Creating Fiction to Tell the Truth: A Sacred Act

Looking through some photo albums the other day, I recalled the words of my wedding photographer: "No matter what happens, when it's all over, you have the photo album."

As a photojournalist, this guy was skilled at taking good, sharp documentary photos. What it was is what it was. He handed reality right back to us. Nowadays, though, I hear of people pasting people into photos, brushing them out, putting different heads on different shoulders, removing background details. They go to great lengths to create the perfect story, and they'll work hard at it and pay a lot of money for it because they want storybook perfection.

Truth and reality are merely the raw material of story-making, it seems.

This is not strictly a wedding-album phenomenon, though. By selecting specific photos the other day and cropping them whatever way I pleased, I was creating a fiction, too. I had been choosing pictures for an online album to suggest a set of relationships and a level of intimacy that didn't exist. But this story was needed; the idea of it was too pleasant, too comforting, too much needed to not be imagined.

That got me to thinking about sacred texts. No wonder every religion in the world has them. When the great teachers of the ages passed out of this world, all that was left were the stories. Cultures collected them and held them up as models of something unique and beautiful that once was. They created a back-then that didn't happen until they imagined it.

Yet, these fabrications hold some essential truth that makes them real and accurate on some level. In looking at them, it's important to see them as the work of the present, not the past--as our stories, not the stories of people long gone. Then the truth in the stories lives in the present and the stories become true in the present.

I experienced the truth of sacred stories coming to life at the funeral repast following my husband's father's burial. At our table sat two Franciscan monks. As Franciscans, they have taken vows of poverty and have dedicated their lives to helping people who are hungry or otherwise in need. They wear plain, undyed robes, own nothing, and serve others day and night. They see each moment as a sacrament--that is, each experience and every encounter with another person becomes an opportunity to be kind and loving and good--an opportunity to live the Gospel.

These men spoke of their work feeding the hungry in Newark, New Jersey. "Our needs are met and the needs of others are met through gifts. It all gets taken care of," one said.

In one example, they said that some nuns nearby receive 100 pounds of meat every week. They can't possibly use all of it, so they give it away; the men cook and serve it.

In another example, a supermarket near their friary receives food that has not passed its sell-by date but nevertheless can no longer be sold because of the date. So the brothers get the food, cook it, and serve it to others.

Another brother who works in Yonkers, New York, served donated Thanksgiving dinners to homeless people last year. People would order a X number of meals for the shelter and have them delivered, and the people there enjoyed gourmet meals that day.

The cynic in me imagines that some of these do-gooders are serving themselves as much as they are serving the needy. They may reap the benefit of write-offs or at least a smaller pile of garbage out back. Nevertheless, these men are willing to receive whatever's on offer and transform it into the sustenance for people without the means to take care of themselves.

Further, in telling the story, they lift up the goodness of the givers. That really is the whole story; it is the sacrament of the moment. It's possible to transform the stuff of life--even the garbage--into miracles.

All of this reminded me of a comment a Southern Baptist woman made at a grant-writing workshop she led in Waterbury a few years ago. She cited the Salvation Army as an example of an organization that takes whatever people have to offer. "They'll take everything you have, even if most of it's garbage, because they just know eventually you're going to give them exactly what they need, and they'll know exactly what to do with it."

The Prodigal Son


  1. I've just jumped in here from Poetic Leanings - it's dinner time and I should be getting it on the table. I can't stay long, but will be back. Please journey over to my blog, Poetikat's Invisible Keepsakes. I would welcome your comments on any of my pieces. Dig deep, there's much to be seen.
    Linking to you as of right now.

  2. hello sandy! i'm ellen of http:/'ve added you to my links ..Hope you dothe same thing...nice meeting you

  3. What wonderful people. Hearing about them lifts the spirit.

  4. What an interesting post Sandy!
    I enjoyed reading this very much!

    It does lift your spirit to become aware.


  5. It seems such an odd thing that someone would want to fake their photographs. I only ever airbrush out the spots :)

  6. Now that is an interesting idea --- changing your past to what you want it to be instead of what it was. If you were to ask me how I felt 10 years ago in some picture, I probably wouldn't know unless it was a particularly emotional event. Even then it would be kind of murky.

    What would be really interesting is to create a photo album of the future --- that would get you focused on what you want your life to be. I've heard this also makes it more likely that you will achieve those goals too.

  7. Whatever,
    Great point. I rearranged the past a bit to make facing the future doable in the short term. In the process, though, I realized that lifting up what is good in some way transforms the story in a miraculous way. That's what I'm trying to say here. Moving forward means making some kind of peace with the past and present as they live in our mind.


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