The Work of Restorative Storytelling


“The abolitionists may well call me their equal, but their lips do not yet say my name and their ears do not yet hear my story. Not the way I want to tell it.” – The Book of Negroes

Nov_Saskia_800There is a release that comes with storytelling.

I feel it deep inside every time I navigate the fragile line of weaving together the pieces of story that are entrusted to me by the ones I walk beside.

Their stories shape me. They make me tremble with emotions; grief and admiration and feelings that are devoid of words. As they speak out their stories to me, as I capture them into little boxes in my heart, something beautiful grows inside of me because I begin to really see and I begin to really hear and I can no longer remain apathetic to their plight.

I walk among those who have stories most of us would perhaps rather not hear.

And yet we must.

Our worldview, our compassion, our ability to journey with those in the margins comes through the hearing and the telling of their stories.

It is the humanity of story, the miraculous and the mundane that allows a person to move from a place of marginalisation and insignificance, to a place of value. There is a feeling of knowing and of being known. Stories call out to us to hear the speaker, to really listen, to be moved.

Stories are a force to be reckoned with.

And yet I have felt afraid to write the stories of others, battling what is mine to tell and what should be protected. I don’t always walk this line well. My desire is to give understanding to a force that is beyond what we perceive with just our eyes. The spiritual practice of restoration, of taking the “parts that are unpresentable” and clothing them with dignity.

Stories come with trust and are perhaps best understood in the context of timing. I have watched brave women stand to tell their stories only to be shut down, denied, silenced or pushed back.

Worse than exploitation or abuse is the moment their spirit is crushed by ones who refuse to hear their tale, or who decide to misrepresent their story. We perpetuate injustice when we refuse to hear the story of the marginalised in the way they want their story told.

If we are to move into the margins, if our eyes are to lock with human suffering, if we are to hold the hand of the vulnerable, we must strip off the name by which we label them and open the long-arms of grace that say, “Here, in this space, you can trust us with your story.”

As much as I fear telling the tales of those who have been through hell, I also know that for us to understand women exploited through the sex industry, we must be willing to listen to their stories, in their words, even when it makes us incredibly uncomfortable.

Change comes from letting stories shape us. In finding the thread that connects us, scaling the walls that separate us, and standing together with those whose worlds otherwise would not touch us.

A deep sigh comes when a story that has been festering, longing to get out, is finally unleashed.

I want to stand with the stories of those in the margins. I want to stand against systems of oppression that hold my sisters in bondage. I want to call out God’s real design for humanity, which proclaims an end to racism, an end to oppression, and an end to marginalisation based on gender, skin colour, or social status. We are all one in Christ.

I often think on the stories of the women in Jesus’ genealogy.

Tamar—who dressed as a prostitute and slept with her father-in-law.
Rahab—who was a prostitute, and the wrong race
Ruth—who was a refugee, and definitely the wrong race, (and a little racy in her behavior too)
And finally, Bathsheba—with whom David had an affair

God had a place for these women, these marginalized and incorrect women. He elevated them from positions where they may have been despised, destitute, desperate, coerced, or seen as un-empowered. And yet here they are, elevated to righteous, and included in the lineage of Jesus.

This is our God, the one who flips the systems of society on itself. Who hears the cries for liberation and goes the extra love-distance. Who aligns himself with those on the outside of society and calls up the weak and foolish to join with him in kingdom work.

It is only by His example that we can possibly begin the work of restorative storytelling. And it is through the hearing of these stories that we might begin to see those in the margins as more than their social status, but as a human beings, whose hearts beat the same as ours, and who deserve a place of honour, of protection, and of friendship.