This is proving to be a full week of story-telling with weddings in Sweden and the Netherlands, plus a memorial service in Finland on Sunday. Such occasions are of course moments to share stories about individuals and families. And that stirs reflection on heritage, roots, identity and destiny–not only of the newly married or newly deceased, but of us all.
A wedding represents the start of a new story. Of course, there is always a prologue, sometimes short, usually long. But the moment the promises are made, the rings are exchanged and the couple are pronounced husband and wife (let’s not go into contemporary variations), a new identity has been sealed and the new story begins.
At the same moment, two streams of stories are merged and begin new chapters. For the individuals involved are not isolated beings. They each belong to networks stretching back in time and, these days, potentially around the world.
The wedding of my nephew to his Swedish bride on a rocky outcrop overlooking a picturesque lake drew guests from New Zealand, Africa and numerous corners of Europe, especially Sweden.
Stories of both families were shared, of a long tradition of the bride’s family vacations near this lake, and of the groom’s family ventures across borders and deserts and in multiple international locations.
(The groom is the only person I know who has crossed the Sahara twice before even being born! When his parents were forced to endure a long wait at one border, along with queues of other vehicles, his very pregnant mother marched to the front, stuck her belly out in front, pointed at it and said to the border guard determinedly, “MonSIEUR!!” They were immediately waved through.)
Stories reveal identity and heritage. They tell us who people are, where they come from, what has shaped them. They unearth the roots that have given stability and nourishment. They create a sense of belonging and self-awareness. They explain values and traditions, the reasons why we do things the way we do them. They call us to account to be good stewards of such values.
As a couple starts their own new story, they don’t need to turn their back on the old. They, and their children, would be impoverished if they did. Yet their choice for each other has created a new story, a new identity, and new place of belonging–for themselves, for children and even for others who may also find there (temporary) shelter, refuge, belonging, identity, nourishment and stability.
‘Home’ is not essentially a location. That may have been partly true for the Swedish bride but not for her new husband. ‘Home’ is where the heart is. ‘Home’ is relational. ‘Home’ is nurtured by story.
A funeral or memorial service marks the end of a story. There can of course be short or long epilogues, depending on the impact of the person’s life. Sunday’s memorial is for the Finnish evangelist I wrote about last month, Kalevi Lehtinen, who passed away when many were on vacation. Kalevi was loved and known all across Europe, especially in the Nordic lands and Russia. Many will gather in Helsinki to express thanks for his fruitful life.
Events like these cause us to ask what kind of stories we would want others to tell about us when the time comes. What kind of legacy will we leave behind? What difference will our life have made to others? What kind of person do we want to be remembered for?
Stephen Covey’s ‘Seven Habits’ books encouraged readers to start with the end in mind by imagining one’s own funeral and asking such questions.
Its no accident that the Bible is a book full of stories–about real flesh and blood people who lived in particular places and times. No other sacred writings emphasise story. The Hebrew word for ‘remember’, Zakhor, appears 169 times in the Old Testament. These stories about ordinary people who failed and sinned and yet repented and succeeded still give us belonging, identity, values, roots, nourishment and stability.
How wrong the postmodern prophets are who say we don’t need big stories, or meta-narratives, anymore. For, as Jonathan Sacks says, without memory there is no identity, and without identity we are cast adrift into a sea of chance without compass, map or destination.
Till next week,