You just can’t imagine how wonderful it was for me at age 94 to go back to our Southern Baptist Conference center at Ridgecrest, North Carolina and teach two workshops in Storytelling.
It would seem that after many years of delving into the matter—that is the teaching of such a subject—that a teacher would exhaust every possible angle, but that is not so! Not so at all! I had been doing storytelling workshops for several years on the local and regional levels before I began on the state and national.
Along about 1975 or ’76, I forget which, I became the church librarian at my local church, and I was asked to do a workshop for the church librarians at our state conference center. At that meeting I became acquainted with those from Nashville who taught the church librarians throughout the Southern Baptist Convention about classifying, cataloging, book repair, promotion and the like. Through that avenue I began doing the workshops for the national conferences and going out to state conventions, then to associations and churches. None of these opportunities would have been open to me if I had not consented when the pastor called and asked me to serve as church librarian in our church. The Lord promises to “come in and sup” with the person who opens the door to His knocking.
How can story telling be taught? The particular type of teller that I am began in earliest childhood, for I grew up in a family of storytellers, poets and musicians. However, there are many great storytellers abroad who never had that, and still they have grown to love storytelling. They devote themselves to acquiring and perfecting the skill. Now, no matter the age or stage of the listener, the story that is told will bear the imprint of the person telling it! The story comes out of the storehouse of experiences, or hopes, or dreams, things read, heard or imagined, and will bear the imprint of the teller. Whatever is “heard” is carried on the wings of the spirit and finds its way into the heart and mind in a way that the Lord provided!
The spirit of the teller is always inspired when the story is picked up off the page and told! In its written form it is lying there asleep and the teller gives it the kiss that awakens it to life! That’s the story of, that’s the glory of storytelling–God-given heart language is used.. I’ll give an example that will cause every teller reading this to nod assent
I have a beautiful story by Clementine Paddleford which she has given the title, A Flower for My Mother. Of course, in it Maxine uses the names of the roses planted and adds the names of some of the flowers planted because the story was so much my own that I could not resist putting a little bit of Maxine’s mother in it, and the location was actually Rose Hill, which was Maxine’s home place. Otherwise it is told verbatim except for making it an oral telling instead of a written one. I love to tell this story for Mother’s Day, and for Mother and Daughter banquets, and sometimes for senior citizen programs, and the like.
I hardly ever introduce a story. I just go right on into it and trust the audience to understand that it is a story. However, this story is so convincing because of its content, I find it necessary to begin by telling the author and the title and how similar it is to my own background, and how I love telling it because it could well be my own. I do that because people keep on insisting that it is MY story! It is just as if I never said the words at all! Nevertheless, I am glad that I said them! When I finish the story, without fail, EVERY TIME I hear, “Oh, your mother was exactly like mine! I could have told that story as if it were mine!”
Of course, as I told the story I imagined myself on our big front porch facing the garden and the barn in the distance, with the fence palings running right beside the road from the orchard to the barn, and I pictured in my mind, “What if Dad had decided to make a pig run along that garden fence?”
When I was actively teaching on the national level, there were church librarians or other church leaders who attended my workshops year after year. They were not there to learn the basics.
Why does one want to be a storyteller. We are going to discover some things about ourselves in this analysis because there is something spiritual at work in the mind and heart of the one who deliberately chooses this way of striking a responsive chord in the mind of another person. “The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above!” Yes! We all know that verse, and the reality of it is what brings us so much joy! It takes one to know one, is another old saying. We just love to hear again the really good reasons why we want to keep right on telling stories! We want to be revitalized in our enthusiasm for the task, for it is not like falling off a log to choose a story to tell, retell it in oral style, learn it backward and forward and down the middle, and then go tell it! The workshop is going to give us new insights into all the reasons under Heaven that we choose to adopt this as the way we will spend our lives in ministry.
It’s somewhat comparable to the Sunday sermon that we love to hear again and again, and the more emphatically the preacher tells it, the more thrilled we are to hear it! We leave the church with our spirits revived ! Now we can put the sixth chapter of Ephesians into effect.
However, we go back to what is the primary motive of telling. You see, there are as many reasons as there are tellers. Pursuit of the subject leads into the fathomless depths of human personality. That will take us into the mind, the emotions, down the spiritual avenues. We want to know what Jesus meant when he said, “He that has an ear to hear.”
How do we know what effect a particular story will have? You see, as we read, we must read with our physical eyes and minds, and allow the Holy Spirit to enter into the final choice, for He will have His say, I assure you! That’s how you will be led in the choice of folk or fairy tale to tell the one that brings joy and “tell it again!” There are always the phrases that are inserted without even thinking about it—the Lord will see to that, for certain.
This explains just a fraction of why I am renewed at the thought of sharing the vision with church librarians. There are story hours in church libraries all over the Southern Baptist Convention, and those who are new to the work will be learning it Some of the heavenly rewards that I have been given while still on planet earth, are letters received from students when I visited the schools.. Some that I saved and posted on the wall where I worked said, “When I grow up I want to be just like you! I want to have an instrument and go about telling wonderful stories and singing beautiful songs to children everywhere.”
I love it when they make their pictures to illustrate the story they liked best! In that way I see the images formed by my words! Then they make little balloons and write captions in them! I like the chuckles they bring to my mind.
The Jewish people have a saying that the Lord loves a storyteller and that’s why He made people! Wow! Yes, that is a beautiful way of praising the Lord for the mind and spirit, for words and thoughts to express feelings, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We must never forget that God loves a storyteller and I could say “that’s why he made people in His own image!” That’s the way I like to say it, because I like to say that the ability to tell is innate. Think about it! We just have an urge to tell something that we know is a great something to tell!
Once there was a miller was caught listening in on a conversation of some magicians that was none of his business, so to cure him of it, one of them said, “Abrakadab!” and made a pair of donkey ears spring up on each side of his head! He was horrified and he found a big hat and started wearing it all the time to cover those big ears. Well one day he was carrying a big load of something and both hands were occupied when a big wind came and blew his hat off!
He dropped his load and went running like mad to catch up with his hat and get it on. When he started to put it on he looked right and left quickly to see if anyone saw it and sure enough the local barber was looking and saw it and started laughing uproariously! The miller approached the man and said, “What are you laughing about, you idiot? You better keep quiet. If you tell a soul I will find you and cut your tongue out. Now, don’t forget what I say, and keep your mouth shut.”
Then the man promised but he was the local barber and every time he started cutting a man’s hair, he wanted to tell the story and this craving to tell this funny story just kept him awake at night. He had to tell someone! But every time he was tempted to tell it he remembered what the miller said and he couldn’t tell it. So one day he went away out in the deepest forest where no one had ever gone before and he dug a deep hole there. Then he got down on his knees beside that hole and shouted it loudly—“The miller has the ears of a donkey.” Then he proceeded to shovel the dirt back in and fill up the hole so that the secret was buried deep in the ground, and he thought he had no more desire to tell it, but the story would not stay buried. He still had to tell it . So he said to a customer one day,
“Is it true that the walls have ears as we have heard it said?”
“Yes, indeed,” the man answered quickly. “It is true that walls have ears! Be careful what you say because the walls have ears!”
That satisfied the barber. He went home and went up in his attic and whispered, “The miller has the ears of a donkey,” and in that way he no longer felt compelled to tell the secret.
However, the miller went to the magician and said, “If you take this curse away I will give you a hundred pieces of gold.” The magician said, “Just this once I will do the thing you wish, but if I ever find you listening in on my conversations again I will cause your head to be a donkey’s head and that way you will not be able to cover it up.” The miller promised to never do that again and the magician took the money and removed the donkey ears from him.
Then he went into the barber shop, climbed up in the chair and said, “Shave and a haircut!” The barber was shaking like a leaf. He removed the miller’s hat and saw that there were no donkey’s ears there at all! So he cut his hair and shaved him and said, “No charge.” The miller put his hat on and said, “Remember what I told you when the wind blew my hat off that day?”
“Oh, yes! I remember,” the barber said.
“Well, now, if you should happen to see that happen again and if I see you laughing , I will cause donkey’s ears to grow on your head. Do you understand?”
“Oh,yes! I understand. I will not laugh. I promise!”
Now how do you suppose we learned this story? Somebody had to tell!