Soul Stories Help Elders Weave Life Tapestries

By Wimberly, Anne E. Streaty | Aging Today, July/August 2008 | Go to article overview

Soul Stories Help Elders Weave Life Tapestries


Wimberly, Anne E. Streaty, Aging Today


At some point, most of us seek answers to life's mysteries and realities. There is a quest to consider deeply: How do we make sense of the life we have lived-and are living? How do we best remember the past, live in the present and enter the future? In what ways do we know ourselves in relation to God or a being beyond ourselves?

In my own search for answers, I have often entered into random moments of quiet contemplation or have found myself in heart-to-heart conversations with a caring listener. Whether told alone or with another, stories of my very soul have tumbled forth-experiences of triumph and trouble, fulfillment and failure, dreams and disappointments. Invariably, one story led to another, enabling me to see life as something quite artistic.

SEEING TRUTHFULLY

I've discovered that life's design is woven across time and space with myriad interconnected threads, an abundance of materials, tools, textures, shapes, colors and forward-backward-forward directions. Life is subject to change and needful of guidance from others and, most importantly, from God, the ultimate weaver of the tapestry of life. As Oscar Wilde once wrote, "Life imitates art far more than art imitates life."

Coming to know my soul story as an artistic representation of what is involved in being human has led me to invite others into story-sharing times, when I use the tapestry-weaving motif. I invite people to find a caring other, spiritual guide or pastoral caregiver with whom to explore the artistry of their lives and what Henri Nouwen calls seeing ourselves truthfully. In his book The Inner Voice of Love (Doubleday, 1996), Nouwen reminds readers that "people often struggle to see their own truth. And that truth is that we are creations of God, that God has entered deeply into our being, and that we are offering much of God to others."

From Nouwen's viewpoint, in order for people to claim who they are within the nature and the beauty of life's tapestries, people must see themselves, know deeply their own truths and tell the stories that radiate those truths.

A helpful approach for achieving this through story-sharing is to consider the threads of life's design that reveal different dimensions of who we are and of the nature of our lives.

THE TAPESTRY THREADS

In workshops, I ask participants to select one of the following themes to begin story-sharing and return to the others in follow-up sessions. Within each storysharing experience, participants should consider how each part of the tapestry design is overlaid with emotion, spontaneity, creative expressiveness, twists, turns, impact or surprising outcomes they recall. They should also consider the question, "What of these overlays to the threads of your life's tapestry come to you now?"

The Thread of Identity: We humans weave our life's tapestry design with the thread of identity that began at the moment of, if not before, our birth. Our stories reveal who we perceive ourselves to be and what has helped shape that perception. In this session, I ask participants to share with a caring other person a story that shapes their answer to the question, "Who am I?"

The Thread of Social Contexts: We weave our life's tapestry design with threads of social contexts in which we engage. These threads include where we have lived, worked, attended school and worshiped. Moreover, these threads intertwine with the thread of our identities. We develop our self-image in connection with the social contexts in which we live. I ask participants to share a story about a place they have lived or are now living.

The Thread of Interpersonal Relationships: We weave our life's tapestry with threads of interpersonal relationships, past and present. These relationships connect with the threads of our various social contexts and include family members, friends in our communities and places of worship, and colleagues in the workplace. We might also add those we know or those with whom we are distantly connected in politics and public media.

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