The act of storying has been on my heart this week. On Thursday, I auditioned for Workout, the theater company here on campus. Preparing my audition, I focused intently on understanding the context of the scene. What were the technical intricacies? How should this line be spoken? How should these words be read? I went into my audition feeling prepared but shaky, and left completely undone. It turns out, the director didn’t care about technique. He didn’t want the specifics, didn’t want perfection. He told me to crave the story. To be willing to sacrifice jumbling, butchering, or even forgetting the words for the sake of the person behind them. He explained that the truest stories are felt before they are told. Before I can tell a story well, I have to understand what the story is and why it matters. If I feel and care, I can begin to share.
Coming home from my audition, I sat on the couch and looked through the table of contents in “The Christian Imagination”, a collection of essays and narratives from great storytellers and creatives in history. I was at a loss for where to begin, so I decided to start from the end and work my way back. The first essay I read was “In Praise of Stories” by Daniel Taylor, and was so affected that it took me over a day to move on to any other sections.
” ‘Tell me a story.’ These words make up the oldest invitation in the human experience. They are an invitation to participate in those things which make us human.”
As I read Taylor’s essay, I was struck by his plea: to see stories as the most crucially human thing one person can share with another. Stories aren’t simply words and they aren’t simply emotion. They’re a language of events and beliefs that, according to Taylor, “do far more harm in the world than bombs and bullets, and more good than all the charities and humanitarian schemes put together.”
I thought about my theater audition as I considered his words, and pondered the significance of stories in Christians’ lives. I’ve always advocated the importance of stories revolving around people instead of events, but his comparison of plot-based fluff to emotional prostitution still struck me. How many times have I picked up a book because it was entertaining—popular—clean? As I prepared my audition, I focused on what I could define. What scenarios seemed safe and do-able? How could I bring the story down to a level that could be dissected and performed? Now, sitting on the couch, I was shaken by another question. Was I prostituting the story here? Taylor’s words called to attention my need to feel comfortable. As a reader, as a writer, as an artist, I was choosing the safe over the raw.
This week, I also started truly understanding how important and interconnected literature, music, theater, and art are in the Christian life. The average American walks past a Rothko without pausing to look at it. They change the station when concerto challenges them. They could never sit through “Waiting for Godot” or check out a Salinger novel from the library. Why? Because these things are difficult. They hurt a bit, pressing into the cracks of what we know to be good and beautiful and nice.
But true art tells stories. It asks questions. It demands the partaker to stop and pay attention. To forget yourself and consider something strange. We don’t admire Rothko because of his brush technique or Beckett for his simplicity. We seek out these things because they seep bloody humanity. Because it is God-honoring to acknowledging something full of otherness. The stories we tell with art, music, motion, and even words are worth more than entertainment. They’re worth the truth we are capable of.
“The stories we choose for ourselves define who we are. Every story defines a community–at least a community of two, teller and listener, at the most the community of all humanity.”
To me, that means my story has weight. It also means my story has responsibility. I’m responsible with the weight of my words, with the meaning of my life. I’ve been entrusted with this glorious, multi-colored thing and I must find my way to release it without dimming its beauty. When we choose to highlight only certain colors or strains of our stories for the sake of comfort or temporary excitement, we are chopping up what God has delivered whole. Taylor has convinced me that my story is beautiful in its rawness, with its cuts and stitches.
“There is a link between what we do and what becomes of us.
It matters that we have been here.”
I’m here. I take up space. I matter. And the act of storying calls me to acknowledge that and use my words, my body, my art, to set truth free.
[All quotes come from the essay "In Praise of Stories" by Daniel Taylor, published in "The Christian Imagination", 1981]