Stories and Circles

Stories and Circles © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Year A, Proper 5/Ordinary 10/Pentecost +4: Matthew 9.9-13, 18-26
(Year B, Proper 8/Ordinary 13/Pentecost +4: Mark 5.21-43)

Okay, so can I just say that there are some weeks when the creative process kicks me up one side and down the other? This has been one of those weeks.

It has to do with circles.

For many days I have been pondering this week’s gospel lection. I love this passage, which Matthew, Mark, and Luke each include in some fashion in their gospels. I particularly love it for the way it intertwines the story of the healing of the long-bleeding woman who reaches out to Jesus with the story of a young girl, the daughter of a leader of the synagogue (or “ruler,” in Matthew’s version), whom Jesus is on his way to heal.

The story of the woman occurs in the middle of the story of the young girl. It’s possible to read the woman’s tale as something of an interruption of the girl’s, but there is such resonance between them that it makes a lot more sense to read them as the intertwined stories they are. A number of folks have written about the connections between these stories, teasing out the details of the literary structure and Jesus’ work of healing and restoration in both cases. These commentators have noted the detail that Matthew omits but that Mark and Luke include in their tellings: The girl, they say, is about twelve years old—the same number of years that the woman has been bleeding. It’s a detail that further underscores the links between these stories.

Pondering this passage in the context of lectio divina, I have found myself reflecting in particular about how the story of the woman is contained within the story of the girl. The girl’s story holds the woman’s story, not only in terms of literary structure, but also in the mysterious way that happens in the realm of story. Their healing is bound together.

A couple of months ago, I began doing some focused work with a gifted listener. In our first meeting I told her I wasn’t in the midst of a crisis, and I didn’t sense there was anything huge that was waiting to be unearthed. I was there, I said, because I needed to tell some stories. I’m at a point in my life where I’ve accumulated a few. Some of them are particularly present with me these days, and I’m curious to look more closely at how they connect, what they hold, and what they have to tell me as I discern the path ahead. In talking with this listener, I have found myself deeply aware of how each story I tell her contains another story, and another. Stories that may have happened years apart in chronological time are near neighbors in the space of the soul. The stories of the girl I was contain the stories of the woman. And the stories of the woman hold the stories of the girl.

In her book Writing for Your Life, Deena Metzger offers this quote about stories:

Stories move in circles. They don’t move in straight lines. So it helps if you listen in circles. There are stories inside stories and stories between stories, and finding your way through them is as easy and as hard as finding your way home. And part of the finding is the getting lost. And when you’re lost, you start to look around and listen. (A Traveling Jewish Theatre, Coming from a Great Distance)

Moving in circles in a mindful fashion makes for great soul-work but not for easy blog entries. Though I’m not a terribly linear person at any time, I do value being able to achieve some coherence, which has been elusive this week both in my artwork and in my writing. The deeper a text connects with my story, the more challenging it sometimes is to articulate the connection. Sitting at my drafting table and wrestling with the collage, sitting at my computer and wrestling with the words, I have felt a little lost. But I’m pausing in the circling, finally, to offer some scraps from the path, along with a few questions that I’ve brought with me:

How do your stories move in circles? What are the stories that are most present to you? How do the stories of your past and present contain one another? How do those stories pull you into the path ahead? Is there anyone who hears your stories, someone who helps you look around and listen?

A blessing on your circling.

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5 Responses to “Stories and Circles”

  1. Elizabeth Nordquist Says:

    thanks for the musing of the moment. Circling is a wonderful metaphor to savor… what is contained? what is excluded? all within the Love of the Mystery. Thanks for the image that tells us that on this Sabbath Eve there a Holy Circle that contains us and our stories.

  2. Tay Moss Says:

    I’m reminded of the writings of the “French Feminists” like Marguerite Duras, who experimented with non-linear fiction as a way to get more body-centered and organic story telling. _The Lover_, for instance, seems to be a collection of memories connected by association. Examined, the pericopes often center on a single image or utterance. It’s story by circle.

    Another thing that resonates for me in your reflection this week is the notion of one story “holding” another. There is a gentleness and kindness in the way you described both the relationship between the two stories and the relationship with your “Listener.” Is there some sense in which we may say that the meta-story of synagogue leader listens to the story of the woman with the flow of blood?


  3. Mary Meadows Says:

    Thank you for your beautiful postings. I’m always moved–emotionally and spiritually–by your visual messages as well as your commentary.

    In response to your last paragraph about someone who hears our stories, I will share that my Spiritual Director, Pamela Czarnota, of CRLC in Brecksville, OH, has been listening to the stories and verbal circles I draw, and the accompanying visual cues, for many years now. I continue to be amazed at her discernment of the interconnected circles in the stories I bring to our Spiritual Direction sessions. I give thanks for her walk beside me. She illuminates the stories–and circles–of my earthly life in ways that I could never do. Her work is a gift of the Spirit.

    Thank you!

  4. Carolyn Says:

    Your images, the collage, the words, serve as a mirror for others of us tending our tales. Thank you for this thought-filled glimpse.

  5. Laure Says:

    I’m not quite certain that I recall I how found you on the web but I am thankful that I did.

    This post is a circle of the ‘bull’s eye’ variety! There is so much to reflect on but one sentence has floated to the top for me . . .

    “I have found myself reflecting in particular about how the story of the woman is contained within the story of the girl.”

    This spring as the northern hemisphere has been returning to new life, I too have been about the work of returning. And, I’ve noticed that the pilgrimage of returning does indeed have that “containing” quality of one story “within” another. Life containing death … death containing life. Sowing containing reaping … reaping containing sowing. Returning containing leaving … leaving containing returning. Nature does mirror this so beautifully during the change of seasons.

    Anyway, that one sentence of yours popped out to affirm the returning I’m going through as I’ve entered into the work of integration … bringing my child who became somewhat fragmented at different stages of my life into my woman’s arms and into her space. Bringing my woman back to my child to give what was sorely needed at a time when no other was available or capable to give. This is a circular dance I’ve been dancing. Healing and new life entering in from the woman I am today and her story into the child I was yesterday and some of her stories.

    The woman meeting with the child to talk together and listen together and mourn together and let go together and then ultimately to rest together before journeying into a very present hope and peace and integrated life together.

    I am so very fortunate to have found two individuals who listen acutely to my stories. One a spiritual director and one a counselor … both worshippers of the Lord Jesus. To be listened to in such a way is a gift of heavenly proportions. It is a listening that causes me to join into the listening.

    One last thought about circling … I just had a picture in my mind of a Redtail hawk circling in the sky. Perhaps one of its lessons to us about our own circling is that of perspective. Where do we ultimately gain greater perspective of the landscape of our lives?

    Thank you for these words of yours and the way they’ve left me to listen!

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