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Storytelling Moon - Wisdom Stories

During the Storytelling Moon— the depths of the cold time here in the Northern Hemisphere—is a time of refreshment and renewal by reading and listening to stories. “Curling up by a fire with a good book” is a phrase I often hear describing a delicious moment, seemingly stolen. The Protestant work ethic has made “idleness the work of the devil” so we find it hard to take time to sit, read, listen, and ponder. Yet, it is in these slow times that we take time to think about our lives, our relationships, our challenges, and our joys. If we do not have reflective times, we cannot process the stuff of our lives into wisdom.

I look back and remember my Dad loving to read to us…usually in December to January during holidays, but on summer holidays too. He always read inspirational stories, usually with some moral to teach. I loved his voice…the rise and fall of his baritone voice, his pauses, the punctuated or flowing rhythm, the wistful trailing off at end of a poignant sentence. When we were children, having to sit still and listen was hard…especially to adult-like stories. We would groan… “Daaaad, pluueeese…not another story….!!” All four of us tried to convey how he was torturing us. He ignored us and flipped purposefully through, finding the right one. For Christmas, he would spend hours in his office reading through his books for just the right story to speak to that moment in our family. Even now I remember the lump in my throat and fighting back tears, as we saw our lives in a mirror. The equivalent today would probably be the Chicken Soup books, but his were more poetic devotional books, which he has read throughout his life.

Despite only a Grade 8 education, he conveyed the importance of stories and times of reflectiveness. He had wanted to be a pastor, but his lack of education prevented this. Nevertheless, he was always a devotional leader in the church…a philosopher-carpenter. As a young woman in the 70s, I begged him to hire me in the summers, so that I could make a decent amount of money for university. Against my mother’s better judgement, I worked for him several summers and during the school year. His foreman was a deeply spiritual man just like Dad, and together they would tell the most delicious stories, always with a point to share. Even then, I knew these were privileged moments among wise and gentle men. Working out on the prairies, raising homes and barns, I knew I belonged…from the lovely nicknames they gave me, to their sharing of knowledge about the birds, animals, and weather, their childhood stories, and their thoughts on politics, religion, and daily lived issues.

I know he was mimicking his own parents who read to his large family, as there were only two books in the house, the Bible and the hymnal. Prior to literacy, the elders would have been the oral story tellers and family record keepers. Songs were another mechanism of story, reflection, solace, and gratitude, no matter how difficult life was. Of course, the Christian church also gave us a retinue of stories. My favorite were Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon, known as the wisdom books.

In his later years, Dad tried to tell us his personal stories…but we were too sophisticated by then. Yet, the learning stuck deep in my soul. I heard his desire and started to show up with my tape recorder to audiotape his stories. Years later, I compiled his growing-up stories and the stories of my aunties and uncles…with all the joy, humour, sadness, hardship, tragedy, and resulting wisdom that saturated the telling. Even as a child, I remember their life lessons… “At your age, you should…” or “Always remember to….” or "Now, that means...." They understood their lives as deeply rooted in family, soil, and faith, rich with meaning.

By comparison, in my teen years, the core question my friends and I struggled with is, “Who am I?” the quintessential modern question. In retrospect, my ancestors had not been fully modernized yet, so they did not seem (as?) troubled by this question. But my friends and I agonized over it throughout high school and beyond. The advanced education we would receive took us out of our ancestral locale and extended family. While a point of pride for the family, we were in the process of losing our roots.

When I needed to move across the country for a job, my mom called all my aunties and uncles together for a farewell party, so that I knew what and who I was leaving. These are the terrible conflicts that our capitalist economy, professionalization, and mobile society has created for us. We try to make it work, but now children are even less rooted, trying even harder to understand their place in the world. I told my children the stories of their births so that they would understand their belonging, the families they were born into. I read many good stories to them at bedtime, beyond the little years. Nevertheless, we have all been mesmerized by shallow movies, computer games, and other base entertainment. We have lost the importance of real stories, important stories, and therefore the most common pathways to wisdom.

Wisdom has been sidelined by science, considering itself the source of truth and certainty. Yet, as sociologist Max Weber suggests, science will not, and honestly cannot, tell us what is a good and wise life. This was left to arcane philosophy and religion, manifesting in centuries of religious war. So, how do we find and how can we teach wisdom now?