The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic Podcast episode. To listen to the podcast, click here.
Today is episode 80: Contemplative Summer Week Two – Contemplating Story
Hi friends, as I explained in detail before a break way back in episode 78, I’m taking this summer to focus on contemplation with a variety of methods and focuses, and each week this summer I’ll model a different kind of contemplative prayer for you. This week, we’re contemplating story.
Stories are powerful, and we’re surrounded by them literally everywhere we look. Writer Joseph Campbell’s theory of a Hero’s Journey, or Monomyth, teaches that all of the great stories and indeed our own, too, follow a pattern of seventeen common stages or steps, which in time train and teach a hero to overcome their trials. Each of us – yes, even you and me – has a hero’s potential in the story of our lives.
And we know this from the start, don’t we? We might have grown up reading parables or fables that end with a moral that somehow helps us to maneuver through our own stories. We love the fictional stories of superheroes or epic battles or the biographies that tell the true story of someone overcoming terrible odds to become a hero in someone else’s story, too. You might say that every sports game is a kind of story, that the cycles in nature tell stories, and that every undertaking is a kind of adventure. Even the psalms say that the heavens and the skies are continually telling the story of the glory of God. As for me, decoding the symbolism that’s found in novels was always my very favorite part of any English class and as my book club can tell you, I’m a sucker for a metaphor hidden in the pages of fiction.
In Ignatian or Jesuit spirituality, the use of imagination to place us in the stories of the Gospels is a way to understand those stories from a fresh angle, and we will look at this form of contemplation in another episode this summer, but for today I want to focus on contemplation with the stories that we find apart from those found in the Bible because as I said, stories are everywhere, so what better practice for us?
As you choose your story to contemplate this week, you might consider a well-loved novel or even children’s book that you loved as a kid. Maybe you’ll choose the story of another person found in the pages of a memoir or biography, or a story found in a narrative song or maybe your favorite movie?
The stories we’re attracted to or attached to can inform us about our own lives and stories if we pay attention, because God can use them to teach us something we need to understand or to know on a different level. So, all that said, friends, this week I contemplated a book by Mitch Albom called Finding Chika.
I chose the book from the library because I knew the author, and I bet you do, too. He wrote the best-selling books, Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven, among many others, but I did not know when I downloaded it into my kindle that this would be a story I would feel called to contemplate.
Finding God and ourselves in a story might come to us as a sudden revelation or it may be that an inkling might slowly tap on the walls of our heart until we realize an opening from God to slow down, pay attention, and intentionally contemplate. In this case, I was half-way through the book before I realized the invitation from God to understand this story as a metaphor about me and him.
Finding Chika is the heartwarming true story of a spirited Haitian girl named Chika, whom the author and his wife brought to their home in America to try to find a cure for her rare brain cancer. I loved this book and I recommend it for sure but just to be clear, reading and enjoying a story are not the same thing as contemplating it.
There was one particular scene in Finding Chika that unlocked it as a story that I knew I wanted to contemplate. They’re at Mott’s Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan for one of many visits for Chika, and there they find fairy doors built into the baseboards of the hallways. It’s a way to add a bit of lighthearted fun for patients as they endure their treatments, and in this scene, Mitch walks on ahead and puts coins or dollar bills into each fairy door that he knows Chika will encounter. And friend, it struck me like a bolt of lightning that this is how God provides for me, too. He knows my need, he knows the path I’ll walk, he knows the doors that I will open and when, and he puts good things there for me to find; people or circumstances, beauty or opportunity. God walks both with me and a little bit ahead and he is always working for my good. Honestly, it brought me to tears this week thinking about what a good father God is to me.
From there, I contemplated other parts of the story. I prayed on it, I journaled about it, I even brought the story with me into yoga one day where I gathered in even more connections during my time in savasana. God was using that story to help me to slow down and to show me the parallels of how he loves me as a very good Dad loves a beloved daughter. Through the story of Mitch and Chika, I understood how God has chosen and adopted me, how God defends me and helps me fight my battles, how he makes a way for me, how he makes a home and a shelter for me, how he delights in and wants to spend time with me. I received in my spirit the truth of God’s personal care, how he is a God who lavishes gifts on us, who misses us when we’re not with him, who sees our need and acts to help, how he moves heaven and earth and how, when he sees us in pain, he feels that pain, too. I understood for the first time in a long while the truth of how he really does count every hair on our heads, how he holds us close, how he makes a family out of us, how he honors those who care for us. And I felt the kindness and lighthearted way of God, too, how he prays with us, sure, but also how he sings and dances with us, too. I felt his joy and laughter in communion with us. And I guess the best way to sum up this time of contemplation with the story of Mitch and Chika is that I felt that he’s our Dad, friends, that he’s my Dad and that I’m his girl and that no matter what I go through, he thinks I’m uniquely wonderful and he’s not leaving me to face my challenges alone, not ever. God is helping us to write our stories from that place of unique belovedness and this is a truth I needed to hear. So, I wonder, friend, how about you?
Well, that was a bit of my experience with contemplating story this week, and, friend, I truly hope that you will have your own with whatever story you choose. If you’d like to share your experience with me or if you need me for anything, you can always find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. If you’d like to support this podcast financially, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with links related to the story I contemplated this week, so do check all of that out, but before we go, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
God, in this time that is so challenging for so many of us, help us to remember that we have personal access to you, because of your unwavering and selfless love for us. Help each one listening in their experience of contemplation this week – may each one, with courage and with your grace walk through a good door toward a deeper understanding of you in this time. And may we have grace for each other’s stories, too, because it’s true that if we knew the inner life of any human being and how you see and interact with them throughout their lives, it would be a movie we’d never want to end, a story we could never put down. Thank you for honoring and helping us to write good stories, Lord. And in the name of Jesus we pray, amen.
Well thanks for listening today, friend, and I’ll see you next time.
As we explore a variety of methods of contemplative prayer this summer, week two is all about contemplating story. As you choose your story and draw near to God this week, I pray that you will have a fruitful encounter with God who is crazy about you.
If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram or on my blog. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
1. Fairy Doors of Ann Arbor, MI by Jonathan B. Wright
2. Top Ten Mitch Albom books, by Ed A. Murray
3. Finding Chika, by Mitch Albom on Amazon
4. Podcast: Everything Happens with Kate Bowler, lovely interview with Mitch Albom on Chika and other topics
5. Video: Animated explanation of the Hero’s Journey, by Matthew Winkler and Kirill Jeretsky