History is tricky. I don’t mean the memorizing dates and remembering ‘important’ people kind of history that many of us learned in school. Instead, I mean the stories of the past – our past, our family’s past, our constructed past. The misremembered past in which people weren’t depressed, didn’t get divorced, didn’t grieve for their dead children, didn’t collapse from the weight of their anxieties. Or, the remembered past of being picked last for the team, being ignored by a harried mother, of not feeling seen, of being the ‘dumb’ or ‘clumsy’ or the ‘unpopular’ one. Such stories shape us, sometimes misshape us, sometimes cage us.
American essayist Rebecca Solnit, in her book The Faraway Nearby, observes that we tell our stories and then our stories tell us – how to behave, how to understand and know ourselves, how to get on with our lives. ‘The task of learning to be free,’ she continues, requires learning to hear them, to question them, to pause and hear silence, to name them.’ Only then can we begin the work – and relief – of seeing the new stories that our lives are telling. In the process we need to be gentle with ourselves, be tender in our retelling, be capacious in our remembering, be willing to let go of the old stories.
I think of the ‘historic’ stories of God, too, that white-haired, white-robed old man with the beard and the stern face. I meditate on how that story has shaped and misshaped and caged me. As I seek to loosen the power of the other constricting stories that I tell myself, I seek to admit of new stories of God, too. It’s time.