There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
~ William Stafford ~
There are stories that imprison us and stories that liberate us, entering us, changing our circuitry and our chemistry, lifting us out of our isolation and relating us to a larger whole. Even if we consciously reject such a story, it is impossible to not know it because it has become part of us. Our brains are wired to receive and remember stories, especially unforgettable stories–stories that hold out a thread to a higher level of being. As a friend told me recently, the story of Jesus of Nazareth is now coded in her DNA, not a proposition that she “believes,” but a response wells up from the depths, offering itself like the instinct to pray in times of dire need, a way of touching what is beyond understanding.
A few years ago, Stephen Colbert pinned down the religious scholar Bart Ehrman, who was bravely pressing the case that there are discrepancies in the Bible, and particularly in the New Testament. Colbert asked him if he ever considered that Jesus is like the parable about the blind men and the elephant. In Colbert’s version four blind men stumble into a pit in which an elephant has also stumbled. How to understand this enormous thing that was in there with them? One touched a side, one blind man said the elephant was like the wall. Touching the leg of the elephant, another said the elephant was a tree. A third touched the trunk and concluded the elephant was like a snake.
“Isn’t it possible that you are missing the point?” asked Colbert. “And that Jesus is an elephant?” Colbert beamed, explaining that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were each only able to convey a small part of what happened because the story is just too vast to be encompassed by any one witness. Great stories are like this, mysteriously incomplete, asking something of us, asking to be part of us.