Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House
The use of our memory is an essential tool in Christian living. Our Faith, being a revealed Faith, rooted in historical fact, is dependent on remembering. Re-membering in its literal meaning is ‘to put back together, to reconnect’. Christian prayer and worship is at its heart a reconnection – a putting back together. In prayer and worship the life experience of each individual (and each community) finds meaning and purpose in remembrance.
This is what is happening when we read Scripture or partake of the Eucharist: we are reconnected with the purposes of God, caught up in the eternal life which has been revealed in the past and made known in the now.
We do tend to worry about ‘what will happen next’. The future is a great source of anxiety. Jesus teaches us to ‘give no thought for the morrow’. He urges us to live in the present in the light of God’s grace as revealed in the past. That, surely, is the only way forward.
There is a prayer of Thomas Merton which says to the Lord, T do not know where I am going, neither do I know the way, neither do I know myself. All I do know is the desire to please you does in fact please you, and I pray that I will have this desire in everything I do, for then you will lead me in right pathways…’
To live in this ‘desire to please you’, it is vital that every Christian uses the gift of memory that God has given. It is illuminating to note that in his famous Suscipe prayer which begins ‘Take Lord and receive’, Ignatius Loyola begins with offering the memory.
Our memory makes our ‘faith history’ real to us. Looking back over our lives, it is possible to discern God’s grace at work redeeming and reconciling, leading and renewing – often without our awareness at the time.
The Lord gives us these experiences to be our guide and consolation. In the same way, our memory makes present to us experiences of a spiritual nature
when we were moved and transformed by the reality of his Spirit moving within us providing illumination and healing. These experiences may be distant in time and few in occurrence, but they are always present in the gift of memory.
The treasuring of memory is one reason to keep a spiritual journal. The present can distort our memory or cast doubts upon its veracity – a written reminder can help us remember the true worth and value of an experience.
Our memory too is our greatest aid to prayer. We say that words and phrases committed to memory are ‘learnt by heart’, and there is a profound truth here. Prayers or Scripture verses learnt by heart are always present at the centre of our being, a source of light and consolation. The effort put into learning them is repaid in countless graces.
But above all we have the invitation to place our memory in one great remembering of the Eucharist. A simple command, ‘do this in remembrance of me’, is an invitation to the heavenly banquet, ‘where we shall rest and we shall see, we shall see and we shall love, we shall love and we shall praise in our end which has no end.’