of us (8 residents) over to her home in Conyers for a quiet day. We had breakfast and some fellowship, but after that, we were given instructions for the day:
“ You are on silent retreat from now until 3PM. You may sit anywhere in the house, there is a bed you can sleep on upstairs. You may wonder the grounds, sit by the pond, sleep, meditate, read, journal, do yoga. Your assignment for the day is to rest. To be. And to listen. Listen for what God wants to say to you today.”
When she first announced in our peer group meeting that we would be doing this, some of us laughed with relief, others sighed, some cried – after several months of brutal on call shifts, every one of us needed this opportunity to recharge.
That day, I had a conversation with a tree – a tree that shared with me what God had been trying to teach me all year – to trust. Just trust.
As I reclined on the wooden swing to relax, I closed my eyes to sleep but as the warm sun bathed my face, I opened them again to see a cloudless heavenly blue sky – a striking backdrop to the bare branches gently cradling delicate white blooms above me.
“Your beauty refreshes me,” I said to the tree, “for this has really been the winter of my discontent. When every call shift threatened to outdo the one before it, and the paperwork and assignments molehill-ed into a mountain, the promise of spring seemed so far off. How do you do it?” I asked the tree.
“How do you stand there so tall, still and strong, after the wintry ice – how do you hold out for the spring that’s to come?”
She was silent for a while as I drank in her beauty, and then… ” you know Deuteronomy 26?” She asked.
“My father was a wandering Aramean,” I replied, “I always thought that passage was about giving to God, but I heard someone once make it more about acknowledging God in our stories.”
“It’s both,” said the tree. ” I survive the winters by remembering the stories of my past – even the painful ones, and remembering that I’m “rooted” – haha, in the love of a creator who made me, who holds me, and who makes me a vessel to hold others.
There’s a reason the ark, the cross and that swing you’re laying on were made of trees.”
“Oh,” I said. “That’s beautiful.”
She went on. “I survive because I trust. I trust my roots to hold me in place and I trust that God’s timing to bring me into bloom is perfect. In the meantime, I stand here, solid like an oak and when God says I’m ready, I turn my blooms into tiny hymns of lament and praise always trusting, again and again.
That’s the secret to good life, my friend,” she concluded. “Ground yourself in God’s love, trust, bloom, lament and praise – always remembering God in your story.”
I thanked her and lay back down, and this time I went to sleep, anchored in trust and shrouded in peace; blanketed by a canopy of beautiful, delicate white blooms.
When we remember God in our stories, both the good parts and the not-so-good parts, we recognize that God has been with us all along, and will be with us until the end of time. It’s comforting and also a deeply meaningful way to revisit our lives, to make sense of the things that we’ve been through; through the lens of God at work in and through us.
We do this as a congregation, also. When we share in communion as a gathered group of believers, we relive the story of God’s love for God’s people, we revisit themes of redemption weaving through the beloved old testament narratives like a crimson thread that leads us all the way to the cross, and then, rejoicing, to the empty tomb.
These stories of our faith shape the stories of our lives – each one different. As we share in communion, our individual stories become woven together in love that binds and washed in blood that purifies again, and again and again.
Thanks be to God, for this, our story.