The Ritual of Story...
Updated: Apr 26, 2019
A few weeks ago a friend from San Francisco told us she was coming to London and we invited her to stay with us over this coming Easter weekend. A few days ago she asked if we knew of any Seders as she realised that she was arriving on Easter Saturday, on the second Seder night of Passover.
I am often struck by other people’s rituals. We don’t necessarily think much about our own, whether they be cultural or our own family’s special ways of doing things. We are not religious so for us on Burns Night we have haggis, on Shrove Tuesday we have pancakes, on a Sunday morning we have a fry-up! I am wondering if all the rituals in my life are centred around food… I don’t actually think they are, but then of course the Passover Seder is absolutely that, a ritual meal, one which celebrates the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. And a central part of this ritual meal is the telling of the Story. When our friend contacted us, I had to look up what the second Seder night was. And then I remembered…
Twenty years ago I was invited to a Passover seder by some friends in a tower-block in Old Street. I got the lift to the fifteenth floor and found myself with about ten other people in a small cramped flat. David, the host, explained that they thought it would be fun to invite a bunch of their goy (non-Jewish) friends to experience the Passover Seder, as they were doing it for the first time with their children. We all stood looking down at this table laden with candles and plates carrying a very specific assortment of things - a hard boiled egg, some grated horseradish, a bunch of parsley…
People waited to be told what they should do - ‘Can we sit?’, ‘Do we eat this now?’ The glasses of Palwin, the Kosher red wine, were passed around. I sipped. ‘Mmm it’s really sweet’. ‘Yes I don’t like it very much,’ said David. ‘O I do, can I have another glass?’ I asked. And then David slowly took us through the Story, meticulously reading from a book as he did so. The meal was all about the retelling of the Story…
Of course, I had heard this story before, certain parts of it being more familiar than others, but I had never heard it told like this, in a ritualised way, for a very specific purpose. It was so clear that the telling and retelling of this Story was fundamentally important in this culture. If the story was forgotten then something would be lost. It was defining.
We all carry our stories with us and stories carry meaning. We have stories of our lived experience, we have stories that we have inherited from our parents’ and grandparents of their experiences and those of our ancestors. And we often don’t even register how powerfully these stories define who we are in the world, where we fit, how we relate. With the story told at the Passover seder the importance and power of that story is clear. But we all have our own versions of this.
As we arrive at this Easter weekend and all the different meanings this may have for us, from Passover, to celebrating Christ’s Resurrection, to simply being with family and eating hot cross buns and Easter eggs, I am left with another thought. I am left reflecting on the current migrations of people around the globe, people displaced by war and by human need. What are the stories that they will tell of their exodus? What will they pass down through the children of children in today’s refugee camps?
What meal will they sit round to break bread and tell a Story which carries their culture and their meaning through time?
Director Narativ London
Join Narativ's next Storytelling and Listening workshop on April 24th 2019 in London.