God made people, because God loves stories. (The Talmud)
So quotes Leila Berg as she begins the delightful storytelling of major and lesser-known and only-rumored Old Testament stories in The God Stories (Francis Lincoln Publishers 1999). She wants us to hear the stories for their own sake, without moral conclusions or theological presumptions — although many of the Biblical stories she retells would absolutely preach, because skilled storytellers have a knack for observing truth without standing on a soapbox to do it.
The God Stories reminds me of Madeleine L’Engle’s retelling of Biblical tales with books such as Many Waters, as both Berg and L’Engle share an instinctive willingness to trust their readers with wild and fantastical tales that are unencumbered by literalistic or scientific agendas. It’s a celebratory space in the pages of Berg and L’Engle, where life and fable and faith are held together without discord. It’s a creative space that I wish more faithful people and preachers and communities of all religions would dare to inhabit. If we learned to tell imaginative stories with faith rather than striving to answer every question for faith, I wonder how we might impact the world in new ways.
“It is said in song and story [that] one day many people were waiting for Israel. Each had a question to ask him, and each believed that this one question deserved an immediate answer. … But Israel did not ask them to voice their questions. Instead, very very softly he began to hum. After a while, someone else in the room began to hum also, shyly, sweetly, picking up the tune with him. Then in the same gentle way, Israel began to sing, putting words to the melody. And after a while another joined in; then another; till one by one all in the room were adding the words, and all were singing.
“For a long time they danced. Then gradually Israel began to slow his dancing, and he began to quiet his singing. And all began gradually to dance more gently and to sing more softly. And into the silence, for the first time, Israel spoke. ‘I trust I have answered all your questions,’ he said. And he smiled, and left them.” (251-252)
The God Stories is a refreshing summer read, and one of several books that I turn to when I need familiar Biblical stories to come to life for me again, for my own spirit and for my work in ministry.