I have always been an unusual child. While most children lament their parents’ announcement of bedtime, I voluntarily put myself to bed from a young age. Enfolded in a cocoon of pillows and blankets, I loved the precious ten minutes when I could read stories in bed. From Goodnight Moon to Harry Potter, the tales became a bridge to the dream world. A world where creativity, possibility, and imagination flourished. As I have grown, I still look forward to the few minutes before bed when poetry and Bible verses ease my mind into sleep.
Why are stories powerful, and what relevance do they hold in our lives? I confronted this question as I hiked alongside eight astounding individuals this weekend. We distanced ourselves from the distractions of daily living and came together in the wilderness to share stories of faith. Graced by the beauty of South Mountain State Park, our interfaith dialogue catalyzed meaningful relationships and connection.
When I began my packing for the journey on Friday afternoon, I rushed to gather my clothes, journal, and bare necessities in time. My thoughts centered upon the “story of stuff”; I debated the objects and the amount of work I would bring, rather than the intentions and values I intended to share. This way of thinking, I realized, left little space for spiritual connection.
However, within moments of meeting my group members, our conversations transformed my way of thinking. I immediately bonded with them over stories about traveling, childhood memories, and funny moments. I felt my focus shift from my packing list to the beautiful souls surrounding me, offering companionship and warmth.
When we arrived at the mountains, we soon came to a cascading waterfall. It was the first I had encountered a waterfall since leaving Vancouver Island, and its flowing power captured my attention. Our conversation quieted and the group became still, present in the moment. This moment surfaced in a poem I later wrote:
“Words tumble through my mind to the beat of heated rocks
in water falls; I am falling deeper
into the mystery that is Grace.
I have been living at the world’s pace
swimming stroking choking
for one gasp of cool air
only to find water.
The rare moment came when I remembered the Lord’s face,
flashed in a glimpse of glory,
a smile from a stranger, a September scent.
In that moment, I forgot
the story of self, of stuff, of shame
and heard the Lord God calling my name, speaking,
You are here now, dear child,
and now here.
Within my Love you have nothing to fear.
So breathe in,
knowing you are loved
and breathe out,
knowing I am the waterfall.
It is time to breathe under water.”
As we continued our journey together, we experienced the joys of fellowship; we played games in the rain and laughed and sang around the camp fire. Our conversations also deepened as we built trust. We shared our struggles with hatred, and love, and Mystery, and meaning. Each voice expressed truth; each story held value. Most importantly, each person revealed the beauty of their true faith.
This weekend inspired me to practice interfaith dialogue as a central value to my life. As religion scholar Jonathan Sacks writes, “Our particular is our window into universality,” and by sharing our faiths we discover our shared humanity. We rely on stories to navigate our search for truth. In an age of uncertainty, our stories become our sources of wisdom.
As we left the state park, my friend told the group, “My greatest fear is that we will lose the ability to tell stories. We rely on Google to describe the world to us.” Her point holds great relevance to the future of our race. We need to reclaim our story from the narratives of advertisements, and build a story of shared human values.
Reflecting upon this weekend, I am incredibly humbled and grateful for the family we created. Each person touched my heart in ways that a story cannot capture. As I settle into bed tonight, I will remember the tales of our adventures, and the profound meaning we discovered. In the end, I am hopeful for the story of our future.