I was recently at a wonderful workshop for spiritual directors run by Pádraig Ó Tuama leader of the Corrymeela Community, Northern Ireland's oldest peace and reconciliation organisation. As a poet and theologian, Pádraig is
interested in storytelling, in how we tell our stories to ourselves and others: What are the deep narratives of our life's story trying to work their way out?
Our particular stories of life circle round us, as themes weaving their way in and out of who we understand our self to be... and who we might become. Our quest, our story, is constantly trying to resolve our self.
'I Live my Life in Widening Circles' by Rainer Maria Rilke
I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I will give myself to it.
I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?
In the workshop, we looked at various biblical narratives from Genesis to the Gospels to see how the writer started these: Where did they begin? What does that convey?
One challenge offered us was : How would you write the first sentence of the story of your life? It was extraordinary to hear of all the different places people in the group started. For some, it was their birth, for others their earliest memories, for some still their historical lineage going back before birth, for others a key moment, perhaps a birth of deep consciousness in some way - why start at the physical beginning? What is the beginning? What is your beginning?
I wonder where you would start and what your first sentence of the story of your life would be? Indeed, what would the first word, of the first sentence, of the first chapter of the story of your life be? You may find it worth pondering this question... What does it reveal to you about yourself and personal narrative?
So much of the privilege of being a spiritual director is about being a safe witnessing space to receive the telling of someone's own sacred story; a place where they can share with a fellow traveller whom they can trust to receive it with acceptance, understanding and compassion.
To conclude, I offer you an extract from one of Pádraig's thought-provoking and deeply moving poems from his latest book 'In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World':
I used to need to know
the end of every story
but these days I only
need the start to get me going.
God is the crack
where the story begins.
We are the crack
where the story gets interesting.
We are the choice of
where to begin -
the person going out?
the stranger coming in?
God is the fracture,
and the ache in your voice,
God is the story
flavoured with choice.
God is the woman who bleeds
and who touches.
We are the story
of courage or blushes.