Memory: 15 November 2018

Have you had the experience of reminiscing with a friend or sibling and realizing that you have very different memories of the same event?  It’s a stark reminder that our memories, while real, are not always true. That is, they are real to us, they are our reality, but they are not the whole Truth—capital T—of any event. 

The world feels so fragile, so tender right now. Shootings, pipe bombs, so much naked hatred.  In my morning Lectio Divina last week, this was one of the stated prayers: 
"I offer you my memory, my understanding, my entire will."  It's based on St. Ignatius and his Spiritual Exercises
What would that do to prayer, to public discourse, to relationships, to congregational life, to offer our memory? It's both an incredibly vulnerable and an incredibly freeing gift.  

Memory is a double-edged sword. It keeps us anchored in good traditions, but also yoked to bad ones. In church settings, when tradition ceases to serve as a sacrament—a visible sign of an invisible grace—when tradition no longer points beyond itself to the sacred, then it is a hinderance. As you know, “because we’ve always done it that way” is not a helpful standard. Why have we always done it that way? What is the grace that we’re pointing to? 

To be able to offer our memory as a starting point, while relinquishing the need for it to be the ending point, is a great gift. To be vulnerable enough to do this, we have to feel our worth is in something larger than our constructed self. We have to feel our worth is rooted in God’s love. And as Richard Rohr says, “God doesn’t love us because we are good.  God loves us because God is good.” 

Feeling/knowing that God loves us—undeservedly, unreservedly—is so much harder than it sounds. We cling to our understanding of who we are, often as determined from our memories of our experiences. Our experiences shape our memory, and our memory shapes our self. So how do we get to feel God’s unconditional love? 

One great practice is prayer. Surrendering prayer.  

Eugene Peterson, pastor and author of The Message translation of the Bible, died on October 22nd. I’ve been thinking about a beautiful interview of his with Krista Tippett called Entering Into What is There. In part he discusses his long-term discipline of praying with the Psalms.  He likes the Psalms for their honesty. They are, “a way to be angry with integrity and without violence”.  I’ll wait while you read that again. 

When I was a teen-ager, I complained in youth group that the Psalms were whiny.  David was always all woe-is-me! and then why-won’t-you-revenge-me? and then I’ll-always-praise-God-no-matter-what! and then where-are-you-God?  Sometimes all in the same Psalm.  At a time when family, school and church were drilling us high schoolers in making good decisions, even in the face of peer pressure, it didn’t seem like the Psalmists were taking responsibility for their own actions.   

Now, as an adult, I can’t dismiss or fail to acknowledge my own whininess and wavering trust. The Psalms can teach us how to be whiny or angry—or whatever we are feeling—with integrity and without violence. 

Peterson said prayer matures into a practice of memory.  After a lifetime of praying the psalms, “I think I’m praying when I don’t know I’m praying. It’s entered into my subconscious... It surprises me that something’s been going on in me for years and years and years, which is pretty much absorbed into my psyche now. And it gives me hope. It gives me hope because our politics in this country are not very swift right now.”   

This interview was in December 2016. Heaven help us as we continue to navigate widening divisions and a normalizing of fear-speech, in our country, in our families, in our faith communities. 

Fear of change. Fear of doing things in a new way. Fear of being led into situations and encounters with folks that don’t think like us and with children of God that might want to change us. 

But I think that holding on to fear, letting fear dictate our leadership, our policies, our traditions—that fear is the opposite of Church. It’s the opposite of trust. It’s the opposite of believing in a benevolent, faithful, endlessly loving God who is calling us to become our best selves. Calling us to be disciples in God’s changing world. God’s world, full of God’s hurting and beautiful people.   

In my experience, my best self is rarely my memory self.  And when it is my best self, it’s always because I was acting from a rootedness in God’s all-encompassing, undeserved Love. Only then was I able to be Love for other people. 

Here’s a prayer I’ve been praying.

Lord, here I am again.  Your flawed and cherished daughter. Today, I strive to offer you my very self, that you may use me in your service. In this fragile moment, I offer you my memory, my understanding, my entire will. May you use me to your glory.  Amen.

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