Who among us does not enjoy a good story? A story well-conceived and well-told has the potential to speak to a wide variety of people, regardless of age. And one of the beautiful gifts of story is that we can hear stories over and over, and glean new meaning with each hearing.
Recently as I re-read a book I had read as a child, I was struck again by the layers of meaning that can be found in stories. Information that was just background description hastily skimmed when I was a child is now visible as part of larger narratives, helping me to situate the story in new ways and understand some of the complexities that I simply could not years ago. That is not to say that the story didn't speak to me when I was young. The sheer number of times I was willing to listen to the story will attest to that! But that with each reading I have had the opportunity to appreciate different aspects of the story because each time I am a different person.
The biblical story can be seen in this light as well. That, I believe, is the gift of having received a narrative as our guide rather than a manual. A manual need only be read once, or perhaps twice to ensure that we remember the steps. But a story can be studied, experienced, lived, explored endlessly. And when we allow a story, particularly the biblical story, to speak, without over-explanation or moralization, the Spirit is free to move and transform us all, each of us taking from the story that which the Spirit wishes us to hear. Further, as we share with one another, we might also be gifted in hearing what impact the story has on individuals in various stages of life.
A number of years ago during an intergenerational event being held at Belmont Mennonite Church, I witnessed an act of storytelling that impacted me in a profound way. The group (composed of individuals aged 5-70+) that was meeting was exploring the topic of hospitality, particularly what it meant to be a stranger. They were seated in a circle around a table sharing tea together. As they sipped their tea, they had the opportunity to pass around the "talking tea cup". Whomever held the cup was invited to share an experience of a time in which they had felt like a stranger and then a time in which they had welcomed a stranger.They were sharing stories, young and old, listening intently to one another. Just as I walked in the tea cup was passed to a young child who told the story of her first day at kindergarten. While the details of this story are fuzzy for me, I was captivated by the sight of this young child sharing her story with her church family, many of whom were nodding, remembering their own stories while honouring this girl by listening to her soul.
Stories speak to us. They are a gift that can bridge the gaps between generations. I believe this is the case for the biblical story, as well as our own personal and communal stories.
Certainly when considering intergenerational ministry there are some stories that are less appropriate to explore than others, say Judges19. There are stories that are part of the narrative of humanity generally that are simply better explored in adulthood. There are also stories that should not be told without leaving space for questions and group discernment. However, I also believe that there is great benefit for all ages in hearing a variety of stories, those both easily accepted, and those that confound us as we seek to enter into relationship with our God who is both knowable and mysterious. Coming away from a story with questions unanswered is a gift and some of us may come away with more questions than answers! But as many of us know, a story that is so simple that there is no room left for wonder is often no story at all.