This year we are exploring the theme of stories in worship. We are looking at how the stories we tell shape who we are and how we live our lives. We are looking at how the stories of our living tradition of Unitarian Universalism shape our identity and help us feel connected to a larger movement. We are looking at how sharing stories in community brings us closer to one another and enriches us. As part of my research on this theme, I am enjoying reading the book “The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make us Human” by Jonathan Gottschall. He argues that stories play an important role in human evolution. He explains that stories are about conflict and struggle. One possible reason we have evolved as a species to tell stories is because stories are flight simulators for life. By reading about characters in a book and how they respond to conflict, we can get ideas for how we respond to challenges and conflict in our own lives. He also notes a scientific study that shows that reading fiction can increase a person’s capacity for empathy.
Gotshcall also writes enthusiastically about the power of narrative to draw people in, capture their attention and engage their emotions. He writes lovingly of all kinds of stories- action, romance, horror, mystery and more. To my surprise, reading his book convinced me to start watching movies and reading books outside of the genres I usually gravitate towards. Since the pandemic began, I have been reading almost exclusively British mysteries and psychological thrillers. I have been craving stories that are suspenseful, make me forget the world around me, and keep me turning the pages late into the night. They are somehow familiar, comforting and thrilling. I love books like “The Woman in Cabin 13” by Ruth Ware, “Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins, and “The Woman in the Window” by A.J. Finn.
Reading “The Storytelling Animal” helped me see the value in watching and reading different kinds of stories with different characters in different situations. Since reading the book I have branched out to watch the movies Parasite and Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. Both were very different from what I am accustomed to and led me to see the world through the lens of people who come from very different backgrounds. Watching Parasite I learned about the struggles and emotional journeys of working class people in South Korea. Watching Spiderman into the Spiderverse, I thought about what is gained when we have diverse representation in our superhero stories.
For reading, I branched out and read Circe by Madeline Miller and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Circe is a feminist retelling of the story of Circe, the witch who in the Odyssy turns Ulysses’ crew members into pigs and then becomes his lover. In the book, Circe experiences loneliness not fitting in with her family. She is banished to the island Aiaia and there she finds independence and a new vocation as a witch. Reading her story helped me think about the places in my life where I haven’t fit in and the value of following one’s calling. The Road was a beautiful novel and I am still sitting with it and wondering what lessons it holds for me in my own life.
I am delighted to tell you that part of your search for truth and meaning in life can be exploring imaginary fictional worlds through film and fiction. In this new year, you may want to explore stories that are outside of the genres you usually gravitate towards. You never know how they might enrich your life.
Reverend Amy Moses-Lagos