Stories can inspire, teach, or warn. They can also help us imagine a new future or remember a splendid piece of the past that we may have forgotten.
Can stories also praise?
A Tradition of Praise
In much of Africa, there are traditions of creating “praise songs” and even “self-praise stories." These song/story/poems may include an individual's lineage and as well as family history and valued attributes.
Such stories establish identity, but also express gratitude for one’s family and ancestors. In other words, praise stories can offer thanks.
Praise for Peninnah?
Peninnah Schram has been a leader of the Jewish storytelling world. Through her books, Peninnah has made many Jewish folk and wisdom tales available to the world—always encouraging us to tell the stories aloud.
For this, Peninnah was honored recently with the “Talking Leaves” award from the National Storytelling Network. This is a high form of praise, but was not carried directly through stories.
As it happened, this award spurred a long series of emails praising and thanking Peninnah (on the “Storytell” email list:
I didn’t think I could add much to the cascade of heartfelt testimonials for Peninnah.
But I was inspired by the African traditions to try to create a praise story for her. Here’s the result:
Long ago and far away, in a humble village, there lived a great artist.
She was an artist, but was also wise enough to know that, as important as art is, artists are even more important - for without artists, art dwells only among the dead. So she nurtured other artists the way a river nurtures a valley.
She was a teacher, but was also artist enough to know that the teacher cannot shape another's art - only welcome it. So she encouraged her students to honor each others’ work.
She was a writer, but was also teacher enough to know that she did not own her writings; she only borrowed them from the future. So she encouraged others to tell her stories in their own ways.
She was a storyteller, but was also writer enough to know that some words need to be preserved as flat leaves—if they are to live beyond the valley in which they were first spoken. So she encouraged her stories to jump from mouth to page and back again.
She was a leader, but was also storyteller enough to know that the leader's job isn't to tell all the stories, but to inspire those around her to tell their own.
She was humble, but was also leader enough to know that praise gives strength to the hearts of those giving it.
She was wise, but was also humble enough to allow others the nurturing blessing of praising her. So when others praised her, she turned the praise back at them.
She was our mother, but she was also artist enough to praise even us, her children, with words of gold.
Share a Praise Story Here!
Who has helped or inspired your work in storytelling? How could you portray some piece of that in story form?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful for us to create a collection of stories that praise storytellers, living or dead?
As a small start, I invite you to add a praise story to the comments on this article.
Let your words of thanksgiving be carried down the endless river of stories!