Story as Sacrament

Image Description: Pádraig Ó Tuama.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to listen to an interview with Pádraig Ó Tuama on Krista Tippett’s On Being. I was so grateful to hear it because it has turned out to be one of my favorite episodes of her podcast.

Pádraig Ó Tuama is a poet, theologian, and at the time of the podcast, he was the leader of the Corrymeela community, a peace and reconciliation center in Northern Ireland. On this podcast, entitled, Belonging Creates and Undoes Us Both, Pádraig Ó Tuama says so many powerful things about voicing and hearing stories. He describes the experience as sacramental.

Have you ever thought about story as sacrament? A means of grace? An opportunity to connect with God and neighbor? An moment to make the past or hoped-for-future present? An invitation toward recreation? The promise of belonging, no matter what? New life — resurrection?

Perhaps when we have the opportunity to tell or hear a story, especially one that is very true and formational to life, we can remember this framework. I’ll share some of Pádraig Ó Tuama‘s quotes below:

“And therefore, every possibility of a person putting words to something, especially something that’s been difficult, is in itself a sacrament.”

“Words are the way to put narrative onto something, and to turn an experience — and especially, I suppose, thinking of conflict situations — to turn an experience that you would rather not have had into something where you can say, at least I’ve had the capacity to tell a story about it, even when that story is painful and unfinished and unresolved, nevertheless, there is a way in which to have words for it. You’re crystallizing it. You’re sacramentalizing it.”

“Let’s begin to be gentle and soothe the fear of fear and find a way that story can be its own liberator if you can find a way to hold it in a generous way.”

“And that is where language is limited because language needs courtesy to guide it and an inclusion and a generosity that goes beyond precision and become something much more akin to sacrament, something much more akin to how it is you can be attentive to the implications of language in the room for those who may have suffered.”

“Don’t let the terrible narrative be the thing that holds you. There is the possibility that you can be the site of generosity from which you, and also your own can benefit. You can be the place from which goodness and generosity can come — that is, the person who has held in their body the most hostility might be the possibility of the place of hospitality also. And that is a story worth telling.”

Renee Roederer

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