The clearing out of spaces continues this third week of Lent. It continues to be a spiritual discipline; it does not feel like accomplishment. And it continues to prompt interior reflection on what I have allowed to pile up in my spirit. What takes me by surprise from time to time is the power of the memories that are a sparked by inanimate objects: a teacup of my mother’s; a merit badge from an earlier era; a careful rendered picture drawn by a toddler, writing her name for the first time. All the objects from times past things evoke memories–sweet, embarrassing, grief-filled, grateful. I have to decide–again–what is important to keep and cherish in my interior life and what to let go, to bequeath to the recycle bin or to the trash.
Two sacred texts in Hebrew Scripture come to mind. First, the challenge to remember, exemplified in Deuteronomy 32:7-9, Moses’ song:
Remember the days of old, consider the years long past; ask your father (and mother) who will inform you; your elders, and they will tell you. When the Most High apportioned the nations, when God divided humankind, fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the gods, the Lord’s own portion was God’s people…
The instruction throughout Hebrew Scripture is to hang on to those pieces of memory that tell me how to trace the action of God in my story, where God met me, met my forbears, met my choices with wisdom and clarity and strength with Spirit. That litany of memory fuels my songs of praise and gratitude, tunes my heart to sing God’s praise.
In counterpoint, however, the prophet Isaiah has another word: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (43: 18, 19) This is a different location for the people of Israel from the one in Genesis, this time they are poised on the return to reclaim their own country from exile. What was important were the new things ahead–the way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, wild animals that honor the Holy, drink to the God’s people, formed for God’s own self, again in service of praise to God. As I rifle through memories, I need to ask what I am holding on to that is no longer useful? A certain way of worship? Sacrosanct theological phrases? Church organization charts that I counted on when just starting out? Or in my life of loving, do I hang on to ideals of how people should treat me that do not take into consideration who they really are, how they are wired, what their experience is? Am I open to the new thing that happens in the gatherings of the people of faith? even the new ways of connecting in the 21st Century of families and friends?
Kathleen Fischer, in her book Autumn Gospel, helps me with discernment of which memory is to be embraced and which it to be let go:
If memory is to be a graced experienced, we may need new lenses…we are to let our lives pass through the compassionate heart of Jesus. (124)
Nothing clarifies my memories with so much clarity as participating in Eucharist, breaking the bread and drinking the cup in memory of Jesus, anamnesis. Since I belong to a tradition which does not offer communion daily or even weekly, one of my Lenten hopes for practice is to see if I can find a community of faith with which to share the sacred meal weekly. No matter what else I might have in common with those gathered on a particular day, we share the memory of being loved by the One who is doing a new thing in us and in the world.
So I continue to clear out my spaces, holding some memories close to my heart, letting go of others, those that get in the way of embracing the new thing the Holy One keeps doing, receiving bread for the journey and strength for the day. I am grateful.