Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Midweek Musing: What if Paul wrote to Jerusalem?

In December, I took part in a fun evening of presentations of supposed lost letters from St Paul. The five letters were subjected to voting from the audience to determine which among them was the real deal. Mine received the fewest votes, but don't let that put you off: plenty of people did express appreciation for its creativity and innovation. Perhaps it was a bit too clever. I had a lot of fun composing it, so as I commence a semester tutoring in a course on Paul and his letters, I share it with you now. First, the introductory story as to the letter's discovery, and then the short letter from Paul to Jerusalem. It will, I hope, provoke your own pondering on what Paul might have written to the church in Jerusalem before that fateful visit.

The manuscript I have been analysing is in pristine condition. However, it is not a first century manuscript. And the language, though somewhat foreign to an audience today, is not Greek – not to me, at least.

What we have here is a letter from 16th century Warwickshire, England, from a Catholic in hiding to his sister, containing his translation of a first century manuscript which he claims to have found with relics from an ancestor’s haul during a trip to the Holy Land. What this priest claims to have translated is a letter from the apostle Paul.

Evidently this Catholic in hiding had trained as a priest, but when slinking into the older, darker crannies of the family manor, came across relics and papers long forgotten. The circumstances of the ancestor’s journey into the Holy Land are unclear, but it seems there may have been a pair of brothers who participated in the crusades, only one of whom returned. Examination of several homes in Warwickshire, close to Stratford-Upon-Avon, has uncovered one particular family – who choose to remain anonymous at this stage – with stories and evidence of adventurous ancient ancestors and persecuted priestly predecessors during the first Elizabeth’s reign.

The letter in which the translation appears describes this priest’s delight at putting his Cambridge training to good use, and the assistance in rendering a polished translation that he received from a friend, a schoolmate from his Stratford days, staying with the family for a while.

But we are here to examine the Pauline letter, so I will not bore you with those superfluous details. Instead, I commend it to you as a faithful translation of the words of an apostle to first century Gentiles: the letter from Paul to Jerusalem.

Very small fragments remain of an epistle from Paul to the church in Jerusalem. The fragments have been preserved with a fuller manuscript of a translation that, by language and carbon dating, appears to have been made in the late 16th century in England; whether by scholars later in involved in the King James Version of the Bible, or some other writer is yet to be determined.

The Second Letter of Paul to Jerusalem

Paul, servant of our Lord, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, separated unto the Gospel of God,

unto the church of Christ which is at Jerusalem, to them that are sanctified in the Holy Spirit, called to be saints;
Grace and peace to you, from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

I thank my God for you, who art faithful unto our Lord Jesus, which is known throughout the whole world.

As you will, I trust, have heard by this time in my previous epistle, I have long yearned to be in your company once more, to be filled with the fellowship of brethren in Christ.

Circumstance demands a further brief epistle, for I have been delayed and will not be with you when I did anticipate. Our ship has run itself aground in a most impatient sea, that did roar and stir us from our sleep before putting us down upon some rocks. With fortune, we were not, ourselves, met with damage irreparable – not one among our number bore the mark of drowning and all are well enough. The upshot of our accident is that we are delayed for I know not how long. While I am in this port, however, I encounter daily the simple folk of this small, forgotten island, and find myself intrigued by their veneration of angels and other heavenly beings.

We have listened in wonder to their garbled insistence that it was spirits that hath caused the storm. It is their firm-held opinion that two angels forge a war of jealousy, and never meet on hill, in dale, forest or mead, or on the beached margent of the sea to dance their ringlets to the whistling wind, but with brawls disturb the others’ sport; the winds, as in revenge, then suck up from the sea contagious fogs; and even seasons, yeah the spring, the summer, chiding autumn, angry winter, change their wonted liveries so none can tell them from each other; such progeny of evils come, so say these island dwellers, from this foul dissension betwixt the heavenly beings!

If it were not for the contribution to the saints that I do hold in my protection, and the urgency I now feel, being at last upon my way, to deliver said offering unto its destination, I might feel myself compelled to stay a while among these folk, and proclaim the gospel among them, for surely they have heard it not.

However, it hath pleased them verily, the churches of Christ in Macedonia and Achaia to share with the poor among the saints residing in Jerusalem.

I appeal to you, my brethren, to humbly receive this gift when I at last deliver it unto you; with joy and thanksgiving for the love which hath inspired such generosity.

I will admit some sensation of anxiety as I prepared to make my journey unto Jerusalem, which abateth not, but rather grows, with this delay. The shadows here, the imagined dreamings of these unlearned folk, seem to offend; my slumber is weak and my hands are idle, though some assistance I could surely render to the repairing of the boat.

Great have been our differences, a seeming chasm betwixt your understanding of the gospel and mine own as pertains to its revelation unto the Gentiles. I have prayed with much fervour for the healing of the breach in our relationship, and am impatient to meet with you again, that we might give to each other our hands so we may be friends, to make amends unto each other. God will have mercy upon us all, for we are kindred, one in the self same Spirit of God.

Surely it is of God and through God, and to God, that all things hath being: to God be glory for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Midweek Musing: storytelling is for us all

'Storytelling is for primary school children not university students' (from this article). MP David Davies' ignorance of storytelling as a fundamental element of human (well)being is precisely why we need positions like the advertised professor of storytelling at the University of South Wales.

Here is my response, from a storyteller who is both practitioner and scholar in the art of storytelling.

David Davies' view of storytelling as 'sitting around reading John and Janet books' is woefully ignorant of storytelling as both fundamental feature of human identity and communication, and of the craft of oral storytelling as a distinct performance art.

I see across the UK a rich culture of storytelling: it is disappointing that a servant of the country is unaware, and unappreciative, of that culture. Indeed, that richness is part of the reason I moved from Australia to the UK for my postgraduate research into the practice of biblical storytelling, with centres for and festivals of storytelling in many parts of the country.

The University of South Wales has a research centre devoted to storytelling. The George Ewart Evans Centre's storytelling researchers, teachers and practitioners are exploring the role of storytelling and story in healing, for example, in conjunction with medical practitioners and researchers. It is from the medical world that the Centre defends the centrality of story in human interaction, as both doctor and patient have a story to tell, may even be understood to be engaged together in working through the conflict or challenge element of a story to help the hero or heroine of the story (the patient) move towards their goal of health and wellbeing. (A story or narrative may be understood through analysis of its key elements: character, plot, setting, and conflict). (I attended a conference on story / narrative several years ago, at which practitioners from many disciplines told their stories of the gift story and storytelling was in their fields – read some of those stories here.)

Davies' suggestion that storytelling be left to the likes of Dickens and Rowling not only misunderstands storytelling, but undermines the value of Dickens and Rowling and their stories. What joy, community, healing and education have been brought about through the Harry Potter stories? Immeasurable. What understanding of a certain era of English life has been painted in the mirror Dickens holds up in his stories? Immeasurable.

To suggest that storytelling is for primary school children rather than university students first establishes a hierarchy in which younger children are somehow less than university students (an assertion I reject, but which would take another blog post to discuss), and second assumes that storytelling is something one grows out of as one matures. I think we might find, however, that it is story that helps us mature; story that helps the individual to know themselves, and the community to understand, observe, and shape their identity together as it evolves. What are our rituals of war and peace commemoration if not the telling of the story of courage, of loss, of hope for a better future? What are museums but installations telling the stories of migration, innovation, evolution, creation? What is the recounting of one's day with friends or family members but the telling of our own story and stories, seeking to find meaning within and through them, to connect, and in being heard, to be affirmed and nurtured towards wellbeing?

Therein lies the most profound gift of storytelling: its mutual encouragement of wellbeing. The teller gives a gift with their story, sharing wisdom and experience through which to make meaning, and the hearer receives this gift of story and encouragement. The hearer gives a gift with their listening, creating a welcoming space in which to hold the teller safe and affirm them as of immense value; what a gift the teller thus receives, nurture for their very being. (I say more about this in my TEDxAdelaide talk of 2013)

Something special happens in the live, embodied sharing of stories with each other. Books are wonderful portals for the imagination; movies and television too. But live, embodied, presence with each other, the voice, the emotion, the moment: this - this - is the connecting of humans with each other, the bringing of stories together to create another story, the story of this moment, here, when we were together, laughing, crying, afraid, amazed, inspired.

I tell the stories of Jesus fairly often: he was a teller of stories, too, with people gathered together, welcoming each other, sharing space and breath and moment. Why? Because in the stories they find themselves. In the stories, they encounter the Sacred Source of Life. In the stories is space to co-create the story and to thus discover meaning that will transform and lead to healing.

Storytelling is not 'just' anything. Not 'just' for one section of humanity. Not 'just' entertainment. Not 'just' airy-fairy nonsense from cuckoo land.

Storytelling is the very fibre of our human being. May the work of centres such as the George Ewart Evans centre at the University of South Wales continue to tell that story, so that we may know more fully, and may become, the best of who we are.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Midweek Musing: on kings and babes

Seeking and finding. Sometimes you know you are looking for something in particular; sometimes you know you are looking, but don't know for what; sometimes you find something and did not know you were looking for it.

The Magi from the East saw a star, understood what it signified, and walked towards it, seeking the long-promised king.

I'm not sure the song is a favourite for itself, with its naming of these visitors as 'kings', and perpetuating the interpretation of three gifts as representing three givers. But as a song that points to this story of outsiders being welcomed into the story of God's renewing love, a story of risk-taking response to that invitation, a story of wonder and wisdom and imagination: I love it.

I find poems when I don't think I am looking for them. They surprise me, catch me unawares ... or so it seems. I think, actually, that in order for me to catch the poems when they arrive, to hold onto these fleeting gifts of inspiration, I must be in a state of perpetual seeking. Having realised and acknowledged that I am, indeed, a poet, and nurturing that gift within me, I have cultivated a state of constant readiness, persistent searching for the poems that might arrive any moment.

Was that what it was like for the Magi? These wise ones, studying books and the cosmos for signs of the Divine, knowing enough to be able to recognise the signs when they appeared, though perhaps not always knowing what sign they were looking for? I wonder.

Is that the story of Wisdom from the Hebrew Bible? A state of being that is open to the Divine; a diligent attention towards the Spirit; a disciplined cultivation of the gift that lies within, the story, the teaching, the way – all so as to recognise the Sacred when it turns up, surprises, inspires. I wonder.

Could that be a way to live through the dark – and this past year has felt overwhelmingly dark at times, has it not? To look for the sparks of light, treasure them, protect them, cultivate them so that they grow. To remember what creates light and cultivate hope and love so as to be able to catch the light when it shines? To learn, to study the stories and the signs, so as to recognise the star when it arrives in the sky? I wonder.

A long time ago, a co-worker introduced me to Mediaeval Baebes, a group that sing songs of, you guessed it, mediaeval times. We shared a love of such times and such music. I've had their albums on my wish list for a long time, but somehow forgot I was looking for them. Then I was looking for a version of We Three Kings, and I found what I was looking for.

May we find what we seek to know, what we know we seek, and what we know not for which to seek, in this new year just begun.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Midweek Musing: Singing Christmas part 5

But Christmas Day was last Sunday? Surely Christmas is over, and we can start eating Hot Cross Buns for Easter now?

Um. No. In fact, one of the stories from the Bible we usually tell at Christmas is from well after. But that's next week's song.

This week. The highly historically, factually accurate story of another visitor to the manger.

For some reason, Little Drummer Boy is my Dad's favourite Christmas song. It has been for so long I can no longer recall if my sister and I learnt to play it on piano and clarinet because it was his favourite, or if it is his favourite because we played it together.

Little Drummer Boy is my favourite, because it gives my Dad such joy; and because it gives my sister and I joy to play it together, to play it for him. So for me, this song takes me to the heart of my family, and we're a close family, and I am far away.

My hope is that I will be in Adelaide, and Deb and I will play Little Drummer Boy for Dad again, next Christmas.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Singing with the angels: Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all in the sarah tells stories community. 

May the Spirit of the Story infuse your being with light, your gatherings with joy,
your soul with hope, your relationships with peace. 

My favourite Christmas song of all is Angels from the Realms of Glory (and its closely related sibling, Angels we have heard on high, which after hearing it in part above, I now give you in full). Enjoy!

we are fully human only together