Uncle Abe has been dead for almost seven years. We still tell his stories.
There’s the one about the swather. Uncle Abe was a mechanic, and for a time he was the travelling “fix it” guy for the IHC dealership in Kindersley. This included delivering machines to new owners, and returning to the dealership with their trade- ins.
Keep in mind that Uncle Abe had only one eye that worked and drove far too fast.
“So I was headed south of Smiley taking this Versatile pull type swather back to Kindersley. It was one of those that didn’t really have a transport position, just stuck way out over the passenger side ditch. I was going about seventy (that would be mph) when I came over the hill and there’s the little Teo Lake bridge ahead. Stepped on the brake a little, swather tried to pass me on the right, so I did the only thing I could think of. I floored it!”
At this point, there’s a pause, for adoring nephews to be shocked, to oooh and aaah.
“Yeah, when they finally came with the flat deck to clean up the mess, there wasn’t a piece left of that swather that I couldn’t pick up and throw onto the truck myself!”
I grew up with a wealth of stories like that. They formed who I am, what I value, what impresses me. They connect me with a community that brings similar stories to family gatherings, to remind me, and occasionally, to surprise me with a new version. They are the stories that connect me to Truth.
And yet, they are mostly myth. They are mostly remembered and retold, like that first telling, as they should have happened. Stories of Uncle Abe, as ultimately all the stories that remind me of my roots, are pretty loosely remembered, loosely told and retold, and are adjusted in all the ways that the retellers feel necessary.
Growing up in such a story telling culture resulted in sharpened skills for interpreting story, for ferreting out Truth. Myths are hugely important tools to remind us of Truth, particularly historical and yes, spiritual truth.
I recall a conversation with a good friend in which he gleefully pointed out that on a mountain formerly known as Ararat in the Middle East, archeologists have discovered the remains of a large boat. My friend was elated that this would silence the doubters of the veracity of the Biblical story. Surely this was about faith!
It was about the opposite for me. The story of human search for authentic spirituality is simply too large to be contained in stories that can be “proven.” The Bible is true to the extent that it contains a story of that spiritual search, tries to develop language and imagery to express that search. Myth is a wonderful way to express the inexpressible, to “know” the unknowable, to find Truth among the very temporary life and times of mere mortals, who quickly make huge assumptions based on very limited lives and who then lock all of humankind and history into those limited assumptions.
All right, let’s go there. I’ll not argue with a seven day creation, or all the animals in that boat. I’ll not naysay the Red Sea crossing by Moses, Daniel stroking the fur of ravenous lions, virgin birth, angels singing to shepherds, the resurrection. Yet my passion for scriptural spirituality does not need fantastical happenings.
A wise friend once said, rather passionately, “Prayer is not magic!” I concur. Prayer is far too important, too powerful to count on unreal happenings. Prayer has the potential to point me inwards, in moments of both affirmation and challenge. It has the potential to point me outwards, to see both pain and blessing. It has the potential to transform. Magic happenings would be too easy, too cheap.
Expressions of Christianity, in fact expressions of all world religions, have been the cause of much grief. I suggest that all of that pain is directly connected to our determination that human spirituality is limited to a certain understanding (our own of course) of holy texts. As a result, that spirituality journey has become tightly grasped, prescribed, measured. In that narrow view, people come up short, suffer and even die.
A friend recently described himself as an agnostic. In the same conversation, and only minutes later, he told stories of lonely people who phoned him, people who obviously had a need to talk into a listening ear. My friend acknowledged that whenever his frenetic schedule allowed, he would give them that time and that compassion.
That struck me immediately as a holy story, and as a delightful paradox. As I processed that conversation later, it struck me that holding the Bible loosely, at arm’s length, allows much room for awe, much room for delightful visions of paradox and transformation, glimpses of God.
In a large extended family close to me, the patriarch had a faith that included a “jot and tittle” interpretation of the Bible, that salvation was inexorably tied to believing and accepting every word, in the same way that he himself did. This grew to be a huge and painful issue in the family as this patriarch approached the end of his life, and struggled in conversations with children whose spiritual walks differed. In fact, I have encountered a number of similarly struggling folks, dying in agony because their family remains “unsaved.” I feel anger toward a church that defines God so narrowly, so exclusively.
Let’s look together for a bigger God, bigger stories. Thank God for the Truth of myths, that allows us to approach that God and those stories with awe.