The Power of Stories--and "The Story"

When psychiatrist and writer Robert Coles was still in medical school, he had a fifthenn year old, patient, Phil, who was suffering from polio. Both of the Phil’s parents were dead: his father had been killed in WWII, and his mother had died in an automobile accident. He was, by his own admission and quite understandably, “moody.”


Coles didn’t make much progress in his attempts to help Phil until they began to talk about stories. Recently, at the prodding of a teacher, Phil had read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Confined to bed, the story of Huck and Jim’s journey down the river captivated him. He said:


I can’t explain what happened; I know my mind changed after I read Huckleberry Finn. I couldn’t get my mind off the book. I forgot about myself—no, I didn’t actually. I joined up with Huck and Jim; we became a trio. They were very nice to me. I explored the Mississippi with them on the boats and on the land. I had some good talks with them. I dreamed about them. I’d wake up, and I’d know I’d just been out west, on the Mississippi. I talked with those guys and they straightened me out!


Then, Phil was silent for a few moments, shook his head, and stared out the window. Then he abruptly asked Coles, “Have you ever read a book that really made a difference to you—a book you couldn't get out of your mind, and you didn’t want to get out of your mind?” (Robert Coles, The Call of Stories Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1989, pp. 35-36).


Good stories--the ones that become "classics"--do for us what Huckleberry Finn did for Phil.


And, for me, the Bible is a library of just such stories. It is chock full of narratives that capture my imagination, show me places I would never have gone without them, introduce me to people I wouldn't otherwise have known, take me on previously unimagined adventures of the spirit, raise questions I wouldn't have been wise enough to ask on my own, and "straighten me out" when I begin to think and feel in ways that aren't consistent with the will and way of God made known in Jesus.