Telling Stories

Frank Boreham’s childhood brimmed with storytelling. They called it “The Hassock Hour,” which came on Sunday evenings and commenced at their mother’s feet. Kneeling on hassocks beside her, Frank and his nine siblings heard storytelling as children that rivaled everything they heard as adults. Their favorite story was one their mother told of herself at seventeen.

She had made plans with her cousin, Kitty, to spend the afternoon at Canterbury Cathedral. Neither had been there before, and they were excited about the adventure. But when the 10 o’clock time came for their meeting Kitty was nowhere to be found. At half past eleven, Kitty had still not arrived. “I was just about to turn away,” said Mrs. Boreham, “dejected and disgusted, when an elderly gentleman approached me.” He seemed to notice she had been waiting for someone, and proceeded to ask if she would like a tour. “I am deeply attached to the place,” the man said, “and happen to know something of its story.”

As they moved from point to point, stories began to come alive. The man recreated in words the arrival of Augustine in the sixth century, the first archbishop of Canterbury. He described the pilgrims of Chaucher’s Canterbury Tales and the Danes’ disfiguring attack on the noble building. Beside the shrine of Thomas Becket, the grim martyrdom of 1170 was seen as never before. Mrs. Boreham had discovered her adventure after all: “Concerning every pillar and arch, every cranny and crevice, my eloquent guide had some thrilling tale to tell.”

We often speak of the influence of story in our lives. I think the influence of the storyteller is equally profound, and this comes to mind as the story of Christmas quickly approaches. F.W. Boreham long cited his mother’s masterful storytelling as the tool God chose to most shape his own writing and imagination. Her storytelling made visible the wonders of God at work. “The Hassock Hour” brought past and future, story and faith to life for Boreham—much in the way the guided tour brought Canterbury Cathedral to life for his mother. Through the eyes of one who knew well the story, both learned to see.

Storytelling is profound because we live our lives in the midst of story. Mrs. Boreham’s encounter at Canterbury invited her to life among a great history of belief and story. The stories we tell remind us continually that life is first a story.

They also remind us that there is first a storyteller. When at long last the cathedral tour was finished and they were heading out the great doors, Mrs. Boreham’s guide suggested they exchange cards. She thanked him sincerely for his time and courtesy, and then tucked the card in her pocket. On the train ride home, she pulled it out. It simply read: Charles Dickens. Many of us learn to see life as a story, while never fully realizing the storyteller in our midst.

Christians tell the story of Christmas because there is a story to tell. “Faith comes through hearing the message,” writes Paul, “and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” And faith comes forth because there is a story to hear. Faith comes, because where there is a story, there is a Storyteller. Into our small world, there is one who speaks, one who comes, one who is born.

Keeping the faith,

Roy Ice