We all love a good story. From our earliest years, we were told stories by our parents or grandparents and I am sure, like me, you can remember a number of them very clearly. Some stories never grow old. I am still reading Enid Blyton but now it is to my children at night ( a few names and phrases have to be changed a little!!). As children, stories captured our imaginations, took us to far-away distant lands, introduced us to the most endearing and scary characters imaginable, and filled our playtime hours with re-enactments of the wild adventures we had been told about the night before.
But storytelling does not just take place at night in our nurseries or in our children’s rooms at night. Stories are part of our daily lives, in the stories we tell our families and friends, the books we read and the films we watch. Stories are now seen as an important way of connecting with any audience and storytelling is increasingly used in workplaces, advertising and fundraising. Stories are at the heart of many of our religious traditions. They are often referred to as wisdom stories and each story has a specific message or meaning contained within it that serves to nourish us morally and spiritually.
Jesus was an incredible story-teller. His stories are referred to as parables in the Bible. Some are more famous than others – the parable of the Good Samaritan and the parable of the Prodigal Son for example. The parables he told were always relevant to people’s lives – he used examples from their everyday work and life e.g. farming, house-keeping, working in vineyards, looking after sheep, family disputes, weddings and fishing. The parables were meant to tell his listeners about the nature of God the Father and the way of life that God wanted people to live. This way of life was referred to as the reign of God or kingdom of God. Jesus, through his parables, was trying to help people imagine and reflect on what this life would look like and how they would need to change their thinking and their way of living to be part of it.
But his parables were challenging – the parable of the Good Samaritan was absolutely shocking to Jesus’ listeners. There was no way they could imagine a Samaritan being kind to a Jewish person. Yet Jesus used this example to challenge his listeners to think outside the box and examine their own prejudices when it came to “loving” their neighbour.
Often the message of the parables were not always immediately clear. Jesus sometimes finished his stories with the words “They who have ears, let them hear”. In other words, listen up! Pay attention! Even Jesus’ closest followers would take him aside and ask him to explain what he had been talking about.
In some of the Gospels, Jesus spoke about a quality that his disciples and listeners needed to have so as to understand and live in this new way of life. He would take a child and say “Unless you are like a child, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God”. In other words, if you don’t have that childlike quality of trust in God, your loving Father, is will be so hard to enter into this way of life that God wants for you. Why? The reason is that this way of life often goes against our adult way of looking at everything. The qualities of this way of life are often the opposite of the norms of our culture. Instead of being powerful, we are asked to be powerless. Instead of strength being the prime quality, weakness is to be embraced. The poor, those who mourn, the gentle, the person who loves their enemies all will be blessed. Just like we are to trust a parent who is teaching us what is good for us, we are asked to trust in God, that this way of life will bring us a deep, profound and lasting joy for us, for others and our world.
I was reminded of this child-like quality when we were given the gift of an illustrated book called The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse by the artist Charlie MacKesy. It is a book that is not only for children but adults too and it has become extremely popular. It is one of the most beautiful and encouraging books that I have ever read. Each page has a beautiful illustration and records snippets of dialogue between the characters on their journey together. But these little conversations are thought-provoking, heart-warming, inspiring, uplifting and…simple. The book cannot be read in one sitting – just like Jesus’ parables, each page can be mulled over and provide you with much food for thought. I used it with my children at night as part of out bedtime story routine – we would take a page a night, read it and have a little chat about what the message might be for us.
In this book, you will be helped to reexamine your own ways of looking at life, you will regain a sense of purpose, you will re-discover your self-worth, you will be invited to look at yourself and others in a more gentle and compassionate way, you will find healing for the wounds of life and you will find solace and comfort in this very uncertain time of lockdown. And this will, through the author’s unique style and story-telling, put you in touch with God’s desire for you and for your life. I would advise you to take a closer look and embrace your inner child once again. Those who have ears, let them hear! 😊
To learn more about Charlie MacKesy’s book, click on the link:
To rediscover the parables of Jesus and their meaning, see the link below: