“A true war story, when truly told, makes the stomach believe.”

I read this sentence in Tim O’Brien’s fictional novel The Things They Carried when I was a sophomore in high school. The chapter that this line came from, “How to Tell a True War Story,” recounts how one of his fellow soldiers died during the Vietnam war. That story is retold several times throughout the course of the chapter, each one giving a slightly different version of events. O’Brien challenges what the meaning of truth is in a war story, and offers the definition above for what a true war story is.

You could extend this logic to include other kinds of stories as well. And here we run into a difficult question: what exactly does O’Brien mean by a “true” story? There is a kind of objective truth, one where the facts and details of the story match what actually happened. Yet there is also a more subjective kind of truth, a truth that appeals to a person’s gut. O’Brien is referring to this truth, the truth in a story that makes us feel something in response to it.

I read over my reflections from this past semester, and I realized a few things. One was that the reflections tended to stray from the theological to the more personal. Perhaps that indicates an unwillingness to tackle theology on my part, or a greater preoccupation with my own thinking these past few months. Which of these explanations it is, I can’t quite say. The other detail I noticed was that many of my reflections from this semester focused on stories. My reflections contained stories about Terry Pratchett’s First Sight and Second Thoughts, religion and science, Hestia and the hearth, the perpetual change surrounding us, and spontaneous moments of invitation. They told narratives of silence in response to death, teaching, and Hope. More recently, they have been reflections on being alone and losing one’s voice. In all of these stories, I found fragments of what I might call my personal theology–what I believe in, why I believe in it, and how those principles guide my everyday life and how I interact with the Divine.

More recently, I’ve been reading over the reflections of my fellow Marsh Associates. In these, too, I see stories. Stories that speak to truths their authors have experienced, truths that they have beautifully conveyed in their own words. These stories have, to use Tim O’Brien’s phrase, made my stomach believe. As I talk to these people who are my colleagues, coworkers, and friends, I see them articulate their own theologies in their meditations. I watch them create and continue to tell the narratives of their lives and beliefs. And occasionally, I am lucky enough to witness or be invited to the hearths that they have created here in Marsh Chapel and elsewhere, spaces that nurture them, support them, and in the words of Howard Thurman, make them come alive. I cannot thank them enough for their wisdom, their warmth, and their presence in my life. Since I began and continued through this semester telling my own stories, I’d like to end it by retelling some of theirs. I invite you to look over the stories that they have shared in the time that I have known them.

Nick: “Here I am, my identity in the collection of stories that inspire and drive me. Here I am, another paintbrush in the great canvas of Boston University.

Here I am, my biology telling a story: I am Hispanic and the language in my biology carried by generations of farmers and workers who lived in Colombia. This biological language in me now having traveled thousands of miles into the city of Boston.

Here I am, a calculator with feelings, like Wall-E. A Rodriguez, another one who constantly thinks about how much love matters.

Here I am, an engineering student. A person who loves math and science. A tinkerer.

Here I am, a Christian, an intern at Marsh Chapel. A person who loves reading theology, philosophy, and psychology. A lover of the humanities. A person who takes deep interest in these topics. Someone who came from Mendham Hills, from the youth group of Steve. A questioner. A person who deeply loves pluralism and diversity.” (Reflections on Identities, 10/18/2016)

Matt: “Fernandez was never seen without a smile on his face; his smile was electric. But his work ethic embodied the perfect opposition to the anti-immigrant population in this country. Fernandez had a gift and he worked hard to make sure that he was able to achieve his goals. He never gave up and always persevered. Like so many other immigrants before and after him, he came to this country with a goal and hard work ethic. He came for a reason. Nothing was given to him. He had to earn everything that he had. And he earned it.

Even though Jose Fernandez was a gifted baseball player, I believe the essence of his life was to inspire others. Whether it be on the baseball field or immigrant families coming to the United States, he used his position to help others. It is important to recognize how important his life was off the field, not just on it. May he rest in peace, but let his memory inspire others forever.” (Jose Fernandez, 9/27/2016)

Devin: “I heard the T tracks whistling for the first time in a long time. I went an entire day without headphones. Music is what grounds me throughout the day. It’s a common reminder that everything will be okay. It is like my portable bible. A personal connection to God at every moment. I went without them for 24 hours, I went without music. I couldn’t put on my headphones and ignore the various conversations and people that I might encounter. Most of the time I use them as a shield from being social. I’ve realized when I’m constantly putting myself out in the world as a social creature, I’ve left little time for self-reflection. Putting my headphones on is my way of taking some time to be in my head. Today I didn’t. I forced myself to listen to each environment I was in, hear the conversations, and be present. I’m torn if this time of being present is beneficial for me and I should go without headphones more often or is ignoring the world needed sometimes.” (I Opened My Ears, 11/3/2016).

Kasey: “In a world that seems to be getting louder every day, these quiet spaces are the key to our well being. We don’t have to ignore the noise but we need to find ways to take a step back, to sit in a darkened room, to bask in the simplicity of a candle flame. And it is in these quiet spaces that we create a space for answers, for clarity, for direction, for God.

When I came to the chapel today, my head was buzzing, clouded after a day where nothing seemed to come easily, where my world gradually narrowed until all I could see was my computer screen. But then I stepped outside, embraced by the fresh air. I ate dinner with friends, shared with each other about our lives—somewhat overwhelmed but knowing we’ll get through. And then we sat together, eyes closed, and minds relaxing, imagining that simple, calm, hopeful flame. And all of those other things melted away.” (Quiet Spaces, 10/18/2016).

Denise: “As far as I can figure, there are two interconnected beliefs at the core of my being. First, I believe in presence. I believe in being where you are. That sometimes the most profound act of service and love we can ever do is to be present with someone. I believe that when I am fully here, not only can I see others more clearly; I can clearly see God moving. I also believe in appreciation. In appreciating the moment. Appreciating the ride. In appreciating those in my life for the many ways that they bless me on my journey each and everyday. Appreciating the quiet moments of refuge in a cluttered bookstore and the books that change everything. This I believe.” (This I Believe, 11/2/2016).

Thank you all for letting me be a part of your stories, and for being a part of mine. I cannot wait to share another semester’s worth of stories with you.

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