The Storyteller


November 1, 2009
Ruth 1:1-18  - the beginning of the story (though the whole of it is what we used in worship!)



"The storyteller" image by Tereza - of Cooper City, FL, www.tsartgallery.com

Once upon a time there was a most remarkable storyteller.  Singular, unequaled in creativity and prose, master of subtlety and surprise.  This storyteller was unparalleled at the craft, weaving such intricate and complex symphonies of plot and drama, centering on the lives of characters so full and profound that even the most skilled tellers of tales in the land could only strive to emulate this storyteller. 

In fact, so inspired were the stories, that every other author who wrote, or poet who spoke out in verse, every composer who wove a myth in music or artist who sought with any medium at all to in some way bring a fresh story into the world, inevitably plagiarized; so deep, original, and imaginative were the works from this one prolific storyteller.

But this storyteller was mysterious.  In fact, the storyteller’s identity was shrouded in vagueness, and few and far between were those who had ever claimed to see a face up close, or hear a voice with their own ears.  People knew people who knew people who had talked to people who had caught a glimpse of this author leaving a grocery store, or thought they had driven past the writer’s house, though no one was quite sure exactly where it was, or even generally where it might be, if the truth be told.  So for the most part, the only glimpse of who this magnificent, unsurpassable weaver of tales was as a person was what people could glean from the stories themselves.

The stories were analyzed and studied, both for their power as narratives, but also for any clues of the storyteller’s identity, glimpses into the soul of this great crafter of lives and plots.
The most notable thing about these stories, those who scrutinized them would point out, were the common threads throughout all the stories.  Every story included pain and tragedy, every story bled real, messy life, but every story was saturated with redemption.  Hope shone out in intricate and always surprising ways. 
And every story brought about its salvation through the most unlikely of characters.  The heroes were never the strong, brave and handsome, the winsome and wonderful.  They were always the overlooked, underrated, flawed and forgotten.  They were the weak and the strange, the inadequate and illogical. 

In fact, it was a favorite tactic of this storyteller to tell stories within stories, to surprise the characters themselves by their role in the stories, not knowing what was unfolding in and around them until they looked back - or not ever knowing in their own lifetime, and their children or grandchildren looking back - and discovering that the hero was right there next to them the whole time.  That redemption had unfolded right under their noses, in their own hands, in fact, without their being aware they were playing such a pivotal role. 

The protagonists often hadn’t a clue that the story was their own, and then once they realized it was, discovered almost immediately afterwards that it wasn’t at all their story – that it was much larger than them and may have unfolded entirely without them, except that it hinged completely on their very selves, and nobody else, occupying that particular role.  This was one of the storyteller’s trademarks.

Over time, the more astute students of this writer’s work began to discover that the stories – while in and of themselves each beyond measure - fit together like a puzzle, that one story shed light into another, opened it up - made it more complete, actually, and most extraordinary of all, that every story belonged beside the other stories because they were actually just tiny chapters in a single much larger Story -with a capital S-  that this writer was creating. 
And one day when the whole corpus of this writer’s work would be complete, the story would be epic – comedy, tragedy, adventure and romance, fanciful and heart wrenchingly beautiful – and nothing would remain unresolved.  It was building to the most satisfying and complete conclusion never before conceived of. 

Also, they began to discern, the Story was highly autobiographical.  Hidden within every element of every story that made up every part of this larger story were revelations of its creator: the fingerprints, and breath and body and warmth, the glances and expressions and intonations and nuances, the tones and shades of the storyteller were next to each character, behind each situation, underneath every word. 
The stories, the Story, was utterly about the storyteller.

But the final shock of all, the greatest revelation came to the truly attentive readers, the unsuspecting ones who sat down with the story and opened their souls to it, who met the story face to face, heart to heart, who let it tell itself to them and wept and laughed along with the antiheros.  Those readers who saw as they met each character what the characters themselves could not see, or could only see after time – that they were in this greater Story.  That their choices and words, their tragedies and triumphs were not only their own stories but became the very substance from which the larger Story took form, without which the larger story could not be. 
These particular readers would celebrate the characters, and marvel at the genius of the author, and be moved beyond measure at the power of the story itself.  Then they would close the book and put it down, intending to stand and stretch and move onto other business, but instead would be suddenly glued to their seats, heart skipping a beat, unable to move for the astonishing realization that washed over and engulfed them, the bewildering insight that
actually, their very own lives were part of the Story. And the Story was real.

*****
Ruth’s life had come to a sudden halt.  The road branched out before her. On the one hand was the right way, the safe way, the way that everyone would affirm, the logical way.  Go back to your own home; go back to your people. Go back to your gods.  You’ve had a setback. But you’re young.  Start over.
And no one, not even God, would fault her for taking that way. 

That way would have made her more secure; that way would have made her less afraid. That way was the way most of us take most of the time, and probably Ruth too. 
And if she had taken that way, there would have been nothing wrong with that, and also you and I would probably never know of her story.  It would have been a fine story, but it would have faded into history with every other story of tragedy and survival, every other human story of life and love and loss, that only in the very end reveals its role in the larger story, its part of the mosaic of human history. 
But instead, the story of this woman, this foreigner with nothing to give and no future in front of her, became the story of the people of Israel, the story of King David, the story of Jesus Christ.  Ruth is part of this much greater Story, with no idea that she would play a role in anything beyond her own seemingly insignificant life, which she basically set aside for the seemingly insignificant life of someone she loved.

What could she do for Naomi, really? She had nothing to give, she was not a man, she had no standing or property or means of support – nothing.  She could do absolutely nothing for Naomi but be with her, share her position, her journey, her currently miserable lot in life.
“Where you go I will go, your people shall be my people, your God shall be my God, and when you die they will bury me beside you. I will give up my own security and future to accompany you, come what may.”

Ruth has a choice and she chooses the unknown. She takes the risk, with no foreseeable way it will work out, and stands by the person she loves.  At the threshold of security or chance, self-preservation or sacrificing the possibility of being saved, she stands by Naomi, she chooses to go into the unknown, into the fearful place, alongside her friend and mother-in-law. 

Once upon a time, and on the one hand, there were three women, who suffered a great tragedy, and lost all of the men in their lives.  They were left unprotected and vulnerable, with no discernable future before them.  One went back to her people and started her story over.  One was the right people in the wrong place, at the wrong time-  in a foreign land and much too old to start fresh.  The last one was the wrong people altogether.  She shouldn’t even factor into the story at all.
And on the other hand, in the bigger Story, there was the lifeline of humanity unfurling, the salvation of a people, or rather, of all people; the lineage of the Messiah to unfold.

So let me ask you this: From whose bloodline would the Storyteller enter the Story itself?

Well if you know anything about this storyteller, I mean, if you have read any of the works, you would recognize immediately it has all the classic marks – you would see right away the kind of story this is – and where this particular tale might lead.

Ruth’s story is ugly and beautiful, frustrating and hope-filled, terribly tragic and marvelously redemptive. Her story is both remarkable and also not at all unlike the stories sitting next to and around you right now, the living comedies, tragedies, fear and hope, suffering and redemption: in all their glorious and unimportant flesh and blood. 
Ruth’s story is both completely unique, and at the same time not so different from the stories unfolding in the lives of those ordinary and extraordinary individuals that happen to be gathered together in this room at this moment. 

I wonder what stories are playing out as we speak?
 I wonder what parts we are each occupying in the Story?
Aaah…but of course I would wonder that. 
That, after all, is the genius of the Storyteller,
who has a real knack for just this sort of tale.


[1] We read the story of Ruth, by Michael Williams from The Storyteller’s Companion the Bible, Volume 4.

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