Do you remember when you were a kid and you would ask your parents to read you a bedtime story? Sometimes the stories you heard were completely new and exciting, and sometimes you heard an oldie but a goodie... one that you could recite along with your parents. Perhaps you have kids in your life right now who are asking you to do the same for them. On Sunday mornings, when we gather for worship, we also say to the preacher, “tell us a story.” Sometimes we hear a story that we have never heard before, and sometimes we have heard the story so many times, we can recite it along with the preacher… “and then Jesus took the bread and he broke it, saying…”
Whether we are falling asleep in bed or sitting in our pew (or on our sofa) in church, when we yearn for stories, we are often in a liminal space. Liminal spaces are transitional and transformative spaces. They are a spiritual space where we sense we are waiting in one point in time for another point in time where we might be changed… we sense we are on the verge of something. Liminal spaces can be uncomfortable and feel a little unsafe because we are unsure of what the transformation holds for us. So, we tell stories that help us to bridge the liminal spaces. Telling stories at bedtime guides children across the liminal space safely into sleep. Telling stories in church guides the listeners across the liminal space into deep wonder and trust in God’s goodness, and introduces us to the characters who help us navigate our own lives.
The stories we hear again and again in worship work on us throughout our lives. Hearing and knowing stories in scripture gives us a reference point when we need one. As a seminarian, I preached one of my first sermons to a presbytery committee that was supposed to help me become a better preacher and the only feedback I received was about my hairstyle. The story about the women at the tomb helped me navigate that disappointing time. Because I knew that story, I could say, “I had something important to say and no one took me seriously. I feel like the women at the tomb.” Having that story ingrained in me saved me from despair in my calling and helped me navigate that disappointment. That story gave me comfort in knowing I was in the good company of the first evangelists - who were dismissed and disappointed. The stories in the Bible teach us how to navigate this world. They call us out of despair and into deep reflection and love for this world. They empower us to know how to love our neighbors, they teach us how to ask questions of one another and of God.
This year feels a little bit like a liminal space. I honestly don’t know if we can sustain liminality for an entire year, but if we must, we have plenty of stories to comfort us on our way through. So, I encourage you to use our scriptures to guide you across this liminal space of 2020, tell the stories of your life to your family, listen to the stories others tell you, and see each story as a gift that can help guide you out of despair and into deep wonder.