The Universe is Made of Stories

“The Universe is Made of Stories…Not of Atoms.” – Muriel Rukeyser

This quote of the poet Muriel Rukeyser has always fascinated me and drawn me in. Stories have been a part of my life since before I can remember. My mom used to read me Winnie the Pooh stories as an infant. Indeed stories have been part of the lives of humans since we even kept histories. Nations and peoples understood themselves in terms of the stories they passed from generation to generation and in many ways little has changed. Stories are the foundation on which civilizations are built.

One story that I’ve become interested in within the last year or so is Westworld, an HBO show which explores the myriad of potential ethical problems with highly advanced artificial intelligence. There is a scene in the show where the scientist who has created these incredibly life-like robots is reading Alice in Wonderland to one of them. His goal is to nudge the robot, whose name is Dolores, beyond her programing making her sentient. It would seem this scientist believed that within a story could lie the spark of creation itself.

When it comes to Scripture, there is often much discomfort in the question, “Did this really happen?” As though we would prefer that our Scriptural stories be simple accounts of events long past rather than carefully crafted stories. The most comprehensive accounts of past events could not convey what stories do. Stories interpret, integrate and make sense of past events. Stories draw us in to engage them, questioning what we hear, wondering at those we read about, wondering about ourselves. Stories have the power to shape and change us. Stories have the power to build communities and to shape the future. The stories of our Scripture have the power to reveal something of who we are, and in our wondering, questioning, discussing- who God is.

An account of events long past would be interesting. Reading such an account would change what I know. But Scripture has the power to change  who I am. And so I think the question “Did this really happen?” is not the most helpful question. Perhaps, instead, we should ask “What does this story make me wonder about?” “What makes me angry about this story?” “What am I noticing now, that I didn’t notice before?”

The way we tell stories may have changed through the ages, but they are an integral part of the human experience through the ages. Like all art, they speak not just to our minds, but to our hearts and our spirits. My prayer for all those who engage in the stories of Scripture is that they would take Scripture seriously as it comes to us. Rather than trying to force Scripture to be something it isn’t, perhaps we will find that it is in story that we encounter the God of the past, present and future, who transcends the words on the page and calls us deeper into mystery.


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