First, thank you for your beautiful words. Thank you for your story which has spoken to my heart and continues to speak, long after I have turn away from the computer.
I woke this morning in the wee small hours. Around 3:30 or so. Not unusual for me. I went to the bathroom, got a drink, went back to bed, expecting to fall back into much-needed sleep. But that didn’t happen. Instead as I lay there in the dark, your words came to me and I began to frame a response.
Are we supposed to think in narrative? I don’t think so. I think we’re supposed to think—or not think—in prayer.
Now these words struck me—very much so—at the time I read them. But I hadn’t really thought of them since. So it was strange to find them there in the dark and my mind narrating a reply without my conscious will. And so here, I’ll try as best I can to reconstruct that middle of the night journey in my head which was, strange to say, both narrative, framed as a letter to you from the very beginning of that first half-awake, half-dreaming thought, both narrative and profound prayer.
You see, respectfully, lovingly, I disagree that we’re not supposed to think in narrative. Or that there is a difference even between narrative and prayer.
Oh I take your point and I think it’s a good and necessary one. Praise and thanksgiving, petition and intercession and the docility of spirit which allows the Spirit to speak in us with groanings too deep for words: these are the deepest language of our soul. Prayer is what we were made for.
But I also think that we were made to think in narrative. That is precisely how I think we were meant to think because that is the way God most often speaks to us, has spoken to us.
It starts with In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth and it ends with the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Or it starts with In the beginning was the Word. And the Word who was with God and who was God became flesh and dwelt among us. And the Word made flesh entered into the midst of a narrative, the story of God the Bridegroom wooing his wayward Bride, Israel. He entered into the story of a young woman named Mary and a man named Joseph. And during the years he walked among us, he taught us in the form of stories. He knew that if we are to truly learn to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” we must not only learn the commandment but also understand the story. “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho,” shows us what that means in a way so rich we are still plumbing the depths of that narrative.
Nor do I think prayer and narrative can be so easily distinguished one from the other. I began today as I do most days by saying Psalm 95. (I mean the deliberate beginning when I finally acknowledged the morning and that I wasn’t going back to sleep.)
Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the desert.
There your ancestors tested me; they tried me though they had seen my works.
Forty years I loathed that generation; I said: “This people’s heart goes astray; they do not know my ways.”
Therefore I swore in my anger: “They shall never enter my rest.”
Narrative. The most basic prayer of the Church. Most of the psalms do have narrative as part of their poetry: the love story of God and his people. The story of a soul’s relationship with her God. Can we really untwine narrative from prayer? Should we even try?
It seems to me the goal rather, should be not to leave narrative behind but to infuse the narrative of our daily lives with a spirit pf prayer.
I know I am wrenching your words out of context and that the conclusion you come to is basically the same as what I am saying here. And that we really don’t disagree. After all, I have glimpsed the lovely way you teach your children the narratives of their faith, the love of the Good Shepherd. This then is really a letter to myself prompted by those words but moving away from your story and into one of my own. These are truths I needed to relearn and relive. But this narrative I received—almost as if by dictation—in the lonely darkness of a sleepless bed came in the form of a letter and so I have preserved them thus, a letter to a friend, a story that demanded to be shared.
There was more there in the dark, much, much more. All the stories of the Word unfolding in my mind, a glorious profusion like the spreading branches of a mustard tree: Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Mary and Elizabeth, John the Baptist in the wilderness. The Samaritan woman at the well. Oh if I could recount the sweetness of that draught offered to my thirsty soul…. But some things defy words and perhaps I have already said too much. Suffice it to say that narrative was prayer and I couldn’t untangle the act of composing a letter to you in my head from act of contemplation from the love letter to my soul that I received.
And i suppose that explains, perhaps a bit why maybe this should be a letter after all. Because it is above all a thank you note for a gift received, for a little seed of a word that bore much fruit planted deep in my heart. Thanks to you for sharing your words and thanks, above all, to the Author of all words who speaks in our hearts through these shared words, shared stories.
If anything I have written seems beautiful or true, it comes from the One who whispered to my heart in the dark. Anything false comes from this humble scribe, privileged to be a part of his story; but too tired to even contemplate revising this one more time. Forgive me if anything I have written here seems hasty or poorly spoken or at all a criticism of one I greatly respect and admire.
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