What is Ignatian Storytelling?

by Eric Clayton

Storytelling is a trendy topic.

There are all sorts of classes and workshops you can take to learn how to better articulate your own story, or the story of your business or brand. Better storytelling means more likes, more clicks, more money, more everything.

It only makes sense. We humans love a good story — and it hardly seems to matter if those stories come from family lore passed down from one generation to the next, or from Netflix. Stories help us make sense of ourselves and our place in the world, so better storytelling means better sensemaking.

In these weekly columns, I’ve been writing a lot about how intimately concerned God is with each of our own unique stories. It’s true — and it’s foundational to Ignatian spirituality. St. Ignatius reminds us that God desires to deal directly with us, that God is there, ever-present in the nitty-gritty details of our lives, and that God delights in who we are, and who we are becoming.

So, for me, storytelling is inherent to Ignatian spirituality. And as I prayed with this realization, I wondered what Ignatian storytelling might mean, might look like, what spiritual tools it might offer us.

So, I wrote a book — Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith — in which I attempted to wrestle with these questions.

But, believe it or not, this isn’t just a shameless plug for preorders. Because as I worked through the manuscript, as I reflected on storytelling and Ignatian spirituality, I received a piece of editorial feedback that I return to time and time again, an insight that was helpful to my writing but even more helpful to how I think about storytelling in my daily life.

“You used the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘me’ too much, Eric,” one of my editors noted. A simple search of the manuscript had revealed as much. “The emphasis of the book should be on ‘you,’ on the reader. Try to shift from saying ‘I/me’ to ‘you.’ See how that feels; see how that changes the focus of the text.”

Storytelling is a trendy topic — but how often do we look to this trend as something that benefits us? My story? My experience? My brand? How often do we look for ways to improve how we tell our stories, rather than how we listen to the stories of others?

If we could search through the words we say each day or each week as easily as we can search through text of a manuscript, how often would the words “I” or “me” come up? How often would the words “you” or “yours”?

Of course, this isn’t just about a word search; this is about where we place our focus, how we view ourselves in community. It’s about reorienting our lives so that we aren’t solely retreating inward but are making ourselves available to the needs of others, the needs of our world.

It’s a recognition that our story is bound up in the stories of others, in the one, great story of God.

What chapter might we contribute together to this holy text of our shared lives?

In God’s peace,

Eric Clayton
Deputy Director of Communications
Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States
Jesuits.org/Spirituality

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