‘Since it is so likely children will meet cruel enemies,
let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.’ C.S. Lewis
On my kitchen windowsill sits a little plant. It was given to me two summers ago by a kind parent whose child I taught. I am terrible with plants. I neglect them or over-water them and they dry up or drown. I can’t quite believe this one has survived so far. After all, I am teacher, not gardener.
This year, my class have felt, at times, like a tiny microcosm of the world. They don’t gel as a group. They fight and argue, unable to see another’s point of view. Some are in desperate need; life has not provided them the right conditions to blossom. Some are trying to navigate their way around a world that seems so alien to them. Some are highly anxious. There have been bright spots, to be sure, but there has also been selfishness and a lack of empathy towards each other.
It is my task to shepherd and tend, to nurture and teach them. It is up to me to create cohesion and community. So I have gathered this disparate little band of children around some carefully chosen stories.
According to theologian, Walter Brueggemann, stories provide us with a ‘fund for the imagination.’ They offer a shared experience from which communities can be shaped and created. Stories let us renegotiate the world, reimagine what it could be like, and hold a mirror up to the consequences of our choices. They create common ground through powerful shared emotions. You can see this in faith communities who gather round sacred texts, retelling their defining stories, year after year, to remember who they are and why they are here. You can hear it in families who tell their stories over and over, until people have recast them as their own memories, even though the events happened when they were too little to remember. You can notice it in young children who want the same book or film over and over again as they internalise the story and use it as another building block to develop their understanding of the world. You can find it at concerts, where thousands of fans unite around singing their favourite stories; those words, that music become part of the fabric of who they are, joining them to something bigger than their own lives.
You can find it in my classroom, too. We’ve laughed together at The Twits, begged justice for Fantastic Mr Fox, learned how to build a Dragon Machine, been awed by On Angel’s Wings and now we have landed in Narnia. Father Christmas has been and left us gifts to do battle with our enemies, gifts that show us how to call for help and how to heal. And we are coming back after the holidays to find out if spring and Aslan really are returning to defeat the White Witch. It seems we have never needed out stories more.
Meanwhile, back on the windowsill, my little plant has burst into life, blooming unexpectedly, right in the middle of winter.