Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Like the corners of my mind (Alan and Marilyn Bergman)

This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast [Passover] to the Lord: throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever.

You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out thence with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.

By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion... How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you.

And when he had given thanks, he broke it and said: 'This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance Of me.'

'Why do you seek the living among the dead? Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.' And they remembered his words.

As I remember your tears, I long night and day to see you, that I may be filled with joy.

(Exodus 12:14; Deuteronomy 5:15; Psalm 137:1,4-6; 1 Corinthians 11:24; Luke 24:5-8; 2 Timothy 1:4 -- all RSV)

The totality of our experience is stored in our memories, but, paradoxically, most of us spend an inordinate amount of energy trying to forget some of our past. We're prepared to linger over 'happy memories' but many of our memories appear to be too painful to recall. They remind us of past grief or loss; they evoke feelings of guilt or failure -- so we repress them.

To a certain extent, this way of dealing with painful memories is probably necessary. Without the use of defence mechanisms such as repression, the burdens of the past may become too difficult to bear. But indiscriminate repression is unhealthy. If we never come to grips with our hurtful memories, we fail to learn from the experiences which caused us pain, stunting our growth and development as persons. We become enslaved by the tyranny of our past and don't really live in the present. Feelings of anxiety and pain lie embedded in our subconscious and because we have suppressed the memories associated with them, we have forgotten the cause of those feelings. Unidentifiable painful feelings are more crippling than their original cause. They can even cause us to become afraid of the future, in case the future brings us further pain.

Henri Nouwen (The Living Reminder) points out that whilst good memories are visible in outer signs such as trophies, decorations, diplomas, gifts and portraits, painful memories tend to remain hidden, even from ourselves, in the corners of forgetfulness. It is only as we're prepared to make a conscious effort to remember them, as part of our life-story, that they again become available to us. Only as they are available to us can they be confronted and healed.

The Jewish concept of remembrance stressed that creative memory is able 'to make present' the past so that it could become contemporaneous. Normally, the closest we Christians come to acknowledging the validity of this concept is in our celebration of the Lord's Supper. Perhaps it's time to apply it to other aspects of our Christian lives. Perhaps it's time to use our God-given talent for creative memory, recalling our hurtful memories so that God can heal them.

When I use my memory, I ask it to produce whatever it is that I wish to remember. Some things it produces immediately; some are forthcoming only after a delay, as though they were being brought out from some inner hiding place; others come spilling from the memory thrusting themselves upon us when what we want is something quite different, as much as to say 'Perhaps we are what you want to remember?'... All this goes on inside me, in the vast cloisters of my memory. In it are the sky, the earth, and the sea, ready at my summons, together with everything that I have ever perceived in them by my senses... In it I meet myself as well. I remember myself and what I have done, when and where I did it, and the state of my mind at the time... The power of the memory is prodigious, my God. It is a vast immeasurable sanctuary. Who can plumb its depths? And yet it is a faculty of my soul. Augustine, Confessions

Most of our human emotions are closely related to our memory. Remorse is a biting memory, guilt is an accusing memory, gratitude is a joyful memory, and all such emotions are deeply influenced by the way we have integrated past events into our way of being in the world. In fact, we perceive our world with our memories.

Henri Nouwen, The Living Reminder

Enter into yourself, then, and see that your soul loves itself most fervently; that it could not love itself unless it knew itself, nor know itself unless it remembered itself, because our intellect grasps only what is present to our memory.

Bonaventure, The Soul's Journey into God

The personal unconscious contains lost memories, painful ideas that are repressed (i.e. forgotten on purpose).

Carl Jung, 'On the Psychology of the Unconscious'

Remembering is the beginning of freedom from the covert power of the remembered thing or occurrence.

Max Scheler, On the Eternal Man

Now there are some men who resemble the animal known as the lynx: according to Saint Jerome, they remember only what is before them, and once they turn their backs, they forget everything they cannot see. Then there are some we call idiots and fools because they wander about unaware with their mouths open wide to catch flies. Seneca says of them that they waste their lives because they do not think of the past... Memory is the place wherein is stored the treasure of the wise; it is the ark of truth, the living book of man, the womb where the soul cherishes her sons so that they are not killed by forgetfulness... Do not be a sickly stomach unable to digest what it has eaten, for if you are you will not retain the food of good teaching in the stomach of your memory and spiritually your life will be depleted.

Francisco de Osuna, "The Third Spiritual Alphabet'

For the past which we remember through Jesus Christ is not the serial but the enduring past. When we speak of the past in internal history we do not refer to events which no longer have reality in the world... Our past is what we are... Our past is our present in our conscious and unconscious memory. To understand such a present past is to understand one's self and, through understanding, to reconstruct.

H. Richard Neibuhr, The Meaning of Revelation

What is the ground for such faith in God's sovereignty and deliverance? As throughout the biblical record, it is memory. Remembrance of what God has done in the past gives rise to hopes for what he yet shall do to deliver his people. Just as Old Testament experience and faith grew out of reflection on memories of the exodus and covenant when God's mighty arm delivered his people from bondage to Egypt, so here God's great gift of himself and his forgiveness in Christ is the sufficient ground for confidence about what is really happening in present and future... Faith is grounded in memory but lives in hope.

Gordon D. Kaufman, commenting on Romans 8 in Systematic Theology: A Historicist Perspective

Memory came to my aid and made me feel God's presence; my heart, taking comfort, sought to embrace the cross.

Jacopone da Todi, The Lauds

Almighty God, right now I'm allowing my memory to wander haphazardly through the past events of my life. It's like retracing my footsteps through a long corridor, occasionally stopping outside a closed door, having forgotten what was in that particular room.

Somewhat timidly I'm opening the first door, Lord... I'm looking upon the experiences of my childhood... The next door is slightly ajar and as I peek in memories of my adolescence and young adulthood come flooding back... I had forgotten that those people ever existed. They were so much a part of my life then... How could I have forgotten?

I'm savouring the happy moments, Lord -- but one or two memories are a little painful. I'm not sure if I want to open any more doors, especially not the one in that dark part of the corridor. I have the feeling that it leads to a room with very hurtful memories. See, there's a big padlock with chains on that door!

Lord, give me the courage to open that door after all. I want you to help me to deal with whatever I have to confront... Where forgiveness is called for, may I have the assurance of your forgiveness. Where reconciliation needs to be effected, grant me your strength to approach the person whom I have allowed to become estranged. Where the loneliness of grief is re-awakened, may I be comforted by the knowledge that you share my grief.

A Benediction

Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his presence continually! Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.

(Psalm 105:5; RSV; Philippians 4:6, RSV)

Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 264-268

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