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Quotations I love: Memory

Lynne Baab • Thursday April 15 2021

Quotations I love: Memory

“Memory is many things. . . . It is a call to resolve in us what simply will not go away.”
—Joan Chittister (born 1936), American Benedictine nun, theologian, author, and speaker

For most of my adult life, I would have read Joan Chittister’s words a certain way. For me, what wouldn't go away in my memories was pain, and I would have said we must face into pain from our past in in the company of others. I would have said that the unresolved memories in us that keep coming up should be dealt with in inner healing prayer, therapy/counseling/coaching, and in vulnerable conversations with family members and friends. 

All of those strategies have been extremely helpful to me. My first inner healing experience was 34 years ago, and my most recent was 2019. Inner healing prayer has brought me insights about my family of origin and healing from some of the pain I experienced. My first therapy experience was 30 years ago, and therapy has been a helpful and significant support over many of the years since then. In the past two years, I’ve had two coaches who have been extremely helpful (one each year). Therapy/counseling/coaching has brought me insight, healing, and productive habits.

I am quite sure that many of my friends and some family members would say that I have no trouble talking about painful memories; I have expected those wonderful listeners to provide support and encouragement. I have looked to them to be sounding boards. Family members and friends who have been willing to listen have brought me insight, healing, new habits, and a sense of being loved. I am so grateful for their care and love.

I have dipped into Brene Brown’s popular work on vulnerability (her Ted talk and book), and I see clearly that I don’t need to be more vulnerable. My vulnerability has made my books and speaking accessible. I’m quite sure it has tired out my friends, while also giving them valuable permission to be vulnerable themselves. After a lifetime of vulnerability, I am currently being challenged by God to focus on a different set of memories.

In the Bible, memory appears to be a mostly conscious choice of what we do with our brains. “I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old,” the psalmist writes (Psalm 77:11). Memory is associated with remembering what God has done in order to engage in praise of God. In addition, various psalm writers ask God to remember us and our needs, or they thank God for remembering us: “He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel” (Psalm 98.3).

Memory is also related to choosing to think about people in need. The writer to the Hebrews exhorts: “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured” (Hebrews 13:3). Paul describes his conversation with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem: “They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10).

I have always taken comfort in passages that give me permission to remember sad things. The Jews in exile in Babylon sang: “By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 136:1). I have remembered and wept. Now it seems God is calling me to use my memory, at least part of it, to remember what God has done in my life so I can trust that God will continue guide me and care for me into the future. I have barely begun to explore how God might be calling me to use my memory to focus on people in need.

Perhaps you have tried to discipline your memories of pain. Perhaps you have pushed them away, majoring in trying to be positive and optimistic. Perhaps you need to read Joan Chittister’s words as a call to explore the painful memories that will simply not go away. If so, I recommend vulnerability with family members and friends who are good listeners. I recommend inner healing prayer and therapy/counseling/coaching. Perhaps Brene Brown might provide some helpful guidance.

Perhaps you are like me, and God is calling you to a slight shift in emphasis, away from exploring painful memories to nurturing memories of God’s goodness and faithfulness to you, to those you love, to Christians throughout history, and to the wider church today. Notice I said “slight emphasis.” I have no intention of stopping bringing pain to God, friends, and other helpers. But I want to balance my memories of pain with memories of God’s goodness.

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
   make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him,
   tell of all his wonderful works. . . .
Remember the wonderful works he has done,
   his miracles, and the judgements he uttered. . . .
Remember his covenant for ever,
   the word that he commanded for a thousand generations. . . .
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
   Tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
   his marvellous works among all the peoples.—I Chronicles 16:8, 9, 12, 15, 23, 24

Next week: The image of God in humans. Illustration by Dave Baab. I invite you to sign up below if you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog.

Highlight on one of my books — A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife, now available for kindle. When I did the interviews for this book, the vulnerability of the people I interviewed was astonishing, and the book was shaped by what I heard from people at midlife. Truly our stories about our own journeys can be helpful to others.



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