Southern Cross DECEMBER 2021

Page 18

How do you remember your life?

Andrew Shead

M

emory is the deep well from which our

sense of self bubbles up and is sustained. A well of happy memories breeds a deep contentment and fills our world with green pastures of happiness. But bad memories can poison the well. Our inner life can be debilitated by recollections of trauma, embittered by historical injustices, filled with recrimination over past sins or grief over loss. To be sure, there are some evils it would be wrong to forget, because justice demands that they be remembered. But poisoned memory can cast a grey pall over everything. Like Jim Carrey’s character in the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind we may wish to be rid of our negative memories but, in the real world, repression can be as damaging as remembrance. Worst of all, to be cut off from memory altogether – which is the tragedy of dementia – is to be cast adrift from both self and the world. REMEMBERING RIGHTLY So, are we tossed helplessly on the tides of memory? Thankfully the answer is no. In an insightful account of his own memories of abuse and trauma in the book The End of Memory, theologian Miroslav Volf puts it this way: “the central question for me was not whether to remember. I most assuredly would remember and 18

most incontestably should remember. Instead, the central question was how to remember rightly.” The book of Psalms offers us a masterclass in remembering evils rightly. In a variety of ways and situations, the psalmists hand over memories of trauma and loss to God. And with God’s help they find a place for those memories within their remembrance of God. Memories of injustice and trauma in the psalms are often raw and fresh. In Psalm 74, for example, the people stand among the wreckage of the sanctuary, devastated by violence and feeling abandoned by God. They beg God to remember what the enemies have done and destroy them. But then the people stop and take time to remember God’s presence and power in creation, and the promises he made in the past. They place their experience of God’s absence within these memories and find strength to keep asking for justice. The psalmists entrust both vengeance and justice to God. He is the one who repays evil (Psalm 94), and the one who brings justice, whether alone (Psalm 97) or through the Messiah’s rule (Psalm 101). Fighting for justice is not wrong, but the realisation that I, too, am capable of evil makes outrage hard to sustain. In Psalm 31 David is being unjustly persecuted, but his consciousness of sin knocks the wind out of his sails. He has no energy to fight: “My life is brought to an end by grief and my years by groaning; my SouthernCross

December 2021