Dec 19 2009

Anamnesis

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As I look at the beautiful Christmas tree here at my parent’s home, hung with 40 years of memories, I’m struck by how this tree is like memory itself.  Hidden among the branches and tinsel, illuminated by twinkle lights or lost in shadows, little ornaments of past delight wait to be rediscovered, re-remembered, and enjoyed anew.

St Thomas Aquinas wrote that joy is delight remembered.

Reading about the human brain and how memory is formed, I have been surprised by its fragility.  Barring the painful memory loss that comes with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or injury,  normal events making the trek from experience to working memory into long-term memory require certain key conditions or the brain will not store the information in any retrievable fashion.   Even strong memories can still be lost as long-term memory remains in flux for over a decade. The more sensory and emotional connections made with an experience, the greater the chance it will stick around; the more it is actively recalled and in a sense, re-experienced, the greater the chance it will solidify into long-term memory.

Some people spend more of their time thinking about the future or the present, I tend to think more about the past, and I often return over and over to certain memories.

As I’ve been rediscovering prayer this past year and asking difficult questions about vocation (and the future), God has been gently, yet insistently, showing me that the majority of the memories I frequently revisit are marked with sadness and shame, rather than joy or grace.    While I often find joy in the present, it doesn’t seem to make it into my long-term memory.  With a tinge of Jonah-like frustration at God, I complained, “Well, this is what I remember, so help me remember something else!”

The word anamnesis came to mind. Not exactly a word I would casually…well, remember.

Liturgically, it refers to the part of the Eucharistic prayer recalling the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of me.”

Anamnesis means more than to simply remember or reminisce, it means to remember something forgotten.

To remember what was forgotten seems paradoxical and feels impossible, so I figure it must only be possible with the help of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus described as the Comforter, who will “bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (John 14:26)

As I walk this journey of Advent and come to the end of 2009, I long for a loss of forgetfulness, to remember (maybe even for the first time) all the many times God spoke grace, love, and joy in experiences and through others, and to feel them as deeply as I feel the not-so pleasant memories.  I long to stop traveling the roads that lead to feelings of sadness and shame. Even better, I want to remember whole stories from the past, not just the difficult parts, and pray for insight into how grace, God’s “I love you,” was present even in painful times.

A way I’d like to begin this exploration of the fragile, wonderful, complex gift of graced human memory and memory-making is to create a weekly blog practice called Anamnesis, and invite you to join in.  If you have remembered a forgotten moment of joy or grace, and would like to share it, include your blog link below or add a comment.

Peace to you on your journey through Advent!


Jan 11 2009

Believing is Seeing

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In a delightful children’s book called Tales of the Kingdom, Karen Mains tells the story of Hero, a young boy who finds a gateway into Great Park. He has been raised to believe that there is no safe place, that children are not suppose to laugh or play, that the Enchanter’s dominion is absolute, and that the story of a loving King is a fairytale. In Great Park, one of the favorite activities for the children is Sighting Day where they play “seek-the-king.” Hero doesn’t believe in the King, so he doesn’t recognize him in his many different disguises. For Hero, seeing is believing, but in the Kingdom, “believing is seeing.”

The lectionary text for Sunday is Mark 1:4-11, the Baptism of Jesus. We have just celebrated Christmas–the revelation of God in the birth of Christ, a mystery of enormous beauty; then Epiphany, the manifestation and witnessing of this revelation by the wise travelers. Now, the curtain is pulled back further. Jesus is baptized and sees “the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove.” He hears a voice from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” I’d like to think that John saw and heard this exchange as well–that John’s belief allowed him to see into glorious reality.

For Hero and John, each must first be open in order to see something amazing–not foreign or somehow separate from life, but in and through it, when everything becomes more real. Hero ultimately sees the King when he allows himself to let go of fear, and begins to play and laugh. He begins to hope and trust the strange loving people he has met–and the King appears . John actively looks for the one who “will baptize…with the Holy Spirit,” and is primed to see the heavens torn apart, and the second person of the Trinity in human flesh.

(photo: SF)

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