To tell the sacred stories of our common faith and to hear them told is a very different experience from reading them or hearing them read. Those who gather to listen - listen differently. They engage with the teller, in their full humanity, as the story is ‘embodied’ not just voiced.

There is the possibility of mistake and stumbling; over the words, or worse. There is greater possibility for the listener to stumble headlong into the story. The teller’s eyes call, the voice strains, the hands gesture welcome and we find ourselves called forth… (This is not to suggest that reading scripture aloud is an empty exercise, it is merely to state that when the teller embodies the story to tell it, there is usually more dynamism and focus than when it is read out loud).

The unspoken lesson

When stories are remembered in order to tell them, it is as if we have said to those listening, “These stories live in us, not just in the pages of the book. They inform our lives, these stories live in us. It is we who live them out, and who live out of them.” Children become tellers of the tale of salvation naturally from this process. As we learn the stories to tell and they see us embody them, they in turn become the holders of the stories.

The story of Rachel and Jessica…

The reading from the Old Testament for that Sunday was from the final moments of the story of Joseph and his brothers. It is the moment of forgiveness and the invitation to move to Egypt where there is plenty. For the listeners the reading would make little sense unless you possessed a vague knowledge of the preceding storyline. I was asked to retell the story in order to set the scene and help the children to better hear and understand the reading.

This I did with pleasure. It is a wonderful story. Told simply and without embellishments it still stands on its own merits as one of the great stories of crime, punishment and forgiveness. Everyone listened in rapt silence. I told the end and then we heard it read.

Many people spoke later of how wonderful it had been to hear the whole story again.

Rachel who is 7 years old, and Jessica her 5-year-old sister, took the story home with them. Over dinner they recounted it, with remarkable clarity and attention to the emotions of the characters, to their father. It was all there; they had re-member-ed; that is to say, they had taken it into themselves and offered it to someone else as a gift, within hours of hearing it.

Narrative telling is great preparation for another style of telling sacred stories, called Godly Play. It grew from Montessori methodology and is written by the Rev. Jerome W. Berryman, an Episcopalian priest in the USA. It seeks to invite those listening to ‘play’ in the story in order to know better the original storyteller; the God who writes our lives.

Jeanette Acland, March 2007

Children's & Families & Playgroups Newsletter, Term 2, 2007