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How to renew a vocabulary of reverence
(part three)

04.22.04 | Comment?

| Part one | Part two | Part three | Part four |

(C) A chosen story of purpose. All stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Characters interact, and plots twist. A good story is entertaining to hear and easily remembered. Our sacred stories should be no different.

Whether we choose to narrate our lives through one or several stories is an open question I won’t try to answer here. (Nor the question of which story is best or worst.) Our communities of authority have given us several stories already, stories we are expected to live out—whether we choose the role of the hero or the villain. Other stories sieze us along the way, pulling us into their narrative worlds. But we must ask ourselves which stories we want to live out, which stories reflect our deepest values.

We should be suspicious of “private” stories. True, our own individual stories will each be unique, but it’s not a story unless it’s told. It is necessary to correct and supplement the stories we have given, and at times this must be a private process. But stories get better with each re-telling, as we prune this detail and graft in another.

A helpful story tells us not only what our role is but what plot twists to expect and how to deal with them. It’s not enough to say that we started here and we’re going there. A good story explains why we started where we started and why where we’re going to is a place worth going to. It tells us which plot twists are worth confronting and which are not. It tells us of our great failings and our great triumphs. It tells us why our practices are worthwhile. It tells us why our communities of authority are worth belong to.

Some secular folk may contend that they only have personal, historical stories, stories that others could either confirm or deny. Of course, we all have these stories. But those outside the Enlightenment tradition (and it is a tradition) can spot its stories a mile away. Can a tradition which speaks of a benighted, superstitious past and an enlightened, tolerant future, reached by the rational struggle for progress, honestly claim that it is not trying to tell a story of saints and sinners too?

Evaluative question: What in our stories rises to the level of myth? By “myth” here I mean that quality of a good story which tells, not only the story itself, but also tells us. Myth is a marker of a story that will uphold and sustain us for years. Stories that don’t rise to the level of myth probably aren’t worth being cornerstones of our “vocabularies of reverence.”

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