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Crossing Time and Space Through Story

Storytelling allows me to moves across time and space. The grand story provides a foundation for movement across all stories. When I move through stories, I am entering the world of other people. I am entering their time (memories and vision) and their space (body and place).

I can move through stories (worlds) on multiple pivots points. Think of the elements of story: setting, dialogue, character, plot, symbols, mood, and pace. I can connect stories at one or multiple points. So I might move back through in the characters of stories. Take the king or ruler. I can read and experience the many variations of rulers across time through stories written in and about differing time periods.

The rulers make differing decisions, the rulers may be good or evil, the rulers may be young or old. In spite of their differences, they play the same characters. They are rulers because they rule. So I watch and experience their rule in different settings, times, and world. As I watch and listen and experience their worlds, I might see glimpses of my own world. I might gain insight into the rulers of my world or my own ruling decisions.

I can start with setting working our from my home to a variety of domestic dwellings revealed in stories from mud huts to castles. Each setting creates a place where relationships happen. So each setting speaks something of how place influences relationship and how relationships define space.

I might look at symbolic colors of red or white or black. Or I might consider the changing pace in stories from my world to ancient worlds. I might see how the same plot is replayed and repeated in different ages.

Each element of a story can be thought of like a jazz standard. Just as Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock might play the same song or standard, they’ll interpret it in light of their own world. Their perspective will highlight unique nuances of the song and capture different experiences based on the time and place of the recording. Thus stories and story elements might be like jazz standards that are reworked in various ways across time and space. If I choose to explore these shifting expressions, I will take an element and watch how it is reworked in various times and places.

So I might learn to listen to other stories. First, I might learn to listen to the stories of the people around me, paying attention to all the elements. Then I might also pay attention or listen to the stories of my culture, other cultures and other times. Each of these elements and stories will shine new light into my own story.

Then I might work through these many stories to the grand story. The Christian story provides a fundamental influence on people born in the Western world. Even though many people see this narrative as a shackle from which they desire to be free, they still require a story to make sense of the world. The West has been so deeply shaped by this story, it is difficult to shake free from it.

They may curse the story but even their curses comes from the power of this narrative which affirms the individual human as distinct (with the ability to curse and bless). As opposed to narratives which deny our individuality and see that individuality as an illusion. In those worldviews, the curse that I utter is still an illusion of my own independence.

So for my reflections, I’ll try to consciously think and talk about how the Christian story provides a narrative that connects all stories. Back to my example of stories about rulers: I can work through all the various stories on leaders and kings and managers and people who rule. Then I can encounter the Biblical narrative.

In this narrative, Jesus is presented is the “ideal ruler” against the backdrop of other rulers such as Herod and Caesar. The sharp contrast of Jesus with other kings in his story and the stories throughout Scripture raises challenging questions about what it means to rule and how a ruler behaves.

I picked an obvious archetype of ruler. But how do I deal with lawyer or plumber or other character? What about mom or sister or friend? If I move beyond characters can I root setting or symbol or dialogue in a grand story? The particularities can be challenging and may not be as obvious as ruler.

But if G.K. Chesterton is correct and Jesus is the story in which all stories intersect, then I can work through each particular story element and find the roots in His story. This may require a deeper understanding of how I encounter Jesus in the story of Scripture. I think most people start with the gospels and try to think of the events of his life.

But actually the Emmaus road story (Luke 24:13-35) indicates that all of Scripture is witnessing to the story of Jesus. So I need eyes to learn how to read this grand narrative and begin to hear and see how His story is unfolded in the midst of stories about Abraham, Moses, David and so on. This is not something I do overnight, but rather I gradually work through this grand narrative, learning slowly and by God’s grace how to see the points of intersection and how to see the light of grace shining deep into the recess of my own story that is filled with pain, struggle, darkness and loss.

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