Stories have power.
Instead of telling us how to think or act, they engage our natural human curiosity to show us the results of thinking or acting a certain way – and let us ponder how that applies to our own lives.
Jesus, of course, may be the world’s best storyteller ever, so it only seems fitting that His followers, who want to reach others with His message and mission, emulate His example. That’s exactly what two of my recent guests on “Christopher Closeup” have done with their latest books. Sister Ave Clark, O.P., (photo, above right) penned “Heart to Heart Parables: Sowing Seeds of Peace, Hope, Faith, and Love” – and CatholicMom.com founder Lisa Hendey (photo, above left) released a new children’s book called “I Am God’s Storyteller,” (illustrated by Eric Carlson).
Hendey told me that her visits to schools and children’s groups led her to appreciate how important it is for the next generation to understand the stories of Scripture, and also learn that they themselves have a major role to play in the storytelling process, be it through words or actions. As she writes in the book, “God sent storytellers before me, to teach me the truth and to show me all the ways that God’s stories could be shared. When we tell God’s stories, we storytellers help the world around us to know his love.”
Hendey’s book then touches on the lives of biblical figures, such as Moses, Sarah, Deborah, Jesus, and others, before relating that kids today can be storytellers in their own unique way, be it through writing, singing, acting, etc. The book concludes, “My stories are God’s stories, told my way, with the imagination he gave especially to me, and the love he pours into each of us. I am God’s storyteller – and you are, too. Let’s go share his story of love today.”
That’s a lesson Sister Ave Clark also absorbed in her youth. She told me, “I always enjoyed the parables of Jesus, and I can remember as a young child, the Sister teaching us in school, ‘Now you go out and be a good Samaritan like that story.’ And I used to think, ‘I’m gonna write a story like Jesus does. It seems people like stories, and you learn lessons from them.'”
The stories in “Heart to Heart Parables” include “The Lonely Star,” “The Little Dandelion,” “An Ant Named Charity,” and “Bird With Two Broken Wings.” The point of them all is to help readers “see in the ordinary the wonderful gift of God’s love.”
Many people have told Sister Ave that “Bird with Two Broken Wings” is their favorite parable in the book. As the title suggests, it’s about a bird who forever loses the ability to fly and sinks into a depression about it. For anyone dealing with a disability of some sort, this story offers a life-changing message.
Sister Ave said, “When I wrote it, I think I was that bird at that time. And I think we’ve all been that bird, where something happens in our life, like an accident, an illness, or some tragedy. We wonder if we can get up again. When the little bird loses both wings, it starts to realize it’s grounded. It’s not doing the normal things that it used to be able to do. And it starts to realize it has to adapt to this new space in life, otherwise it’s not going to be able to exist. So, the little bird goes on a journey, and it finds challenges, yes, but it finds also…the gift of acceptance. We accept this new space or place in life. Sometimes it could be a dark space, but if we accept it, I believe then we find the light.”
Hendey notes that she finds light in her visits to classrooms. “I love visiting First Communion students,” she explained. “Their longing to be one with Jesus and the Eucharist is infectious.” She also points out to them that they can be role models of faith and action to their parents and be storytellers in that regard.
In her previous children’s book series, “Chime Travelers,” Hendey used the lives of the saints to engage her readers. She said, “It’s about a brother and sister, twins, who travel in time and encounter different scenes. They’re having a problem at their school or parish and they have to go to the saints to learn a moral lesson to fix the problem on their own, before they can come back in time and resolve it…I always tell the kids that [the saints] were God’s original superheroes. They weren’t perfect. They were people just like us who made mistakes often. I find that encouraging, and I think the kids do, too – that overcoming [mistakes] and making a mark on the world around you is possible for anyone of any station and age.”
Ultimately, Hendey hopes “I Am God’s Storyteller” fires children up to do “whatever it is that God created them to do. I hope they [find] purpose and creativity – and the source of it – and that they live it out with great love and enthusiasm.”
For Sister Ave, love and enthusiasm are also key to her life and ministry, which is called “Heart to Heart,” just like her book of parables. “That was the whole message of Jesus’s life,” she said. “Love one another as I have loved you. The whole idea of the resurrection is to have new life again, and we’re only going to have it through love, charity, peace, and caring for one another.”
To help readers better get in touch with those virtues, Sister Ave ends each parable with a series of questions the reader can ask himself or herself, along with a prayer. She quoted the prayer that concludes the Dancing Angel parable: “Creator of Love, grant us the greatness of heart to walk Calvary without a pretense of our humanity; to ask for help, reassurance, and companionship; to share one another’s burden, and to be Christ incarnate for each other.”
Her hopes for readers of “Heart to Heart Parables” follow those ideas. Sister Ave concludes, “I think that people will gently realize that they have their own surprising parables in their lives. They will go out every day, and something in life will become like a parable. Somebody you see on the street helping somebody, and you’re watching and saying, ‘I can do that.’ Or maybe somebody asks you see somebody with a tear in their eye, and you say, ‘I don’t mean to intrude.’ And they go, ‘Thank you for stopping and saying you care.’ I think all of our life is like a parable that’s unfolding.”
(To listen to my full interview with Lisa Hendey, click on the first podcast link beginning at 16:50. To listen to my full interview with Sister Ave Clark, click on the second podcast link beginning at 16:15):