“I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills…” This is the opening sentence of the book Out of Africa, and it’s probably one of my most cherished lines from any book. It doesn’t provide much information really, yet it speaks volumes about life, adventure, and storytelling. From one sentence my attention is caught and the imagination kicks in wondering what will come next, curious where the story will go.
No matter how many times I have read the book or seen the movie, I still have a moment when I catch my breath for just a second while I ponder how this yarn will unfold. In that one breath, waiting in anticipation, the magic begins. I am threading a needle for the tapestry about to be woven on the loom of my imagination.
I have no doubt I have been doing this since before I could talk or walk. I was born a blank page, and when I die, will leave this world as a novel – a book full of stories, biographies, jokes, anecdotes, poems, memoirs, quotes, citations and even a few pictures. Life is a story, and my story is my life.
I’m not talking about my “story” in the derogatory sense – as we sometimes do – with a heavy sigh, and rolling eyes. Rather, I am talking about the sacredness of the narrative thread that forms our experiences, and what we make of these experiences. Story weaves our lives together. It’s what we tell each other, what connects us, what makes things real. It is the foundation of my relationship with all life. Storytelling is simply putting life into written and spoken words. Being a storyteller can diminish my life or empower my life, because it depends on how I tell a story, and maybe even more importantly, how I receive a story.
In the last two days I have been presented with statements and rumors about me that have awakened pain and sadness. This is not the first time I have been the topic of gossip, and I feel fairly confident it won’t be the last. So how am I receiving this story of someone else’s experience? I am filtering the words through the tears that are rolling down my cheeks. But I am also sifting through my story as I search for meaning because I want to understand how my life is and what my life is. For now, what I imagine is I am being offered an unparalleled opportunity to receive a story.
Sometimes people in a spiritual community think that if a consultant, like myself, comes in from the outside, I will tell them what to do and their freedom to create their own vision for the future will be compromised. For some, there is a belief that I have been “sent from on high” to bring order and “make them” cooperate. Other people sometimes heave a collective sigh of relief as they settle into a sense of safety at the idea of having support. Neither story is right, neither is wrong.
What appear to be two seemingly opposite responses, I have learned, is anything but that. Rather it is each individual storyteller connecting with me, giving color and texture to the tapestry they have been weaving in this lifetime. So too it goes for those who have shared things these last couple of days.
They will sing our epic of being, and stirring up from our roots will be a vast awe, an enduring gratitude, the astonishment of communion experiences, and the realization of the cosmic adventure. — Brian Swimme
Story creates connection and a sense of belonging, if only I am willing to linger in the open space between us that is not bound to any realities past or future. I need to remember that I am sharing this cosmic adventure with billions of people, each of us weaving a tapestry, writing a novel, or filling our daily newspaper with stories that make sense of our world, whether “our world” is a church community, a farm in Africa in the Ngong Hills, or my desk replete with keyboard, monitor and cat.
Our stories give voice to our humanity and our divinity. My ability to receive a story with empathy, through a consciousness of wisdom and compassion, is what allows me to see myself in you – and maybe you can see yourself in me. Let your imagination kick in at the awe and wonder of what will come next, as long as we stay connected and curious about where the story will go. “I had a farm in Africa, in the Ngong Hills…”