My teaching colleague and I arrive first in the classroom on this particular morning. She engages many of her students as they shuffle into her World Religions course at a local community college. At one point five beautiful Muslim girls come in together–heads covered with lovely scarves, chattering away to each other and to their professor. The rapport is a delight to watch. Others come, too. Old and young, delightfully colorful characters all.
I have come to class as storyteller. A few props: an old-looking vase of ointment (which prompts a funny conversation after class on how long it takes to convert vaseline to a liquid state), a chess board with a few key pieces, a shawl and a large, wooden-looking jar. And me-dressed in black, because I, too, am a prop. The stories are about someone else.
And so my assigned topic: tell stories of Jesus interaction with women in the Gospels. The woman who comes utterly undone at Simon’s house as she encounters Jesus’ lavishly forgiving love. Jesus’ unique exchanges with controlling Martha and comfortable Mary whose friendship with their Lord changes them forever. An isolated woman who bears a large water jar to a well at the height of desert heat but forgets to take it home, and an invisible woman who is desperate enough to risk it all on one touch…and gets far more than she could have imagined.
The details come bobbing to the surface at the right moments. They are the stories that form “Confidence ” in my book Songs of Assent and in the re-telling, I find myself again strengthened by Jesus’ life-changing touch of each life.
The room is quiet for over an hour–that lovely, full quiet of an audience that is with you–not challenging, not analyzing. They have come inside with me-because that’s what a real story invites us to do. And I can think of no stories more inviting than Jesus’ unique, healing interaction with women in a culture so different, with needs so familiar.
We chat for a few minutes at the end because we all need a bit of time to come back to World Religion class at the local community college. We have been in a different world and, simultaneously, too deep in our own worlds for words, and so we all take a breath, and then they leave for their next class. One of the Muslim girls pauses on the way out the door and looks me in the eye. “Thank you. I will not forget these stories.”
And I am humbled. How complicated I often make speaking of faith in Christ when what we are all hungry for is the extraordinary Jesus who is at the heart of all the best stories.