The Care and Keeping of Sacred Stories

editor’s note: the closing blessing in the audio version is attributed to clarrisa pinkola estes as below

Since I’ve let the cat out of the bag regarding what I truly believe about sexuality and faith (or at least some bits of it) women are finding me anyway they can. Through the comments and contact info on this site, via facebook and twitter, even in my flickr mail. Not to argue with me, or to tell me I’m wrong. But to give me the gift of their stories. Stories about receiving messages of shame regarding their bodies. Stories of regret regarding about not having sex, or feeling bad about it when they did. Stories of pain and loss and confusion. And best of all, stories of recovery and hope.

Dear ones, we must to do something about taking care of all these precious stories.

My soulsister Jen Lemen has embedded the importance of stories deep in my being. Like her, I am “helplessly in love with the idea that stories can change you and me forever.” Furthermore, this I believe: it is within our power to allow our stories to shape us for the good, to bring us healing, and to draw us towards shalom.

I am still relatively new to this world of stories and am I’m learning to harness their redemptive power. Still, I am sure, that together we can we can hold these stories “in all tenderness,” and let their power sing from the rooftops.

So here friends, is what I know right now about telling stories:

• Embody your stories. Write them in a journal; capture them in images torn from magazines and picture books; jot them in lines of poems; create them in smears of color; or distill them into lists of words. Just sit down with a pen, or a keyboard, or a paintbrush and say “I don’t know, I don’t know…” until the knowing comes and the story flows. The first step is acknowledging they are real, that you are real.

• Name your stories. Give them titles and subtitles. Let them have a one-word identifier. Line them up in a number system. Naming is powerful. When we name something we can better hold it in our hands. When you hold a story cupped in your palm you can decide to continue holding it like a treasure –or you can let it slide past your finger tips and release it: to let it guide others; or to let it companion other story holders who have otherwise felt alone; or to watch slide away past your finger tips, because you no longer need to carry it.

• Speak your stories outloud. Let your voice sound out into an empty room. Tell a friend over tea. Record yourself on you cell phone’s voice mail. Giving voice, literally giving voice to your stories can be in turns affirming, empowering, releasing, and healing.

There is more here, waiting to be formed into words and continued into practice. There’s something about what to do with painful stories. How to say “this really happened.” How to know “I am bigger than this story.” How to let your painful stories catapult you onto bigger, better tales. I can’t quite get it into words yet, but it’s marinating. In time—with your help, with your stories and comments and ideas and intuitive know-how—we will find it together. In time, it will come.

Will you do this work with me? Will you be brave –a little or a lot—and let your stories sing? Start writing. Start blogging. Start painting. Start giving birth to the poet on your tongue. Start making lists of words you do not understand, drawing lines–literally, on the page with a marker, drawing lines–between things you did not know were connected. Start commenting. (Use a pseudonym if you want. I’ll screen all the comments. I won’t let anyone yell at you. I’ll do my best to keep your story safe.) In the worlds of my soulsister, “Something healing this way comes.”

I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you and that you will work them, and water them, with your blood and tears and laughter ‘till they bloom, ‘till you yourself burst into bloom.

-Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Silvia June 24, 2008 at 4:35 am

I can’t quite get it into words what stories mean to me. i guess they make me believe.

This post really resonates with me, especially today.
Like right now.

See, there’s an old tablecloth on the floor. It used to belong to my grandmother. It smells like home. When i sit on it i feel safe, surrounded by photographs, paper, paint, ink…i write, i dream, i tell stories on paper with words and images, with paper hearts and sanding paper and gesso, soft music fills the livingroom and no matter what, no matter how full the laundry basket is and how empty my closet, today i just have to tell stories.


Greenwoman June 24, 2008 at 8:29 am

Wonderful post…

I am a story teller. It is a sacred trust to me and I deeply appreciated this post. Its affirming and life affirming. Bless you!

lydia June 24, 2008 at 5:38 pm

Thank you for encouraging us to do this. This is a great way to minister to people, to help them tell their story. You have encouraged me to tell my stories. I know it will be healing for me.

Just last night, my husband and I were at another couple’s house for dinner. We all had a lot of catching up to do. We were able to tell a pretty great story about the past year. It felt good to tell that story, and to synthesize what we’ve been through, and remind ourselves of good memories, hard times, and the progress we’ve made!

I hope to someday interview and transcribe people’s stories. I’ve done an interview with one friend, and now I hope to interview my family so that the stories can be preserved.

Rachelle June 24, 2008 at 9:44 pm

What lovely comments to recieve this morning and I woke up early to the 5am Danish sun.

Lydia’s comments remind me of this project at NPR. I’m inspired by how this accomplished newscater turned his career deeply into the arena of honoring the stories of everyday people. Start finding out about it here:

Greenwoman’s note introduced me to her lovely, reflective blog which I’m now following on my feed’s list.

And Syliva (who is a damn fine Twitter and in my time zone!) made this gorgeous image-based story about nostalgia and creativity using Slide:

May your days be filled with many more stories to tell.

Rebecca June 25, 2008 at 12:17 am

You are right…and it made me cry.

I love the way you guard and birth the stories around you.



Kelly June 25, 2008 at 4:35 pm

sometimes i feel like my stories are too hard to tell. other people have worse ones, but i carefully guard my bad ones so that no-one has to know. and thinking about those bad ones, when i think of my stories, sort of blocks out the good ones. Do i have good stories? of course… where are they? …hmm. something for me to think about.
Ok, i tried to think of some and they all involve sex, drugs and rock and roll. Since when did I become a rock star?
I think I’m putting to much pressure on myself to come up with a beginning, middle and end. a protagonist, an antagonist, a problem, a solution and a conclusion. Most of my stories aren’t over yet.
Ok, I tried to sit here quietly and think of one of my stories again, and I again came up with tears and hurting. Scenes where I feel embarassed and alone. Maybe I have some sad stories to tell, but I don’t feel depressed or dejected right now, in my life, I feel there are a lot of doors opening, and sunshiny things happening. I don’t get it. Stories haunt me.

Rachelle June 26, 2008 at 8:27 am


Jen once said to me, “everyone’s suffering is valid, it’s not a competition.” I hold on to that sometimes when I feel pain –the feel bad for feeling that pain because others’ situtations are so much more tragic. Pain is pain is pain. You have th eright to feel it.

When writers craft a story they emerge with time. They rarely emerge full formed with all the parts in order. They are usually a mystery. They don’t always match the present. You can trust your intituitve voice to tell the stories you need to tell, in the state that they are, when you need to tell them.

Rock on? ;-)

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