Story re-orders, sifts through experience, and allows others, young children and adults alike, to hear what we think truly matters. We are constituted by the stories we tell ourselves and others. Thus stories serve an ontological purpose. Story connects us with that which lies beyond ourselves and this process makes us ask questions about the meanings of our lives. It is, in fact, a way we can begin to define what we mean when we use the term "spirituality."I've been reading Dreams of My Father, Obama's first book. It's a book about the stories he pursued, the stories of his life, and the stories of his family. But there's one story that stretches back much further, echoing the dawn of our memories.
Barbara Kimes Myers
Young Children and Spirituality
Towards the end of the book Obama's grandmother tells the story of their family. It begins with a genealogy, of who begat whom. Then we come to Opuyo, who traveled from a faraway land in Kenya to a land he didn't know. Opuyo sired Obama (first name), who was not the eldest brother, and therefore didn't have land or wealth. He ended up working for another, wealthier family. He worked so hard that the family became very impressed by him, and gave Obama their daughter in marriage.
Obama married others, and built up his lands, so that his son, Onyango, came from a family of means. But at this time the white man was entering the land that would be Kenya. Onyango alone of his village saw the potential of this new world, and left the land of his people to work for the whites in other areas of Kenya, and in other African countries. Though he was often ostracised by his family, Onyango learned the white's ways, and was therefore the first of his village to understand modern life and technology, and used that to his advantage, gaining more wealth and lands. He took many wives, and one son was born Barack Hussein Obama, who had a son by the same name, who later went on to run for President of the United States.
Do these stories sound at all familiar? Consider. Barack Obama's grandma began her story with begats. She then told of Abraham, going to a land that was not his own. Abraham's grandson Jacob was not the eldest son, so he worked for his uncle Laban for many years, and eventually won the right to marry Laban's daughters. Jacob's son Joseph was often ostracised by his family, and went to the foreign land of the Egyptians to learn their ways, becoming a man of great wealth. The similarities are rather eerie.
Sometimes I sit and imagine how God might have appeared to Ipuyo, telling him to go to a new land. He would say that he would bless Ipuyo, if he is willing to take this risk and trust in the Lord, and one day his descendant, a descendant he would never meet, this descendant would become great in a faraway land that Ipuyo had never heard of. Or God might come to Obama (first name) when Obama had no work and no hope. God calls Obama to trust in him, and one day a descendant with his name, his great grandson, would rise to become the most powerful man in the world.
And this descendant would be a child of promise, who would obtain this position as long as he walked in humility and followed the ways of God, using his power to serve others. For in this scenario our candidate becomes not Jesus, but the leader of promise, a King David.
Of course, these conversations with God are solely in my imagination. But Obama's family history shows the power of hope so gloriously, that it is easy to imagine God's hand throughout. It shows how a family can rise from the humblest of beginnings, and how God can work through them in miraculous ways- ways we could never suspect. And it offers us all the lesson, and the hope, that when things are at their most dire, God is still working. We may not see his plan, or even see it work out fully in our lifetime, yet God is still doing something so wondrous we could never imagine it.