Communities as Storied Places

One of the things that has struck me continually since coming to the Monastery is the way in which narrative is so essential to our lives together. We all tell stories about ourselves to help us find meaning and significance, to find out who we are. The rich matrix of narrative allows us to find the multi-dimensional tapestry that unfolds within the confines of time and place, of necessity and contingency. Although our poverty means we are always limited in our knowledge and understanding, stories (if we let them do their work and tell them honestly) have a way of lifting our gaze out of and above the daily ooze of chronological time. In a sense, stories give us brief tastes of God’s time, Kairos time. This is especially true when we begin to allow the threads of a story larger than our own to weave their way into a tapestry we thought we had begun on our own.

We have spent a year together as a community dialoguing about how we engage and understand our foundational vision, and how we might bring it forward into God’s future. As we have done so, the reality of human beings and their communities as “storied creatures” became “enfleshed” for me. As we conversed with one another, our “storied” nature moved from a purely abstract thesis into a more tangible and embodied synthesis. This has opened up new windows into my often impoverished praying imagination, where I begin (if only in small glimpses) to realize the importance of the stories we tell about God, our communities, and ourselves.

Hearing the stories of my older Brothers has helped me better understand the distinctive charism of SSJE – a charism constantly molded and shaped by the workings of the Holy Spirit as we attempt to respond to the needs of the world around us. Despite many changes in the community’s life (some quite dramatic), the spirit of our call together emerges with a greater clarity when we share the stories of our collective and individual histories. In so doing, the unique threads of our individual lives begin to weave a compelling tapestry as we find our varied strands used by God to fashion a work of art and life larger than our individual lives could show forth. 

Yet this should not surprise us. Individuals and groups fed by scripture cannot help but notice the great spiritual significance of story. People of faith explain who they are and how God has acted in their lives through the multi-dimensional medium of story – and in so doing give a glimpse of the character of God to us as individuals and communities who learn and grow in God’s infinite love, seeing God anew, generation to generation. 

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