A Discussion Group of the National Storytelling Network

Story Circles
Children at the Well

Storytellers Share Aim for Peace, Denver, CO June 4, 2006

Originally published in The Rocky Mountain News, June 5, 2006.

By Jean Torkelson

Sydney Solis poised a slender gong over a small brass bowl. A silvery shimmer of sound echoed in the air. The storytellers waited.

So began the second annual World Peace Interfaith Storytelling Gathering. It was held Sunday at B'nai Havurah Congregation, 6445 E. Ohio Ave. The first meeting, last November, was at the Boulder Public Library. Who knows where the next will be?

The 23 participants were as wide-ranging and eclectic as the locations: Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Quakers, Jews and Unitarians. There were psychotherapists, teachers, social workers, even a Lutheran pastor.

What drew them together was the simple conviction that, for two hours on a Sunday afternoon, a broken world - quite obviously not at peace - could be helped in one small corner of Denver with stories that help people rediscover love and compassion for one another.

"Through storytelling, people can realize that all people share in only one story - the joys and sorrows of the human experience," explained Solis, a 39-year-old yoga teacher and storyteller, who coordinates the annual event for the Joseph Campbell Foundation.

Campbell, a professor of mythology and comparative religion who died in 1987, entered the popular culture through a series of interviews he did with Bill Moyers for PBS and for his signature advice, "Follow your bliss."

To this group, bliss is telling stories, which they do in schools, libraries, nursing homes, virtually anyplace. Storytellers say their art intersects with worship and faith because "all people, at all times and places, tell stories - they speak to a very deep level of ourselves," says Linda Jacobson.

Yes, there are professional storytellers. Cherie Karo Schwartz, whose synagogue hosted the event, has been one for 34 years and written books about it. Through storytelling, "I would love for people's eyes and hearts and spirits be open to new ways and possibilities of peace and justice," says Schwartz, 55.

What stories are we talking about? All stories, from personal stories to mythologies and folk tales, to the sacred stories of the Bible, and countless other faiths.

What all classic stories seem to have in common is a symmetry and a resolution (or as the pros say, a beginning, middle and end) that's as unexpected as a thriller and as satisfying as a fable.

On Sunday, the rule was each storyteller had five minutes to tell a tale.

A retired social worker told a story about herself. As a young South African girl, she innocently asked one day why a beloved black servant couldn't read. Her question changed the man's life.

Solis told a Hindu fable of a king's son deprived of his inheritance who flees into the woods and finds something more valuable.

Schwartz told an Israeli folk tale of a man seeking justice, who stumbles upon a hut filled with the flaming candles of each person alive on Earth. Shocked by the pitiful flame of his own candle, he does something that teaches him to look at justice in a new way.

For more information on the group, call either Schwartz, at 303-367-8099, or Solis, at 303-456-6311. Even in a media-drenched age, storytelling has its own power. A gasp of pleasure swept the group as Schwartz opened the event with some of the most magical words of all: "Once upon a time . . . "