Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Story and Being Human: Imago Dei

In a quiet moment last night with my hubby and youngest, I sat looking at our bookshelves upstairs. We have bookshelves in many places in our house, but these particular shelves have my daughters' old books. Some that they read on their own after they became independent readers, but many that hubby and I read to them at bedtime over many, many years of their childhood.

Oh, the books. Oh, the memories!

Narnia and the Pevensies. Laura and Mary in their Little Houses with Ma and Pa. All the American Girls. Junie B. Jones (the B. stands for Beatrice, but she just likes B and that's all). Anne of Green Gables, the whole series. The Magic Tree House. The Babysitter's Club. All sorts of Dear America history books. Charlotte's Web. Stuart Little. The Mandie series they got from their older cousin.

Oh, I wanted to go back. For a moment, I wanted to be sitting on a bed with one of their heads lying on my chest reading about Aslan singing the world of Narnia into being. I'll be sharing that book with my 6th graders this fall, but no -- it's not the same standing at the front of a classroom as it is snuggling at the head of a bed.

One of the greatest blessings of homeschooling was all the reading I got to do with my daughters. They did read on their own, but I also read literature aloud to them, stuff that was a step above their independent reading level to move them forward. I remember reading Julius Caesar with my eldest when she studied the Roman Empire in fifth grade or so, skipping a few unimportant scenes, stopping to explain stuff as we went, but reveling in the language and reciting my favorite speech of Antony's with mucho gusto. To this day, she claims that Shakespeare is one of her favorite writers.

An article I just read yesterday reiterated what I have heard and known for many years: one of the best things we can do to help our children write better is spend years reading high quality literature aloud to them. Let them hear the rhythm of mature language so they can replicate it naturally.

But reading high quality literature to them is also one of the best things we can do just to help them live better -- to help them become truly Human. The root of the word "educate" means "to draw out." We often think of schooling as a matter of pouring information into someone's head, but no -- it's a matter of drawing out of them what is there so that they can use it well. Which means something has to be in there to be drawn out.

Now, I believe there is a core of "knowing" that God has already instilled in us. It's a part of our being made in God's image. What is lacking is a "language" to couch our knowing in. Does that make sense? There are a lot of things I know, in a sense, but until I draw it out, until I can explain it in words, it is of no use to me. Most of those are spiritual things; thus, they are the most critical things to be educated in.

And this is where stories come in. Stories are a vehicle of knowing. Ideas and concepts can be communicated through story sometimes far more effectively than through exposition. Those inner things we know from God but cannot yet use can become accessible to us through narrative.

When I read about Laura's relationship with her Pa, it rings true in my soul, because somewhere in my soul, I already know about the security of a father's love, whether I have a father or not.

When I read about Anne breaking her slate over Gilbert's head, it rings true in my soul, because somewhere in my soul, I already know the extent of humanity's foolish pride, whether I'm conscious of my own or not.

When I read of Aslan's death on the Stone Table, it rings true in my soul, because somewhere in my soul, I already know the nobility of and need for sacrifice, whether I recognize my personal need for it or not.

Man has always told stories -- around the campfire, in books, on screens, on stages, in poetry, in song, always and everywhere. Jesus himself told stories to communicate the truths he has to tell us. When I teach my students about the story elements and the plot chart and such, I emphasize to them that this isn't stuff that people made up. We write stories that way because that's how God created story to be. That's how He made our story run. When we tell a good story well, we're imitating God. Imago dei.

Read to your kids people. Read to yourselves now. Read. Read. Read.

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