I wish I had asked my mother to tell me more stories about her life growing up on the isle of Crete. Now that she is gone I want to put down on paper the ones she did tell me so I can pass them onto my daughters and, some day, to my grandchildren.

Many of our parents and grandparents lived in difficult times, sometimes having only their faith in God to which to cling. They endured the Great Depression and World Wars, came to a new land, grew up as a first generation ethnic-American, and sought to give us the material things they did not have and preserve the Church that was given to them. I hope they shared how God and the Church affected their lives, for these are the best stories of all.

Albert Rossi's article gives us insight to the power of personal stories and how to go about beginning the process. Perhaps this holiday season is a good time to begin sharing personal stories with our family, especially our children. The spiritual legacy we pass on is one that will effect the generations to come. - Phyllis Meshel Onest

The Power Of Personal Stories

by Albert S. Rossi, Ph.D.

Personal stories from childhood which pertain to the Church have unique power. Given the right opportunity sharing these stories with others can be a gratifying experience for ourselves and for others. Faith can be shared. Seeds can be planted. Lives can be touched. And, I dare say, God can be greatly glorified.

In Parishes

One parish I know had an interesting exercise in story telling/story sharing after Pre-Sanctified Liturgy. Following a light meal in the Church hall, the priest led a group discussion by telling a personal story of his own. He opened up. He then invited others to follow with stories of their own. The group slowly opened up to share stories about themselves with the others. The common element in the stories was the presence of the Church in their lives.

The scene was simple and dignified. I have no doubt that something very important happened that evening. They did open and share their lives. They did express their faith. They did touch each other. And, I am sure, they did magnify God.

In the Home

Similar sharings can be organized or simply suggested on the spot, in one's home. Once, following a Lay Ministries meeting in my living room, I asked the committee members to join me in a sharing of personal childhood stories about faith and Church.

As I recall, I led with a story about my grandfather and Church. The story was simple and direct. My grandfather tipped his hat as he passed any, and every Church. He said that he believed God didn't discriminate and was, indeed present in every Church.

We discussed the impact of this story for a little while. Others then volunteered stories of their own. One woman cried as she spoke her story.

My life, our lives, were deeply moved by the sharing.

In the Family

When my mother visited our home during my children's early years, I had a regular request for her. I asked her to tell a bedtime story about her childhood, or my childhood, to my children.

My mother was flattered that I would ask her such a clear, deliverable request. She felt needed and included. She also understood almost instinctively that she had something very, very valuable to contribute to the lives of my children, a part of her very fiber, her very soul.

The story telling time proved to be a relaxed, easy, loving time for my mother and her grandchildren. Judging by the eyes and attention of the children, something almost magical was happening. The children were temporarily transported to the world of their Nanny's youth.

In subsequent visits, the children themselves began to ask for Nanny's stories. The children loved them. They felt close to their grandmother and to her treasures, told in the form of her stories.

As a parent, I have often put my children to sleep with stories from my childhood. Those moments were moments of special bonding. The children came to know their daddy as he was as a child.

After awhile, I ran dry of stories from my childhood. The children would beg for reruns of the oft-told, well worn stories. Soon the children could tell the same stories with as much detail as I could.

Seasons for Story Telling

Special seasons provide special opportunities for stories. Lent, Advent, vacations, Thanksgiving, Pascha, Christmas, and other feasts all provide a unique time to tell and retell stories about Church, childhood and God.

The task is to understand the power of story telling and to look for chances to share. These chances can be planned for family settings, in home meetings and parish affairs.

As with all efforts to seek God, we ask to be led by and be open to the prompting and leading of the Holy Spirit. We ask for the right time and setting for a story telling scene, and for the right stories to share. Within the stories is a faith sharing. Inside of the heart of the very story is an impulse given and received from the very heart of God.

Story telling in this form is the passing along of oral history. This is the way God passed along his revelation of Himself to his chosen people, the nation Israel. God moves within the heart of the story teller, and the story receiver, to reveal His own heart. In a way, telling and hearing stories of our experience of Church is a way of entering into the very heartbeat of God. We might say we co-reveal God by participating in His revelation of Himself through our memory and our experience of Him.

Dr. Albert Rossi is a Professor of Psychology at Pace University, Pleasantville, NY, and has a private practice in family counseling. Dr. Rossi is a member of the OCA Unit on Education and Community Life Ministries, co-directing the program on Family Life Ministries. This article has been reprinted with permission from the Resource Handbook (Vol. II, 1994).

© 1996 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
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