Last year, in preparation for publishing my first ever piece of work, The Nature of The Sea, I started a publishing company called Branch of Peace Publishing House LLC. I knew at the time that I wanted to use it as a platform for my writing, but I also started it with the hope that it might become a platform for others. As I’ve continued thinking about that, I thought it would be fitting to create a vision statement for the publishing company.
My vision for Branch of Peace is to publish literary works that promote goodness and restoration through storytelling. This is something that was heavy on my mind when I was writing The Nature of The Sea, and it’s something that I have continued to think about and have allowed to shape the themes and purposes of my writing. But what do I mean when I say goodness and restoration? What does a piece of writing with restorative power look like? What are stories truly capable of?
I love those questions. Those are things that I think about when I am searching for a good book to read, and I hope that they are things that I will continue to think about when I write.
But if stories can transform us, where does all that transformative power come from?
If there is one thing that can make me lose interest in a book—or any work of art for that matter—it’s the moment when the author decides to step in-between the story and the reader and take control of how the two interact. In other words, it’s the moment when the author tells the reader how he or she should react to the story. Not only does this undermine the reader’s intelligence, but it also shows a lack of trust on the author’s part. It shows that the author doesn’t believe that the reader is insightful enough to make his or her own observations, but more than that, it shows that the author doesn’t believe the story is strong enough to speak for itself! This act of reigning in the story can do just that: It can limit the story’s potential to that of the author’s insight, which in most cases, is limited.
As a writer, I have seen just how easy this is to do. And it’s not just in writing that this takes place. It can be applied to most anything that involves some sort of human effort: relationships, movements, work, etc. When one individual decides to take control of everything, the potential becomes limited to what that person can achieve on their own.
One great example of dealing with this issue comes to mind, and it’s found in the second film of The Godfather Trilogy. For those unfamiliar with the story, it revolves around a mob family called the Corleone’s, focusing mainly on the character of Michael Corleone. At the start of the first film, we see that Michael is very resistant to joining in on the dark practices of his family. He wants to prove to Kay, the woman he loves, that he is different. But when his father is almost killed by a rival kingpin, Michael finds himself swept into the passion of the family, and that passion drives him to murder the rival kingpin along with a corrupt police officer. That act sends him fleeing away to Sicily for safety, but his involvement in the family business only grows from there. Before the end of the second film, he marries a Sicilian woman only to watch her be killed, returns to America and eventually plans the killing of every rival mafia head, descends into darkness so far that Kay, who becomes his wife, lies to him about a miscarriage and reveals that she had an abortion to protect the child from having to ever know Michael as a father, and eventually finds that his brother, Fredo, betrayed him and almost got him killed. The films ends with Michael sitting alone by the lake, gazing out at the water, while elsewhere he has issued an assassin to kill his brother.
It’s a very dark set of films, with an emphasis on the fall of Michael’s character. But the brilliant ending is what I want to focus on. The last scene involves Michael’s character gazing out at the water while recalling a memory. At that moment, the director could have chosen to insert some sort of monologue to make sense of everything. He could have chosen to have Michael explain himself to someone, but instead of doing either of these, he chose to show Michael silent and alone. Without any understanding of what he has been through, this final shot has almost no power or meaning, because there is essentially nothing happening on screen. But since we, the viewers, know Michael’s history, our imagination begins to run wild as we consider all the many things he could be thinking about. That is the moment when the director chose to step out of the way and let the viewer interact with the story on their own, and the result is a story that has endured for over 30 years as one of the most influential films in American history. While the director could’ve chosen to explain Michael’s emotions at the end, he instead chose to let the story do the talking, and because of that choice, the power of the story is limited only by the viewer’s imagination.
The Godfather films deal with the corruption of humanity, but what about stories of restoration? It seems to me that restoration stories can be more difficult to tell, because in order to tell a compelling restoration story, one must first be able to tell a compelling corruption story. The problem with restoration stories is that there is far more subject matter that deals with corruption, and when it comes to restoration, much of it deals with longing and hope, while corruption deals with a sad truth that is known far too well. So what do compelling restoration stories look like?
One that comes to mind is Alan Paton’s beautiful novel, Cry, The Beloved Country. It’s a story about a South African minister who goes looking for his son, only to find that he has been accused of murdering a white man. The story deals with the corruptions of racial injustice, but also of compassion and forgiveness. It doesn’t do this story justice for me to describe it in such short detail. It’s an incredible story.
The restoration comes in many forms, dealing mainly with certain characters who give up their bitterness for compassion. But, like The Godfather, it’s the ending that lingers in my head the most. It consists of a reflection that the main character, Kumalo, has while watching the sunrise from a mountainside.
“Yes it is the dawn that has come. The titihoya wakes from sleep, and goes about its work of forlorn crying. The sun tips with light the mountains of Ingeli and East Griqualand. The great valley of the Umzimkulu is still in darkness, but the light will come there. Ndotsheni is still in darkness, but the light will come there also. For it is the dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries, never failing. But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret.”
Aside from being a poetic piece of writing, that section is also a perfect ending for the story. For even though the main plot of the story has been resolved, there is still the problem of corruption. There is still bondage and fear, and much of the world is still very dark. Notice how much attention the author gives to that. Instead of just speaking in a wispy metaphor, he says clearly that parts of his land are literally still in darkness, not just because they are corrupt, but because he’s watching a sunrise, and the sun hasn’t reached them yet. He’s using fact to convey his message. He’s using present terminology, even though the renewal he is envisioning is very much a future hope.
Restoration stories are harder to tell, because in many cases, restoration hasn’t come yet. So when a storyteller speaks of present restoration without paying mind to the things that are yet to come, the things that they have no foresight into, the story feels a bit limited. This is one of the big issues with inspirational stories. Hope is an inspiring thing, but hope in its very nature is unfulfilled. If there is fulfillment, there is no need for hope, for why hope for that which has already come? The most powerful stories we can tell are the ones that leave room for the story that came before we did, and will go on even when we cannot. Even corruption has been around longer than we have, so when a storyteller tries to make sense of corruption, the same result is found.
Our lives are centered around storytelling. All day long we tell each stories of things we’ve done, or things that we remember, or things we hope to do. And as Jonathan Gottschall said, “Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”
So my urge to you is that you will leave room for sacred space in your own storytelling, be it the story of work, or of fostering a relationship (which is also work), or of building yourself up into a better person (again, work). This is a difficult thing to remember when technology gives us so much power to hold in our hands.
Returning to my initial statements, I hope that my stories make space for this. My aim is to tell stories that delight in goodness, and that hasten the arrival of restoration. I hope that you will seek to find this sacred space in your life, and that you will make room for it. And let the dawn be your reminder that all creation is rehearsing for the great dawn that is yet to come.