Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House
‘Remember’ is a frequent command in Scripture. The people of Israel were commanded to remember that ‘you were once slaves in Egypt’ and to remember too that with ‘an outstretched arm’ the Lord had brought them to freedom and the Promised Land. Through Moses they were commanded to ‘remember of the decrees and ordinances’ of the Covenant and that they were to remember them on rising and going to bed and even write them on the door posts of their houses. Jesus transposed the Passover meal into a different register of meaning in order that the Eucharistic offering should be a ‘perpetual remembering of his precious death until he comes again.’
The corporate remembrance of the community of faith enables it to live in communion with God and also in unity of life and purpose. It is this sharing of memory that is essential in order to be disposed to hear and act upon the Word of God. Remembering is also vital in our individual pilgrimage of faith. In the same way as the will and work of God is seen in the life of the people of God, the will and work of God is also revealed in each person’s faith history. One of the important functions of spiritual direction is to enable an individual to cherish their own experience of the love and mercy of God. It is a way of remembering this Word of God: ‘I have called you by name and you are mine.’
In truth, our chief resource in the spiritual life is our own experience. There is no such thing as second-hand spirituality. The one-to-one relationship with a prayer guide or spiritual director is one that enables a discovery and assessment of this experience.
There is a tendency for individuals to discount, or at least not fully accept, the validity or veracity of their own experience. Sadly many Christians do not fully recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives because they have never been able to share the experience and thereby both test it and learn from it.
‘An experience without reflection is a wasted experience’ may be an apocryphal saying of St Ignatius but it does sum up his wisdom. For Ignatius, reflecting on and discussing one’s experience of prayer and meditation are essential activities. The recording of experience and reflection on it was, of course, one of the functions of so many ‘spiritual letters’. There is a hint of this even in the Pauline Epistles, but the letters of Christians from Augustine to C.S. Lewis all contain a recounting of experience and subsequent reflection. It would appear that the ‘Blogosphere’ has not become a substitute for this medium, although it does come close to ‘spiritual journaling’. I, for one, keep a short record of both moments and light and darkness in my prayer life. The memory is the essential gift of God to direct and encourage us on our faith journey, but it often needs some help, as Scripture at every turn reminds us.