According to the TV show Joan of Arcadia, which I recommend buying on DVD (for some insidious reason, it got cancelled), St Augustine wrote, “To know yourself is to know God.”
Telling our stories is an adventure. We might know what has happened in our past, but as we write or tell it, new insights and meanings come clear. In the process of telling our stories, we discover our lives.
As storytellers who draw on our experience, we see evidence that life isn’t a random collection of events. Rather, it appears to move in accord with some larger plan that forces us to confront our fears and weaknesses. We remember strange happenings at crucial moments. Events we once saw as catastrophes now appear as blessings.
Our life stories may become a foundation of our faith. In his essay “Faith and Fiction,” Fredrick Buechner maintains that our faith has the same beginnings as our fiction, in “the awareness of events in our lives that lead from one to the other and thereby give each other meaning. The ups and downs of the years, the dreams, the odd moment, the intuitions.”
The plots of our lives are foundations of our faith as well as the germs and cornerstones of the stories we write. Never mind whether we call the stories fact or fiction.
Read a whole book of these observations of mine.
Zoe took a trip with her mom and left me alone for five days. Every one of those evenings, my entertainment was Joan of Arcadia, a television drama that aired for two seasons about a dozen years ago. The premise is: at least once each episode, God appears to Joan in the person of a stranger and gives her an assignment such as join the school orchestra, keep your eyes open, clean out the garage. Usually Joan argues, almost always she misunderstands the purpose of whatever God proposes, and always by the end of the episode, the happenings caused by the assignment deliver an important message, a new way of understanding herself or the world.
I can’t recall ever being so fascinated by a television series. What captivates me is that we not only, along with Joan, learn about the world and ourselves; we also come away with new perspectives about God.
I just bought a DVD set of the two seasons to give to a friend, because it seems to me that when smart, generally open-minded and imaginative people can’t grasp why I or anyone with a modicum of common sense would believe in God, the problem is often that they won’t allow their imaginations to roam. It’s as if using one’s imagination to speculate about God is not only heretical but perhaps illegal, and surely cause for a stay in a rehab center like the one where Joan spends the summer between her junior and senior years.
I have often been asked, and occasionally have wondered on my own, why I’m writing this story instead of that one when that one would be more likely to make serious money. I think next time anyone poses the question, I will suggest they watch Joan of Arcadia. Because I see the show’s premise as a metaphor for the way artists are guided by something beyond their comprehension, often assisted by random people they meet or happenings they observe, or by wisdom or questions that arise out of their daily experiences.
I have decided to create a Perelandra College class around Joan of Arcadia as an elective in the Writing and the Spirit MA program. I’ll probably teach the class because it will give me an excuse to watch the series again and again. The thoughtful stuff it offers make it worth many viewings.