The Danger of a Single Story

Quick update:

Round 5 starts tomorrow. I am doing ok, but I will be honest, keep those prayers coming! The mental and emotional fatigue that set in during round 4 has been a doozy. And yet, I’m ready for round 5. I will walk in with the blessing of the meds. I will walk in with my dad by my side. I will walk in for my second to last infusion. I’ll tell ya—I cannot wait for the last infusion! At that point, my body will actually have time to rebuild instead of getting knocked down again every 21 days!

Longer musing:

Dad got to be my caretaker for round #4. We both enjoy watching Alone (an American survival competition series on the History channel). It was a rainy week, so we spent a lot of time indoors and made it through a full two seasons of Alone. I noticed that I’d cry every time someone was “extracted” (e.g., had to leave the competition) for medical reasons. When it happened, I felt devastated they couldn’t continue. Then, towards the end of the second season, I realized I cried because I have felt “extracted,” removed from the competition so to speak. I wanted to keep on keeping on, but my body had other ideas. Indeed,  I was medically extracted from my daily routines, my daily everything.

What happens when the different parts of our whole don’t agree? Consider the mind, the body, our heart and soul. I’ve noticed that there's major dissonance when these different parts are loudly sharing only their story.  

There are times when this dissonance can be a gift and provide strength. My body may be failing, but my mind, heart, and soul got this!

There are times when the dissonance echoes through our other parts. Your mind is anxious with “what may be” so your body responds with a faster heartbeat and shallower breaths.

There are also times when the dissonance takes a chunk out of your heart and soul. Like being medically “extracted,” removed.

What to do with all of these parts that are responding and perceiving so drastically differently and yet, they are a whole? They insist their story is the only right one, and yet I know I need them all.

There’s a passage from 1 Corinthians’ chapter 12 that actually played a large part of my journey to faith when I was young that I am reminded of here. The summer before my freshmen year, my mother had hip surgery and during her recovery I had to stay with her at the family cottage. Towards the end of the summer, mother informed me that I had to help out with the local VBS at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Gladwin, MI.  On the last day of VBS, the Pastor had the middle/high school helpers (dressed as clowns J) do a few skits as he read Scripture. One of these Scriptures was from 1 Corinthians 12. As he read the Scripture, we acted out a skit linking us together. Here is the passage—

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? …

This skit was followed by my experience of a very spiritual moment where I finally understood the power of faith. We were to take a child’s hand from the pews and bring them forward. Then, we asked them to sit on our lap and put one hand over their head as the Pastor read a blessing from Scripture. I will never forget that moment or that child on my lap. I, for the first time, understood what it meant to ‘feel’ the Holy Spirit. And the experience had nothing to do with me. It had to do with that child on my lap and just how connected I felt to them.

Without words, that child conveyed to me her story and her role in the larger Story. I then realized that my story was connected to her story. The stories were different, but they were one. We really were one.

We are different, yes, but together we are whole. Together, we are Creation. Just as my mind, body, heart and soul may feel different and tell their different stories, they make up a whole. Me.

We need it all.

Earth, Water, Wind, Fire
Hydrogen, Oxygen, CO2, Nitrogen
Mind, Body, Heart, Soul

Together we are whole

We literally could not be here, alive, without the whole. We simply cannot separate ourselves from it. It doesn’t work that way. What if we insisted that earth was the only story? That fire was the only story, or that only oxygen was needed?

We and these elements are all part of the God created universe. Theologians throughout history have brought observations of the physical world into theological and philosophical discussions. Science has opened an even larger understanding of the world God created. William Burger writes,

…it is only in an “older” universe that complex life forms can come into being. Based on the analysis of minute grains found associated with meteorites, Armand Delsemme suggests that our solar system was enriched by “at least four different stars. A star rich in carbon. A star rich in oxygen, a star rich in magnesium and silicon, and a star rich in iron.”[1] Clearly, our glorious star was generously endowed with the materials needed to build living things. Together with a liquid medium such as water, complex life-forms built largely by the common and versatile carbon atom also require a variety of heavy elements to act as the energy centers of their most critical enzymes… Humankind is the product of that history;  hydrogen, the original stuff of the universe, makes up about 8 percent of our body weight – all the rest of us is stardust.[2]

We are part of a gigantic web of connection. When I see it and feel it, I can easily say, “Yes, even if my life is cut short (as many others before me), the mere fact that I got to live is phenomenal.”

It’s easy for us to miss the connections we have with Creation. I mean, how many days of our lives do our feet not even touch the dirt of the earth? We move from garage, to pavement, to building and back home, wrapped up in our own single stories. In this, we lose perspective.

We see the bee, shark and polar bear as a threat.

We see the butterfly, flower and sunset as beauty.

We tend to see things one way, from our own narrow story. But there are so many perspectives and stories that are true. I am going to borrow a life teaching from a Muslim raised 15th Century Indian mystic poet and saint, who has influenced fellow East Asian traditions like Hindu and Sikhism—

All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop.” (Kabir Das)

The bee, shark and polar bear all have a beautiful purpose in creation.

The butterfly, flower and sunset all have a beautiful purpose in creation.

Maybe we need to stop seeing the dissonance we experience—in ourselves, in society as a “bad thing,” but rather an opportunity to embrace the numerous, beautiful stories that abound around us.

Whose story have we not listened to?

These different stories and perspectives are more of a gift than we realize. And Christ is in all of it. Yes, even the stories from people and groups we view as a threat.

So, maybe it’s time I stop looking at cancer as a threat. Sure, it could take my life as it has so many before me, and of course I pray with all of you that it doesn’t. But, for now, it is part of me. It is part of my story. It is a living organism in me. So, I’m changing my perspective. The cancer is doing what it was created to do. And while I don’t want to live with this sting of cancer, I do need to allow it the space to tell its story.

[1] Delsemme, Our Cosmic Origins, p. 78.

[2] William C. Burger, Perfect Planet, Clever Species: How Unique Are We?  (New York: Prometheus Books, 2002) 23-24.

The Danger of a Single Story

14 responses to “The Danger of a Single Story”

  1. Susan Shock Avatar
    Susan Shock

    I recently read a book, First Light, by Emma Chapman. It’s about the search for the first stars of the universe. These stars lived and died so many millions of years ago, but the remnants of them created the universe we know. Their long ago deaths created other stars and galaxies, and life. It’s just amazing to think about. Love you.

  2. Margaret Vredeveld Avatar
    Margaret Vredeveld

    I am profoundly grateful for your personal reflections on your developing theology! I feel connected to your childhood experience of spirituality. Keep on keeping on, sister! 💞🙏🏼💐

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