Gnawing on Stories

About a year ago Gwyn went to the doctor for an annual check-up and received her two-year immunizations.  She screamed the entire visit.  Shortly afterward she began requesting the story—“Tell the story about going to the doctor”—three, four, even five times a day.  Almost twelve months later we still tell the story with countless variations; we play doctor and “tickle doctor” and acupuncturist and midwife.  Every piece of tape is a band-aid.  Anything with earplugs is a stethoscope.  Gwyn still gnaws on the doctor story fiercely, like a bone.

We have many theories about why.  Perhaps the shots were traumatic, and she’s trying to understand why her loving moms would let someone inflict her with pain.  Emily took her to that two-year appointment after a long recovery from cancer; perhaps the visit was a turning point in their relationship, when Gwyn realized Emily would reliably care for her.  Perhaps the office brought back hard memories of Emily’s surgery.  Gwyn’s fascinated with a photo we have of a midwife listening through a stethoscope to her birth mom’s belly; perhaps her obsession with doctors has something to do with her birth or adoption or the mystery of where babies come from.

Regardless, the more we tell the doctor story the more I appreciate how it contains an entire cosmology and, yes, it’s worth chewing on.  It includes a journey into the unknown, human suffering, faithfulness, love, healing, and mystery.  It contains fundamental paradoxes that are not easily resolved:  Why would a loving, cuddling mother let this nurse poke me?  If the doctor helps sick people, why do we go there when we’re healthy, get a shot, and then feel miserable?  What kind of world is this, anyway?  Reliving a story is a child’s best way to unpack such huge conundrums.

Adults do much the same thing, traveling through Jesus’ life repeatedly as we traverse the liturgical year.  His is a good story, worth gnawing on.  How can God enter the world through a poor baby?  Why did Jesus choose to live the life he did?  What kind of world permits crucifixion?  Contained in this story are all the mysteries of creation.  Just when I begin to get tired of it (not again!) it opens to me in a new way, revealing something true about myself or others or God.  Many stories do this, even doctor stories.  Whether I like it or not, the Christian story is my bone to chew, and it’s a good one.
–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

2 Comments

  1. Your post was deeply profound to me. I often think about religion as one of the few places we can read ancient texts with an immediacy you find no where else. We not only read about the lives of the ancients, of Spirit, of life, death, forgiveness, resurrection, religious conflict, God, political oppression, etc. etc., we read it like it was yesterday–and like it provides the labyrinth toward our future. Chewing on the stories is what we do. Even if we just let them flow over us, they get into our own bones and become what moves us, what structures our lives. And then we sing.

    Reply
    • Indeed! Stories do structure our lives; we only realize it rarely. Thanks for writing, Ann.

      Reply

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