Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story
Book Review

Christina Baldwin captured our spirits with her book Calling the Circle, still the best introduction to the growth possibilities inherent in small groups. This time she has captured our hearts. She certainly did mine with her opening story of her beekeeping clergy grandfather, the yearly family honey harvest, and her grandfather having her read from the book of Isaiah though the lens of a honey-filled bottle. "Where he touched my hair," she remembers, "I thought it smelled of honey. And where he touched my heart, there is honey still."

Story both invites us into the experience of another and brings to new life our own memories. That experience never comes through with absolute clarity, however, but as something that has been particularly shaped by the story teller. "Story is life seen through the honey jar, slightly distorted by personal experience, perception, inclination, and fancy." It is through this shaping that story takes on its power to convey meaning.

When we tell our own stories, we discern from the mad rush of raw events the meaning those events have for us. Unless we tell our stories, we careen from event to event. When we make the effort to carve story out of event, we bring new depth into our life and new life into our relationships.

The first half of the book is stunningly powerful. I underlined sentences on almost every page, such gems as:

Story is the narrative thread of our experience - not what literally happens, but what we make out of what happens.

Events become real when we organize experience into narrative: we literally cannot think without words.

History is what scholars and conquerors say happened; story is what it was like to live on the ground.

What we preserve in larger human story determines what we believe is possible in the world.

The second half of the book is slower paced, taking us into particular situations at a deeper level. Christina Baldwin is an experienced story catcher. Tape recorder in hand, she visited her aging grandmother, consultants in Denmark, an alchoholic grandmother turned family healer, and pastors of a people-centred church - to name a few. She knows story, and what it takes to be a storycatcher. They are people:

What has this to do with the church? For one thing, we owe our origins and our very existence today to the power of the stories that Jesus told his followers and that his disciples told the world. Closer to home, Baldwin documents how an organization can flounder when it forgets it founding story, but comes to life when that story is re-discovered. She has long been an advocate of small groups as places where it can be safe to share our stories and deepen our spirituality. Most of all, it is a book filled with hope, and hope is a precious much needed commodity in congregations today:

Hope says the world is still beginning, life is young and still getting organized. Hope says come on in, there's something only you can do, a story only you can share. Hope defines this time in history as a great turning; a time when human beings are taking our place as the earthly ones capable of wisdom and good judgment. Hope blows evidence of this capacity back into our hearts, and fills us with stories that inspire action.

Christina Baldwin, Storycatcher. New World Library, Novato, California, 2005. Review by Clair Woodbury. $26.95.

Congregational News. March 2008 Vol. 14 No. 4

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