Untold stories

I’m enjoying Skin Boat: Acts of Faith and Other Navigations (Gaspereau Press, 2009), a book of poetic reflections by Canadian writer John Terpstra. His religious tradition is Dutch Calvinist, but for many years he and his wife have been attending a Presbyterian church, along with a variety of other religious refugees. He discovered that someone he’d been there with for some time was unaware of the circumstances described in his book, The Boys, namely the terminal disease and early deaths of his wife’s three brothers. Others, he thought, must have significant stories that were unknown as well. He contemplated writing a kind of Canterbury Tales, or something based on this line of the Tales at least: “this company of sundry folk, by adventure having fallen together into fellowship.”

However, the reluctant reaction of someone with whom he probed the idea led Terpstra to another angle on this situation. 

I thought: perhaps one of the reasons people come here in the first place is because no one knows their story and they do not have to tell it, or they may tell it selectively, if and when they choose.

I thought: perhaps these untold stories are still somehow subsumed into what is happening on a Sunday morning, and they do not need to tell, because it is already being told, simply by their bodily presence.

Most of us set great store in transparency, openness, and sharing, in the ideal of being known to one another. I like the window Terpstra opens here to something more realistic, like fostering a sense of safety first in the regular telling of a bigger story. It reminds me that while knowledge of one another may be important, knowledge is always trumped by love.

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