Last week we thought about the effect Covid has had on spectator sports and the arts. We pondered how such developments may have occurred in ancient time only after our earliest ancestors may have first tamed their environment enough to survive. Similarly, the last six months have challenged us in basic ways with certain food scarcities, travel limitations, financial challenges, health adversity, and have brought even our modern society to a place similar in these ways to our predecessors. The centrality of God in ancient society compared to His being sidelined in many parts of our modern world is a striking difference however, one which we perceive may be changing for the better as a result of these trying times.
A thought to noodle is that storytelling may be the precursor of cultural arts at the societal level. Early art and sculpture served as an interface with the divine, the story of one’s life and possessions. Ornate Egyptian tombs were personal between the deceased and the spiritual realm. King David’s psalms wrote of HaShem’s glory and were filled with stories. As societies mature, their stories describe them, as individuals and as a people.
History, “his story”, is preserved through story telling. Person to person communication, through words, graphics, and song, keeps alive the essence of us as a people. Each person’s experience literally speaks into the ever evolving tale of us. In addition to the written Torah, Moses received Oral Torah at Mt. Sinai, a divinely inspired basis for the writings, taught through written and oral stories related to the original Ten Commandments. The Bible, itself, brings us innumerable stories from which we learn God’s ways for us.
How we handle life’s challenges defines us, not just individually, but also, as a people. We look back at various times in “history”, and try to not make the same mistakes. We read of oppressive societies and try to make ours more accepting of diversity, our stories ones of love and acceptance, making choices for change. We fight the thought that history repeats itself. All of this, the choices we make, becomes the story of our people.
As we watch and hear all the stories in today’s news, we often feel helpless at the frequent discouraging headlining events. Even horrific weather becomes part of the narrative. Fact checking others’ stories becomes a frustrating activity making the accounts we hear even more disturbing. Listening to or reading the news becomes a mind boggling activity as we try to figure out what to believe.
To balance the unnerving stories, we take respite in human interest stories – the amazing front line workers fighting Covid, neighbors sharing hard-to-find grocery items, strangers risking their lives for others, volunteers helping those in need, protesters marching against injustice, communities banning together for change.
Our individual responses to events, and resulting actions and interactions, define us individually and societally. What each of us says and does, in every moment, becomes our own and collectively, our society’s stories.
Do we care for ourselves? Do we try to eat nutritiously, exercise, get good rest? Do we find those precious moments to just pray and talk with HaShem? Do we slow down and just look out the window, or take a walk, breathe in this created world deeply? Do we work on our hearts to connect with God to grow our abilities to be kind and to love unconditionally?
As we awake each morning, do we thank HaShem for bringing another day of life to us? Do we think about who we can reach out to this day to ease their load? Do we throughout the day notice the countless miracles of creation that bless us so undeservedly? When we’re frustrated with another, do we first think about how he or she may be feeling at that moment? Do we work to make someone else’s life just a little easier? Do we turn a blind eye to what makes us uncomfortable, or do something about it? Do we hide from reality or try to make it a better one? Do we stand up for those not able to speak for themselves? Do we help another when we see the need, or just keep walking?
Like a stream of consciousness writing, do we perpetually throughout the day notice we keep thinking of HaShem and thanking Him for our lives? Do we make a conscious effort to do so? For when we do, our personal stories become intertwined with His story, with thoughts of Him, bringing immediate reminders of how to make choices that bring love and kindness into our thoughts and actions resulting in a so much more beautiful story to tell.
So what’s your story?