Stories Are True
Mike Houlihan is a raconteur of Chicago neighborhoods and a columnist for Irish American News. One column wisely begins: “A good story never really ends. Maybe you’ve heard a few from me before, but like the story of our lives, it continues to unravel in directions we never imagined.” Another column, as found in his collection More Hooliganism Stories (Book Bullet, 2014), advises us that “this story is true, only the names have been changed, as well as the embellishment and complete fabrication of all the actual facts.” Although teasingly phrased, Houlihan’s sentence is worth pondering.
We moderns presume that something is either a phony myth or a verifiable fact. We moderns thus have difficulty appreciating the meaning of life because it really resides somewhere in between fantasy and the scientific. We moderns have trouble with faith because it is supposed to be true but it cannot be proven; so maybe it is false. Or, maybe faith is somehow true if it can be sequestered from tangible daily life in the classroom, the office, the legislature, and the community at large.
Despite the modern dualism of absolutely false vs. demonstrated fact, there is a large and significant realm of life that resides in between fairy tales or legends and the pages of scientific journals. It is a true realm, though not one given to laboratory experiments. It is a realm held in tension and often accessed by way of story. It is the realm of true marital love, of patriotism, of family loyalty, of shared symbols, of long term friendship, and of authentic, engaged, relational, active faith.
The Eucharist is a true story; a love story; a revealed word. The Eucharist, like all good stories, is set in all time. It is existential; although it refers to a historical reality, it is freshly present for those who participate in its story on Sunday morning and during the week as they attend to job, family and community responsibilities.
We moderns don’t fully get into the Eucharist because during the week we are oblivious to the stories and meaning embedded in our routines and our institutions. And consequently on Sunday the Eucharist is not all that compelling, which is why many people make it a low priority—or no priority at all. So maybe the Sunday worship would be more attractive if it could be connected to our everyday work and relationships. Maybe it is possible that, let’s say through a regular, small support group, the hour of Sunday Eucharist could be informed by weeklong job decisions, community action, and the juggling act of family life.
The Riddle Song is a 15th century English lullaby. One of its riddles goes like this: “I gave my love a story that has no end… How can there be a story with no ending? …The story of I love you never ends.” And that story, at least to me and again despite the modern dualism of fallacious vs. verifiable, is proof of heaven. And again at least to me, the Eucharist—Sunday through Saturday—is a story of heavenly love. I’ve invested so much in the story already that it will not end at the funeral parlor. And, by the way, God has invested so much more.
As the Psalmist says, “Day unto day takes up the story and night unto night makes known the message.” (19:2 Grail Psalms)
Droel is the author of Monday Eucharist (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $9 pre-paid includes postage).