By Brother Damien Price
For some 15 years I had the privilege of sitting at the side of King George Square and, together with young men from the Christian Brothers’ school where I was working, listening to and sharing story with the homeless of our city.
They were sacred times.
Every tired, lined face that made its way to the back of ‘Eddie’s Van’ had a story. No one chooses to live on the streets. No one chooses to sleep under a bush with the back wall of the toilet block in the Botanical Gardens as your half cover from rain and cold.
For another eight years of my privileged ministry as ‘Brother’ and ‘brother’ I broke open story with recently arrived refugees and asylum seekers released from detention into the land that had “boundless plains to share!”
Despite barriers of language and vast differences in life experience, we could laugh and cry our way into relationship based on the sharing of story.
Balghais as she proudly, in broken English, shared with me her excitement that little Ali might finally have a chance of a schooling in a world not surrounded by fear.
And, Hussain who patiently and with some degree of humour shared with me that I had dropped him off, some months earlier, at a Mosque for a Muslim holy day that belonged to a different branch of Islam. And yet was so grateful as he saw the goodness of my intent.
In my ministry, on the holy ground which is relationship, I often find myself in a situation where I have ‘no idea’. Where I feel blocked, stuck and just do not know where to go.
In each of these times I have learnt to share story, to invite story, listen to story, listen for story and then allow the Spirit to do its work.
Story is sacred.
Story is us – it is who we are!
Story is neither right nor wrong – it just is.
One cannot say that my story is better than your story – my story is right and yours wrong.
No, each and every story – because it is you – is noble and wrapped in dignity.
Story is that inner map – that that inner journey – those footsteps through a world of the refugee camp, or the substance-abusing ‘care-giver’, or the absent father, or the co-dependent adult, or the loved and loving figure who was truly free and allowed your story to gain its own wings.
The story is told of a researcher who once gathered together a group of Palestinian and Jewish mothers and invited them to ‘share story’.
At first the tension in the air was palatable. Both groups of mothers were tired of living in constant fear – all had lost someone from their extended families to the senseless violence that is life in the Middle East.
A deep sense of ‘us and them’ pervaded.
Then the researcher invited all the mothers to reflect on a series of questions to do with motherhood; what was it like seeing their child’s first step, hearing their first word, holding their newborn against their skin for the first time and more?
Then after reflecting for some time the researcher invited the women to break into pairs and share their responses – Jewish mother with Palestinian mother.
The energy quickly changed and soon the room was full of laughter, the sharing of pictures and even shared tears.
The sharing of story led to the women connecting as mothers first and foremost – mother beyond their ethnicity and sad cultural history.
Story silences ‘ego’. Story shared invites compassion and empathy. Story leads to true understanding.
Story breaks a dualistic response that wants to label interactions as ‘us-them’, ‘right-wrong’, ‘good-bad’, ‘saved-damned’, ‘in-out’ and more.
Story was the first choice of a carpenter from Nazareth and his stories – if lived – could change our world!
Christian Brother Damien Price is a former teacher in Brisbane schools including St Joseph’s College, Gregory Terrace; St Patrick’s College, Shorncliffe and St Laurence’s College, South Brisbane. He continues to work with schools across the country.