Giving Voice to Our True Story

Last week, I suggested that our true home is the place of our authentic personal voice. This is the voice that comes from our inmost core, from our sacred worth. It involves our tuning into the meaning and beauty of life. This awareness encompasses life in its both/and dimensions, its light and darkness, its holy and broken hallelujah. We may be helped to listen to and speak from this inner voice through solitude, friendship, and the arts. When we are in touch with and at home to who we truly are, we can then be at home to one another.

One approach is to explore the image of our life as a story. We inherit the script from family, culture, nationality, etc. The challenge is to uncover our own voice, our own story. This story may align with or differ from the inherited story.

In an article, “The Story the Child Keeps,” inner city educator, Richard Lewis, says that children are often given the impression that education is just a matter of returning correct answers. From television commercials, they are told that the purpose of life is to acquire things. At the same time, the pervasive violence of the programs instills the sense that life is dangerous and frightening. He adds that many children can pass an entire childhood without ever realizing that they have an inward life.

He goes on to say that it is important to encourage children to find and tell their own stories. He suggested that they simply tell about a visit to their grandmother, or talk about their walk to school, or any experience. As they do so, they sense that their mind has the inward ability to understand who we are as well as the nature of the world we inhabit. They learn that it is from the inside of ourselves that they are able to grasp and create their story. They are then able to be open to and enriched by other stories.

In a similar way, Irish scholar, Mary Congren, says that it is essential to find ways to nourish the spirit. In her work with women, she says that is crucial to hear them into speech. This task involves listening to their stories. Once again, this thought recalls the issue of uncovering our inmost voice and expressing the story within that voice, the story that voice tells.

Theologian, Tad Guzie, has written that some experiences enter our awareness and are significant, even life-shaping. These lived experiences are most basically retold in the form of a story. Storytelling, he claims, is the most basic way of naming an experience. I would add that telling our story to a trustworthy and caring other is an indispensable part of this process. As Mary Congren intimates, we may listen someone into their own truth, their own authentic script, their true story from within.

Philosopher, Sam Keen, also suggests that we discover our inmost voice, our true story, by telling it to a trusted other. He writes: “Everyone has a fascinating story to tell, an autobiographical myth. And when we tell our stories to one another, we, at one and the same time, find the meaning of our lives and are healed from our isolation and loneliness. … We don’t know who we are until we hear ourselves speaking the drama of our lives to someone we trust to listen with an open mind and heart.”

Guzie says further that we also need for our personal stories to become part of a larger story. This larger story interprets and gives meaning to our personal story. The challenge is to find a larger story that is not misleading or destructive. The play Death of a Salesman and the novel Something Happened both portray the devastating effects of the external success script.

Every story contains a way of looking at life. A good life story is one that takes into account the whole range of our life experiences. It enables us to celebrate our joys, survive our sorrows, share our life, and help build our society. One example is this brief story called The Gift.
“In one seat on the bus, a wispy old man sat holding a bunch of fresh flowers. Across the aisle was a young woman whose eyes came back again and again to the man’s flowers. The time came for the old man to get off. Impulsively he handed the flowers to the young woman,. “I can see you love the flowers,” he explained, “and I think my wife would like for you to have them. I’ll tell her I gave them to you.” She accepted the flowers, then watched the old man get off the bus and walk through the gate of a small cemetery.”

In only a few words, this is a story of love and loss, two underlying life experiences. They are symbolized by the flowers which express at once the beauty and brevity of life, as well as the love which gives it meaning. The story further suggests that love grows and life is enriched, not by hoarding it, or being imprisoned by its pain, but by sharing that life and love. Its vision runs counter to myths of greed, possessiveness, and domination.

What these stories suggest is that it is crucial to uncover the script that we are following, however blindly, and to listen to our own inner voice and the script that longs to unfold authentically from within. In the words of Sam Keen: “The task of a life is to exchange the unconscious myth (script) for a conscious autobiography.”

We are assisted in this task by stories–and other art forms–that take into account the whole range of human experience, its joys and sorrows, yet with an undertone of hope.

May you learn to uncover your own authentic voice, and the story it longs to live out. And may you give voice to that story to trusted friends, and share it in a life-giving way with a wider community.