There is important liturgical concept called “anamnesis.” Literally translated it means “remembering.” It is so fascinating to me how important this concept is in the Scriptures.
In the Exodus, God says of the Passover, “This day you are to remember; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord – a lasting ordinance.” (Ex 12:14)
In the Gospels, Jesus says after He institutes the Eucharist, ““This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk 22:19)
For the ancient Jews, remembering was not simple recollection. Instead, it was a reenactment. More to the point, it was to make the past present. There is a scene I love in the movie Memento when someone is asked about his deceased wife. The man begins to recite words, but then the person who asked tells him to stop and “Remember her.” The man then closes his eyes and instead of reciting description, he enters into his memory in little flashes. In these moments in his mind, she is more present to the memory of his senses than when he was describing her.
When God calls us to remember, He is calling us not simply to recall facts and events. He wants to put us back into the life situation we once found. How many of our traditions with friends and family are based around this simple idea. On the television show This is Us, a young couple with three children have their car break down on Thanksgiving, This causes them to hike to camp ground where a man in a strange hat calling himself Pilgrim Rick shows them to their cabin where all they have to eat are hot dogs and all they have to watch is Police Academy 3. But through a turn of events, this night turns into the best Thanksgiving they ever had. So every Thanksgiving, they go on a hike, eat hot dogs, watch Police Academy 3, and someone wears a hat and calls himself Pilgrim Rick.
The point of this is that when something is momentous or special to us, we don’t just file the memory into our brain data-banks. Instead, we try to make that past moment present to recapture some of the magic.
And this is essential to the Christian life because we are in a constant state of spiritual amnesia.
I do not mean that we literally forget facts in our own history. I mean that the impression of those facts begin to fade with time. How many times have we found ourselves surprised by something we already knew? You watch a Marx Brothers movie and find yourself laughing and saying to yourself, “I forgot how funny this was.” But it wasn’t that you forgot the fact that you found it funny. It was that the immediacy of the humor was not brought in a powerful way to your memory. Of perhaps you hear a song you once loved in high school and you are suddenly awash in the memory of your prom and dancing closely with that special someone and are filled with the immediacy of that emotion.
This happens in our relationships as well. How often do we take for granted the good things that our loved ones do for us? That first time someone tells us they love us can be magical. But after a lifetime, we may barely notice it. This can lead to feelings of hurt and neglect.
And in this remembering is never more important than in the spiritual life. Have you ever wondered what was wrong with the Hebrews freed from Egypt? They saw the 10 plagues. They saw the pillar of fire. They saw the parting of the Red Sea. And yet almost immediately, they doubt God. I had a student once who said something that many of us may think: “If I ever saw a miracle, I would have no problems believing.” But that doesn’t seem to be what happens in the Bible. Miracles constantly occur and then over time people turn away and lack faith. Why? Because we have this horrible spiritual amnesia.
This amnesia is common but in a way horrific. What are we if we are not our memories? Our memories shape everything that we are at present. If I lose my memories, do I not also lose myself?
And yet this is what happens when we forget all that God is and all that He has done for us. This spiritual amnesia is the source of so many of our spiritual defects.
Do you ever think about the zeal you had in your youth and wonder why age has cooled your enthusiasm? Are you ever plagued with doubts about God helping you even though He has come through for you over and over again? This is not an isolated problem. But how do we fix this?
We must remember.
Again I do not mean that we simply recollect events of God’s goodness. We must place ourselves back into those circumstances. We must go back to those moments of darkness and remember where we were, what we felt. And then we must remember how God delivered us.
We must fill up our senses with that memory. This is why we have such a rich ritual and tradition in our Catholic Church. When we go to mass we are present once again in that upper room on Holy Thursday Night. And if we open our hearts, we can find ourselves transported.
Not only must we remember who God is, we must remember who we are. The main theme of The Lion King as stated by Mufasa to his son Simba is “Remember who you are.” This is something that every Christian needs to do.
I am made in the image of God.
I am a child of God.
I am someone who is so loved that God gave His only Son for me.
Take these last three sentences and spend time with them. Don’t just recite the words. Make these truths present to your mind. Let the immediacy of God’s love be present.
Remember who you are.
Copyright WL Grayson, 2017