It’s bedtime story time with T and I’m delighted she has asked for the story about the trumpets that she had in her church group last Sunday (I’m thinking walls of Jericho piecing together the bits she has said about it since then). I look for her Bible on her shelf, and wonder if it will have the full story in it, and decide to pop downstairs to get one of the versions I have on my shelves that I’m sure will tell it well. Of course I’m hoping she will be able to do what I asked & climb the ladder & be ready & waiting when I run back (ever hopeful!!)… needless to say when I get back there are just a few little details to sort out to help us be ready (PJ’s have been taken off again, others are negotiated on; toothbrush put on the bed ready (she is less stressed doing it with stories) is now hidden – found, cleaned and put back ready; climbing the ladder has to be done with my help, apparently she doesn’t want to touch the bottom 3 steps at all on her way up tonight; we settle into our spaces on the bed – always very precise…)… now, its story time.
So, we read our two other stories (T gets 3, but can lose one sometimes – it’s something she adores so suggesting losing one can improve behaviour quite quickly.) and then open the bible and find the walls of Jericho – so far so good. we read, we talk about the pictures, and she is, as always, very keen to tell me what will happen next. But when we get to the end she suddenly becomes a ball of stressful emotion. She pinches me, tries to bite her hands, pulls out some hair, kicks the wall, growls at me…
‘what’s wrong?’ I say when I can get a word in edge ways. ‘It’s not finished! … It’s not the right story! … It’s not right!’
A large amount of lengthy unraveling and calming down later and I managed to discover that this version of the walls of Jericho was simply different from the one they had used on Sunday.
The trouble is that it’s very difficult to help T express to me which particular part, or phrase, or word she really needed to hear to feel it was the same story. Emotions can be sudden and are intense, almost impossible to think in the middle of them.
I tried later, once I’d calmed things a bit more, to explain that every Bible in our language is slightly different because the people writing the stories in our language have to make decisions about which words might be best. I tried to explain that children’s Bible’s especially are each written slightly differently but are the same stories just being told by a different person – like I sometimes tell you a story (‘from my mouth’, as T describes a made up or oral story) but when you ask me to tell you again it might be slightly different because I choose different words – ‘but I correct you!’ – implication, then it’s ok.
She’s right, she’s very particular about how stories are read. If even a word is missed we may have to go right back & start again. The other day we recorded our reading of one of T’s favorites, hope you enjoy it – those who also know this emotional intensity around stories will I’m sure notice the definite ‘yes…’ every now and then when T does not want my help, and will hear the anxieties in T’s voice as we struggle with ‘Schnitzel’, and I’m sure will spot that just as I stop recording she is beginning to ask if we can start again because she didn’t get a bit right. Of course, we had already gone through the story about 3 times because something wasn’t quite perfect each time, and she just loves this story when it is all absolutely right!
I have some work to do! This may have been an extreme reaction, there may have been other factors making stress levels that little bit more unmanageable that night, but it is not going to be the one and only time she will hear a Bible story told ‘slightly differently’. The way a story is retold in collective worship at school, at the front in church, in youth groups, in different versions of the Bible, in drama… all of these differences could feel very uncomfortable and perhaps confusing.
I want to explore with her how any story can still be the same story despite variations.
Perhaps we will adventurously find out how the Bible came about as we have it now, perhaps in that story and that history some of these differences will have a context that gives them meaning. I have a small book on my shelf called ‘all about the Bible’, Lois Rock & Anna C. Leplar. I might start there.
I’m hoping maybe as we’re finding all this out that we can talk about how the meaning of the stories in the Bible, their essence and value, the way that the Holy Spirit speaks through them to us is much more than the particular words – which I know is going to be very hard to explain!