Sunday, June 2, 2013

Real? True!

A "Walking Tree" in the Ecuadorian Rainforest

Last evening my wife and I turned off the TV, shut down the computer, and sat in the living room listening to a National Public Radio broadcast of people telling personal stories about their lives. It was wonderfully refreshing.

While it may seem quaint and somewhat old-fashioned to be sitting and listening to stories on the radio, last evening's experience vividly reminded me of how much we have lost the art of storytelling in our scientific and technological society. It also made me think about how most people today don't really understand what "storytelling" is all about.

Several years ago my wife and I took a trip into the heart of the Ecuadorian rainforest.  The place in which we stayed was extremely remote and far removed from any modern-day civilization,  and the experience of staying there has stuck with me all my life.

During our visit, we had several opportunities to be with the native "Achuar" people, who have lived in the rainforest for thousands of years. When evening came, we would join the people of the village gathered around a fire and be regaled with stories told by the tribal chief or the local shaman. What was so fascinating to me was the way in which the storyteller would always begin each story that was told:

I don't know if this story really happened this way, but I do know the story is true

He would then go on to talk about trees that walk and whisper words of wisdom, or he would tell a story about how the ancestors learned from a slipper snake, or he would tell a story about how an owl and the moon were involved in the creation of the earth - such beautifully poetic stories, so deeply moving. 

Sitting in the heart of a South American jungle, I finally came to truly understand something about the stories of the scriptures in all religious traditions - especially my own.  

Biblical stories are not meant to be scientific, accurate accounts of past historical events. Biblical (religious) stories are "stories, " rich in the language of metaphor and poetry.  I don't know that they really happened just as they are told, but I do know the stories are true. I hear or read the stories and they take me to a place of deeper, enduring truth. 

So when I hear a story in the scriptures,  I never ask "did this really happen?" but instead I wonder "what does it mean?" 

I read about how God brooded over the waters and created the world in seven days, or I hear the story about Elijah going up to heaven in a fiery chariot, or I hear about Jesus walking on water, or the story about the Buddha walking on water (there is such a story in case you are wondering), and I say to myself: 

I don't know if this story really happened this way, but I do know the story is true

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