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Record Type: Review   ID: 194

Sacred Stories: A Celebration of the Power of Story to Transform and Heal

Simpkinson, Charles, & Simpkinson, Anne. (Eds.).

The stories that are the subject of the essays in this book are those that "move us deeply. They change us and bring us closer together" (p. 1). Thus, what the Simpkinsons call "sacred stories" are what this Journal calls exceptional human experiences. This is highlighted by the fact that the Simpkinsons point out in the Introduction that the difference between sacred and other stories is that the former are important not so much for their content as for "the process the story ignites. Sacred stories move—they impart a profound lesson" (p. 1). So it is with EHEs. One possible difference between the "sacred stories" collected in this volume and EHEs is that all EHEs stem from an EE—or exceptional experience (one that goes beyond previous limits set either by the individual or Western culture. This aspect is seldom emphasized, or if it is, then it is only done so in the category of EHEs we call mystical experiences). That the editors do include "secular" experiences is evident because they quote Stephen Happel, who says that any transformative experience contains an element of the sacred even though it may not be explicit. The Simpkinsons also relate their sacred stories to the stories of indigenous peoples, who view them as "being alive, as having a life of [their] own" (p. 2). This is one area where I have criticized the way parapsychologists have treated EHEs of the psychic type. They are viewed as "dead" stories or events that occurred at a specific time and place and that was it, rarely inquiring as to how the story of that experience may still be affecting the experiencer. The editors also point out that sacred stories, like EHEs, "carry an energy—a truth, or lesson, an insight, an emotion—that can enter our being and connect us to a distant past and to powerful primal forces" (p. 2). It is possible that implicit in that phrase is the anomalous quality of the experience, a sense of the mysterium tremendum.

This volume is based on 22 presentations given at the 11th Common Boundary conference on "Sacred Stories: Healing in the Imaginative Realm." It is evident from the beginning that these are not sacred stories themselves, except some brief ones used for illustrative purposes. The chapters in this book, all by well-known authors who are experts in one form or other of story, write about telling stories, usually one’s own. It is a very interesting volume because it is so multifaceted. The authors are James R. Price III and C.H. Simpkinson, Sam Keen, Mary Catherine Bateson, F. David Peat, Edith Sullwold, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Gioia Timpanelli, Robert Bly, Allan B. Chinen, Richard Lewis, Nancy J. Napier, John L. Johnson, Shaun McNiff, Mcinrad Craighead, John Daido Loori, Walter Wink, James P. Carse, John McDargh, Matthew Fox, Richard Katz, Al Gore, and Maya Angelou. Aspects of storytelling considered are sacred stories, mythic stories, composing a life, science as story, dream as story, story as medicine, everyday activates as hints of the sacred, sex differences in storytelling, mid-life stories, stories of children, family myths, the rule of stories in drug rehabilitation, the story of pictures, drawing stories, Zen Koan, worldview and stories, personal myths, psychoanalytic approach to stories of God, creation spirituality and stories, stories of indigenous healers, stories of the Earth and the relation of human to it, and the human family. I found many passages of interest and of relevance to writing about exceptional human experiences, but except for some mystical experiences and some Gaia experiences, no other forms of exceptional experience are presented. The most interesting chapter, to me, was the one by Walter Wink on the various worldviews that form the context of our stories and myths. He states: "Only extremely powerful experiences are able to disconfirm a worldview; after these experiences are over, most people will set the anomalous experience aside and rehabilitate their worldview" (p. 214). This points up the importance of working with our EHEs, and especially, writing our EHE autobiographies. Also of interest was David Peat’s "Science as Story." These authors write about ways of using various types of stories to change and become more connected.

Publisher Information:San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993. 273p.
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