how we tell our stories

Old friends, they mean much more to me than the new friends,
Cause they can see where you are,
and they know where you’ve been.

“Let Time Go Lightly”, Harry Chapin

Good food. Good wine. Good friends. Good conversation. A touch of heaven! Hubby and I recently gathered with old friends for such a heavenly moment. We have been friends with these wonderful folk for almost forty years. We’ve watched our children grow, and grand-children arrive. One by one, we’re re-inventing our lives in retirement.

Two friends in our group lost parents this past month. Both funerals were a testament to the blessing of a long life, fruitful families, and love. So much love. Tears and laughter mingled as stories and memories were shared, inviting us into the family circle.

“Dad had a real zest for life and fun. Let me tell you a story…”

“Mémère always made each of us feel so special and loved. Let me tell you a story…”

When we gathered last weekend, with the funerals behind us, present day conversations turned into reminiscences. Our friends are wonderful story-tellers. They have the gift of weaving a negative situation into a side-splitting tale. The really good stories deserve a re-telling, and they have been repeated many times over the years. Yet, we seldom tire of them. Misfortune is deflated with humour. Challenges transform into  opportunities for growth and new beginnings. These stories have become part of the narrative of our group.

A few weeks ago I came across this article,  The Two Kinds of Stories We Tell About Ourselves. It’s an excerpt from the book, The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters, by Emily Esfahan Smith. (2017) I’m currently reading the book.

Smith describes the work of Dan McAdams, a Northwestern University psychologist and an expert on “narrative identity”. Narrative identity is “an internalized story you create about yourself — your own personal myth”.

We choose which stories to tell about ourselves. We also choose how we tell them. Two main types of stories are what McAdams calls “redemptive stories” and “contamination stories”. The former are stories that “transition from bad to good”. The latter takes the opposite view; from good to bad.

“McAdams has found that beyond stories of redemption, people who believe their lives are meaningful tend to tell stories defined by growth, communion and agency. These stories allow individuals to craft a positive identity: they are in control of their lives, they are loved, they are progressing through life and whatever obstacles they have encountered have been redeemed by good outcomes.”

I know what it’s like to be stuck in “contamination” mode, allowing a bad situation to blind you from any possible good outcomes. For example…

I’ve shared my experience of disillusion with the church many times on this blog. It began with a dysfunctional situation in our parish and diocese, over 20 years ago. The personal hurt overshadowed my faith and personal life for many years after. It was a real “dark night of the soul” experience. (Read here for more,  exile — a holy retreat)

When I’m in the midst of a life crisis or challenge, I have a story to tell and it might get nasty. Don’t talk to me about silver linings or redemption. I need to wallow. I need to tell and re-tell my one-sided story; the one where I am the blameless victim and the world is shitting on me. God bless good friends who patiently listen to my bitching and kvetching!

Thankfully, redemption usually comes. The bad is not as immutable as originally believed. Cracks appear in the darkness, allowing small signs of good to ever so subtly shine through. It may takes weeks or months. Sometimes, like with my church experience, it takes years.

What seemed insurmountable turns into a bridge to new possibilities. Challenges morph into opportunities for transformation. Slowly, ever so slowly, the story, too, is transformed. It might not have a Pollyanna “happy ever after” ending, but good has come from bad.

As I get older, it’s easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel. (No, not that one…at least not yet, thank you!) It’s easier to hope that good will come out of bad, because it’s been experienced so many times before — in our own lives and in the lives of those we love. With age, comes the wisdom to know that stories seldom have a quick, easy, or even recognizable ending. After all, every good story is filled with conflict, unexpected twists and surprises.

 

 

 

 

 

catholic, not religious

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“I will no longer listen to priests and bishops telling me what to do!”

I nodded in enthusiastic agreement with my friend. He spoke for many of us; baby-boomers who are serious about our faith lives, but have become more and more disillusioned with the institutional church.

I am not a lazy, apathetic catholic. I care about my faith life, sometimes too much. My faith has been a source of both joy and pain; moments of soaring inspiration and times of dark doubt and anger.

I’m not a theologian or academic, but I’m well-read. A decent understanding of doctrine and church history feeds my mind. Inspirational reading, music, prayer, lively conversations and faith-sharing nourish my heart and soul.

 

I used to reside in the front pews of my church. Energetically involved. Happy to be present.

Disillusionment and anger led me to the back pews, where the view was much different. I eventually snuck out the door for awhile. The view from the other side of the church doors was eye-opening. Exile time forces you to ponder and judge what has been, and vision for what could be.

Many years have now come and gone. Today, I have an imperfect attendance record on Sundays. When I do go, I battle boredom. My impatient, 59 year old self struggles to sit patiently. To listen. To pray. To stop looking at my watch. If it wasn’t for my faithful hubby, I’d probably spend every Sunday morning with a good book and second pot of coffee.

Today, it’s popular to identify oneself as “spiritual, not religious”. I’ve been pondering this term a lot, recently. Is this what I am? Who I am becoming? And yet…

My spirituality is catholic in its roots, and in its foundation. Catholic with a small “c”, focusing on the “whole” rather than obsessive details and squabbles that too often overshadow the simple message at the core of our belief.

  • We believe in the Incarnation, that God became one of us so that we could become more like God – not in power, but in loving like God Loves.
  • We recognize God’s presence in the every-day and the every-time.
  • We listen for God’s voice in silence, prayer, scripture or the wisdom of community.
  • We seek justice, peace and the integrity of creation in all we do.

I’m fascinated by the many diverse paths and experiences that seek the same goals as we do – to love God and love our neighbours. It is sheer arrogance to believe that the path we have chosen is the one and only true path to salvation.

Yes, at this stage in my life, I am focused more on spirituality and less on religion in its institutional form.  Like my friend, obligation and voices of authority no longer hold sway over me. And, yet, my spirituality remains catholic. I remain catholic.

catholic…not religious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good-bye Twitter! I’m reclaiming my life.

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I love to read.

I love to write.

For this reason, I’m saying Good-bye to Twitter.

I’m not a fan of social media. I got a Facebook account when I was in Marianist leadership. It was an effective way to network with our members and communities around the world, but I tired quickly of the endless stream of everyday nothings. (I love you, but I really don’t need to know what you had for breakfast.) When my leadership term ended, I quit Facebook.

Article after article told me that writers must have an internet presence to garner a ready-made audience. Many publishers now demand it. I logged back on to Facebook, but logged off again soon after.

Then Twitter entered my life. It became my source for world and church news. I enjoyed the brevity and wit of some commentators, and still do, but checking my feed quickly became an obsession. I was spending (wasting) more and more time. Click this article. Respond to that comment. Refresh. Refresh. Ok….I’ll refresh one more time and then log off. Sigh.

Twitter is an amazing platform for social change, rallying and uniting voices and people to march and speak out against injustice. Sadly, it’s also a hang-out for hate-filled trolls. I hope that the folks at Twitter do more to control the hackers and bots that sully the democratic goals of the platform.

Another plus to Twitter is that it gives you up to the minute news. Seriously… Up. To. The. Minute. This becomes a problem for someone with an addictive personality. (She silently slinks in her chair, hoping no one notices her…) It’s also a problem when news is posted in a rush, without the necessary fact checking. What’s that called again? Fake news.

For me, Twitter has become a serious distraction from reading and writing. I don’t need to know what President Dunderhead tweeted or said five minutes ago. I REALLY don’t need to read all the follow-up commentary and retweets.

I REALLY need to reclaim those lost minutes and hours. What will I do with the new-found time?

I’ll read the news once, maybe twice a day.

I’ll read more books.

I’ll write more on this blog.

I’ll maybe, finally, perhaps, possibly…write a book of my own.

And, no. Lent has nothing to do with this. You know my track record with Lent. I’d be back on Twitter by noon!