This psalm extols the power of story. The psalmist calls us to listen as she or he shares the story of God’s work in their life, and the life of their forebears in faith. The Psalmist also invites us to share our story of God’s involvement in our lives, our families, and our forebears so that the next generation can find themselves in this story, discovering the first steps to their own relationship with God and journey as people of blessing.
I can still remember growing up hearing my grandmother talk about her life as a teacher, the wife of a farmer, and the ways in which her own faith as a devout Baptist was woven into her life story. I now connect the dots that were left hanging at her relationship with my mother, whom she adopted, and with me whom she left a legacy of faith for.
I also remember my dad telling how he found faith, borne under the lightning and thunder of a revival tent in Georgia, of his journey to make sense of God, and discovering a path that helped him discover Christ, albeit one very different than my own. I remember dad telling of the struggles and hopes this journey gave him, and also the heartbreak in trying to make sense of both answered prayers and prayers where healing didn’t come.
Sharing of our story and inviting others to find their place in the larger story of God’s deliverance invites them to continue the message of grace and redemption. I feel when I help watch my nephew and tell him of God’s goodness in our family, I share in this; as well as when I help with a confirmation class at church or see my wife and others help with children’s Sunday school.
Yet the psalmist makes clear this sharing of our story must be honest, including our failings. They take time to share how they and their forebears failed to live up to their side of the relationship with God. This includes sharing the consequences they faced, and how God continued to extend grace.
Growing up I remember momma not just telling us of the strong faith of her parents that anchored her, but also of her experience of mistreatment at the hands of misogynist leaders of certain churches she had been in. Her stories shaped my faith, helping me realize that though a relationship with God is important, we also need a critical eye when it comes to our religious traditions. Not everything we are taught is life-giving or true. Some teachings cause harm, and we need to resist their message. God is found in the life-giving liberating movement in our life, our family, our history, our world.
Momma emphasized to me as I grew from childhood to adolescence I needed to not just go along with what I was taught in church, but find faith for myself. She encouraged us children that the path we took did not need to be the one she and dad took. I think in part a reason she did so was because of remembering the painful ways religion had gone wrong in her life, too. For me that message was a gift. It freed me to leave the Adventist roots of my childhood, and discover a path of faith which kept all that had been true, life-giving, and liberating in the faith of my childhood while discarding what I found to be oppressive, untrue, and at times abusive (if not to me, to others).
My experience reminds me to include in my own sharing of this story of faith an invitation for others to find their own path, recognizing that path may differ from mine. The United Church of Christ, of which I’m a member, includes a statement in one of its statements of faith that each generation must make their own this journey of faith. Talking recently to another person in this tradition, they shared feeling torn when to all appearances, someone chooses not to continue this journey by opting out of baptism or confirmation at the end of their church’s confirmation program. My thought immediately was, who is to say that is departing from this path? After all it may be that, just as John the Baptizer never became a disciple of Jesus yet Jesus praised John as fulfilling his calling on a path different than the first Christians, that youth’s call might be to take the best and truest they were raised with and continue it in some other way, some other path. It might be that doing so as a Quaker or Baptist, as a Buddhist or Hindu, or even a humanist committed to caring for others & creation, might be that person’s way of continuing this journey. It might be their calling. It might be, as ironic as it might appear, that others taking a different tradition than our own may in fact be their way of continuing the story of faith we have passed on to them.
How have you had the story of faith shared with you? How do you pass it on? In what ways do you see it being continued in surprising and unexpected ways by you or others?