“There is no more fundamental way to talk of God than in a story”
(Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom, p. 25).
I like to visit cemeteries.
There is a quiet in graveyards that I find helpful. It is easy for me to see why early Christians (and especially monastics) would retreat to catacombs. Being in these “cities of the dead” brings me closer to acknowledging myself–closer to living in and with the Mystery of God.
Somewhere along the way, we lost the ability to make death grand. Death in years past was commemorated by retelling the narrative of life, condensing a person’s personality or contributions to a pithy epitaph. Over the years of visiting cemeteries, I have read memorials that were inspiring, humorous, insulting, and even downright scandalous.
Literature from times past records musings by living individuals on what their epitaph will be, and I am convinced that we do not sufficiently reflect on life and death–and our place in the grand narrative of the world and God and our family.
Many claim (explicitly or implicitly) an authorship role in my life: ethnicity, language, nationality, regionality, education level, religious structures, churches, family systems, biology, genetics, government, and so on.
I recently read “The Boy in the Moon,” by Ian Brown, and was profoundly moved by this honest telling of one’s story. Ian is the father of a severely disabled child, and he confesses in the very first chapter that “I often wanted to tell someone the story, what the adventure felt and smelled and sounded like, what I noticed when I wasn’t running through darkness. But who could relate to such a human anomaly, to the rare and exotic corner of existence where we suddenly found ourselves? Eleven years would pass before I met anyone like him.”
Eleven years of isolation. Eleven years of thinking you are the only one. Eleven years of hard labor carried out in solitary confinement. As he relates later in the book, it was through his telling his story that he began to connect with people around the world, some of whom are kindred spirits battling the same demons, and some of whom (like me) are eager to drink deeply from the waters of wisdom.
Some in this world live their lives as though they were reading a “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel, or playing a text adventure game (remember Zork, anyone?). We mistakenly believe “tomorrow” is severely limited in terms of options and possibilities. We forget our God is capable of transforming death into life.
I believe we are called by the Author to co-author our own chapter of the grand narrative. We simultaneously live and tell the story.