Practice Five: Remembering

One of the best things mothers do for us is remember our lives. I am not sure why it is that dads do this less well, but moms tend to be the keepers of our stories. They preserve the pictures, the memorabilia, and all of that little stuff that grows more valuable with time. And who can say what such basic attention means to our development as persons? If you have taken your mom’s memory-keeping for granted, make sure you thank her on Sunday. What mothers do is hold our lives in their hearts. The first parts of the story of Jesus were probably preserved by his mother Mary. At the end of Luke’s telling of Jesus’ wondrous birth story, he reveals what was surely his best source: Mary, he said, “treasured all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51). In all probability, Jesus’ self-identity was nourished early on by his mother’s rehearsal of his own story to him. Mary remembered to him what he could not access otherwise. Remembering, it seems, is a sacred duty, and mothers do it best.

Remembering is the fifth of the six community-building practices we are talking about for this season. And while it may in some ways seem like a small thing, I want to suggest that the practice of remembering is one of the most powerful ways to nourish human connectedness. Simply put, to be remembered is to be loved. To be remembered is to be valued. Remembering is making and preserving relational connection. For this fifth week of community challenge, we invite you to remember someone and act on that remembrance in a practical way.

Of course, one of the problems in our culture at present is that with all of the transience and constant movement, few of us stay put long enough to be known. In such conditions how can real remembering take place? One of the large and often unconsidered benefits of staying put is that you become known well enough to be remembered. And that may become more important to you than you might realize. There is a lot of dismembering of community going on at present in our culture, a lot of taking apart of human connectedness and belonging. Consider that it might be better to stay put. Dis-membering is taking apart, but re-membering is putting back together.

But what if a remembrance is painful? What then? Miroslav Volf is a Christian theologian who grew up in the war-ravaged country of Croatia. He writes often on the themes of grace, forgiveness and reconciliation; he writes as one experienced in the real challenge of these Christian virtues, especially when our hearts are deeply wounded. Volf asserts that we need to practice the art of "remembering well". He says that we are not merely shaped by our memories, but we ourselves shape the memories that shape us. In other words, there are skills and practices we need to learn; we must remember in a way that heals. His book, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World, is his attempt to move wounded cultures and communities on from paralyzing memories. His remedy for communities that are stuck in pain is to learn how to re-member the past, to learn how to look at history in a gracious way.

This little act of remembering, it becomes, is one of the most powerful ways we remake the world. And remembering someone remakes the world one person at a time. We do not make the world better by forgetting the past; and a hateful or hurt memory stalls us, locks us up. No, contrary to these two usual options, we make the world better by remembering well, by remembering the people we are connected to, by remembering the whole story we are part of with eyes of faith and gratitude. Like Mary, we put the world together by treasuring in our hearts the grace that is happening. We remake the world by remembering well.

How might you be able to practice this idea this week? Who might you remember, and how might you act on that memory? As I have written this, various persons have come to my memory, people I haven’t talked to in a little while. You know how that happens; life gets busy and we get absorbed in so many things. Those are my excuses, but it still is an impoverished way to live. In light of this practice, I have remembered some people I should pay attention to, some brothers and sisters that need encouragement and a little remembering. Maybe part of being a brother is to be a little bit of a mother as well.

See you Sunday at 9:29 or 11:11 am -- mothers get in free.

Bob Osborne

For further reflection:

  1. Has there been a moment in your life when your mom remembered something about your life that helped you understand who you were?
  2. In reading this, has there been someone brought to your mind? Someone you are called to remember? What do you need to do?
  3. What might be required of you to shape your memory of a particular person, place, event, or season in your life? How could you dare to remember differently, more graciously?
  4. Remembering is a large theme in scripture. What scriptures can you find that speak to this theme? What do they teach you? Meditate on Deuteronomy 8:2-3.