My father could hear a little animal step,
Or a moth in the dark against the screen,
And every far sound called the listening out
Into places where the rest of us had never been.
~William Stafford, Listening
I went for a walk with a new friend. We walked about three miles as the crow flies, but much further inside his story tracing back years and hundreds of miles. I remember thinking, “This is his pearl of great price, be very careful with it.” I held his story in my large hands—as if holding it in a kintsugi chalice. He felt safe enough to let me carry it for a while as we walked down a mountain trail.
Carrying another person’s story is one of the most sacred things I have ever done and ever hope to do. Inside their story is the essence of who they are, what they’ve done, and who they aspire to become. I am witness to the colors and contours of a life God is eroding, wind-carving, and growing into a landscape in which He would walk in the cool of the day.
Standing before me is the artistry of a Creator-God at work in the story of my friend. Together he and God were finger-painting a messy and yet breathtaking landscape of restoration.
A doe scampered across the trail; golden aspen leaves gently clattered like organic wind-chimes in the breeze. On and on came his words of pain, loss, and heartache. There was a dryness to the mountain air in sharp contrast to the tears tracking down the face of my friend.
He spoke of an emotionally distant father, the suicide of a close friend, the loneliness that comes from caring for people, angst about what is truly important in life, insecurity about his own value and worth, a job that went bad, pain…pain…pain…. And then temptation. And then sin.
With such tenderness, these words flowed from my friend. It was beautiful to hear his story. Lyrical. His pain made the telling even more elegant, like listening to an oboe high above the symphony as it lingers before rushing to a crescendo. It doesn’t seem to fit and yet you can’t imagine the piece without it.
We stopped and sat on a gray log. He asked me to tell my story. Thus, we shared something much deeper than a walk in the woods—we shared our souls.
Because when we slow down to share the deeper parts of our lives with a sacred companion, we experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in the sacramental space between us and we feel safe, warm and loved.
I ask myself why I love hearing soul stories from my brothers and sisters, and it occurred to me that when I am invited into the story of another, it is like looking into an alpine lake. I see three wavy images. One is the trusted brokenness and pain of a person created in the image of the living God, and the other is the shining splendor of the creature I am becoming by the grace of God as two souls share slow and unguarded moments together.
And as I peer through the gossamer veil of the Holy Spirit, I see something else. Something glorious. Something beautiful. Something transcendent—the backside of Yahweh.
The ancient church fathers said that nature is the second book of God. May I be so bold as to suggest there might be a third?
Sit with me for a long while—and tell me your story.
(If you would like to hear me read this piece, click the link below.)