“Momma, will you read me a story?”
No matter how tired I was at the end of a day, I loved hearing those words from my toddler daughter. I never tired of reading her favorites—the princess fairy tales, The Paper Bag Princess, Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? andGoodnight, Moon. Sitting with her curled up in the curve of my arm, her thumb in her mouth and her Baboo in her arms, was one of my greatest joys of being a young mother.
When she started kindergarten, she loved her teacher, but she really didn’t want to learn to read at first. I gestured to all the books on her bookshelves and asked, “Don’t you want to be able to read all those books?”
She looked at me with sad eyes and pulled her Baboo to her chest. “But then you won’t read to me any more,” she said, her eyes brimming with tears.
“Oh, honey,” I said, hugging her to me. “I’ll always read to you, as long as you want me to,” I promised. “And you can read to me, too!”
She smiled, and within days she began to point out the words she knew as I was reading, and she began to “read” with me, at first by reciting the words to the stories she knew word for word. And eventually the stories became her own.
Stories are our shared heritage, our common ground. The stories that resonate with one person are not always the stories that speak to another. One need only pull up a bestseller list from 20 years ago to see that the narratives that have great entertainment value are not always the stories that we still tell and read over and over again. Time has a way of weeding out those stories that don’t help us learn how to be human in a world of other humans.
As an English teacher, I’ve been privileged to read again and again some of the greatest of those stories. I don’t love them all. Some speak to me more than others. But in all of them, I can see why the stories are enticing—the language full of poetry that touches our hearts with both loss and possibility.
And so it is on this eve of Easter that I think about the stories that distinguish my faith from other great faith traditions. Yes, to those who share my faith, they are the stories of a Savior—a fully human, fully divine being who has helped us glimpse the face of a sometimes unfathomable God. But if I try to stand outside my faith and look at Christ as those who don’t share my faith might see him, I still see stories worth hearing—stories of a man who challenges everyone he meets to think about our responsibility to love our fellow humans, to minister to those in need, to have compassion for the least among us.
This week I’ve been reading some lost texts that didn’t make the cut for inclusion in the Bible but which have been validated as well-known texts in the time they were written. I’ve found it interesting that none of these lost texts has a clear or powerful narrative from beginning to end, nor do they have the beauty of the language of the existing New Testament. And reading those lost texts has reminded me, yet again, of the power of a great story—one that is true to the nature of humanity.
I’m grateful for the difference compelling stories have made in my life, both in literature and in the holy texts of my faith. Every faith has such stories. And the stories don’t stop just because a group of committed people decide it’s time to collect them in a book. God didn’t stop speaking to people when the Bible or any other sacred book went to print. Stories of goodness and light happen every day, and they only stop when we stop telling them.
So will you tell me a story, too?