Take Back Your Imagination: The Power of Story

This past week, our ninth grade spearheaded Take Back Your Imagination Week. In an effort to “unplug” and reclaim the joys of the three R’s: reading, writing and real (not virtual) relationships, they created and signed a contract: no iPods, no texting, no email, no Facebook, no computer games, no television, no DVDs, no visits to the movie theater. In other words, unplug cold turkey. And to lessen the pain, this innovative group planned game nights and international dance lessons, hosted a barbeque and attended a philosophy discussion. Most importantly they read.

As summer approaches, parents have an opportunity to provide healthy supplements to offset their children’s highly saturated media diet: great stories.

Why stories? Great stories appeal to the whole person. They meet St. Augustine’s criteria for good teaching and good preaching--they delight the appetite, they instruct the mind and they move the heart. For St. Augustine, it was the New Testament, for Alexander the Great it was Homer’s “Iliad’’ and ‘‘Odyssey.” Abraham Lincoln read and reread “Macbeth” to engrave upon his mind the dangers of unbridled ambition.

Stories invite us to discover the kind of person we ought to become and the kind of person we ought not to become. Good novelists are not only good storytellers, but also great psychological portrait painters. Their characters give readers access to the private, highly-personalized world of moral motivation. Fictional life struggles can awaken the moral imagination of young readers and help them to become more adept at ethical reflection.

Whenever I taught “The Great Gatsby,” I noticed the sway its characters held over my students. They were troubled by Jordan’s reputation for lying, Tom Buchanan’s arrogance, and Daisy’s total preoccupation with herself. They had mixed feelings toward Gatsby, trying to decide if he was naive and misguided or if he was dangerously obsessed and borderline insane. Perhaps the most striking evidence of this influence occurred at the end of one my classes. Two girls were packing their books and discussing weekend plans, when one of them blurted indignantly, “You are such a Daisy Buchanan.” Whether or not the details of the conversation warranted such a slight I’ll never know. What I do know is that the young woman accused felt the blow with full force. She was reduced to tears, and a bitter quarrel ensued. It was the first time I had witnessed the invocation of a literary character nearly give rise to a fist fight.

Good stories help us to re-examine our perspective. In the novel “The Things They Carried,” Tim O’Brien’s fictional account of his own experiences in Vietnam, the narrator catalogs what soldiers carry with them: love letters and dog tags, C-Rations, ammunition, and even a dead man’s thumb. What they carry with them -- both externally and internally -- weighs on them and reflects in some way how they define themselves.

I will never forget the discussion this novel prompted in a Teachers Academy I led one summer. After an animated conversation about the things we carry and our students carry, one teacher related an experience she had been carrying with her for years. She and her husband were driving in a blinding snowstorm along a narrow country road one Christmas Eve, when a two year old boy darted into the street right in front of them. They braked immediately, but it was too late. The little boy was struck dead. His mother, who was watching from the kitchen window, rushed outside, scooped up her son, brought him into the house and called the ambulance. Waiting for the ambulance to arrive, the mother invited the distraught couple into her home. Every Christmas since the accident, this mother invites the couple to her son’s memorial service.

Still deeply troubled by the tragedy, the teacher driving the car had quietly remained the victim, carrying the burden of this tremendous guilt in her haversack. It wasn’t until she had the opportunity to reflect on the “things she carried,” that she could appreciate the gift of forgiveness she had been taking for granted all these years.

In Dante’s “Purgatorio,” the second book of his “Divine Comedy,” the pilgrim souls learn to progress toward heaven through what Dante the poet repeatedly refers to as a “conversio,” a turning around or pivoting, which gives them an ability to see more clearly where they are headed and why. Let this summer be an occasion to take back the imaginations of our children with stories that nurture their minds, move their hearts and prompt them toward worthy goals.

Dr. Karen E. Bohlin is head of the Montrose School in Medfield, and senior scholar at Boston University’s Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character.

World
Listening church: Pope gives new vision for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Synod of Bishops increasingly should be a structure for listening to the Catholic faithful, demonstrating a local bishop's concern ...

Nation
Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued ...

Nation
Richmond bishop apologizes to victims; commits to opening, reviewing files

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- In celebrating the Diocese of Richmond's first Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse Sept. 14, Bishop Barry C. Knestout apologized ...

Nation
Stanford University to remove saint's name from some properties

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- California's Stanford University will strip the name of 18th-century Franciscan friar, St. Junipero Serra, from some of its properties ...

Nation
Catholic Charities distributes disaster relief to areas hit by Florence

RALEIGH, N.C. (CNS) -- The Carolinas were hard hit with record rainfall and flooding rivers from tropical storm Florence since it made landfall Sept. ...

Nation
Archbishop Lori assures diocese he's with them in journey toward healing

WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- In his celebration of Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling Sept. 15, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said ...

World
Bishop takes a (sky) dive to get pilgrims to Lourdes

HOVE, England (CNS) -- "The Moth has landed," tweeted the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. The tweet Sept. 14 and a similar post on the diocesan Facebook ...

World
Words, promises are not enough to prevent abuse, archbishop says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inviting presidents of the world's bishops' conference to the Vatican to discuss abuse prevention reflects an understanding that ...

World
Pope praises Capuchin order's charism of authenticity, simplicity

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Capuchins are called to be men of peace, reconciliation and prayer and to be close to all people, Pope Francis told members of the ...

Nation
Path to healing starts with seeking forgiveness, Cardinal Wuerl says

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A "Season of Healing" for sexual abuse survivors began in the Archdiocese of Washington with a Sept. 14 Mass at the Cathedral of St. ...

World
Archbishop McCarrick's unofficial role in Vatican-China relations

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Following reports that the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement ...

Nation
Archbishop Chaput: When we forget faith, we forget our humanity

Spokane, Wash., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- When man tries to cling to reason and separate himself from faith, he forgets who he is and loses his source of hope, ...

World
Pope Francis warns priests against living a double life

Palermo, Italy, Sep 15, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- During a day trip to Sicily Saturday, Pope Francis told priests and religious to fight their vices and strive ...

World
What is the pontifical secret?

Vatican City, Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Following the allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò about the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, ...

World
Vatican publishes list of synod participants, including papal nominees

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- To the list of members of the Synod of Bishops elected by national bishops' conferences, Pope Francis added cardinals from 14 countries, ...

Nation
Addicts and their loved ones talk about life with opioid addiction

ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) -- It was a Saturday night, and Billy was eating pizza and watching a sporting event in the basement bedroom of his residence, a ...

Nation
Signers of letter hope Vatican meeting will bring needed steps on crisis

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Signers of an open letter from Catholic women to Pope Francis urging "truth" and "transparency" on the growing sex abuse crisis expressed ...

Local
Community 'overwhelmed and shell-shocked' after gas explosions, says pastor

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

World
Down to earth: Vatican brings together world's meteorite curators

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) -- Rocks, mineral debris and even dust from space are kept in special collections, museums and laboratories all over the ...

World
Algerian martyrs to be beatified in Algeria Dec. 8

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The beatification of 19 martyrs of Algeria, including the seven Trappist monks of Tibhirine, will be celebrated Dec. 8 in Oran, ...

Nation
'Anything but a picnic' - Cardinal Dolan on the Church's summer of scandal

New York City, N.Y., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Cardinal Timothy Dolan has spoken about how the extended sexual abuse scandals facing the Church have taken a ...

Local
Restoring and reimagining: Transformation at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross

BOSTON -- Considered by many to be the heart of the Archdiocese of Boston, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross is the largest Catholic church in New England, ...

Local
Archdiocese says Cardinal O'Malley will personally review all abuse letters

BRAINTREE (CAN) -- The Archdiocese of Boston has announced changes to the way it will process and respond to letters addressed to Cardinal Séan P. ...

Local
CM receives $2.5M grant from Yawkey Foundations

West Roxbury -- Catholic Memorial, a college-preparatory school for boys in grades 7 to 12, announced Sept. 5 that they have received a $2.5 million grant ...

Local
Father Christian Ohazulume removed from ministry

BRAINTREE -- The Archdiocese announced on Sept. 11 that it had removed a priest from ministry after receiving an allegation that he sexually abused a ...

Local
From Cardinal Seán's blog

This week I am in transit to Rome in anticipation of the next meeting of the C9 Council of Cardinals. So, I have asked Vivian Soper to share some reflections ...

Nation
Kavanaugh's birth control comments spur controversy -- What did he say?

Washington D.C. (CNA) -- Opponents of Judge Brett Kavanaugh have suggested that a reference to birth control pills as "abortion-inducing drugs" during ...

Nation
Missouri to enforce abortion regulations in wake of appeals court ruling

Jefferson City, Mo. (CNA) -- Missouri's health department announced Monday that it will immediately being enforcing state laws regulating abortion clinics ...

Nation
Book tells about behind-the-scenes search for St. Peter's bones

HOUSTON (CNS) -- Two Houston men shared a journey through centuries of history and a decades-long archaeological dig under the Vatican to unveil a story ...

World
Update way priests are chosen, accompanied, pope tells new bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The best way to help the Catholic Church, Pope Francis told new bishops, is not by pointing fingers and creating scapegoats, but ...

World
Vatican confirms ongoing Sistine Chapel Choir finance inquiry

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican confirmed an ongoing investigation into financial irregularities involving the directors of the Sistine Chapel Choir. ...

World
After meeting pope, cardinal says he's hopeful about addressing crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston struck a determinedly hopeful tone after his long-awaited meeting with Pope Francis ...

Nation
DA clears Indiana bishop of misconduct, says claim has harmed prelate

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (CNS) -- The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend welcomed findings by a Pennsylvania district attorney that cleared Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades ...

World
Cardinal DiNardo calls meeting with pope lengthy, fruitful

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo has called a Sept. 13 meeting between Pope Francis and leaders from the Church in United ...

Nation
What do Church abuse policies mean by 'vulnerable adult?'

Denver, Colo., Sep 12, 2018 CNA.- A Vatican summit this February will gather the presidents of bishops’ conferences from around the world. While ...

World
'Elitist, clericalist' church allows abuse to thrive, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Sexual and physical abuse by priests and religious and the scandal of its cover-up by church authorities thrive in countries where ...

World
Cardinal Wuerl to ask pope to accept his resignation

Washington D.C., Sep 12, 2018 CNA.- An archdiocesan spokesman has confirmed that Cardinal Donald Wuerl will soon ask Pope Francis to accept his resignation ...

Nation
Pope accepts resignation of West Virginia bishop as inquiry into abuse claims launched

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Pope Francis Thursday accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield from the pastoral government ...