Holy Practices 9 Story Telling
By Kaze Gadway
Clarissa Pinkola Estes “We do not become storytellers. We came as carriers of the stories we and our ancestors actually lived. Some of us are still catching up to what we are.”
The youth hate what they call “inquisition questions,” like “What grade are you in? What traditional ceremonies do you do? How do you live in two cultures? What do you want to do with your life?” Asking continuous questions seem to be the only form of conversation that Anglo adults can imagine with Native teens.
It puts the youth in the spotlight and demands that they justify their lives by giving answers that make them acceptable. Maybe this is true of all youth but Native youth generally just give the kind adult the “native blank stare” and refuse to respond. Perhaps the youth don’t assume that any adult has the right to know anything they want about the youth or his/her tradition. I don’t know many adults who like to share life details with people they do not know.
I remember when we started suggesting that adults talk about themselves first and then pick a topic and say “Tell me about it.” This puts it into story form and it is up to the youth to choose the assumptions that are respectful.
From the beginning of time and in every culture, storytelling has been the way to intrigue and pull in people to live within the story and not hear about it from a distance. I remember working with the Australian Aborigines in the 60’s and discovering that I could say anything as long as it was in story form. The story makes us equal participants.
So how is it a holy practice and a discipline?
“Tell me about it,” asks for visual and verbal details and even emotional overlays. Stories put us in the time and space of a significant event and help us to relive a place where the profound and awesome appeared.
Our best conversations are the ones in which we remember. It binds us together. It carries us deep into that which is important.
“What did your grandmother tell you about this?” is still the most fruitful question I can ask. Everyone can answer.
One Native woman told us this: “My grandmother told me that when children were taken away by force, there was much bitterness and crying. The way she described it I could feel the pain of the family. I became scared that it would happen again. I get scared every time the police come by our house. But then my grandmother told me how they listened to the wind, hearing their ancestors speak. Then they were able to hold their heads high. She gave me details on how they got through it. I will never forget her stories and how proud it makes me. I try to tell stories to my kids the same way.”
Stories connect us to the real, those events that define us, to the long line of ancestors who have shaped us. When we just relay facts there is no thread that connects us to our history. There is something central about knowing that this is our past, this is how we remember it, and this is how we are sustained in the future. Too often I have heard painful episodes that do not tie it into a journey.
Instead there are only isolated incidents that leave us bereft, like poison stones in our gut. How blessed are the Native people who know that the story includes who we have been, who we are and who we will continue to be. These stories heal.
Stories are about sharing not imposing. It takes effort to put them into a journey format. It takes decision to want to learn from it.
May we all practice being story tellers in our faith.