Friday, December 25, 2020

Treasured Words | Christmas Day 2020

"But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart."
Luke 2:19 NRSV 

The family farm I was raised on had belonged to my great-grandparents on the Smith side of the family. My parents also owned another farm in the country where my great-great grandparents (Gonnerman) had settled not long after moving from Germany in the 1800s. Every Sunday and many 'Holy Days of Obligation' I was in the same Roman Catholic church building for mass that my Bone and Schwarzweller ancestors had attended for 5 generations. All that and more of our family history took place over the span of between 100 and 200 years in the same rural Missouri county. I was steeped in it, and heard the stories from my grandmothers, great aunts, and parents. When my own children came along I was far from that place, and there was no way the kids would absorb it almost by osmosis as I had. So, I passed the stories I remembered along to them, as best as I could remember, and added in my own. It mattered to me that they had an idea of who and where they came from, even if the stories are half-remembered and likely to fade away much further in another generation. 

The stories we carry with us, whether our own or those told to us, can shape the course of our lives. We reflect on them, drawing lessons and heeding their warnings. Like Mary, we often treasure the words others have spoken to us and those which we have read. We turn them over and over, and with the handling the edges are smooth and they are polished. Without realizing it we misremember and embellish, frequently in response to the needs of the present moment. Sometimes in speaking with my mother I've realized that an event that looked one way to me appeared very different to her, at least in memory. It could be that one of us is more 'right' about the true events than the other, or that we're both living with our own interpretations. 

What matters is what those stories do for us or to us. A harmful story we tell ourselves, such as those that convince us we are failures or unworthy, can go from past events to self-realizing prophecies. A childhood trauma, a youthful betrayal, a setback in our college years or early careers can haunt us or help us, depending on how we handle it. The words of ancient texts, like the Bible, can perpetuate negative stereotypes, misogyny, racism, nationalism, and systemic violence. They can also breathe new life into us, inspire the formation of communities devoted to fostering human flourishing, and cast a vision for a better, brighter, more inclusive and affirming future. With both personal memories and passages of scripture, which path is taken depends on which words we treasure most.

Jesus is said to have told his disciples that where their treasure is, so would be their hearts. What words are we treasuring today? Words that help, or words that hurt? Stories that lift us up, or that drive us down into despair. It isn't always easy to shift our focus, and there isn't always a silver lining to every thing. And yet if we are to have hope we must have faith in that which is best. Spend some time today, if you would, bringing to mind and treasuring at least one story that brings you joy which you have heard or lived yourself. Then, try again tomorrow with another one. Let those stories soak into your soul, and see if with time you don't notice a difference.