Using narrative to respond to society’s needs today

I apologize for being away for so long. The next two weeks will be extraordinarily busy for the sisters here in Toronto; hopefully after that, I’ll get back to posting a couple of times a week.


But, even though I’ve been away, I’ve been pondering how to best respond as communicators for Christ. In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul talks about being an ambassador for Christ, which is an apt title for us who seek to communicate Christ in our lives and in the media.


When I look at the challenges of helping people immersed in our culture relate to the Gospel, it can feel overwhelming. Challenges like: relativism, pluralism, materialism, consumerism, a post-Christian worldview often antagonistic to faith, the rapidly-changing technologies. I see these challenges daily in the persons I meet and talk to:

  • short attention span; pressured and distracted
  • fragmentation of life and of the inner life of the person
  • an easy dismissal of religion as irrelevant to their personal lives
  • no context in which to understand the Gospel
  • absence of silence
  • a lessening of the use of abstract thought, so the “logic” of the Gospel and of Christian philosophy is frequently ignored
  • the focus on the here and now


What can we do as communicators?


One “modality” of communication that seems to respond well to these many challenges is to communicate using stories, or narrative. (With the term “narrative,” I’m including but also going beyond personal witness or testimony, although sharing our own stories is certainly one of the most effective forms of invitation to the Gospel.)


Compelling narrative:

  • invites us to enter into a “here and now” experience
  • captures the imagination
  • engages the emotions
  • contains the possibility of bringing a person to a profound experience of truth that cannot be easily articulated in a sentence


I wonder if narrative is simply a tool to use in communicating (e.g. to start a sermon or blog entry with a story), or can it become a pedagogy? Narrative is undeniably an authentic way of proclaiming the Gospel.


Blessed James Alberione, the Founder of the Daughters of St. Paul (my community) and the entire Pauline Family, had a profound understanding of the power of storytelling to developing our faith and spirituality. In his words:


“Jesus, in fact, taught people by making use of stories, parables and charming similitudes that he adapted to the type of audience listening to his word.

“The apostle [Christian artist] can thus employ this genre [stories] as an effective means not only to safeguard people from the poison of the bad press but also to nourish them spiritually.

“To achieve their purpose, both in a negative and positive sense, works of fiction prepared by the apostle [Christian writer] must have at least three essential qualities. These are: a good story line, an appeal to all the person’s faculties, and a refreshing style.”


Do you use storytelling to communicate faith? If you are a nonfiction writer, what role does storytelling play in your writing?


2 thoughts on “Using narrative to respond to society’s needs today

  1. The most profound lessons we learn from others always come in the form of narrative: an anecdote from a friend, a wise-tale from Grandma or the lviing example of our parents.

    This is why mere studying of our faith is never enough, it is only when it is experienced in the narrative of our lives that we grow.


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