One of the beautiful things about the concept of story is the transfer of an idea or image from one person to another through words. Susannah, the Shepherd Woman, in Kathy Coffey’s book “Hidden Women of the Gospels” compares words to jewels:
Until then, I had never known that words could be precious stones, treasured like jewels, unwrapped, turned over and over, admired.
(Kathy Coffey, Hidden Women of the Gospels [New York: Orbis Books, 2003], 19)
And Nobel Laureate for Literature, Toni Morrison, gives us a sense of the importance of words in her book “A Mercy” when the character Florens compares the words of her life story to ash flavoring the soil:
Perhaps these words need the air that is out in the world. Need to fly up then fall, fall like ash over acres of primrose and mallow. Over a turquoise lake, beyond the eternal hemlocks, through clouds cut by rainbow and flavor the soil of the earth.
(Toni Morrison, A Mercy [New York: Alfred A. Knopf,2008], 161]
Looking back through the Old Testament, I pause at what the Psalmist wrote centuries ago about story:
I will open my mouth in story, drawing lessons from of old. Psalm 78:2
Here, the psalmist is making a proclamation that he shall deliver the stories of his culture to succeeding generations. The words will pass from generation to generation.
In Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning book “The Road,” the woman who embraces the young boy at the end of the story speaks about the breath of God passing through humanity:
She said that the breath of God was his breath yet though it pass from man to man through all of time.
(Cormac McCarthy, The Road [New York: Vintage Books, 2006], 286)
In that sentiment, I like to think of the concept of story as being very similar to breath. If we are lucky enough to find one of those life changing stories that fills us and betters us, then we are apt to let it resonate in our imaginations and hearts before traveling on—inspirational as breath! Merriam-Webster defines inspiration as the act of drawing in; specifically: the drawing of air into the lungs.
But what about those things we long to tell someone else and just can’t find the right words, just can’t find the breath? What if I am not eloquent? said Moses to God.
…Oh Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue. Exodus 4:10
I recently had thoracic surgery and lost my voice. I could barely eek out an audible whisper and yet I desperately needed to communicate with one of my doctors. I was frustrated and embarrassed at best because the harder I pushed for the sounds to come out of my mouth, the more inaudible my voice seemed to become. But something utterly beautiful happened in that awful barely-audible-transmission of my words . . .
He entered the room and looked at me and said he wanted to hear what I had to say. He lowered and centered himself in his chair very quietly and cast his eyes downward concentrating on the sounds I was able to whisper.
I felt heard.
The great poet Maya Angelou said:
…I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
I don’t think at any other time in my life I felt as heard as I did then. My voice mattered to that doctor and he listened with a “holiness” of service. What I learned from this experience is that grace is possible in the most muted of circumstances, when we least expect it. My so imperfectly delivered words received the gracious welcome of compassion.
Sending gratitude to all good listeners in this weary world. From my breath and words to yours.
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