Last time, I wrote about how being in the “great loneliness”–whether in the actual wilderness or in a private wilderness of suffering–can reveal truths that are hidden to others. “The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me,” wrote the thirteenth century mystic Meister Eckart. Hard times have a way of putting you eyeball to eyeball with the Unknown.
“Security is mostly a superstition,” said Helen Keller. “It does not exist in nature….Life is either a great adventure or it is nothing.” When you’re stripped of your title, your paycheck, your day-to-day identity, when you lose your home or the numbers on the piece of paper that you plan your life around suddenly plunges–or disappear completely– reality cansuddenly seem like a wild and woolly place, a wide open frontier where anything might come at you. Really not knowing what will come next–waiting without easy assumptions or despair, just hanging out in the wild–is about the hardest thing a human being can do. It tends to wake up the sleeping demons. Fear makes us contract, freeze up, separate ourselves from the flow of life. It’s not power that corrupts, it is fear, wrote the imprisoned leader of democratic Burma.
What can help us during a fearful time? Stories help–and yes I am proudly plugging the stories in the brand new “Imagination” issue of Parabola (available at Barnes and Nobles). There are nine traditional stories in the issue–among them a story from the Mende tribe in Sierra Leone, retold by Ishmael Beah, the young African author of A Long Way Gone, a recounting of the loss of his family and his village and his time as boy soldier. The magic in Beah’s story and in all the stories are proof that there is an imaginative and myth-making faculty in each of one of us that can help us come through the hardest or hard times, that can find guidance, surprising insights and goodness, in the midst of the greatest suffering.
Stories remind us of our common humanity. What stories have comforted you, guided you, made you feel less alone?