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Taking Time for the Stories of Our Lives

How often does the stillness to learn something new happen in our lives and more importantly in our children's lives? Is there time to hear a calling when homework is due, dishes need washing, and music and sports activities are clamoring for attention?

There is a wisdom tale from Africa and Southeast Asia most commonly called "The Tiger's Whisker." In it, a character is in search of a loving relationship with a family member. She encounters a wise person who tells her that in order to find what she seeks, she must first collect the whisker of a tiger. The woman is puzzled, but she is also desperate; she follows the advice. As she approaches the task, she realizes that the only way to get the whisker is to make sure the tiger is very comfortable with her. She goes about a long process of gently creating trust with the tiger. When the tiger is finally assured of her kindness, she gently obtains one of his whiskers. The readers of the tale know what the wise person will say when she approaches him again with the whisker: the woman has now learned how to create the very loving relationship that she seeks. The process, the time, were the magic ingredients, not the whisker.

Time is at the heart of many wisdom stories. Although protagonists in stories are often searching for a magic answer or cure, again and again the message of a wisdom tale is, "it takes time." In another wisdom tale, a grieving parent searches to revive her deceased child. She is told to find a mustard seed from the home of a family who has not experienced such grief. Going door to door the parent searches. She cannot find a family who has not experienced grief. She hears story after story of loss. She starts to understand that the mustard seed is not important; knowing the shared humanness of grief is what is important. She finds a way to manage her pain, through time spent listening to others' stories. She stops searching for the seed; she has new revelation about her quest.

We are drawn to these stories. They speak to who we are as relational beings, as searchers and as seekers. A slowly told wisdom story can help us suspend our busy lives for a moment and experience time as presented in the tale. Time is necessary for protagonists to find their answers. It is essential. And just like many of us, the protagonists often are not ready or able to spend time. They end up finding time to search for wisdom, only because they think they are actually on their way to finding a "quick fix" or "magic bullet." Wisdom stories speak to the unfolding nature of our lives. They remind us that what is important can often be learned through unfettered time.

Time—time to be open to new learning—is so often at the heart of the answer to characters' quests in wisdom tales. This seems like a response to the hectic pace of today's busy lives. But wisdom tales have often been around for generations—they were not written in response to the hectic pace of current family lives. This is a comforting reminder that perhaps time has often been overlooked as an important value in our human lives. Needing time to search, to ponder and to understanding was a stirring message to listeners of wisdom tales long ago, just as it is a stirring message to us today.

In a book she is writing as part of the UUA's Tapestry of Faith children's curriculum project, Gail Forsyth-Vail writes that wisdom tales speak to our sense of calling, and to our openness to revelation. These attributes resonate deeply with us; we want to make meaning of our lives. But these are things that take time. How often does the stillness to learn something new happen in our lives and more importantly in our children's lives? Is there time to hear a calling when homework is due, dishes need washing, and music and sports activities are clamoring for attention? Can we be open to new revelation when we are on-the-go? We need time for the unfolding of our lives. We need time to recognize that, like the protagonists in wisdom tales, we are learning as we go. Being a part of a faith community can remind us of the need to slow down and make meaning of our lives, as well.

Time may be scarce and hard to find in the context of lives with increasing demands of work and productivity. But the cherishing and noticing of time has always been difficult to achieve. We can help our children by dedicating portions of a week or a day to slowing down. We can encourage them to reflect on their lives, all that they are doing, and all that they know. Like characters in wisdom tales, our children need someone to tell them that they are finding out what they need to know through the very unfolding of their lives. Mustard seeds and tiger's whiskers are not necessary. It is the opportunity to reflect on what is being gained during the seemingly-ordinary moments of our everyday lives that will bring us closer to the wisdom and meaning we seek.

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Last updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.

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