Have you ever stopped to consider why stories mean so much to us? Why do great books and great movies enrapture us the way they do?
When you pick up your empty popcorn bag and slowly—almost mournfully—make your way out of the theater, or when you finally lay down a dearly loved book after you have turned the final page, the deep sense of longing we experience suggests to me that our hearts long for far more than mere entertainment.
In A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller writes about the parallels between storytelling and living - about how the elements that make a story compelling are the same elements that comprise a meaningful life.
In a sad, yet hopeful observation, he wrote about the disappointing “stories” that so many of us “tell” the world through our lives:
“We live in a world where bad stories are told, stories that teach us life doesn't mean anything and that humanity has no great purpose. It's a good calling, then, to speak a better story. How brightly a better story shines. How easily the world looks to it in wonder. How grateful we are to hear these stories, and how happy it makes us to repeat them.”
I think it’s safe to say both that the vast majority of people desire to live life well, but that most of us too easily lose sight of how to do it. We have a spiritual need for a meaningful narrative to remind us of the potential we have to offer the world through our lives.
Though I love movies as much as the next person, there is just something extra special about reading. The written word allows us to pour carefully over phrases and sentences and soak through their many layers of meaning. Or perhaps it is them soaking through us.
Eugene H. Peterson, best known for translating the Bible into the easily relatable version known as The Message, also authored a book entitled, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. As the title suggests, it provides a lot of insight on how we can intentionally read not only the extraordinary stories recorded in Scripture, but any substantial work of literature, in order to nourish our souls.
Peterson opens his book with a portrayal of the way his dog acts with a bone and relates that image to something that excited him in the prophet Isaiah’s poetic description of a lion growling over its prey: