I’m delighted to welcome my colleague and friend Scott Stoner to the blog. He’s here to talk about the value of reading and writing stories. Scott’s new book, Your Living Compass: Living Well in Thought, Word, and Deed was just released this fall. Scott will be speaking and signing books at Boswell Book Company tomorrow night, December 4, 2014, at 7:00 PM. If you can come, you’re in for a treat!
Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach
Holocaust survivor and human rights activist Elie Wiesel included one of my favorite stories as a preface to his novel, The Gates of the Forest.
When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted.
Later, when his disciple, the celebrated Magid of Mezritch, had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer,” and again the miracle would be accomplished.
Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say: “I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.” It was sufficient and the miracle was accomplished.
Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: “I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient.” And it was sufficient.
We are indeed story loving people. Our identity is formed and shared in and through our own stories and those of others. Three times in the last few weeks I have met with friends I had not seen for quite a while. How did we choose to reconnect? We reconnected by sharing coffee and stories. We shared stories about what we’ve been up to since we talked last. We shared stories about what people we love have been up to as well. “Tell me one more story” is not just the request of a child who doesn’t want to go to sleep, it is the request we all make of one another when we get together.
If you need evidence of the power of stories in our lives, look to the important role that movies and and books play in our modern culture. They inspire us and get us talking with one another. They entertain us and distract us from the stresses of everyday life. They bring couples, families, and friends together to create a shared experience not just in viewing the movie or reading a book together, but also in discussing and replaying the experience hours and days later.
All families, cultures, and religions tell stories to both entertain, teach and to pass on essential truths. In our modern culture, movies and books are two primary forms of story telling. Like stories, movies and books come in every genre: comedy, historical, religious, drama, family, and mystery to name just a few. Some are simply for entertainment, while others embody and teach important values about character, relationships, and meaning. While each of these forms of telling a story involves many different creative talents, the whole process starts with the writer. Without a writer without a story to tell, without a script, there would be no movie or book.
While each of us has been formed by the stories of our families, culture, and faith, we have also each been given the freedom to be the authors or scriptwriters of our own lives. We get to write the stories that define our lives and our relationships. We get to decide if the relationships between the lead actor or actress, ourselves, and the other cast members will be marked by compassion or conflict. We get to decide what values and belief systems will influence the choices we make. We get to create the story line, as this is our life.
So how is the story of your life going these days? Are you excited or bored by it? Are you content or frustrated? Whatever you may be feeling, the good news is that the story of your life is not finished yet as it is still being written. Are you unhappy in an important relationship in your life? Are you unhappy in your work? Have you lost a sense of purpose or meaning in your life? If so, there is time to expand and rewrite your script rather than continue to write a story you are not happy with or that is not fulfilling. We cannot change what has already been written, but we are free to begin writing a new ending today.
Our freedom to write and rewrite the scripts and stories of our lives is one of the greatest gifts we have been given. This gift is at the heart of our Living Compass Wellness Initiative. Living Compass invites us to study the sacred texts of our lives. Then as we become better readers of the texts of our lives, we also become better writers of our new texts. And if there is one thing more satisfying than “tell me one more story,” it is “write me one more story.” In the end, it’s not that some of us are writers and some are not. We are all writers. It is simply a matter of how conscious and intentional we are willing to be in writing the stories of our lives. Sometimes all we can do is work to have a meaningful story to tell. And that will be sufficient.
About the Author. The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner, director of the Samaritan Family Wellness Foundation, is the founder of the Living Compass Wellness Initiative. As an Episcopal priest, pastoral counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist, spiritual director, and retreat leader for thirty-three years, he has led more than 45,000 hours of individual and family wellness conversations, plus hundreds of retreats. He lives in Shorewood, Wisconsin.