“Hello?” I say, with trepidation.
“Mary, when you write your screenplay, I want Jennifer Lopez to play me.”
She is relentless. And she keeps me laughing.
For the past year she has suggested, cajoled, hounded and harassed me about writing a screen play using the characters who are our family members, and the scenarios that make up our lives.
It’s not unusual to get phone calls at strange times throughout the week with the latest, “So here’s what happened today.”
I often respond with, “Are you kidding me??” I really do need to start taking notes.
What she is asking me to do is tell our story, to write our “once upon a time.”
The need to share stories is part of human nature, and is documented from earliest times of human existence in ancient cave paintings and engravings from all over the world.
The stories expressed by our ancient ancestors were meant as an expression of who the artists were, as a people and as individuals. These pictographs say, “This is how we live, this is what we value, these are the things that move us to action and lead us to rest.”
Whether stories are told through art, the written word, music, dance or some other creative expression, the effect on those who experience them is the same.
Neuroscientists and psychologists explain that a compelling story can cause the release of the neurochemical oxytocin in the brain, affecting our beliefs and behavior, while making us feel good, safe and social.
Today, in our era of extreme marketing, the most effective story-telling is treasured as a means of product branding. Advertising, including commercials, are mini-stories meant not just to move viewers emotionally, but to move them to action.
Before marketers, there was Jesus.
Jesus clearly understood the power of story. His parables planted the seeds for a faith that would become the largest in the world, even though the message he was trying to impart was often contrary to the status quo of his time. He used parables filled with familiar images and characters to whom listeners could relate.
Jesus told his stories to help his listeners understand his transformative message and enable them to follow his way to his Father – to love God above all things and to love others.
We can imagine him sitting around the campfire on a cool night in Galilee, perhaps eating figs, bread and honey, and relaxing after a long day of preaching, when the disciples ask him, “Lord, What is the kingdom of heaven like?” He thinks about it for a minute and then replies, “Once upon a time, there was a mustard seed. It was the tiniest of seeds that God ever created. But one day, a man planted the tiny mustard seed in the soil and it grew into the greatest of shrubs and became a great tree, so that the birds of the air could take shelter in its branches and make nests in its shade.”
Of course, Jesus didn’t use the words, “Once upon a time,” but he did speak of something all the disciples would know – the ordinary mustard seed. Jesus used this familiar image to help his disciples, and us, see things in a new, richer light.
His stories were meant to nurture “Aha” moments and to deepen understanding of challenging spiritual and moral principles. He was able to foster this learning in his disciples because he was brilliant at knowing his audience. He understood that not all people are at the same level of faith, maturity or intellect.
Today, our young people are being inundated with stories daily, many of which are not in their best interest spiritually, morally or emotionally, but which can have a profound effect on their way of thinking and behaving. We need to counteract those stories with stories of our own, stories of love, forgiveness, hope and resurrection – stories of our Catholic faith.
“Once upon a time, there was a man lying hurt at the side of the road …”