We sat in a circle, about 10 of us. Even though a number of years had passed since a difficult period of conflict and separation from a former pastor, some congregation members were still feeling the residue of trauma, feelings of fear and anxiety. I had arrived as minister a few years later and it had become clear that the past was still in the way of our future. So we had brought in a pastoral care consultant and created a space for sharing and listening. As we went around the room and heard the old stories of deep conflict and hurt involving their former pastor, a story of injury kept coming through. After listening compassionately to everybody’s story, our consultant, Ben, said, “I hear the stories of the hurt and I wonder if there isn’t another story as well. I also hear a story of resilience. Even after going through all of that, you are still here, still together, still church.”
That’s when I sensed that we had begun to turn a corner: the story of injury, which tended to generate a lack of trust and more fear and anxiety and to define the injured members as passive victims, no longer held center stage alone. Another story, one of resilience, was spoken and heard. The new story encouraged a kind of confidence and redefined those who had experienced hurt as active resourced people, each and together able to meet whatever was to come. Once a more re-sourced story was also acknowledged as true, the church’s healing gained momentum. We were on our way to laying the burden down, to leaving its power in the past so we could move on with more freedom and lightness. Building on the power of compassionate listening, our seeing another story, a new frame of meaning, made the difference.
The choice of story matters for each story defines who we are (characters) and what is possible (plot). And, as my personal and professional experience (like the one just shared) attests, there is a choice because there are a number of ‘true’ stories that can be told and focused on in a given situation, even when the facts are known and clearly defined. There is something here about the stories we see or don’t see.
It’s an image of an old woman, right? She has her chin down a bit, tucked between two furry coated shoulders, and has a large nose and prominent chin. See her? No? Well, maybe you see a young woman looking away from the viewer, with her left ear, neck, and back of her left jaw line visible. Indeed, this familiar illustration is both old woman and young woman. It depends on what your brain does with the visual input. And what your brain does with the input is about interpretation that is affected by experience, expectation, mood, habit, etc. It is an active, even if often instantaneous, form of storytelling, a story we tell ourselves about what we see or don’t see, about what is true or not true.
This act of interpretation or storytelling might even be seen as an active verb form of faith, faith-ing, faith as the creative act of interpretation, imagination, and storytelling. In her book Centering in Pottery, Poetry and the Person, potter M. C. Richards notes, “We are not always able to feel the love we would like to feel. But we may behave imaginatively: envisioning and eventually creating what is not yet present. This is what I call Moral Imagination.” Richards is not using moral in the sense of rules and judgment, but in the sense of actively choosing and creating what serves Life. Theologian Gregory Baum suggests that “faith resides in the imagination.”
What stories do you see and not see? What stories do you focus on and tell? How is your ‘faith as imagination’? Does it help you see stories that heal, give hope, and empower? Will we re-tell our personal and Biblical stories of what is and what is possible with a compassionate and liberating faith-full imagination?