In 1965, a young New Jersey college student, in need of money for rent and tuition, took a weekend job as a tour guide at $25 a day, for a charter company that specialized in high school class trips to Washington, DC. The company gave him a binder of facts and statistics to learn, but the student, Robert Béla Wilhelm, quickly realized that only a story makes facts and statistics come alive.
Sixteen years later, Bob was a university professor and had written his PhD dissertation on the craft and philosophy of storytelling. His wife, Kelly’s, PhD centered on travel and leisure. Both had grown up in storytelling families, and in 1981, they founded Storyfest Journeys (see their Facebook page too) with an inaugural trip to Ireland. After more than 50 storytelling oriented, small group tours to Europe, the Pacific, and destinations in the US, they are still at it. It was thanks to the Wilhelms that Mary and I traveled to Iceland in 2012.
Over time, Bob and Kelly have focused their energy on mentoring storytellers and specializing in sacred stories. I just received word that Bob has completed a 17 year labor of love that he calls, “Parables Today, A Weekly Lectionary Storybook.” For every Sunday of the three year lectionary cycle of the Catholic church, he presents stories from around the world along with artwork, and reflections. The tone is open and ecumenical; many of the tales will appeal to people of any faith or none at all. They are now freely available at sacredstorytelling.org.
I was thinking of Robert Wilhelm when I wrote my second post on this blog, which featured a poem called “Story Water” by Rumi. I think it’s safe to say that Robert has carried on Rumi’s tradition, which centers on the understanding that our spiritual dreams and longings are woven of stories. Abstract understanding may sometimes move the heart, but more often it is The Prodigal Son, or Arjuna at Kurukshetra, or Coyote coming along that opens our eyes of understanding.
If you love stories, take a look at the stories that Robert Wilhelm loves.