Affirming the life and stories of the Storyteller: Part Two

by Geoff Hall on September 14, 2011

Affirming the life and stories of the Storyteller: Part Two.

[Please view all video links on full screen]

We looked last week at the role of the storyteller, in light of the forthcoming Tree House on Wednesday, September 28th:


Imagine a community gathered under the stars, sharing food; stories of the day’s events, of hopes and aspirations. Imagine the Storyteller, standing up to perform this great account, passed down through generations and transmitted again to capture the imagination of those gathered, to help them understand who they are, their destiny, their call to look after the land, the water, the animals, each other!


The imagining, placing yourself into the narrative of Ancient Stories of identity and purpose, of community narratives, was not a means of escape but of directing your imagination for future developments. It was also a means to find, to understand salvation, to sense redemption was on its way.


Here’s an inspiring thought from Susan Sontag in an Essay entitled, ‘The artist as exemplary sufferer’. She is addressing storytelling.


The writer is the exemplary sufferer because he has found both the deepest level of suffering and also a professional means to sublimate (in the literal, not Freudian sense of sublimate) his suffering. As a man, he suffers; as a writer he transforms his suffering into art. The writer is the man who discovers the use of suffering in the economy of art —as the saints discovered the utility and necessity of suffering in the economy of salvation. [With apologies to all women writers out there] In ‘Against Interpretation: and Other Essays. p42.


Writing then for Sontag has a soteriological function, that is, it points us towards and helps us experience salvation.


The context of our Story of Origins is one of Cosmic and Personal significance. Creation is no throwaway, meaningless experiment, but a purposeful expression of Love (“His love endures forever”, is the thread which runs through Creation and its Song #136).

I was excited to discover that Paul knew of this storytelling device when he wrote a couple of letters to Followers of the Way in the Ancient Cities of Ephesus and Colossae. He paints big Cosmic images and then moves on to the Personal portraits. Life is always grounded in the Big Story (the meta-narrative) and the Big Story is always contextualised in the now and wow of lived experience. Knowing the Big Story is never enough, it must always impact on our lives right here, right now.

(Whilst writing this article I’m reminded of Terrence Malick’s film ‘The TREE of LIFE’, starting with cosmological grandeur and then allowing gravity to take us to the doorstep of the O’Brien family home).


The communally located storyteller senses this Cosmic thread in humanity’s story. The gift of the storyteller whether in word, image or the performance arts defines a world for us and populates it with rich characters. Otherwise there is no reason for any of us to go there! The really good storyteller can then invite us into this world. We suspend disbelief and enter gladly, or perhaps nervously depending on the genre! The world created is not unbelievable, it is not about suspending belief, as with a fairy story, but it is about our ability to enter the reality of the storyteller’s world, whether this is a book, film, sonic landscape or a world of movement. If the reader, viewer or audience can’t suspend their disbelief, then the story is not credible.

A friend of mine on Facebook, Steve Garber, once wrote that the artist ‘feels the world first’. Our sensitive nature predisposes us towards knowing, seeing, feeling what is happening in the world before others have gathered enough information to make a guess as to why events are unfolding.

Sontag reminds us that through suffering the artist/storyteller helps their community see salvation rising from the clouds of dust enveloping our streets, from polluted landscapes and from the twisted, disarticulated bodies of people slaughtered on the streets by their own Government. As the primary sensors of life, the storyteller suffers first, but they are also the first to see the hope of redemption. Be encouraged! It’s on its way!

See you at the next Tree House with Jari Moate, Ruth and Roger Whiter, Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire) and me!

Peace and Love,


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