Storytelling for a Better World
With Edie McLoud Armstrong
Sixteen Forms of Spirituality
* The poetic lines from Robin Morgan are taken from an essay by Rosemary Ruether called "Ecofeminism: The Challenge to Theology" inWorldviews, Religion, and the Environment: A Global Anthology, edited by Richard Folz: Wadsworth, 2003. Page 469. The lines come from a poem read by Morgan at a Women's Conference in Beijing, China, in September 1995, and were sent to Ruether by Catherine Keller.
Who is Mama Edie?
The Republic of Stories
In The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists, and the Future, Arlene Goldbard invites us to imagine the world as a republic of stories in which "everything carries a story and everything matters."
For those of us in the process-relational tradition, what she says is true: everything carries a story and everything does matter. Indifference is a sin against the universe.
Whitehead proposes that every actual entity and society of entities -- every atom, every cell, every animal, every person, every spirit -- carries a story from the past and simultaneously, in its immediate becoming, adds something new to the ongoing history of the universe. And each actual entity is a subject for itself, with significance for itself, which matters in the cosmic scheme of things.
The Loving Librarian
What is this cosmic scheme? Whitehead's answer is God. God is the Story in whose life all stories unfold. This Story is like any other actual entity, except it is everywhere at once and includes all stories with its horizons. In a sense God is like a loving Librarian, forever seeking a way to catalog stories in which each can be heard and none dominate the others. She receives stories from the world through empathy and responds with whatever guidance she can offer for further storytelling.
She has a story of her own, too. It is the story of someone who so loves the world that she shares in all pain and sorrow, seeking healing and wholeness for all. Her story is not separate from the stories she receives; they are the building blocks of her divine storytelling.
But of course it is we, and not the Librarian alone, who is telling the stories. Our decisions moment-by-moment and the motivations behind them are our stories. There is something profoundly creative about all of our storytelling. And a little dangerous, too. The ends of our stories are not known in advance, not even by God, because the future is open. Always our stories are stories-in-the-making. Always God's story is a story-in-the-making, too, because God is forever receiving new stories.
A story is not just information or a bit of data. It is a tale told from the heart, bringing with it memories of the past and hopes for the future. Listen to Mama Edie tell her story. You'll hear many spiritual moods: humor, playfulness, grit, prophetic critique of injustice, and prophetic hope for a better world. She is a good example of storytelling for a better world.
What is justice? The poet Robin Morgan offers us an image:
Bread. A clean sky. Active peace. A woman's voice singing somewhere. The army disbanded. The harvest abundant. The wound healed. The child wanted. The prisoner freed. The body's integrity honored. The lover returned....Labor equal, fair and valued. No hand raised in gesture but greeting. Secure interiors -- of heart, home, and land -- so firm as to make secure borders irrelevant.*
Mama Edie shares this sensibility and adds chili and crackers to the mix. Her passion is for African-American and Native-American ancestries, and it comes from her own sense that every story counts, including those that have been neglected by powerful people with imperial leanings. For Mama Edie the republic of stories needs to be a democracy, sometimes filled with danger and struggle, but nevertheless frolicking its way into a more just future.
I can't help but imagine that the cosmic Librarian, always seeking richness in relationship, is enriched by her telling these forgotten stories. Maybe that's what biblical authors mean by covenant: a promise to share stories. Of course some stories are so private and personal that they can't be told to anyone except the Librarian. That's fine. I think it is called prayer. Not everything needs to be public.
But the public stories are prayers, too. They are ways of singing out into something so wide and deep that no finite stories can quite contain it. The wideness is inside each heart as a divine calling whose dreams come true every time a woman's voice sings somewhere, and no hand is raised in gesture, except in greeting.
Prayers do not need to be addressed to God in order to be prayers. They just need to be addressed to something wide and deep. Names are not really necessary. It is enough to say "I'd like to tell you a story."
To whom is a story told? The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber says that each you is a window into an ultimate You. It is funny that we really don't have to look so far away to find this You. When we carry the stories of others in gentle ways, we become librarians, too. Their stories become our stories. We cannot hate them; we can only love them. We find ourselves wanting to order chili and crackers with them, and to hear the stories of the waitresses who are serving the chili and crackers. Surely this is where justice begins. Not with facts but with stories.
-- Jay McDaniel