Many years ago I wrote a short bit of memoir --- probably no more than 600 words --- about an evening walk with my best friend of 14 on the night of the day my father died. I recall writing something about how we lay on top of my father's station wagon, under a star-punctured sky, as we awkwardly tried to say something to each other, and then, concluding that we couldn't, did what we always did: we walked. What I wrote about that night probably wasn't profound, and yet it seemed that way when I wrote it. That remembrance seemed to capture the experience in a way I have been unable to since. Unfortunately, I lost what I wrote, and I have never been able to reproduce it. It was a very little "death," of course, compared to my larger loss, and yet still I lament the loss.
At least one good contribution of post-modernism has been the attention to narrative, to the stories that we all live in and out of. For the disenfranchised, it may be a narrative of loss; for elites, a narrative of power and, yet, soul-gnawing hollowness. For me, it could have been just a narrative of loss and the fallout of loss in the life of a young man, but by God's grace that story took a different turn. To use Frederick Buchner's Gospel trinity, it was a tragedy undone by the comedy of God's grace, one which continues to hold out the (true) fairy tale of resurrection and restoration. That's a story I share with Buechner, one he has spent his whole life pondering. He summed it up like this:
"The sad things that happened long ago will always remain part of who we are just as the glad and gracious things will too, but instead of being a burden of guilt, recrimination, and regret that make us constantly stumble as we go, even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead. It is through memory that we are able to reclaim much of our lives that we have long since written off by finding that in everything that has happened to us over the years God was offering us possibilities of new life and healing which, though we may have missed them at the time, we can still choose and be brought to life by and healed by all these years later."
So, I am grateful to have a story to share, one that will stay with me always, one in which is hidden the seeds of new life. I can say "Once upon a time. . ." and have something to say.
The alternative is painful to consider. On that fateful day when the Israelites abandoned the worship of God and asked Aaron to make a golden calf for them to worship, God warned Moses that "Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book" (Ex. 32:23). This "book" is God's reality, the story He is telling. It's a reality referred to variously throughout scripture as "the book of the living" (Ps. 69:28), "the book" (Dan. 12:1), "names. . . written in heaven," (Lk. 10:20), and "the book of life" (Phil. 4:3). The point: There is one Author of life. There is one story. If you aren't part of this tale, you are lost. You have no story.
Now that is frightening. To lose your own story is not a little death but a big one, a negation of life. And it need not be. Because this is a story which you can opt into, to which you are invited. Imagine that: characters who in some mysterious way actually get to participate in the story, who can stand up on the page and address themselves to the author, who, incredibly enough, can by their petitions move the pen, shape the story.
At 14 I had little notion that there was any larger story being told that involved my life, that I had any significant part. My father died. I did not know what to do or say about that. I went back to school. I worked. I looked for acceptance. I didn't know what it meant. Isn't that true of so much that happens to us? Yet, as you get older, you get glimpses of the larger narrative, of a God who imagined, made, and saved and who will deliver and remake and restore, who will tie all the subplots together in one final resolution, who will one day finally close the book, and say. . .
"They all lived happily ever after." And we will. Will you?