Thoughts Along the Way…
On the second shelf from the top in the bookcase across from my desk The Active Life by Parker Palmer is lying atop Return to Stillness by Trevor Carolan. Return to Stillness, in turn, rests atop Wishful Thinking by Frederick Buechner. At least once a day the odd and accidental stacking of these three titles makes me smile. In some oblique way I’m pretty sure that this is a map of my psyche. Narrativium stacked those books that way, I’m sure of it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about narrativium. I discovered narrativium while reading The Science of Discworld by Ian Stewart, Jack Cohen and the late and much-lamented Terry Pratchett, creator of the Discworld series of books. I started reading it on vacation and I’ve been taking the book in small bites because it contains a lot of good, real-world science, well explained—everything from quantum theory to biology to climatology to geology and plate tectonics. Between the chapters of real-world science is a pretty funny story about Discworld magic and the bumbling wizards of Unseen University. In their universe, narrativium is an essential element. Copper, iron, hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, narrativium. Narrativium is the element that drives everything else. It makes oxygen and hydrogen combine to form water because that’s their narrative, their story. It drives living things to evolve because that’s how you eventually get orangutans and bananas and keep the story of everything else moving along. Narrativium is what makes all things, animate or inanimate, live out their destinies.
Narrativium is, I think, a handy, or at least a playful way to think about an important theological concept. “In the beginning was the Word,” we read in the powerfully poetic creation narrative at the opening of the Gospel of John. The Greek word that we translate as “Word” is logos, and one of the oldest meanings of logos is “story” or “narrative.” In the beginning was narrativium. The story. The Narrative. And the Narrative created context. And the Narrative stepped into the context and dwelt among us. And that’s when the story really got rolling. God is not only the One Who Is (which is one way to translate the divine name God reveals to Moses in Exodus), God is the Narrative in whom we live and move and have our being! God is the story.
There’s a terrific little book by Prof. Amy-Jill Levine called Short Stories by Jesus. Jesus knew that we understand life by the stories we hear, the stories we tell and the stories we live, so when he wanted to get a point across, he told stories. Parables. Narrativium. We explain our most complex ideas with stories. Sometimes the story is told with music, sometimes in poetry, sometimes in prose, sometimes in calculus, but it’s always a story. Once upon a time two hydrogen atoms bumped into an oxygen atom and made water. E=mc2. Once before time God said, “Let there be light.”
So what’s your story? What stack of titles maps your psyche? How does your story fit into the Great Story who became flesh and dwelt among us, the Narrative in whom we live and move and have our being? Is it being told with calculus or simple arithmetic? Is it a saga set to music? Is there a chapter where you dance? Are you working on a good ending? Oh… and are you getting enough narrativium in your diet?