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Why Stories Matter More this Summer Solstice

Weekly Recap of Below the Bible Belt

On this Summer Solstice - longest day of our year - I think of the power of stories to help us live a fuller life. 

Stories are the human superpower. We make sense of life, develop empathy, learn how to love or loath or leave behind what’s harming us - through feelings, more than facts. And stories impact our brain and help us process data in a way that is unique to us. That’s why the art of storytelling is so key to our experience and why it’s at the heart of everything we do - from books to films to therapy and how we process or create the news.

Stories matter even when it comes to poetry. Although art is not always about narrative and does not have to make sense - for many of us, it does help that a work of art has context - what’s the title? What did the artist go through? What is this play or picture or dance or poem all about? We mix our metaphors - what we feel and how we think and somehow, comes out our ooohh and ahhhh - our reaction to the beauty that in some way moves us. 

The biblical psalms are no exception. Whoever wrote these 150 poems  were indeed a band of poets with exquisite mastery of Hebrew and the use of metaphors and idioms that still stir hearts today, even in translation. And although most scholars nowadays agree that it was likely not King David even though his name is plastered on a lot of them -- it is his story that has stuck. And stories, our superpower, mean a lot even if they are not a proven fact. 

This past week on our Below the Bible Belt journey we read a few psalms that all begin with a dramatic inscription dedicated to a critical moment in David’s life. In one of those he escapes his enemy, King Saul, who tries to kill him. In another, decades later, he flees his own palace in Jerusalem because his son started a coup against him. In other fragments he describes his bliss of being home, serene and safe, and longs for such security.

Are these real facts or stories or did someone insert these to give the poetry more power, context, and a narrative that fits in with the larger biblical project? And does it matter now? We all go through times of trauma, need, stress, alienation, and there are always times when we reach for fragments of poetic wisdom, help from beyond, some sort of story that will help us heal, and help us help each other, and perhaps the ancient narratives of a flawed fighter, handsome and charming, who becomes a king and a poet, a lover of life in its fullest is why this guy is still remembered after all these years? 

Yuval Noah Harari wrote that “Many wars in history were fought over stories, not over resources. People need stories in order to cooperate, but there’s also something else very important: they can change the way we cooperate by changing the stories we believe.”

So today, we wrap another week of reading and feeling the psalms, with stories that can help us relate to this human chain of loss and longing, and can hopefully help each of us connect more deeply to the stories that matter to us, and the ones we need to change, and the new stories we must tell - in order to change ourselves, and our world - for better. 

Today is the summer solstice - longest day of the year - it’s hot and there’s so much suffering in our reality, the war is going on, as families continue mourning and there is no end to this story in sight. Such immense sorrow.

Every thing must and can change. That IS the hidden story of these poets. And we have agency as well. 

What can we do on this day to ease the pain, to weave a strand of hope in our story, to use each of the minutes of this longest day towards poetic prose that will bring a smile to our or to someone else’ face? 

When this shabbat descends, may our face shine a bit better, and may we have some rest. The rest - is stories. 

Thank you for joining me below the bible belt. To be continued. 

Shabbat Shalom