I recently returned a book to the library and felt as if I was saying farewell to a dear old friend. Before dropping the book in the return slot, I held it for a moment, not wanting to let it go. I savored the power of a good story, a story that was thrilling and imaginative as well as challenging and profound. I had entered into a story and it had touched my soul. After reading it, something in me had changed.
Each semester, I teach a class on transformational education where we discuss the power of story. As you can probably tell from previous blog posts, I am currently researching the importance of stories in identity formation as preparation for class this fall. Reflecting on this library book farewell, I wondered what is it about a good story that has power to capture not only the imagination but also the heart. How does a simple story change someone? Robert Coles, a well-known child psychiatrist and professor emeritus at Harvard University, suggests:
“Novels and stories are renderings of life; they can not only keep us company, but admonish us, point us in new directions, or give us the courage to stay a given course. They can offer us kinsmen, kinswomen, comrades, advisers – offer us other eyes through which we might see, other ears with which we might make soundings.”¹
Good stories speak a universal tongue and can transcend boundaries of culture, religion, language, and time. They have an influential power to shape us and our thinking, teach us new ideas or challenge old beliefs. Stories teach in an indirect way. Instead of telling us what we should do or providing us explicit directions in how to accomplish it, stories engage our heart and imagination, providing examples of who or how to be. Horst Kornberger in his book The Power of Stories, states:
“To the soul, the right story is like the light as it appears to someone walking in a dark tunnel. It engenders hope and shows a way forward.”²
We see an example of how stories can enlighten us in the biblical account of Nathan’s confrontation with King David in 2 Samuel 12. David lusted after Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, and slept with her, resulting in a pregnancy. To cover up the affair and hide his wrongdoing, David then instigated various plans that finally ended in the murder of Uriah. As 2 Samuel 11:27 points out, God was not pleased with David and his actions. The prophet Nathan, a trusted advisor of King David, rebuked him using a simple story of a rich man who has much wealth, cattle, and flocks of sheep. Rather than using his own, this rich man takes a poor man’s one beloved lamb, slaughtering it as a meal for guests. Through this simple story, a light began to illuminate the dark tunnel of envy, selfishness, lust, and murder that had encapsulated David’s soul. Not only was David convicted of his own sinfulness, but as Psalm 51 demonstrates, he embraced a hopeful way forward.
This is transformation and stories have the power to transform.
The questions I am asking myself is what stories am I engaging in? How am I being transformed by the power of The Story?
¹ Robert Coles, The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1989), 159-160.
² Horst Korberger, The Power of Stories: Nurturing Children’s Imagination and Consciousness (Edinburgh, Scotland: Floris Books, 2008), 74.
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