I enjoy the” hinge” connecting the old and new year. For a couple weeks we commonly look back to recall the most memorable or important or funny or stupid things that happened in the year past. Likewise, we anticipate the things we will do in the New Year—both the things we vow not to do ever again or as much and the things we resolve to do. Such hinge times can be highly entertaining and energizing. The power of memory potentially fuels much that is good.
Often, however, we forget to remember, even if at hinge moments we engage in these common practices. Before January ends we have forgotten to remember the most memorable things and the lessons they taught us or the resolves they evoked within us. This happens in all areas of our lives.
Sadly this happens even in the great decisions and commitments we make in life, the undergirding and guiding values that give life meaning and direction. We forget to remember Whose we are and therefore Who we are, How we were made, rescued, given another chance, Why we are the way we are and are becoming, and Why we are here. We forget to remember what answers we once learned and valued.
We are not the first to forget to remember, and to live to regret it. The Psalmist confesses the sin of Israel and chalks it up to forgetting to remember (see 106 or 78 and note how often memory appears). How could one have had box seats at the Exodus Bowl where the mighty acts of God were on devastating display and forget? How could one have walked through the sea with walls of water on either side and forget? How could one have tasted the water from the rock or manna from the sky and worry about whether there will be anything or enough now? How indeed, and yet indeed!
Even the coming of Messiah and keeping company with Messiah did not automatically assure that we would remember to remember. In one strange gospel story, after the disciples had not only watched and even participated in the feeding of 5,000 plus people with a “Happy Meal,” they began to worry and fret when they forgot to bring sack lunches as they crossed the Sea of Galilee. Jesus seized the moment to teach: beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod! As often happened, they didn’t get it, and imagined that Jesus was worried about lunch. They reasoned, Jesus said this because we were careless and didn’t think to plan for the noon meal! How quickly they forgot to remember. How does one watch the bread reproduce in one’s hands in giving it away and then forget so profoundly what had happened that at the mere mention of the word “leaven” their minds trigger to “bread” and on to the likelihood of going hungry?
Jesus responds in what seems an uncharacteristically harsh way. He tells them their hearts may be as hard as his Pharisees opponents (implying that perhaps his warning was too late!) and that they were dull and slow to hear and take to heart what they had so recently and personally experienced. Thankfully for them, and for us who often prove as adept at forgetting to remember with the best of God’s people, Jesus reminds them. Jesus rehearses for them what they had just seen, heard, handled, and the lively hope it can generate for any situation.
After Jesus had risen from the dead he promised and then delivered the gift of his ongoing presence in the person of the Holy Spirit. He called that Spirit the Spirit of truth, even as he himself was the truth. And Jesus said the Spirit would lead them to and guide in the way of truth. The Spirit is the remembering Spirit, the one who helps us recall, who works in us so that we do not have to forget to remember. What a gift. Truly Jesus has thought of everything.
Still, however, we are vulnerable to forgetting to remember. I have considered some of the reasons. Here are three. See how they seem to you.
First, we forget because we didn’t really “hear.” Hearing requires more than functional physiology. Hearing requires understanding, reflection, evaluation (how might this word, this event, this part of the story speak to us now?) and application (intentionality as well as courage to act on what we have heard). Hearing is not casual or automatic. If the Spirit Jesus gives as our ongoing Companion is Jesus’ provision for thriving memory, that Spirit is a person. Therefore, entering into the reality He confers will involve relating, conversing and communing with the Spirit. Cultivating “life in the Spirit,” interactive ongoing walking with and in the Spirit, listening to what the Spirit is saying—these are critical ways of really “hearing” in a way that will be unforgettable.
Second, we forget because we lack the community that makes hearing at least more likely. The first followers of Jesus, on the other side of cross and empty tomb, and filled with the Spirit, devoted themselves to the apostle’s teachings which were exercises in remembering in the company of those who were there. Such “devotion” incarnated the stories and its lessons in a way that provided the makings for their own developing story-lines within the larger Story of God’s way with God’s world. We often have the experience of being with people who help us remember—they remind us—of things we know and have learned. We are not surprised to learn that the primary way they remembered to remember was by devoting themselves to intentional remembering in each other’s company. The practice fueled a transforming movement in the world that has yet to spend itself entirely.
Third, we forget because in lacking these things (above) we are not formed or shaped by the Story that we celebrate and by which we define ourselves. In the absence of really hearing and intentional remembering community, it remains simply a story, but not the conceptual framework, the guiding trajectories and boundaries for life that is abundant and abounding and transforming.
At this hinge between 2012 and 2013, many of us have recently spent the better part of a month remembering the story that makes our lives part of the STORY. It remains to be seen whether we live remembering lives in 2013 in unforgettable ways.